Moving Students from Basic Recall to Analytical Comprehension

“Comprehension” is a word that teachers use all the time: Jake’s comprehension is weak; Talia can’t comprehend nonfiction; David comprehends everything he reads. In this blog, I’ll look at recall, the basic step in comprehending a text—a step that provides readers with information that enables them to determine important details, infer, identify themes, and analyze a text’s meanings. And I’ll provide ideas for helping students move from recall to those more sophisticated reading strategies.

Recall Is Basic Comprehension

A common sense belief I always share with teachers is that it’s pointless to ask students to read and reread a text they can’t learn from—a text at their frustration level. Recall implies that the learner is able to decode the text, and understand and remember the information. That can only happen when the student has enough background knowledge and the text is close to his or her instructional reading level.

Classroom Snapshot: Tasha

Recently, I administered an Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) to Tasha, an eighth-grader. Before plunging into the assessment, we spent time chatting about her interests, and she volunteered this statement: “I hate reading. I suck at it.” Her reasons were logical and on point. Reading three years below grade level, and required to read and reread grade level texts, she said: “If I have to read again and again and can’t understand it, what’s the point?” She shrugged and added, “I get nothing from it.”

After completing and analyzing Tasha’s IRI, I suggested two actions that could improve her reading:

  1. Have her read and learn from material at her instructional reading level—preferably books she chose. Not only would she recall information, but she would also be able to practice inferring, determining importance, identifying themes, and at the same time enlarge her vocabulary and background knowledge.
  2. Accelerate her reading stamina and achievement by having her self-select books for independent reading. Researchers Richard Allington and Steve Krashen agree that 40 books a year can enlarge a student’s vocabulary and background knowledge, build fluency, and most important, develop a love of reading that will sustain Tasha.

Scaffolding Suggestions for Recalling Details

  • Have the student reread if the book if it is at his instructional level.
  • Place the student in a book in which he or she has enough background knowledge to recall its details.
  • Find another book that’s more accessible.
  • Have the student reread a few paragraphs, and then stop to think and check his or her amount of recall. If recall is solid, have the student read on. If it’s not, have the student reread or close read.

Moving Students From Basic Recall to Analytical Comprehension

You can move students beyond basic recall to analyzing texts by using the three strategies that follow: determine importance, make logical inferences, and identify themes. In addition, when you use these reading strategies, you’ll move students beyond recall to high level thinking:

  • Use your read aloud text to explicitly model how you apply the strategy.
  • Set aside time for guided practice as you circulate to offer students’ support, answer questions, and acknowledge what’s working. 

However, it’s also important to note that with skilled readers, reading strategies work in teams. For example, I can infer and determine important details at the same time. Or I can compare the protagonist to antagonists and settings. To help students understand, apply, and absorb reading comprehension strategies, teach them one at a time initially—and gradually move toward showing students how to integrate them.

Determine Importance

This strategy applies to fiction and informational texts. With fiction, good readers decide the events, conflicts, and decisions that are significant and can explain why. Determining importance also helps them understand literary elements, such as protagonist, and genre, such as science fiction.

With informational texts, good readers separate nonessential from essential information. They set a purpose for reading because it helps them focus their efforts on specific, essential information.  As they read and reread, they also figure out the information and vocabulary that are important to helping them infer and understand themes. 

Classroom Snapshot: Mikel

Paul Green gives a group of fourth graders a short article on the Amazon Rainforest and asks them to set purposes for reading by studying the two photographs and captions and by reading section headings. Here are two purposes students offered: Read to find out why deforestation is bad. Read to see why the Amazon Rainforest is needed for fresh water. Paul explains that having different reading purposes will make their discussion richer.

However, while Paul circulates among students as they read, he notices that Mikel does not have a purpose written in his notebook. Mikel says, “I never set a purpose. I read it.” Later that morning, during independent reading, Paul meets with Mikel and has him read a different article without setting a purpose and then reread it after setting a purpose. Then he asks Mikel, “Which reading helped you figure out key details?” Mikel grudgingly agrees that setting a purpose helped.

Scaffolding Suggestions for Determining Importance

  • Help students set a purpose for reading for informational texts.
  • Help students set a purpose for reading fiction. For example, a purpose for reading Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins could be to monitor the problems Gilly, the protagonist, faces in the first three chapters. . 
  • Ensure that students understand the diverse subgenres of fiction. For example, a purpose for reading The Giver by Lois Lowery might be to explore what makes the book a dystopian novel.
  • Model how you set purposes by reading aloud. First, set a purpose: To determine the structure of folk tales.  Then, as you read, think aloud and pinpoint the essential details that help you meet your purpose.

