The Super Social Library

Laura Gardner is a school librarian at Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA and was named a School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award Finalist in 2016. Stay tuned for blog posts from Finalist Anita Cellucci and School Librarian of the Year Todd Burleson!

Why use social media?

I have been using social media in my library to connect with students, parents, teachers and the community at large for the last four years. With accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, I have multiple ways to connect with my core audiences.

The “why” of using social media for my library was easy for me to answer. We must be advocates for our programs and our libraries with all our stakeholders, but especially with students. As the biggest classroom in the school, the library offers a unique opportunity to extend the classroom into students’ homes and devices, and a great way to accomplish this is through social media.

At first it may take time to set up and get comfortable with each account, but soon you get in a groove of posting. It will happen naturally within your day-to-day, allowing greater numbers of people will know about all the great efforts going on in your library.

What to post, and where

Each social media platform has its ideal audience and purpose, which may vary depending on your community:

Facebook posts are usually viewed by parents and other teachers in our school and get the least traction of all my social media posts, although posts with pictures of students still perform well. I also use Facebook to connect professionally with other teacher librarians. Two of my favorite groups are School Librarian's Workshop and MakerSpaces and the Participatory Library.

I reserve Twitter (@LibrarianMsG) for sharing and learning from colleagues in the library/technology world.

  • I participate in Twitter chats like #mslibchat (middle school librarians, held on the first Monday of every month at 9 pm EST) and #tlchat (teacher librarians of all grades, held on the second Monday of every month at 8 pm EST) 

  • I love using Twitter for professional conferences. Twitter ends up being where I take all my notes; I can always look back at the conference hashtag to see what I (and everyone else) wrote, captured and shared.

Instagram (@dmslibrary366) has been my most helpful platform for connecting with students over the past three years, with over 800 posts and over 700 followers (mostly students). 

Examples of posts on Instagram include photos and videos of my book recommendations, MakerSpace creations, students working on research projects, book fair and other event promotions, announcements, service project photos from National Junior Honor Society, and much more.

If I find something I like on someone else’s Instagram account, I can use a separate app, Repost, to post that photo to my account (with credit, of course). To do this, just click on the small three dots in the upper right hand corner of the Instagram post you wish to Repost, choose Copy Share URL and then open up the Repost app to choose the photo and copy it back to Instagram. It’s a little clunky, but it works.

In the last month, however, students have informed me their new favorite app is Snapchat (follow me at dmslibrary366).

I attended a workshop on Snapchat for education at a recent conference, where I learned about how to create an account and follow others (easiest is by username or snapcode) but it took two 8th graders to really convince me of its value. Maddie and David showed me how to take pictures and 10 second videos to create stories, all of which disappear in 24 hours. We set up my Snapchat account in a matter of minutes and soon I was snapping away. When I post a “story” on Snapchat, it will be visible for 24 hours to all my followers. I can see in the app how many times each story was viewed and whether anyone took a screenshot of the snap. 

On Snapchat I plan to do video book recommendations, short video announcements about contests and contest winners, upcoming events, and even quick tutorials on research skills.

When and how to post

I used to post infrequently, but since starting my library’s MakerSpace in 2014, the number and frequency of posts has increased dramatically. There’s just so much going on in the library, and I want to share it all! Whether it’s student green screen projects, student 3D prints, or awesome duct tape creations, students love seeing themselves and their friends doing fun things in the library.

To keep things consistent, I put a reminder in my phone that appears every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1 p.m. to remind myself to post on social media in case I haven’t done so already. This is a good time because the day ends at 2:05 p.m. and students are glued to their phones the minute the bell rings. Keeping it consistent ensures that my students’ feeds are filled with more than just selfies and reminds them of all the great book/maker/research related things going on in the school library. 

Other details

Get the word out about your new social media accounts by telling your frequent users, giving them handouts with all the social media accounts (you can make a printout of your Snapchat account QR code, called a Snapcode, that students can scan) and encouraging students to tell their friends. My student library volunteers are my program’s biggest advocates so I start with them. I always ask students permission verbally before taking their photo and we have an opt-out policy in our school that supports using images of students on social media. Students are never tagged in photos. Social media posts that involve students are similar to promotion via other media outlets like newspapers; when students are pictured, we are getting the word out about student accomplishments. My administrators follow my accounts and my superintendent is very active on Twitter and loves our use of social media in the library. Moreover, my library’s use of social media serves as a positive example of social media use for all stakeholders by using social media to promote literacy, collaboration, and creativity.  

Instagram has the option to cross-post to Twitter and Facebook, but it’s even better to use the app If This Then That, which will post your Instagram photos to Twitter as native photos instead of putting in a link to your Instagram post. Instagram and Twitter allow for multiple accounts within the apps so you can have a personal Instagram and a professional one on the same device (I have three!).

