Today, Choose Joy: Joyfulness in Fluent Reading

Melissa Cheesman Smith is co-author of The Megabook of Fluency. She joins EDU to discuss the relationship between joy and fluency in reading.

I am terrible at crafting. I don't know if I’m terrible because I don’t like it, or if I don’t like it because I’m terrible at it. Either way, it is not something I choose to do for fun. I find joy in things that I am good at.

Perhaps joy comes from the ease of, satisfaction from, or comfort in doing the task. Playing the piano creates joy for me. While I’m no concert pianist, I enjoy it because I am good at it, which then makes me want to do it more. This, of course, then makes me better at it, which creates a remarkable cycle: We enjoy, we practice, we become better. Then we enjoy even more, and the cycle continues. This can apply to anything we learn in life from music to sports to reading.

I recently read Braving the Wilderness (Brené Brown) where she writes, simply, that joy matters.

Success is important because we have to help kids find opportunities for joy in what they do at school. When we consider the cycle, kids will find joy in reading when they do it often and become better at it. Research supports this.

There are so many opportunities for joy! Since the most proven way to become better at something is to do it often, we can take advantage of this. This is a fluency term known as repeated reading: practicing the same text over and over to become “better” at it. This is fluency, through which we help readers find joy! There is an intrinsic joy in doing something well, in learning, in accomplishment. Reading fluency is no exception.

The Megabook of Fluency brings the best of the best in strategy and text to bring joyfulness to reading by making readers more fluent in an engaging way.

Reading fluency embodies a series of factors to help readers become more fluent using the EARS model.

  • E – Expression: Reading confidently with expression and tone that matches the meaning of the text. Students have to really show understanding of the text in order to make their expression match.
  • A – Automatic Word Recognition: Students can use strategies to learn to read words automatically as they become more familiar with them and have many opportunities for practice. 
  • R – Rhythm and Phrasing: Students learning to read words with appropriate pauses as well as in chunks - phrase-by-phrase instead of line-by-line helps them read naturally with rhythm.
  • S – Smoothness: Reading with flow and without hesitation or mistakes comes from practice. Reading with smoothness is the mark of a fluent reader, but only comes with practice.

These elements of EARS have been thoughtfully developed throughout the book through 50+ fluency strategies. How can you NOT find joy in this excerpt of a song, “Mom, You Aren’t Fourteen!” included in the book: Do you want to run away / When your mom thinks it’s Broadway / And she tries to sing the songs / just to act like she belongs; / half the words she says are wrong /Oh, why is this song so long /Mom, you aren’t fourteen!

How easy it is to bring the joy of reading with engaging and research based strategies such as this included in The Megabook of Fluency in both theory and practice. The teacher will begin the cycle by finding the appropriate strategy, using the provided text, and the kids are ready for…. joy!

Create Lifelong Readers During National Poetry Month (enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

Georgia Heard is the author of Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards. She joins EDU to discuss the power of poetry to create lifelong readers.


We are giving five readers the chance to win a copy of Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling us your favorite poem to read with students. One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on April 20, 2018. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.

I don’t remember reading poetry as a child but I remember hearing poems. My mother recited nursery rhymes and verse such as: “Pease porridge hot/Pease porridge cold/Pease porridge in the pot/Nine days old,” and “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey….” She didn’t sit down and explain the meaning of “Pease porridge hot" or “Mairzy doats.” It was the sound of my mother’s voice, and the music of the words, that made me fall in love with poetry.

In my book Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core Standards, I share numerous ways to guide teachers and students in reading, understanding and appreciating poetry. My goal is to help students fall in love with poetry, and National Poetry Month is a perfect time to help grow this love and appreciation.

Explore What Students Already Know About Poetry

Teachers often introduce poetry without first finding out what students already know and feel about it. Teachers can start a poetry exploration by asking students to share their thoughts and prior experiences with poetry; the questions below can prompt a discussion:

  • Do you enjoy reading poetry?

  • Do you have a favorite poem or poet?

  • Are poems easy to understand?

  • How do you feel about poetry?