Make Logical Inferences

To infer from text, students first have to understand what an inference is: an unstated or implied meaning. Making inferences that are logical means students have to use details in texts they are reading as support.

Inferring is a strategy that you should model many times during the year because it is difficult for most students to grasp, absorb, and apply to their instructional and independent reading. From my experience, with practice, inferring becomes automatic for most students between eighth and tenth grade.

Classroom Snapshot: Sam

Sam, a fifth grade student is reading Ruby Bridge’s Through My Eyes and experiencing difficulty inferring from the text. His teacher switches gears and invites Sam to use details in the book’s photographs to infer. Once Sam shows that he can infer from photos, his teacher moves him to text and says: “Words and phrases in the text give you details similar to what you saw in photographs.” She supported Sam by selecting words and phrases and inviting him to infer. Then she provided an inference and asked Sam to find supporting details. The teacher gradually released responsibility for inferring to Sam until he could apply the strategy on his own

Scaffolding Suggestion for Making Logical inferences

  • Invite students to make inferences based on events in their daily lives. For example, they can infer the temperament of a dog from its behavior or the mood of a friend or sibling from his or her words and actions.
  • Think aloud and share your inferring process using a read aloud text.
  • Have students make inferences based on photographs and illustrations in books.
  • Help students transfer inferring from events in daily life, photographs, and illustrations to inferring from text details by first providing them with target words and phrases and asking them to infer. Have students practice with you and/or a peer until they can work independently.

Identifying Themes

Themes are tough for readers to identify because, like inferences, they are unstated.  But by using informational text details and literary elements students can identify themes that not only apply to the text they’re reading but also to other texts. Here are three steps that can help students pinpoint themes in fiction and nonfiction:

  • Identify the big idea or general topics in the text and talk and/or write about them.
  • In fiction, explore what characters do and say that relate to that big idea or general topic. In nonfiction, explore information and details that relate to that big idea or general topic.
  • Create a theme statement that expresses the author’s message about the big idea or general topic. Encourage students to avoid using character’s names or the names of places mentioned in a text. An effective theme statement applies to people, characters, and ideas across texts, not just the text in hand.

Classroom Snapshot: Ricardo

Ricardo, a sixth grader, can name specific characters and places in the book he’s reading, but he can’t use the information to state themes. His teacher, Ms. Krieger, meets with Ricardo on three separate occasions for five minutes as the rest of the class reads independently. Her plans include modeling how she uses what characters say and do to arrive at a theme and discussing her process. Then, she’ll provide Ricardo with a theme and have him find the details in the text that support it.

Scaffolding Suggestions for Identifying Themes

  • Have students watch a video and identify its theme. Then ask them to talk about how the same strategy can be applied to a text.
  • Give students the details from a text that they need to identify a theme and have them compose a theme statement.
  • Show students how you pinpoint a general topic in fiction and link it to what characters do and say. Then model how you use the information to compose a theme statement. For example, the general topic is the pain and anger that a child experiences when he realizes his parent commits evil acts. In The Giver, Jonas feels shock, intense anger, and deep pain when he watches, on video a feed, his gentle and nurturing father kill a “newchild” who doesn’t meet the growth standards of the community. To transform the father’s unspeakable action into a theme, the reader has to think beyond Jonas to all young adolescents: Disillusionment occurs when an adolescent sees that a beloved parent is capable of evil.
  • Pair up students who have read the same text and have them work together and identify one to two themes.
  • Work backwards: Give students a theme statement and ask them provide the text details that support the theme statement.

Document Teacher-Student Conferences

A five-minute, one-on-one conference can support a student’s needs; one meeting might be enough, but more likely, you’ll need two or more meetings.  It depends on the extent of the student’s needs and the level of the instruction you’re providing.

You can schedule a series of conferences over several days while the rest of the class reads or writes independently. Keeping conferences short and focused allows students to practice a strategy over several days and provides the time students need to absorb how the strategy works and how well it’s working for them.

Hold these five-minute conferences in a quiet place in the classroom. Use a small table or use an extra student desk and meet away from other students to ensure privacy.  I recommend documenting these conferences using a form at the end of this blog. The filled-out form provides a record of what you planned and what you and the student discussed, practiced, and accomplished. It can also inform the focus of future conferences and teaching decisions.

[begin reproducible]

Five-Minute Intervention Conference Form


Directions:  Complete this conference form and use the information it contains to inform your practice. Store in the student’s assessment folder to consult later as necessary.