The most important thing is that your posts are fun, light-hearted and sound like you. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes I ask students for advice on what to post and sometimes they give it without my asking: “Ms. G, can you take a pic of this and put it on Instagram?” 




Promoting Literacy Among New York City's Homeless

Last month the the Library of Congress honored the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for its exemplary, innovative, and replicable work promoting literacy among NYC's homeless population. We are joined by Karen Shaffer, Executive Director, Office of Public Private Partnerships at NYC DHS.

We at the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) employ a variety of innovative strategies to help families and individuals successfully exit shelter and return to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible.

One of those strategies is to make sure that families in shelter have access to strong literacy programming to promote academic achievement and enrichment, invaluable to a family’s path to permanency. This is what led us to develop our Library Pilot Program, a collaboration between DHS, other NYC agencies, and organizations that makes reading materials and education activities available through onsite libraries, currently operating in 30 family shelters. 

The NYC Department of Homeless Services’ Library Pilot Project was proposed by the New York City Children’s Cabinet, which Mayor Bill de Blasio inaugurated. The Children’s Cabinet is a multiagency initiative to bolster communication and coordination among more than 24 city agencies and provide a space to identify and analyze individual and common areas of work that affect child safety and well-being. Providing literacy services to school-age children is a key goal of the Children’s Cabinet.

The Library Pilot Project was launched in 2014 and is led by the DHS Office of Public, Private Partnerships’ Education Services team. This work is done in partnership with our Division of Family Services and their nonprofit shelter provider partners; NYC Service; Scholastic; and the Brooklyn, Queens, and New York Public Libraries. Together we have created more than 30 shelter-based libraries and have plans to open even more.

Children in shelter can struggle academically. To address this issue, the Library Pilot Program provides homework assistance for students. But it doesn’t stop there. It also brings a college preparatory program for high school seniors to increase applications and enrollment. Parent-child reading activities, one-on-one reading enrichment sessions, and skill-building games and arts and crafts sessions provide a forum for younger children to express their feelings on a wide range of subjects.

The Library Pilot Program also links each participating shelter to its local New York City public library in the hopes that families and children will come to access library services on their own. To facilitate this, the Program offers library card drives, group visits to local branches, and book discussion groups for families.

Through our partnership with New York City’s public libraries, we’ve been able to collaborate in developing library programs that did not exist before, such as parent and child story time, after-school tutoring, college programming, and GED prep and financial literacy workshops for adults. These programs bring stability to the lives of children and families. A NYC agency partner, NYC Service, helps us recruit volunteers from across the city to increase staff capacity in a sustainable manner.

As we make strides in reducing homelessness and improving lives, increasing awareness of and access to literacy resources remains fundamental to empowering families. And so we will continue to explore expanding the Library Pilot Program to reach even more families in shelter. We were particularly encouraged to do so when, last month, the Library of Congress recognized the project as 1 of 14 programs from around the world implementing best practices in literacy promotion.


Sharing Immigration Stories at Thanksgiving

Among the many complex issues that schools are faced with as demographics change and shift, one that is very personal to me is providing a rigorous education for all students. Ethnic and cultural diversity can enhance a school’s culture, but only if we vastly change our educational system to better meet the needs of all students, including new immigrants and undocumented students who are non-English-speaking and have educational gaps.

As an educator, I see it as my responsibility to ensure that every single student, no matter what country they come from or what language they speak, has access to a quality education. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe that all undocumented children are entitled to a free, public education (there are an estimated 1.8 million undocumented public school students today).

Equity in education comes to mind when I walk into Basalt High School each morning, a very diverse high school where 58% of students’ first language is Spanish, and a high percentage of the students qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. Most of our new students come from El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras. It is very common for young immigrants from Latin America to embark alone on dangerous journeys to the United States in search of a place where they can live without fear, and know that the opportunities for success are far beyond what was possible in their native country.

Most of these students who arrive are not English speakers and have substantial educational gaps. Our challenge is to develop a systemic approach to instruction that accelerates their learning, closes the achievement gap, recognizes and honors their intellectual capabilities, and prepares teachers to address differences in cultural background knowledge in a dual-language classroom

My job as an English Language Development teacher is to do much more than just teach English. I build and constantly support relationships with students and families, supporting them as they acclimate to a new community, a new home with constantly changing values, traditions and expectations. Students and many families look to me as the bridge that connects two cultures.  I am the liaison for my students, between the despair they have experienced in the past to the hope they have for a better life and rewarding future. 

Each year, Basalt High School hosts a Thanksgiving dinner, and my team organizes and finds funds for all the English Language Development students and their families in our school to attend.  Around 350 family members and students attended the dinner this past year, which helped them understand the cultural meaning of the Thanksgiving tradition in our country. It is a very emotional evening, watching all these newcomers eat together sharing full plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and cranberry sauce.