By starting with a conversation, teachers can gauge students’ prior understanding and knowledge of poetry which will inform future instruction.

Read Lots of Poetry

Read. Read. Read. Students need to hear and read poems–lots of them: poems that rhyme; poems with a rhythm that make us clap our hands and dance to the beat; poems that paint vivid pictures and images of, for example, waves breaking on the shore or the whisper of fall leaves; funny poems that will make us belly-laugh; poems that speak to all feelings, such as sadness at losing a beloved pet, shyness, or feeling lonely.

Teachers can read both classic and modern poems that offer a variety of styles and forms. Poetry can be a window into diverse experiences and worldviews that may differ from students’ own, and can foster empathy and shared trust in a classroom and school community. Encourage small–group and partner reading as well as whole-class reading of poems. During independent reading time, teachers should make sure that there are plenty of poetry books and single poems available for students to read.

Read A Poem Aloud Every Day

Teachers can carve out a specific and predictable time every day to read a poem aloud: first thing in the morning, after students have unpacked and are getting settled, after lunch when they return excited and revved up from recess, at the very end of the day before making the transition to home. It only takes a minute or two to read a poem. Students can choose a poem they would love to read aloud, and then practice reading the poem before presenting it to the class. Poetry is a powerful way to help students develop oral fluency. Choral reading is also a fun and supportive way for students to read poetry aloud.

Look for opportunities to include poetry in other contexts, such as during science or social studies.

The sample schedule below shows when poetry might be read aloud during a typical elementary school day:

  • Morning Meeting/Start of Day or Class: Poems about morning, waking up, poems about school-related topics

  • Language Arts: Poems about reading, writing, listening, speaking, books

  • Math: Poems about numbers and math

  • Lunch: Poems about food, lunch, eating

  • Science: Poems about science (solar system, rocks, growing seeds, etc.)

  • Social Studies: Biography poems, poems about historical and current events

  • End of Day: Poems about homework, evening, nighttime, sleeping

Grow an Understanding of Poetry Together

Middle and high school teachers can share a poem at the beginning or end of class. Keep copies of the poems , and when students love a particular poem give a copy for them to keep.

As students listen to poems, ask them to point out what they notice and what elements of poetry the poet might be using, and then add those to a growing What We Know About Poetry chart.

Invite students to respond to a poem by writing a brief response, or personal reflection, in their notebooks and then share and discuss these responses with the class.

Encourage deeper reading by rereading and discussing one poem over a period of several days.

In no time, students will grow an understanding, and a lifelong love and appreciation of poetry that will spread way beyond National Poetry Month.

Registration Is Now Open for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is now open for teacher, public librarian, and community partner registration!

Is your school new to the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge? Here's what you need to know:

  • Now in its 12th year, the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is a free online reading program dedicated to stopping the "summer slide" by encouraging kids to read over the summer. Beginning May 7th, kids can log their reading minutes online, earn digital rewards when they complete weekly reading challenges, and access free resources including videos and printables.

  • Every year, kids participate in the Summer Reading Challenge together on behalf of their school, public library or community partner organization. Pre-register the students in your class or group now, and they'll be all set to start reading on May 7th.

  • This year, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the theme is A Magical Summer of Reading. Our brand-new, mobile-friendly website features the artwork of Jim Kay from the Harry Potter Illustrated editions.

Need to register for the Challenge? Just go to the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge website at and log in with your Scholastic credentials, create a new account, or sign in with Clever. Once you've logged in, you can access your Classroom Dashboard to add your class (or multiple classes). You'll be able to track your students' reading progress all summer long, and edit or print class lists as needed. (Teachers: Make sure you hand out all student account credentials before the end of the school year.)

The Summer Challenge site includes free resources for educators:

  • Free printables, like a reading pledge, a reading log, motivational letters to send home to parents, and reading certificate to help your students make a reading commitment and stick to it

  • Book lists for all ages, including downloadable versions in English and Spanish

  • Videos featuring authors reading aloud from their titles, educators and experts 

At the end of the summer, we’ll recognize the “Best in State” schools in all 50 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and the U.S. territories, along with the Top 10 Libraries and Top 10 Community Partners. Each winning location will receive a Celebration Kit, complete with a special plaque and other fun materials to help them host an end-of-the-year event.