Focus the conference topic:

Points to discuss with the student:

The kind of scaffolding I’ll try:



Note important comments the student made:

My observations of the student:

Negotiated goal for the next conference.

Date of the next conference:

[end reproducible]

Learn more about scaffolding by exploring Laura Robb’s book, Unlocking Complex Texts.

How I Researched and Evaluated One of My Everyday Teaching Practices

In today’s education world, teachers are completely surrounded by data, but in many ways, we are left wondering how to apply it to our teaching practices. Because testing data only provides a snapshot of what teachers and students do for a whole school year, it is important that we as educators find ways of systematically evaluating the programs and practices we use in the classroom on a daily basis. My goal as a reading teacher isn’t just to raise test scores, but to teach my students to be stronger readers. If we want to really help our students become better readers, it is imperative to continually evaluate the programs and practices that we use when teaching.

A little over a year ago, I began the process of learning how to systematically evaluate a program that I used in my classroom. While in a M.Ed. program at Berry College, I entered an action research class with the hopes of analyzing the effects of the Independent Reading Assessment (IRA) by Jennifer Serravallo, a whole book comprehension assessment published by Scholastic and adopted by my school. I wanted to evaluate the lessons in the IRA and their impact on students’ whole book comprehension. Little did I know how valuable this information would be to me, my school, my system, and especially my students.

Here’s the process I went through: To begin, I became very familiar with the assess-evaluate-teach framework in the IRA resource. I found it helpful to include my colleagues in this process and to seek advice from them. During grade level meetings, I would explore the IRA framework with the literacy coach at our school. We watched videos of Jennifer Serravallo modeling how to use the IRA and conduct goal setting conferences. We poured over the teacher’s manual studying how to use the assessment and work the lessons into our everyday instruction. We also spent time norming students’ responses, so we could get a better idea of the expectations in grading the assessment. Because of this collaboration and training, I felt very confident in using the IRA.

After administering the assessment, I organized the results and formed small groups of students based on their reading needs. I then taught specific reading lessons to these small groups over a period of time. When I felt that they were ready to be assessed again, I sent them off to show me what they learned. At this point, I had two sets of data to analyze. In order to compare the first assessment to the second assessment, I had to calculate a standardized score for each. Using statistical software, I found the mean score of each assessment and calculated the difference. My students showed a statistically significant increase from the first assessment to the second assessment.

So what does this mean for my classroom? It means that the instruction based on the IRA teaching strategies were effective for my students. It means that my future students will probably benefit from similar instruction, and it means that my colleagues and I now have data to stand behind our instructional practices and resources that we use on a daily basis.

In the future, my students and I can analyze our classroom data with the purpose of continuing to use the practices that work and modifying or eliminating the practices that are not effective. This process will make me a more effective teacher and lead my students to become stronger readers, which of course is my overall goal!

List Poetry and the Art of Classroom Storytelling

This article, co-written by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley, first appeared in California English, the quarterly journal of the California Association of Teachers of English and is reprinted here with their permission.

Humanity's legacy of stories and storytelling is the most precious we have. All wisdom is in our stories and songs. A story is how we construct our experiences. At the very simplest, it can be: 'He/she was born, lived, died.' Probably that is the template of our stories—a beginning, middle, and end.

                                    —Doris Lessing

Did you know that you’re a storyteller? All teachers are—every time we explain our instructional plans for the day, help our students understand photosynthesis, or give a Book Talk about that book that just rips our heart out, we’re telling a story. Rather than using storytelling incidentally, why not harness your natural prowess as a classroom griot and make storytelling a potent instructional strategy across the curriculum?

Speaking and listening is as natural as breathing. It’s as ancient as the flow of blood in human veins. From the moment of birth, we hear stories about family members, neighbors, and the world beyond. Whether we’re recounting that time we ran out of gas and had to push the car a mile to the nearest station (don’t judge me!) or just shooting the breeze, we tend to think, dream, and imagine in beginnings, middles, and ends.

The Beginning

My 15-year-old came home from school and announced that she was ready to date. She’d met a boy and claimed she was “in love.” This confession came out of nowhere it seemed. She was my only child. My princess. The daughter I played dress-up with. The one I chased around the playground, the one I swung around and around until we both got dizzy. Date? That was not supposed to be something she did until age 30. How did we get here? My wife tried to console me, tried to help me understand by bringing up my own romantic teen years. That didn’t help because romance eluded me in high school. I was less than cool, callow even, and I didn’t have a real girlfriend ‘til I was 19, almost a junior in college. Still, my wife insisted, “Kwame you’ve got to meet the boy’s parents” — which I did.