We engage the whole community: teachers go door-to-door to invite families, Honor Society students serve as waiters and waitresses, and members of our community prepare the meals for this special event. The dinner helps bridge the vast cultural gap that exists in the Basalt Community where stronger relationships begin to develop between educators, students and families.  

This year we set up the tables to represent every student’s country and serve food from each culture represented in our school.  As Cesar Chavez said, “We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens the community and this nation.”  

Last fall my ELD Geography students each presented the story of their journey from Latin America to Colorado. Students wrote a personal narrative, and used Google Maps to visually describe their journey to the United States. The stories were all similar: leaving their families behind, and traveling through unfamiliar towns and wilderness areas. They told stories of being threatened by gangs, of sexual assault, and harrowing travels.  

Learning targets of the Journey Project includes creating Google Maps to display geographic information, analyzing push and pull factors to understand human migration patterns, and writing personal narratives of their journeys to the United States.  

This project provides high school and middle school students with the  instructional values that  underpin deep social issues to tell their stories. We read immigration stories including "Meet Young Immigrant Students," and planning documents that prepare students for writing that includes checklists, rubrics aligned to common core standards, sample maps, and video narration options.

This project is designed to better meet the individual's needs of each student because each journey is unique and students can demonstrate their learnings in a variety of ways.  Students are also developing their technical computer skills, geography content knowledge and use of the English language.

My work as a teacher is about equity. I hold high expectations and believe students can achieve more than what we imagine, despite the hardships and challenges that they may face (for example, one of my students takes two buses to school, and works until midnight every night to help support his family). It is also important to incorporate students’ experiences, strengths and cultures into the classroom to make learning relevant and meaningful. 

Education is not solely the school’s responsibility and for each student to find success, the entire community must be committed and involved. An old proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Our village includes teachers, families, and our community. When everyone realizes that this proverb is true, I believe we will see academic success. 

Building Capacity for Superintendents

Building Capacity has been a hot topic in education of late, but what does it mean to build an educator’s capacity? The term building capacity refers to efforts to improve the abilities, skills and overall level of expertise in educators. This is not new but simply a way to say that in the ever-changing landscape of education, everyone involved must stay abreast of all the latest research, so that when the boots hit the ground, we have a solid plan in place.

This term is mainly used among educational leaders when they discuss how to build a knowledge base before, during, or even after a new program, new standards, or new curriculum has been implemented. Building capacity ensures that everyone involved has been not only been exposed to but also has started building a deeper level of understanding about the way that things should work for students' maximum benefit.

If we look at those higher rungs of the educational leadership ladder, the question becomes, how do decision-makers build capacity and continue to grow in the field? Jack Hoke, Executive Director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association (NCSSA), has developed a strategy to build capacity in North Carolina’s school districts’ leaders.

Hoke has started several programs with the NCSSA that “work to model what high-quality professional development (PD) should look like so that the superintendents go back to their districts and provide PD for others.” One of these programs is the Next Generation Superintendent Development program,whose aim is to take different cohorts of superintendents through eight days of training, two days at a time, four times a year, in order to build their capacity on how to be a successful long-term superintendent and have their district flourish under their direction. 

The current cohort is made up of 28 superintendents from across North Carolina that have between 15 years of experience, or less. Hoke explains that there is a definite need for this type of group because North Carolina has 80 superintendents, out of 115 positions, with 5 years of experience, or less.

According to Hoke, “If superintendents don’t take charge of their PD, nobody else is going to do it for them. Our PD gives them a model that includes opportunities for reflection and discussion among themselves.” Providing district leaders a chance to reflect and discuss not only offers them a chance to grow professionally, but also a chance to see how important it is for all employees of the district to continue professional growth.

When asked if he saw a change in the districts’ PD after the superintendents completed the Next Generation Superintendent Development program, Hoke mentioned that there did appear to be a shift in offering quality PD instead of using the available funds for a quantity of PD.

One of the areas that the superintendents have had exposure to is in the area of how to increase family and community engagement. Ron Mirr, Senior Vice President of Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, spoke to them about how to lead a shift from just having teacher/parent meetings to helping schools engage meaningfully with families. Several of the suggestions that the superintendents heard were to get a process in place, and to start this change slowly so that it could be monitored and not become “just one more thing.” 

“Everything we do is for a purpose and to help student achievement,” Hoke said when asked how the NCSSA decides what topics to present to the superintendents. He also stated that he looks for ideas that help the participants to “look at different ways to see things and to provide a different light, with the purpose always being to help with student achievement.”

Mr. Hoke and the NCSSA also offer two additional programs. Aspiring Superintendents is available for Associate and Assistant Superintendents, and is intended to help educational leaders build capacity before they become superintendents. This program lasts six days, which consist of three two-day meetings. Each of the three sessions consist of one day of leadership training and a second day of survival skills training. This group is proactive in nature as it instructs participants in how to successfully work with school boards, complete strategic planning, and provides time to ask questions with current superintendents.