Last year, kids read over 138 million minutes. Visit to learn more and sign up today!

Twitter Chat Recap: #SummerReaders with Pam Allyn

Yesterday @ScholasticEd hosted a Twitter chat with Scholastic author and Founder of LitWorld, Pam Allyn. We asked Pam all about helping kids become #SummerReaders, from explaining why it is so important for kids to read when school is not in session, to helping them to get excited about reading and how to get families and the community involved. At the end of the chat, Pam also shared some of what she plans to read this summer: books, magazines, poems and more.

To learn more about helping students become Super Readers, check out the professional title Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyn & Dr. Ernest Morrell, and don’t forget that pre-registration for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge for educators, librarians and community partners begins on Monday, April 9th, 2018.

Below is a recap of the chat: 

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy?

Patricia Scharer is the editor of Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Some educators boil reading down to “the simple view” of D x C = R, with D for decoding and C for comprehension.

Certainly, word recognition and decoding are essential, but it’s not as simple as this equation. In fact, decoding itself is not at all simple. It involves phonological awareness, an understanding of letter-sound relationships, and learning how to use knowledge of letters and sounds to figure out unknown words. However, for example, the rule we all learned as children “when 2 vowels go walking, the 1st one does the talking” only works 45% of the time!

I’m wary of this notion of a “simple” view, which could be expected to work like a “silver bullet”—the answer to teaching all children to read. We hear about this all the time: it could be a new technology, teacher’s manual, or set of materials. Buy this and your students will succeed! The problem is that we have never, ever found this silver bullet in technology, a teacher’s manual or a set of materials. Wouldn’t it be nice if learning to read English could be made simple using a silver bullet? Unfortunately, it’s never that easy.

What a child needs to learn to read varies from student to student. Some children come to school as fluent readers; for other children, regular classroom instruction enables them to learn to read and write successfully. But for about 20% of students, regular classroom instruction won’t meet their individual needs. We need to provide all students with a highly qualified teacher who can support each child in the areas in which he or she needs it, and build on their strengths as they learn to read and write.

I think we have all had enough experiences with the latest trends to agree that teaching all children to read is certainly not simple. So, for want of a silver bullet, below is what strong literacy instruction would include if I could create it:

  1. Assessment—we need to carefully select the most powerful and appropriate assessment measures to learn as much as possible about each student. Naming letters in 60 seconds may be quick, but we are left with many questions about the child: how many of the upper and lower case letters can the student identify? Are there confusions like reversals? The assessment must be rich enough for the teacher to plan instruction. I won’t know enough about a child in 60 seconds to help her learn the alphabet. So, the first part of my plan is quality assessment that the teacher can use immediately to plan instruction.

  2. Quality teachers—The Reading Recovery i3 study identified four attitudes and dispositions which are key to excellence: openness to change, strong interpersonal skills, strong work ethic, and a belief that all children can learn. I think we can all agree on these four qualities, but my focus is on the belief that all children can learn. I worry that sometimes, in the face of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty, that we move resources to the middle of the class and the children who need it most are provided with resources that aren’t sufficient to meet their needs. Providing a volunteer to a struggling reader is like handing the heart attack patient to the candy striper. For more than 30 years, Reading Recovery has shown that more than 70% of the very lowest-achieving first graders can not only learn to read and write, but can accelerate their rate of learning, rising to the class average, in 12–20 weeks. A core belief held by Reading Recovery professionals is that all children can learn. In fact, Marie Clay believed that if a child isn’t learning, it’s because we haven’t yet figured out how to teach him! Children need the special skills of a highly trained teacher.

  3. Ongoing professional development—I don’t know of anyone who believes that initial university training is enough to become an expert teacher. It’s a start, but there’s so much to learn! The comment I hear regularly from newly-trained Reading Recovery teachers is that they really didn’t know how to teach a child to read until after their year of initial intensive training. Two professional development days a year on assorted topics are not enough. I believe that there are three components to quality professional development: a shared understanding by the staff that we are all life-long learners; a commitment to regularly-scheduled study sessions; and the support of a highly qualified coach who works intensely with teachers in classrooms.