Storytelling in the Classroom

In every language arts classroom, one of the most common expressions spoken by students is, “I don’t know what to write about.” Even the most meticulous planning, instruction, and conferencing does not free some students from the intimidating grip of the blank page. I’ve always believed that bringing a piece of oneself to the writing makes it more authentic, more meaningful. And, what better way to make powerful connections for student writers than through the power of story—by sharing their own experiences.

Matthew James Friday (2014), an International School Teacher and Professional Storyteller, explains why storytelling makes a difference in every classroom. As he notes, a good story sparks student engagement—mouths close, eyes focus, bodies lean forward, and kids begin to track your every word, gesture, and movement. Storytelling in the classroom inspires purposeful discussion, and, as Friday points out:

  • Fosters enthusiasm for reading and rereading texts to find stories to share
  • Encourages writing because children want to write and tell their own stories 
  • Builds classroom community
  • Improves listening skills
  • Captivates active students who enjoy acting out the stories
  • Encourages emerging bilinguals to speak and write English.

Some of the oldest forms of storytelling are in the form of lists. For example, Homer’s Iliad contains many lists interspersed with poems of the Trojan War. Many famous poets relied on the list format to write very powerful stories-in-verse such as “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman,“ “If I Were in Charge of the World” by Judith Viorst, and “Sick” by Shel Silverstein. So here’s an idea: Why not use list poetry (see description ahead!) to encourage, inspire, and instruct your students in the art of telling stories.

The Middle

After meeting with the boy’s father, I informed my daughter that I felt comfortable with her going to the movies with her “love.” She smiled, and gave me a hug, the likes of which I hadn’t received from her since elementary school. It set my soul on fire. Made me hate what was coming next. “My dear,” I explained, “for the first date, I’ll need to sit a few rows behind you in the movie theater.” The compassion was no more. Her smile turned to a scowl. If she was a princess, I was the beast. I think we both cried that night.

List Poems

List poems are not just a list of random things. It is a kind of writing that grows from the precise selection of different, but related, subjects and topics. In a list poem, each line typically begins the same (which creates a certain comfort, especially for the beginning or reluctant writer), rhythm and repetition are common, and the final line is always a meaningful clincher. Lists are everywhere. Our lives are framed by best-dressed lists, bucket lists, most-wanted lists, and top ten lists. In our classrooms, we encounter homework lists, reading lists, to-do lists, and lists of rules that govern classroom behavior. Because they are such a common form of communication, even the youngest students understand the idea and purpose of a list.

List poetry lets young writers communicate their ideas in an original fashion by freeing them from restrictions like syllabification, meter, and rhyme. At the same time, list poetry requires students to draw on poetic tools, such as alliteration, metaphor, onomatopoeia, personification, repetition, and simile to produce a quality piece of writing. Using list poetry for writing provides many opportunities for output while applying the tools used by poets and writers. Like other types of poetry writing, list poetry gives students the opportunity to articulate feelings, observations, and thoughts in a fulfilling fashion—all necessary fuel for good storytelling.

A Penny’s Travels

You were a penny in someone’s pocket.

You were a skydiver without a parachute.

You were a wheel rolling down the street.

You were a person getting kicked by a monster.

You were an airplane flying in the sky.

You were a heli crashing into a sewer.

You were a swimmer swimming in the ocean and popping for breath.

You were a fish washed up on an island.

You were a bowling pin getting hit by a bowling ball.

You were someone’s grave laying underground and people there singing for you.

You were a penny and always will be.

by Ranbir B. (Grade 4)


The Benefits of List Poems

List poems are versatile and easily adapted for different grades and levels of students. The youngest are capable of identifying themes and putting together a collection of related items. Reluctant writers can select topics that they are comfortable writing about, as well as develop ideas based on their own experience and knowledge. Students can find inspiration for writing in a junk drawer or in the baseball equipment bag. This feature of list poems encourages children to share their stories in a compact and consistent manner.

List poems can be organized in a repetitive fashion, which provides a scaffold for students to build their story. With the list poem format, children are able to independently develop their ideas, use figurative language such as metaphor and simile, and make important judgments about what to leave in and what to take out during the revision process.

Finally, list poems develop a student’s ability to organize and sequence ideas. Writers who practice developing beginnings, middles, and ends are able to transfer this knowledge to the material they read, and process texts in a more engaged manner.