Finally, there is a Digital Leadership Institute where the NCSSA partners with the Friday Institute to provide district leaders with the latest ways to disaggregate district data and read the state-level rubric for school systems. Oftentimes, the superintendents are encouraged to bring a district level team, which includes the district Curriculum Director and Technology Director, to begin the district level work while they are still able to have in-person access to the Digital Leadership facilitators.

All of this work is designed around the needs of district leaders to build capacity in a proactive manner. The leaders then bring this idea back and trickle the idea of quality PD down to the teachers and staff who do the day-to-day with students. After all, the goal for all of the PD offered by the NCSSA is to improve the student experience by building capacity from the top down so that everyone is part of a cohesive district plan.



Teacher & Principal School Report: Barriers to Equity in Education

Today Scholastic released the Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education, a survey of more than 4,700 public school Pre-K–12 teachers and principals representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Greg Worrell, President, Scholastic Education, joins edu@scholastic to discuss research findings around barriers to equity in education from the Teacher & Principal School Report.


Working in close partnership with educators—those teachers and principals who are most deeply connected with our children’s learning—has always been one of the most important parts of what we do at Scholastic. In order to bring an understanding of equity in education into clearer focus, we knew we needed to ask educators about their students, their schools and classrooms, and about the resources they need to support kids’ academic success.

In conducting this research we learned that 97% of teachers and principals agree that equity in education must be a national priority. But the majority (87%) of educators, both teachers and principals, also say that their students face barriers to learning that come from outside the school environment. This is true across grade levels and metro status. 

An important factor in our research was to examine whether and how school poverty level affects teachers’ and principals’ views on equity in education, and what we found was striking: while educators in high-poverty schools were more likely to say that some of their students face outside barriers to learning, fully two-thirds of teachers and principals in low-poverty schools said the same. It is clear that barriers to learning are occurring across all levels.

The impact of these barriers is severe. Less than half of teachers (39%) and principals (48%) say that most of their students start the school year academically prepared for grade-level work. Kids are facing serious challenges, including family or personal crisis; poverty, hunger, homelessness; the need for mental or physical health care; and for English language support. And while barriers exist across levels, principals tell us that in high-poverty schools, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the need for healthcare, and the need for English language learning support are more prevalent. Many principals report seeing an increase in students experiencing these situations in the last three years.

We asked teachers and principals what they need to address these barriers to learning, and they told us that largely, the areas of greatest need are outside the school, where educators have a limited sphere of influence. Both teachers (48%) and principals (44%) told us that family involvement in student learning is an area in which adequate resources are not available. 

They also highlighted the importance of access outside of school: to internet and other learning resources, as well as to books at home. In particular, there is a wide gap among kids in high- and low-poverty schools around year-round access to books in the home. And while across poverty levels, teachers and principals agree that it is important for students to have this access—and that schools play a role in expanding it—educators in high-poverty schools (64%) are more likely than those in low-poverty schools (52%) to strongly agree that year-round access to books is important.

This look at the barriers to equity in education is the foundation for our findings in the Teacher & Principal School Report. In coming weeks on edu@scholastic, we will dig deeper into additional areas that impact equity in education, including educators' funding priorities, family and community engagement, professional development and diversity in books.

You can download the full report and infographics at, and follow on social media at #TeacherPrincipalReport. To read a letter addressing equity in education from Scholastic's CEO Richard Robinson, click here.

Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education

It is has long been clear that our schools are increasingly diverse both economically and culturally—and that the student population now is even more diverse than the adult population. As all educators know, children in our schools are also diverse in their academic and social-emotional needs, yet our teachers and principals must ensure that all students meet the higher standards enabling them to compete in a global society.

Historically, access to high-quality instruction and resources has been denied some of our nation’s children. Today, there is a powerful shift toward equity in education, but it is important to clarify what equity means to those people who are on the front lines of our children's education. As one educator shared with us, "Equity doesn't mean the same for everyone; it means that everyone gets what they need." To learn more, we asked 4,721 teachers and principals about their students, their schools, and their communities. 

Scholastic will release the Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education, a national survey of teachers and principals on November 16. This research offers a close look at the barriers to equity in education, educators’ priorities around funding and their substantial personal spending for students and classrooms, the importance of establishing school partnerships with families and communities, and educators’ commitment to their students and to growing as professionals.

To work toward equity, educators need the resources, professional development and interventions so that each child has access to the individualized support required to achieve his or her greatest potential. In many cases, these resources need to reach beyond the school walls to support families and communities in their important roles in helping students. 