This is what I call a silver bullet: powerful assessment, quality teachers, and support for them to continue to learn as professionals.

And there’s proof that it works.

A federally-funded study by Gina Biancarosa and Anthony S. Bryk in Literacy Collaborative schools was the first to document the positive relationship between the amount of coaching and teacher change, and teacher change and student achievement. The 17 schools in the study had a highly trained Literacy Collaborative coach; a commitment to 60 hours of PD in the 1st two years and at least 10 hours every year after that; and the books and materials to support implementation of a responsive literacy framework. By the 3rd year of implementation, students were learning, on average, 32% more each year than they learned during the baseline year.

It’s not easy. It’s not quick. It’s not cheap. But it works.

Conferences and Conversations About Independent Reading Matter

Curled up on a comfortable chair, I opened my book. Time seemed to pause after I re-enter the story, and I was hooked. An hour later (it actually feels like minutes) the phone rang. My annoyance quickly disappeared. My friend Meg was calling, who was reading the same book. That’s the only interruption to my reading I welcome—talking about the book. I relived parts of the story with Meg, a friend who also loves the book.

Reading is social. A need to share emotions, fears, and predictions is part of reading. Conversations bond readers to books because talk can affect their hearts and minds. To share ideas with others—to talk about books in a group or conference—not only improves recall and understanding, but also invites readers to organize their ideas so listeners understand them.

Teacher-Student Conferences

Conferring with a student is your opportunity to get inside the student’s head and understand how he or she thinks about fiction and nonfiction. You can discuss questions as well as provide the support that improves a student’s reading skill.

During the first six weeks of school, it’s important for you to hold two rounds of conferring with each student and build relationships, gain insights into students’ reading process, and prepare them for conversations with a peer. Help students understand that by practicing with you, they’ll be able to have meaningful conservations about books with a classmate.

You can find the time to hold three- to four-minute conferences with students while they complete instructional or independent reading. I recommend reserving two weeks at the start of the school year to complete one round of conferences, take a break, and complete the second round.

Set aside time to know your students and forge relationships with them throughout the year. You’ll gain insights into their learning lives that can help you decide what kinds of questions to pose and discuss during conferences as well as what kinds of interventions students need. Document each conference by noting the date, listing what was discussed, as well as your reactions and lingering questions.

You will have students, English language learners and those reading two or more years below grade level who you’ll want to meet with frequently in order to build their fluency, improve comprehension, and develop the self-efficacy needed for students to choose independent reading at school and home. Suggest books they might enjoy, but remember the choice to read one is always theirs. Schedule these conferences as often as needed.

Conferring With Students

Conferring about independent reading with students helps you know their interests as well as their ability to:

  • recall details;

  • use details to infer;

  • identify themes in fiction and nonfiction;

  • identify main ideas in nonfiction;

  • make connections to other books, movies, and videos; and

  • share their enjoyment.

A goal of conferring about independent reading is to discover the kinds of thinking students do as they read. Refer to and adapt the questions that follow, always keeping in mind the best way to interact with that student grows out of your relationship with them and your knowledge of their strengths and needs.

Questions Encourage Conversations

An easy way to offer students a choice of which question to discuss with you or a peer partner is to write each question on a 3-by-5 index card. Students can choose a card at random or look through the deck and select one or two that interests them. There will be times when you set the conferring agenda because you’re intervening to scaffold a student’s reading.

Enjoyment Questions

  • Why did you choose this book?

  • Why did you enjoy the book?

  • To whom would you recommend the book? Explain why.

  • Can you identify the genre and its structure? Is it a favorite? Why or why not?

  • What have you learned about people?

Questions/Prompts for Literary Elements: Fiction and Biography

  • Who is the protagonist? What problems does he or she face?

  • What are three antagonistic forces? Explain how each one affects the protagonist?

  • Can you show two different kinds of conflicts the protagonist faces?