Writing a Shared List Poem

List poems begin with a topic and a collection of connected articles or concepts. The first step is to brainstorm a list of topics. Ask students to think about the lists you can make like Things That Fell Out of My Junk Drawer, Things I Didn’t Do On My Summer Vacation, or Things I Ate at Thanksgiving. Record the ideas on the board so students can explore many different possibilities for their writing.

Once a topic is selected, ask students to offer words and phrases about the subject. Throughout the process, encourage students to think of things that are surprising or unusual to make the poem more interesting. For example, if the topic is Things That Grow, you might offer suggestions such as puddles, snow banks, and shadows. The more ideas that students produce at this point in the writing process, the more material they have to work with when they are drafting their story. As the number of ideas grows, students are forced to employ divergent thinking, and this leads to more interesting and unique stories.

Once you have assembled a collection of 20 to 30 items, you are ready to begin drafting a poem. Select the most interesting words and phrases to create an original list poem. Remind students that list poetry is meant to make unusual connections, encourage readers to hear your story, and inevitably see the topic in a new way.

In the final step, arrange the ideas to tell a story. Invite students to consider what they would like readers to learn from the poem. Many list poems end with an important message for the reader—accomplished, for example, by offering a piece of advice, ending with the most unusual concept, closing with something funny, or repeating the first line.

Nothing focuses the mind and creates anticipation and wonder like a good story. And, list poems are a powerful tool for lubricating storytelling engines.

The End

Ten Reasons Why Fathers Cry at Night

1. Because fifteen-year-olds don’t like park swings or long walks anymore unless you’re in the mall

2. Because holding her hand is forbidden and kisses are lethal

3. Because school was “fine,” her day was “fine,” and yes, she’s “fine.” (So why is she weeping?)

4. Because you want to help, but you can’t read minds

5. Because she is in love and that’s cute, until you find his note asking her to prove it

6. Because she didn’t prove it

7. Because next week she is in love again and this time it’s real, she says her heart is heavy

8. Because she yearns to take long walks in the park with him

9. Because you remember the myriad woes and wonders of spring desire

10. Because with trepidation and thrill you watch your daughter who suddenly wants to swing all by herself



B.R. (2011). Hatching Hope. Book-in-a-Day, 2014.

Friday, M.J. (2014). Why Storytelling in the Classroom Matters. Edutopia. Retrieved from:                        

How One Rural Community Is Addressing the Challenges of Resource Scarcity and Geographic Isolation

Educational challenges are abundant wherever resources are scarce. When policy makers and education leaders attempt to address those barriers, they tend to focus on children living in urban poverty. However children growing up in rural poverty confront the same challenges of scarcity multiplied by the fierce grip of geographic isolation. For 6.5 million of our country’s rural families – including 1.5 million children – poverty has been entrenched for generations, with a devastating impact on health, education, and prosperity.  For the past four years, Scholastic has been piloting a program called Discover Together, designed to bridge that isolation and build resilience in Grundy County, TN.

Developed in collaboration with the Yale Child Study Center, Sewanee: The University of the South, and local partners, Discover Together offers resources to increase social connectedness, to build pride in community, and to use the power of story across generations.  Through a multi-faceted approach, Discover Together has had a powerful impact on one of the poorest counties in rural Appalachia. Last week, that impact was recognized by Center for the Study of Social Policy in a report titled Strengthening Supports for Young Parents and their Children: A Focus on Low-Income Rural and Suburban Families. The report spotlights Discover Together among six promising programs throughout the country that are innovative in addressing the needs of rural and suburban families living in poverty. 

Discover Together started with a small-scale attempt to build resilience through a summer camp that paired community field trips with books.  Although the program was enthusiastically received, it quickly became clear that the community was clamoring for more. Guided by continuous feedback from the community, Discover Together expanded in scope and reach to answer evolving needs. Soon the Discover Together Family Co-Op arose for caregivers and their young children with a place-based curriculum that addressed the development of the whole family. “Discover Together gave us somewhere to go, to have something to do, and spend quality time with our children and other parents – especially during those long winter months,” one parent explained. Participants discovered each other as a key source of support, and began to explore their community as a place of pride. 

Today, Discover Together features an integrated system comprised of a family co-op; a camp; and an after-school learning lab. All components share a methodology based on a multi-generational approach that targets caregivers and children simultaneously.  Centered around a literacy- and place-based curriculum, the programs are designed to enhance social connectedness as a mechanism for building resilience. "What was most helpful for me is that my daughter, an only child, got a chance to be around other kids her age,” one mother began. “In her sharing, and her learning to cooperate with other kids, it really helped her character at home. At the same time, the parents learned from each other.”