The work of our teachers and principals is critical to our nation’s future.  They are the ones who are teaching our children to read deeply and build critical-thinking skills. They introduce young people to great literature and nonfiction, and instill the foundations of understanding—of themselves, and of the world in which they live.  We owe our teachers and principals our respect and our thanks, and we need to assure them that they are not alone in their mission to support students. 

It is in that spirit that I hope you will read this report and consider it a call-to-action: together we must honor the partnership among children, educators, families and communities, all of whom have important roles to play in providing each student with the resources he or she needs to achieve individual goals, and to live a life of meaning and purpose.

Richard Robinson

CEO, Scholastic Inc.


Updated: Read the full report at

See you at NCTE!

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is holding its annual convention next week (November 17-20) in Atlanta, Georgia. We'll be there, of course, and are excited to talk with educators from across the country about literacy and learning!

Scholastic Professional Authors

We're especially thrilled to celebrate some of our professional authors, who will be honored at NCTE for their contributions to the fields of education and literacy.

Jeff Wilhelm is the winner--with co-author Michael Smith--of the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English for their professional book, Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them. Jeff recently posted on edu@scholastic about what he's reading lately, and the many important ways kids can (and should!) read for pleasure.

Laura Robb, winner of the Richard W. Halle Award for Outstanding Middle Level Educator is a longtime Scholastic author and frequent contributor to this blog! Below, you can catch up on some of Laura's expert advice for educators: 

And of course, we are thrilled to introduce two new professional books: The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, Second Edition by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel, and Mastering Short-Response Writing: Claim It! Cite It! Cement It! by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.

On Saturday, be sure to check out this panel from 2:45 - 4:00 p.m.:

Expert-to-Expert on the Joy and Power of Reading: A Panel Discussion 

Ernest Morrell, NCTE’s immediate past president, Kwame Alexander, Newbery Medal winner, and Pam Allyn, founder of LitWorld, sit down for a lively and thought-provoking conversation about the joy and power of literacy. Moderated by past NCTE president Kylene Beers, this panel of illustrious educators will offer its insights about the importance of independent reading, student book selection, and other pressing issues on teachers’ minds. Find out how the joy and power of literacy has transformed the lives of those four educators and what they are doing to assure that others reap the benefits of a rich and engaging life among books. The aim of the panel is to help teachers help students craft reading lives in which they make their own book choices and read deeply and with clear purpose. The right book is a key. It can open a world of profound understanding, empathy, and joy.

Presenters: Kwame Alexander, Scholastic Pam Allyn, Scholastic Kylene Beers, Reading and Writing Project/Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY Ernest Morrell, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY 

Scholastic Trade Authors

But that's not all! Many of Scholastic's trade authors will also be at NCTE, signing books and speaking on panels. Below is a short list, but click here for the full run-down of who will be where from Scholastic Trade!

Friday, November 18

Dav Pilkey (Dog Man, Captain Underpants) Author Signing

Location: Scholastic Booth, #512

Panel: Social Justice and Teen Literacy

Daniel Jose Older (Shadowshaper) will speak on a panel with other estemeed authors about social justice in the young adult novel. Recent media events have brought social justice into the spotlight. Each author will share a particular perspective on how teachers can use literature to make a difference in students’ lives.

Location: Room A410

Saturday, November 19

Panel: Engaging Readers with High Stakes Fiction and Nonfiction in the Classroom

Neal Bascomb, Alan Gratz, Deborah Hopkinson, and Lauren Tarshis will talk about their new works and how teachers can use high-stakes narratives to engage young readers from elementary to young adult.

Location: Room B309


Panel: Equity and Social Justice

To be effective advocates for causes they care about, students need to evaluate, process, and communicate information. These abilities encompass media and visual literacies. Literature and informational texts play a crucial role in providing readers with foundational and historical context and in helping to nurture empathy and awareness.

Location: Room A314


Sunday, November 20

Maggie Stiefvater and Bill Konigsberg Author Signing

Location: Scholastic Booth, #512


Scholastic Literary Event


Omni Hotel, International E&F

This event will highlight and feature authors using the Readers Theater format. After a 30 minute meet and greet, we will being the Readers Theater presentation. 

Featured Authors:

  • Ann Burg – Unbound

  • Mary Lambert – Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes

  • Alyson Gerber – Braced

  • Peadar O’ Guilen – The Call

  • Jordan Sonnenblick – Falling Over Sideways

  • Christine Kendall – Riding Chance


Click here to learn much, much more about Scholastic Trade authors at NCTE. See you there!

Student-Led Discussions Develop 21st-Century Learning Skills

"All we do is read a few chapters and do worksheets. No discussions. I hate worksheets. I want to see what my friends think about Nothing but the Truth. We never talk about anything much in class."

Recently, I surveyed students in my area’s middle school English classes asking them to tell me about their reading, and what motivated them to read and write. This response from a seventh-grade student expresses the frustration most of his classmates were feeling. 