  • Do other characters affect the protagonist’s decisions and/or actions? Choose one and show how.

  • What changes the protagonist? Discuss events and/or other characters that cause a change and explain the change.

  • Name three personality traits you observe in the protagonist. Use text evidence to support each trait you identify.

  • Name two themes in your book and explain how details in the book support each theme.

Questions/Prompts for Informational Texts

  • Why are you interested in the information this book presents?

  • How did you develop an interest in this information?

  • What new information did you learn?

  • Choose a favorite photograph or diagram and discuss why it spoke to you.

  • How does what you learned affect people’s lives today?

Student-to-Student Conversations

Student-to-student conversations use a lens that differs from teacher-student conferences. Such conversations are social, not prescriptive, and students set the agenda. I recommend pairs converse about books on a class blog, taking turns asking questions and writing their answers. This provides you with written text and allows students to have conversations while the rest of the class reads silently.

To keep track of students’ conversations, ask them to post on an excel spreadsheet on your computer: name and date, the title and author of the book discussed, and the name of the conferring partner.

After students converse about a book, encourage them to write a review on a class blog or school website. When peers advertise books and recommend them, it often develops a desire, among other students, to read the book.

Closing Thoughts

Offering opportunities for student-to-student conversations about completed books shows you value reading and recognize reading is social. Encourage students to have reading conversations with different partners so they learn about the kinds of books that interest classmates. Continue to use teacher-to-student conferences to model conferring and talking about books as well as to provide support and interventions for those who need it.

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:


Empowering Students and Families to Address Summer Reading Loss in Greenville, SC and Stoughton, MA

Over the past two years, we have been proud to partner with Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools in Greenville, SC to examine the benefits of access to books and engaging families on summer reading. Last year we were able to institute a similar summer initiative and research through partnership with Stoughton Public Schools in Stoughton, MA.

The findings from both Greenville and Stoughton, described below, reveal that when children and their families have the resources they need to read all summer long, we see increased volume of reading and confidence in students, overwhelmingly positive sentiments from families, and fewer students experiencing a loss of skills while school was out.

Make Summer Count (MSC) 2017

For the second consecutive year, Scholastic and Public Education Partners (PEP) have collaborated to study the effects of access to books and family engagement on students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around summer reading. The heart of this work has been Make Summer Count (MSC), a summer reading initiative that since its 2014 launch has been led, managed and sponsored by PEP in Greenville County Schools (GCS) in Greenville, SC.

MSC consists of two opportunities for literacy engagement for more than 18,000 students and their families in grades 1–6 across 29 higher-needs elementary schools in Greenville, SC:

  1. MSC Book Celebrations help students build home libraries by allowing them to self-select 10 free books to take home and read over the summer.
  2. Family Reading Nights are events where families can learn strategies to support their children’s reading over the summer, and where children receive additional books to take home.

The biggest takeaway from the two years of data (2016  and 2017) is the consistency in the findings, which highlight positive trends in family engagement as well as positive student attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors regarding summer reading.

Among the findings from 2016 and 2017:

  • Over two consecutive summers, MSC students reported reading more than 14 books, compared to the national average of 12 books. Students reported reading 14.7 books in 2016, and 14.2 books in 2017.

  • Students across both years, who began the summer with fewer than 10 children’s books in their homes, reported increases.

  • For the second year, more than 75% of students agreed they were better readers in the fall because of the reading they did over the summer: 83% in 2016; 79% in 2017.

  • Across 2016 and 2017, more than 96% of families agreed that the books their children received from MSC contributed to them reading more over the summer.

  • In 2016, 98% of families agreed that reading books over the summer would help their children during the school year. In 2017, 100% of families agreed to a similar statement.

Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 (SRS)

Based on the success of Make Summer Count and the positive findings from the research, Scholastic collaborated with Stoughton Public Schools (SPS) in Stoughton, MA to develop, implement, and research the impact of a similar summer reading initiative called Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 (SRS), which reached students in grades K–6 across five elementary schools. Similar to MSC, Stoughton students had the opportunity to build their home libraries by self-selecting 10 free books to take home and read over the summer, and families were invited to participate in Family Literacy Nights.