Discover Together has grown far beyond the partners’ initial vision, evolving according to the community’s strengths and needs. One grandparent talked about the changes she’s seen as Discover Together has grown. “The families get together outside of the co-op now. And now I know people I can turn to for support. I’ve started to look at Tracy City differently,” she added.

Approaches like Discover Together offer hope for its participants and a model for further innovation. Recently, Discover Together received a grant from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation to conduct a needs assessment and resource mapping to enable Discover Together to reach the hardest-to-reach families. That grant, along with this recognition from the Center for the Study of Social Policy, will deepen the program’s impact.  Emily Partin, Director of Discover Together and lifelong resident of Grundy County, appreciates this extra layer of support for local families.  “Tracy City has suffered so much over the years, leaving burnt out and boarded up buildings riddling the streets.  Programs like Discover Together are breathing new life into the town simply by bringing the families back out into the community,” Partin explained. “It is a beautiful rejuvenation process!”

A New Early Learning and PreK Online Resource

In recent years, community leaders around the country have placed a growing emphasis on early childhood education, recognizing that a solid foundation of language and social and emotional skills serves children well throughout their lives. Scholastic has created an Early Learning & PreK website, with resources for preschool teachers and administrators.

On the site, you’ll find free, easy-to-do activities for young learners, as well as a sampling of our classroom books and products. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be adding an overview of state and federal funding streams, the latest research about early education and brain development, and links to state Early Education departments.

Here is a sampling of the classroom activities you’ll find:

  • Classroom Colony -- Students can decorate and connect hexagons to create a bee colony.
  • The Mitten Story -- An ancient Ukranian story inspires this mitten-making craft.

What else would you like to see on the site?

I Believe Every Child Can Become a Super Reader

Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell are the co-authors Every Child a Super Reader, a new book from Scholastic that empowers educators, giving them the tools to transform instruction and help students become “Super Readers.” The book is scheduled for release in December, and is available for pre-order online.

In advance of the book’s release, Pam and Ernest have corresponded about their hopes and desires for the book. Their exchange will be published on edu@scholastic over the next several weeks.

Dear Ernest,

You and I have had a long friendship and have shared a passion around advocating for children as learners. Our new book is a momentous time in our lives to share the conversations we’ve had and the work we’ve done, both separately and together, that advance the concept of a child-centered, literature-centered, reading-centered life. I am very excited to be writing to you right now, sharing some thoughts and ideas with the wish that 2016 will become the Year of the Super Reader.

When we first started talking about LitWorld, the organization of which I am the founder, and you a critical leader as a board member, we were talking about children whose stories had been all but forgotten, children whose access to books feels like a dream and where the promise to go to college or even high school feels distant. We see literacy as a powerful equity issue.

In writing our book, I believe we recognize that the hunger in children to feel more of a connection to their own voices and voices is not limited to children living in poverty, but to children living across the socio-economic spectrum. For us, this book, Every Child a Super Reader, is not only for children on the margins, though we raise our strongest voices for them, but for all children, living everywhere.

The poet Robert Penn Warren (the first and only writer to win a Pulitizer Prize for poetry and fiction, by the way!) once wrote in a poem: “Tell me a story of deep delight.” I think children are searching for the opportunity to tell and to hear and to read stories of deep delight. They come to school ready to experience that deep delight. And then, there are the challenges of school and schooling in this era, the confusions and the complications. I think we are sometimes confused as a society about what the purpose and meaning of education should be now and our children sense that confusion. 

We have become perhaps distracted by the “Googling” of information, by the idea that technology will solve all, by the literal waterfall of facts that rains down upon us each and every day, as if all this could or should supplant the role of teaching and learning in classrooms. Yet, teaching and learning is deeply human and I do believe it is irreplaceable and that literature facilitates the humanity of our work too. What do you think about that, Ernest? For in my view, the relationship between teacher, student and text is predicated upon delight. That relationship is a transaction, where the child is at the center, the text is at the center, and the teacher is the coach, the champion, the mediator. I believe this teaching role as mentor and guide is at once classic and also the most modern it has ever been. It is relevant and powerful. But we have to practice at it, every day. Our book focuses on tapping the strengths already within each child, what they come to us with. This makes our complex role easier.