At the end of the day, when the teacher and I debriefed her lesson, she explained that throughout the year students completed novel-based packets that she had purchased, which basically require students to read the book and answer vocabulary and comprehension questions.

“That’s the only way I can keep 30 students working and quiet,” she explained.

When I shared some student responses, the teacher said that she encouraged discussion on some days, but because students seemed disengaged, she didn’t do it that often. In this class, as in other teacher-centered classes, students sat in rows, worked alone, and weren’t interested in working hard.

I believe that administrators, literacy coaches, and lead teachers have the responsibility to help teachers like this one transform their classrooms into 21st-century learning environments. And we need to start now!

What administrators can do

We live in a rapidly changing world and in a global economy, so it’s crucial for teachers to rethink and change their instructional practices.

For students to develop the 21st-century skills that prepare them for further education and a job market that requires strong literacy, they need the 4 Cs: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. And teachers need to participate in professional learning experiences they can transfer to their classes—teacher-centered experiences that will inspire them to create student-centered experiences.

Change can occur when school administrators transform faculty meetings from stand-and-deliver-information forums to discussions in which teachers learn in groups, choose materials, collaborate, and communicate. 

Moving from a teacher-centered to a student-centered approach

So how do we do that? Start by changing the format of department, team, and faculty meetings. Here are some suggestions.

Ask teachers to: 

  • Read and discuss articles about the benefits of student-centered learning and the 4Cs.

  • Watch videos of student-centered classes and discuss them at faculty meetings, inviting teachers to consider students’ engagement, motivation, and behavior.

  • Study professional books and journal articles. 

  • Work with a colleague so they can celebrate their successes and dialogue about their frustrations with integrating the 4Cs into lessons. 

  • Share their teaching experiences at full faculty meetings so colleagues learn from one another as well as provide feedback.

What teachers can do: student-led discussions develop the 4Cs

Everything students do at school should equip them for developing collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.

I recommend starting by implementing student-led literary discussions. These discussions can be about your read-aloud text, instructional reading materials, a short common text, video and movie clips, or texts your students are reading independently—any text as long as it is high quality.

High-quality materials encourage multiple interpretations and nudge students to reflect on characters, themes, conflicts, and information. In addition, they encourage the social talk that students enjoy as they collaborate to analyze informational texts and step into characters’ shoes to think creatively and deepen their understanding of the character and his or her world. 

Get started with student-led discussions

Take the plunge by starting with two- to three-minute turn-and-talks during your read-aloud, and have pairs discuss the question you posed; limit sharing with the class to two to three students so you avoid interrupting the flow of the read-aloud.

Once you and your students are comfortable with turn and talk, introduce small-group and paired discussions.

Small group discussions

A group of three to six students discuss a common text or different texts in the same genre using open-ended questions that they composed. (See Tip 1 below.) To explore multiple meanings of a text, these discussions can take 10 to 30 minutes, with possible follow-up discussions, depending on students’ levels of engagement and interest.

Paired discussions

Paired discussions permit students to explore layers of meaning in texts, as well as multiple themes, and make inferences. Partners can discuss a video, blogs on the same topic, or a common text. Lasting from 5 to 30 minutes, these discussions might extend over several class periods because students need the time to analyze and think critically.

I’ve developed seven tips that can help you and students as you collaborate to develop productive and meaningful discussions.

Seven tips for implementing student-led discussions

The tips that follow will help you to adjust and refine your role as facilitator and enable students to take charge of discussing a range of texts.

  1. Teach students to write their own open-ended, interpretive questions. Open-ended questions have more than one answer and ask students to arrive at multiple interpretations supported with text evidence. Tell students that when they can find two answers to a question, the question is open-ended and they can turn to composing another question. 

  2. Have students choose a leader (students can take turns) who keeps the discussion moving forward by using prompts such as:

    Does anyone have a different idea?
    Can you offer text details to support your position?
    Can you explain that term?

  3. Invite students to negotiate the amount of time they’ll need to complete their discussion. Tell students that if they need extra time, you’ll consider it as long as they have been using time productively.

  4. Decide on a signal for closing a discussion. I like to flick the classroom lights to get students’ attention and let them know they have about a minute to finish. 

  5. Listen to discussions. Sit in on two different sessions each time groups or partners meet. Notice what students do well, and close with a positive statement such as: “I noticed that everyone participated” or “I heard students citing text evidence.” 

  6. Ask students to debrief after a discussion giving them two questions: What worked well and why? What can you improve and how? Then have students use their answers to set a goal for their next discussion.

  7. Have students write about their reading by summarizing it, answering open-ended questions, or composing a paragraph that explains an idea or argues for a position. According to Steve Graham and Karen Harris, when students write about books they can read, their comprehension jumps 24 percentile points (The Reading Teacher, January/February 2016).