Each school participating in the research was in one of two groups that received the same opportunities, but at different points in time. The “summer book” schools received resources—books and family literacy nights—before the start of summer, and the “control” schools received the same resources in the fall. In total, about 1,700 students self-selected 10 free books and had the opportunity to participate in one of five Family Literacy Night events.

In addition to exploring students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about summer reading, SRS also included an exploratory review of students’ literacy levels as measured by standardized test scores provided by the district.

Key findings revealed that:

  • Fewer “summer book” students who were striving readers experienced summer reading loss than students in the “control” schools: 21% vs. 30%. In addition, fewer “summer book” students who were advanced readers experienced summer reading loss than students in the control schools: 34% vs. 43%.

  •  Fewer “summer book” students reported not reading over the summer (6%) in comparison with 14% of “control” students.

  • Eighty-seven percent of “summer book” students in 3rd grade agreed they were better readers in the fall because of the reading they did over the summer, compared to 77% in the “control” schools.  The current state and federal focus on reading proficiency by third grade further highlights the importance of this finding.

  • Eighty-five percent of families agreed that the books their children received contributed to them reading more over the summer, and 94% of families that attended Family Literacy Nights agreed that they were a good way to connect families and schools.

To learn more about the Make Summer Count 2017 and Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 research, download:

Book Studies: Home-Grown Professional Development

Faculty book studies are an excellent way to collectively focus staff on your school’s initiatives. Imagine how your faculty can enlarge their learning and improve teaching practices as they read, explore, and reflect on professional books. Next, add the enhanced communication you can accomplish by using technology. The result? You have professional development and learning for all staff—and it’s happening in your school!

I can recall years ago, staff in my school said they could not change their practice because they were not sent to conferences. Granted, twenty years ago the ability to learn independently was not as available to educators as it is today. The Internet and social media allow any interested person to access information quickly and to connect with like-minded individuals. Below, I propose an additional method to keep staff focused on personal and professional growth: book studies. To focus staff on learning, collaboration and growth when money was tight, we did book studies. And all these years later, we still do them.

Let’s get moving. I want you to bring book studies to your school. Organized book studies can focus the learning of staff while fostering communication and collaboration. Below, you will learn how to launch an effective book study in your school. And to keep this future-focused, I will include how you can incorporate technology into book studies. I encourage you to take my ideas and make them your own!

What Is a Book Study?

A book study is not buying a book for your staff, telling them to read it, and never having meaningful conversations about the text. In my school, a book study is an opportunity for the entire staff or parts of staff to read the same book and have structured conversations as they move through the book.

Once staff and I agree on a book, we set aside time at a faculty meeting to chunk the book into four to five sections, depending on its length. Then we negotiate the amount of time needed to read each chunk and respond on Google Docs or Google Classroom. If, after completing the first chunk, everyone feels they require extra time to complete the reading and responding, we adjust the due dates.

Who Decides on the Topic and Book?

I suggest the principal chooses a book that all staff can benefit from reading, ideally one that aligns with a school focus or theme. I encourage teachers in my school to suggest books, which I read and use as the basis for my selection. The best choice will be engaging and motivate your staff to read and discuss. I have used books like Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson and The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. In general, I have found that overly academic books are not ideal for staff book studies. I recommend you choose one that leads readers to reflect on their practice.

How Long Is a Book Study?

Three months is the maximum time for a book study. When the book study is too short, staff feels rushed. When it is too long and drags on, excitement fizzles out. I have failed on both ends, but based on my experience, three months—give or take a week—is the way to go! In my school, we usually do one book study in an academic year.

Tips for Launching a Book Study

Before Starting the Study: Prior to launching the book study, send staff a list of the dates for reading specific pages in the text and the deadline date for responding. Providing staff with the due dates they negotiated with you reminds them of how much time they will have to read a section and respond on Google Classroom. This enables everyone to build the reading and response requirements into his or her personal schedule.