I hope our book will inspire a discussion around the power of contagious engagement for every child and the role we teachers and parents play in fostering this for all our children, through our mentorship and all the ways we facilitate the delight around reading, writing and storytelling in our students. That kind of engagement helps children curate their own reading lives, with their own choices and their own voices, with their own stories and their own knowledge. Outside of school, we are always curating information, sifting, mulling, discarding, choosing. We constantly ask questions and seek answers. I want schools now to become a laboratory for how children learn to be most empowered by their literacy to be able to do all these things, with us and without us. Their own wonderings become delightful because they have the power to find and curate their results.

I want our book to inspire the creation of literacy communities of “deep delight,” where reading books of choice and texts that invite discussion can build a momentum in every child to be a choice maker, an innovator, a leader, and a member of civic society. Where the child who feels strong enough can break through the hard reading challenges, dig deep into knowledge and discover she has ideas that can change the world.

What are your hopes for our book?

With all my affection,


How to Reframe the Role of Families in Education (and a Giveaway!)

It's a Fact: School Libraries Work

Anyone who has spent time with me or follows me on social media knows I care deeply about creating positive library experiences for children and teachers.

With the release of the 2016 edition of School Libraries Work!, I feel more motivated than ever to stand on mountaintops and shout about WHY school libraries are important and matter. School Libraries Work! will empower educators, administrators, policymakers and parents by arming them with powerful research, recommendations and support for school library programs.

To accomplish this, Scholastic compiled national- and state-level findings from more than 30 separate research studies demonstrating the integral role school libraries play in teaching and supporting student learning while confirming that when school librarian staffing is reduced, achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) suffers. Throughout all of the studies included in the report, one thing is abundantly clear: Librarians and libraries play a crucial role in schools. Across the country, the data is proof that a credentialed school librarian, collaboration and co-teaching, access to technology and large collection size all elevate student learning.

To download the full School Libraries Work! report, visit:

Here are highlights from the report:

  1. When school librarian staffing is reduced, achievement in ELA suffers. A School Library Journal analysis found states that gained school librarian positions between 2005 and 2009 experienced larger increases and no decreases in National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reading scores for 4th grade, while states that lost school librarians experienced smaller increases or decreases in reading scores.
  2. Librarians play an integral role in teaching and supporting 21st-century skills. A South Carolina study commissioned by the South Carolina Association of School Librarians revealed that students were more likely to show strengths and less likely to show weaknesses on writing standards if their school libraries were staffed with a full-time librarian plus a full or part-time assistant.
  3. Support of school librarians and libraries from school and district leaders is key. In fact, recent research has shown a strong relationship between test scores and the degree to which the principal values and supports the library media program. A research paper from Marietta, GA, details short and long term recommendations for school leaders to support and enhance student learning through high-quality library programs and certified staff.

The Implicit Benefits of Explicit Reading Instruction

“But what does an inference look like?”  This question, posed by a fifth grade student struggling to get a grip on making inferences represents the confusion many students experience with that strategy. An effective way to support all learners as they work to understand and apply a reading strategy is for you, the teacher, to show them what the process of understanding and applying the strategy looks like. You can easily do that by reading aloud a passage from an anchor text, thinking aloud, and making your process visible as you infer and identify unstated meanings in texts.  

Teach Reading With an Anchor Text

An anchor text is short and usually complements the genre and theme of whatever unit of study you’re carrying out. If your students are reading biographies, for example, then the anchor text could be a picture book biography such as Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull or an excerpt from a chapter book such as The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin. You can evaluate the length of an anchor text by deciding whether you can complete the modeling in about 10 class periods by reading aloud each day, two to three paragraphs. The strategies you model should first and foremost give students the thinking tools they need to read well and perhaps help them meet state and Common Core State Standards. Think aloud and show students how to:

  • use context clues to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words.
  • build prior knowledge by previewing a text before reading.
  • apply reading strategies such as making inferences, finding themes, and determining important ideas.
  • link figurative language, literary elements, and informational text structures to a theme or big idea in a text.
  • discuss the genre characteristics of the anchor text.
  • foster collaborative discussions of the anchor text.
  • answer text-dependent questions.
  • use close reading to solve reading challenges.

The strategies that you model with an anchor text should be the same strategies that students practice applying to books at their instructional reading level. Anchor text lessons can offer students multiple opportunities to build and/or enlarge their mental models of how specific strategies work, so they can use those strategies on their own to become better readers.

Anchor Text Lesson on Figurative Language

The purpose of this lesson for middle school students, which is based on the Emily Dickinson poem below, is to help students understand and identify an extended metaphor and then show how the metaphor enhances a theme in the text.

She sweeps with many-colored brooms,

And leaves the shreds behind;

Oh, housewife in the evening west,

Come back, and dust the pond!