Assessing student learning

Use students’ responses in their notebooks, paragraphs, and essays to assess their learning. Create an observation checklist to use as you listen to discussions that take into account preparation, participation, listening skills, citing evidence, critical thinking, communicating ideas, and collaborating to set deadlines.

Closing thoughts

Collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking improve as students engage in literary discussions and work on ways to express and receive ideas from peers. Moreover, when students lead literary discussions, they become engaged and motivated, listen actively, and respect the diversity of interpretations peers bring to the table.

What I'm Reading—Jeff Wilhelm

Jeffrey Wilhelm's book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them (co-authored with Michael W. Smith) has been awarded the 2016 NCTE David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in English Education. In the spirit of Reading Unbound, we asked him to share what he has been reading lately.

On the doors and teachers' desks at the school where I work, teachers post what they are reading. At the moment, on my door, I’ve posted the following: 

I love this. We are all proclaiming that we adults are readers, and that we are a community of readers. We advertise that we read all kinds of different texts and for a variety of different reasons. We invite students to ask about our reading and to tell us about their reading. Often students ask to borrow material from me when I’m done reading. We are creating a culture of reading and sharing the pleasures of reading.

When I was the age of my current 7th grade students, over 45 years ago now (gulp!), my list would have looked like this (I know because I’ve kept a reading diary since 4th grade!):

Back then, I probably would have said that I did all my reading for fun. 

Now, based on my recent research into the power of pleasure reading in Reading Unbound, I know how to identify the various kinds of pleasure that I enjoyed, and I know why each pleasure is important and what specific benefits accompany each pleasure, and I know as a teacher how to promote all of these pleasures in my classroom. 

Pleasure reading as a civil right

My research (with Michael Smith) into the power of pleasure reading has convinced me that pleasure reading is a civil right. Why? There is robust evidence that pleasure reading in youth is the single most explanatory factor of social mobility, educational attainment, cognitive progress over time, and life satisfaction.

Pleasure reading has been found to be more significant a factor in access to equity factors than parent’s SES or education.  (See for example, Guthrie’s analysis of OECD/PISA data, 2004, and the recent analysis of the British cohort study, 2013). What follows is that if we care about social justice, if we care about the current and future experience of our learners, but especially those who are in any way marginalized or struggling, then we must promote pleasure reading with great urgency.  

But here is the rub

What makes reading pleasurable? What motivates students to read and to cultivate the continuing impulse to read over time and into adulthood?  Our research identified five distinct pleasures enjoyed by readers who freely chose or freely chose to continue reading a text. These pleasures were present throughout the informants’ reading, and explain their commitment to reading, how to induct less engaged students into the pleasures of reading, and why each pleasure promotes capacities that lead to the benefits reported in the research. The pleasures are necessary to engagement and participation in reading, and participation is necessary to develop proficiencies and capacities. The pleasures are key! And we know that 91% of children ages 6–17 say “my favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.”

The five pleasures and how to promote them

  1. Immersive play pleasure. This is the first and prerequisite pleasure and is typically what we tend to think of as pleasure. This is reading (or doing anything else) for the pure love of it (and is not loving and being loved a basic civil right, too?). But this pleasure quickly becomes enmeshed with other pleasures. How can we foster this pleasure of play – making it visible and available to those who may not experience it? One way is to use drama/action strategies: Dramatic techniques like revolving role play, in-role writing, good angel/bad angel, hot seating, and alter ego encourage and reward all students for entering and living through story worlds, becoming characters/relating to characters in the ways committed pleasure readers do. 

  2. Intellectual pleasure. This is the joy of figuring out a problem or puzzle, e.g. figuring out what a text means, or how it was structured for meaning and effect. We foster intellectual pleasure when we frame curriculum as a problem to solve by using inquiry and essential questions, when we teach students how to generate their own questions and use discussion structures that promote understanding of how texts work and make it clear that students are not playing “guess what the teacher already knows." (Check out Engaging Readers & Writers With Inquiry and Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements.)

  3. Social pleasure. This has several dimensions: the love of relating to characters, to authors, to other readers, affiliating with groups, and staking one’s identity. Erik Erikson has taught us that the primary task of early to late adolescence is to stake one’s identity, which one does through relationships, and through evolving interests and competence. To the degree that school encourages these social dimensions of reading, it assists with the human developmental journey; to the degree that classrooms fail to encourage the social, we undermine it. How we can foster social pleasure: some ways include being a fellow reader with students, to foster peer discussion and sharing through literature circles and book clubs, promoting books through booktalks and reviews, and doing group projects based on reading and research.

  4. Work pleasure. This is about the love of getting something functional done from reading, including being able to talk and argue, as well as apply what has been learned in the world. Promoting work pleasure: using inquiry that works toward culminating projects, service and social action. Mantle of the expert dramas focused on problem-framing and solution. (Check out Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change.)