Finding the Time: It is challenging to find time for staff to gather in a room and formally discuss a book. Technology allows communication to happen in new and exciting ways! For your book study, I recommend staff offer comments and feedback, making the process interactive. Google is an excellent platform to make this happen, and I suggest two options for you to consider.

  1. Post five to eight reflection questions in a Google Doc after staff have read a section of the book. Invite staff to select quotes from the book, post these, and offer comments.
  2. Set up a Google Classroom and invite staff to write their comments/questions in the Classroom. If the group is large, Google Classroom is the way to go because it’s easier to find many comments in that platform.

To initiate a top-notch comment activity, add thought-provoking questions and a few responses as these can motivate readers to join the conversation. This year I had an enthusiastic staff member who asked to lead the chat! Empowering others to lead is your opportunity to develop leadership. Always embrace such an opportunity!

Ready, Set, Go

I have found that when launching book studies, participants fall into one of three groups: some are enthusiastic; some are not real sure but try to remain open-minded; and some don’t want to do it.

It’s important for you to believe in the book you're reading, so you can communicate excitement about learning from it. Let your reading community know that everyone will have opportunities to respond, raise questions and react to comments of colleagues after completing each section. To get all on board, suggest that they pilot the first book study and then hold a debriefing session so participants can discuss the process and celebrate their learning.

Change Takes Time

Book studies will succeed or fail depending on the motivation and participation of the principal. When you participate with teachers, you send the message that book studies are important professional learning experiences. Two books my staff and I studied have changed the teaching practices of a few teachers: Teaching Reading in Middle School and Differentiating Reading Instruction, both by Laura Robb.

Change did not occur the year of the study. What I discovered is when one teacher announced a change in instruction at a team meeting, she raised the curiosity of others. Here’s what she said: “I organized my reading unit around a theme and genre. Now students read books at their instructional reading levels, and my read aloud is our common text.” What followed were ongoing conversations among teachers. Those teachers thinking about change observed her class. Still, there wasn’t a groundswell of change. Over time, teachers risked trying a unit to test the concept.

Be patient, because change takes time. If you maintain the momentum of conversations about a book, continually support integrating new ideas into teaching practices, embrace and honor the transformation when it comes, and encourage teachers to observe one another, change will follow.

Spring is a great time to reflect on how the year has gone and where your school needs to head. What books might help everyone grow as teachers and leaders?

Final Thoughts

Continually encourage staff to take some of what they have learned and integrate it into their teaching practices. Motivate staff to communicate with each other and other educators in new ways by using Twitter. This year in my school, our culminating book study activity was a staff Twitter chat that we opened to the world. You can check out what we said about our book study by going to #jwmsstaffinnovates.

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:


3 Quick Ways to Capture and Analyze Learners’ Thinking (enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

Judith Dodge and Blanca Duarte are co-authors of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom, 2nd ed., which is updated with more support for English language learners and teaching with tech. They join EDU to discuss the power of using formative assessments. 


We are giving five readers the chance to win a copy of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling us your city and state, and what grade you teach. One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on March 30, 2018. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.

Formative assessment is a purposeful, ongoing process that is non-graded, frequent, and, generally, carried out several times throughout a lesson. Before educators give a single grade, they gather data about where students are in their understanding of a topic or concept. Then, they use this assessment-based evidence to drive subsequent instruction, targeting misunderstandings or gaps in student comprehension. According to Hattie (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012), formative assessment has one of the most powerful effects on student achievement, improving engagement, self-regulation and self-directed learning.

In 1998, Wiliam and Black, credited as the first to describe “assessment for learning," noted that in many cases formative assessment can effectively double the speed of student learning.

What formative assessment looks like:

  • Teachers engaging in one-on-one conferences with students;

  • Students writing summaries to synthesize learning;

  • Students drawing illustrations to show understanding;

  • Students using checklists and rubrics to self-assess and learn next steps toward the learning objective;

  • Students engaged in collaborative conversations to discuss meaning, process, and problem-solving;

  • Students writing in journals where they stop to reflect, describe, sequence, compare and contrast, note relationships among concepts, and so on.