You dropped a purple ravelling in,

You dropped an amber thread;

And now you’ve littered all the East

With duds of emerald!


And still she plies her spotted brooms,

And still the aprons fly,

Till brooms fade softly into stars—

And then I come away.

1) Make sure students understand that an extended metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that’s woven through several sentences, paragraphs or, as in this case, most of a poem.

2) Read aloud the poem twice. Before the second reading, ask students to listen for the extended metaphor.

3) Think aloud and explain the metaphor. Here’s what I say:

Dickinson compares sunset to a housewife and includes housewife imagery in each stanza. In the first stanza, words like sweep, housewife, and dust conjure pictures of a woman cleaning. However, instead of cleaning house, she’s cleaning away daylight and preparing for sunset.

4) Invite students to turn and talk and identify housewife imagery in the second and third stanzas. Here’s what students say:

Second stanza: ravelling, littered

Third stanza: brooms, aprons

5) Next, pose a question that can help students connect the extended metaphor to the poem’s theme: Why does Dickinson compare sunset to a housewife?

6) Ask students to turn and talk to explore that question. Here’s what two students said when I carried out this lesson recently in an eighth-grade classroom:

  • A housewife never finishes her work—like with nature always having to do sunset and sunrise.
  • My mom’s got routines—like she does stuff around the house on different days. That’s like sunrise and sunset ‘cause different things happen.

7) Wrap up the lesson by celebrating students thinking and recapping what     you’ve taught them about extended metaphor.

Suggestions for Using an Anchor Text to Teach Reading

The more you plan and practice anchor text lessons the easier delivering them becomes. You might consider practicing with colleagues to boost your comfort level. Then, plunge into offering your students explicit anchor text lessons using the guidelines that follow.

Process Guidelines for 10 to 15 Minute Anchor Text Lessons

Model a strategy that students are learning in guided reading. When you align your whole-class teaching with what students are learning in small groups, they stand a better chance of understanding and internalizing the strategy.

  1. Tell the students the strategy you’ll be modeling for them.
  2. Explain the strategy, how it helps readers, and how readers apply it.
  3. Read a short passage from the text and model by thinking aloud, how you apply the strategy.
  4. Involve the students. Have them turn and talk to apply the strategy to a different passage from the text. When they’ve finished, ask volunteers to share their thinking.
  5. Wrap up the lesson by retelling students what you and they did. Repeat the strategy’s name and how to apply it.

Present the interactive anchor text reading lesson using different parts of the same text four to five times a week.  Start by carrying out the lesson with the whole class and repeat it as necessary in small groups of students who require more time to absorb it. Short, focused, interactive anchor text lessons can show your students what terrific readers do as they unpack a text’s meaning.

Learn more about anchor text lessons by exploring Laura Robb’s book, Unlocking Complex Texts.

How is Elementary and Middle School Math Instruction Changing?

This summer, I was participating in a webinar about using area models for division. A fellow participant asked, “If students know the algorithm but not the model, how do we motivate them to care about the model?” The answer was a “eureka” moment for me: We have to change the definition of success in mathematics.

Some students (and adults!) are used to thinking that getting the right answer is all you need to do to succeed in math. We need to emphasize that it’s equally important to explain your thinking. Students can do this by drawing a model or a picture.

I think about this all time while I’m editing DynaMath—Scholastic’s classroom resource connecting literacy with real-world math for grades 3 through 5. We create the problem sets and lesson plans with these specific objectives in mind.

For example, in a lesson plan about ordering decimals, we’ll introduce the strategy of ordering decimals on a number line. Then we’ll close the lesson by showing students how to order decimals by lining them up according to place value. Finally, we’ll ask students to compare each method and explain which they prefer.

Learn teaching tips from real educators and math editors at Scholastic

With states adopting new, higher standards, kids are being taught math in new ways. But communicating these changes to parents and others, and keeping students engaged can be a daunting challenge.

Which is why I’m teaming up with Karina Hamalainen, editor of MATH (our classroom math magazine for grades 6 through 9) and Olga Tsoupros, a talented New York City teacher and Scholastic adviser, to host a free webinar on November 10 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

We’ll share how math in elementary and middle school can be both rigorous and fun using real-world connections. RSVP to the webinar.

We’ll discuss:

  • An overview of how math teaching and learning has evolved in the Common Core era.
  • Ways to use novel, real-world examples to motivate your students so they will want to persevere through difficult concepts.
  • Tips to expand learning in the classroom and let our real-world math do the cross-genre work for you.


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