  5. Inner work pleasure. This finding was our most striking and moving. Our informants loved using their reading to rehearse becoming the kind of person they wanted to become, and unearthing deeper layers of consciousness and awareness. As Helen expressed, “[I]t’s not really learning about yourself, it’s learning about what you could be . . . ." Inner work is the love of transcendence, of connecting to something greater and outgrowing one’s current self. Promoting inner work pleasure includes inquiry for service to self, peers, the classroom, school, community or environment; drama as characters in dilemmas or agents (good angel) helping a character, or as authors making choices; personal writing for the future/ to a future self. 


Do we want to cultivate lifelong readers, and for our students to gain the benefits and access to civil rights that come from this? Of course we do. Cultivating all five pleasures is necessary to promote lifelong reading. They are already central to our engaged reading.  We must make them all central to our teaching.

Do you have favorite titles or activities that give you and your students the pleasures of play, work, intellect, inner work or the social?  Share them with me on Twitter @ReadDRjwilhelm or on Facebook

Family-Teacher Conferences: What You Need to Know

Family-teacher conferences provide a wonderful opportunity for families and teachers to come together as equal partners to share insight and information. Successful conferences offer a platform for shared dialogue and meaningful exchange. However, this doesn’t happen automatically. Conducting a quality conference takes thoughtful preparation and planning—before, during and after the meeting. 

But first: did you notice I didn’t say parent-teacher conference? The definition of a "traditional" family has changed dramatically. It is important to remember a student's biological parent may not be the person who attends the conference. It could be a grandparent, aunt, big brother or foster parent, and they should be invited and welcomed to participate like any biological parent. Maybe it is time for a name change?

What does an effective family conference look like?

The first step in planning effectively for this conversation is to identify the essential elements of a successful conference. This may seem obvious, but teachers do not receive training during pre-service on the components of a successful conference or how to conduct one.

These are the five elements I believe essential to conducting a quality conference: 

  1. Treat the family as an equal partner: Be mindful of proximity and seating. Sitting next to a parent communicates partnership and a relationship between equals, whereas sitting at a desk or table can create a barrier to partnership and communicate an unequal distribution of power. 

  2. Have a two-way conversation: Ask open-ended questions, share the air, and be an active listener. 

  3. Express love and positivity for the student: What families want to know more than anything else is that you know their child, love having them in class and see their potential for greatness. 

  4. Provide individualized tips and tools connected to learning: Provide families with strategies they can do at home to support student’s learning and development. 

  5. Articulate concrete next steps and plan for follow-up: As the conference winds down, collaborate with the family on a particular goal. Agree on strategies, timeframe, and when to check in on progress.

How can we help families prepare?

Preparing families for a successful conference is equally important. We want families to understand why their voice is important in the conversation, and how to be an active and equal partner.

One of my favorite strategies is to conduct conference clinics before the fall and spring conferences. During the clinic, families learn about their role and responsibilities, observe examples of successful conversations, and role-play and receive feedback on different conference topics.  

Role-playing the conference conversation is an excellent way for families to practice raising issues of concern. These conversations are often hard to initiate. Practicing the conversation among peers is safe, and empowers the family to engage in this discussion during the actual conference.

It is also a good idea to give families a list of sample questions to ask during a conference. This helps them prepare and prioritize discussion topics in advance, and reinforces the importance of their active engagement during the conversation.

Here are my favorite questions to share with families prior to the conference to spark conversation and two-way dialogue. 

  1. What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?

  2. What is my child’s learning style?

  3. How do you assess my child’s progress?

  4. How can I monitor progress? What are the “red flags” I should watch for?

  5. How does my child compare to other students in the class?

  6. What are the grade level learning targets? 

  7. What can I do at home to support my child to achieve the learning targets? 

  8. How does my child interact with other students in the class

  9. How do I choose the right books for my child? 

  10. What types of literature interest him/her?

What to do on conference day

Now that we've covered what to do before the conference, what should happen during the conference?

  • Most importantly, ensure the school environment is welcoming for families. Consider assigning greeters at the door and hanging signage to help families navigate the building.

  • If some families need translators, prepare and schedule them in advance, and take advantage of families' presence at school.

  • Use the conference as a time for families to network. There is often a lot of “wait” time during conferences. Make this “wait” time intentional. It can be an opportunity for families to learn something new, meet someone new or share a tip or strategy with another family! 

Stay connected, stay flexible, stay positive

It is important families and teachers stay connected after the conference. Send a thank-you note to the families who attended, reinforcing the tips and strategies discussed. For families unable to attend, call or send a note to say how much you missed seeing them and provide options for rescheduling.

Even with the best intentions, sometimes the conference does not go as planned. Take a deep breath, keep an open mind, and remember teachers and families play for the same team, and students are most successful when we work together. 

Happy conferencing!



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