How to capture this information:

In a differentiated classroom you can ask students to note what they are thinking at different times during the lesson: at the beginning, at the middle and at the end of a lesson, and/or lots of times in between. There are many ways that you can capture learners’ thinking especially if you are in a classroom that has access to technology.

Below, we focus on three summary and reflection assessments that function formatively and provide traditional as well as digital suggestions for using them.

1. A TimeOut!

KWL charts are often used as a pre-lesson activity which, when used with a collaborative tool, offer opportunities for students to quickly brainstorm what they know about a topic, what they want to know, and, after the lesson, what they have learned. A TimeOut! offers a similar experience.

After students are accustomed to the procedure of responding to a prompt through a QuickWrite (2–3-minute timed reflection activity), a TimeOut! can be offered multiple times during a lesson. Pausing for student reflection and writing two to three times during a lesson allows for consolidation of learning and deeper understanding (Hattie, 2012).

In a digital classroom, students can be prompted before, during, and after a lesson is completed using backchannel tools like TodaysMeet or Chatzy, a collaborative bulletin board type tool like Padlet, or a feature like the Question in Google Classroom. See the image below for an example of how TodaysMeet is used for a TimeOut! (a reflection or a response to a teacher-posed question) as students read about the Byzantine Empire.

As an alternative reflection activity, educators can provide students with a random list of ideas and statements that partners have to think about—some that are true and others that are false. Have students discuss with partners whether they agree or disagree with each statement, and have each write down all statements they believe to be correct.

2. A WriteAbout

A WriteAbout is a concrete tool for summarization in which students use key vocabulary terms to synthesize their understanding of key ideas in a paragraph, accompanied by a visual image.

Digital tools allow for some additional flexibility in how students work. Students can insert images or draw their own, and label images freehand or with a text tool to complete a WriteAbout. This is especially useful for students who have difficulty expressing their understanding in words, like ELLs. The use of digital device is also helpful for those that have trouble with fine motor skills like those with dysgraphia. Using a text tool, students can type their summary under their image.

The digital documents can be saved and compared for improvement in writing over time.

See the image below for a Math WriteAbout example on the relationship between buildings and right angles. This can be done as a precursor to an introduction on right angles to measure what students know prior to the lesson, or during the lesson as students are making sense of information, vocabulary and the relationship between the real world and mathematics.

Words: right angle, 90 degrees, triangle, relationship, opposite, area, perimeter, square, rectangle

Challenge yourself: isosceles, hypotenuse, adjacent

In the following image of the Empire State Building (ESB), there are multiple right angles visible.The perimeter of the building clearly shows the right angles as the building gets narrower at the top. Right angles equal 90 degrees and are found in squares and rectangles. These right angles make up rectangles that are visible on the outside edge of the building, also called the perimeter. One way to calculate the area of the building would be to measure and multiply the base and height of each rectangle. The top of the ESB forms a loosely shaped isosceles triangle whose area can be calculated by multiplying ½ base x height. There are also windows with 90 degree angles on the ESB.

3. A 30-Second Summary:

30-second summaries can be used as both an assessment and a way to extend learning.

During a study of cell division, for example, students can research how cell division in a plant is different than in animals. They can summarize their findings in a 30-second summary by:

  • delivering an oral presentation to the class;

  • creating a visual about key findings; or

  • creating a set of bullet points with key points.

As students make these 30-Second Summary presentations, they are providing a spiraling, student-driven exploration of content. To save even more time, educators can consider limiting the number of students who will present for each unit. We recommend that each student orally present at least one 30-Second Summary per quarter.

In a digital classroom, there are multiple tools you can use to show understanding using a 30-second summary. After conducting research individually or in pairs, teachers can:

  • ask students to record a summary as a response to a prompt using FlipGrid;

  • allow students to choose how they leave a summary on a Padlet: Draw, Film, or Voice; 

  • use a tool like Verso to create a prompt and ask students to write their response.

Keep in mind that with practice, all of these tools can be set up on the day of collection, with students responding to multiple prompts throughout the day as they summarize new information.

Let’s Pledge to Make Literacy a Year-Round Priority

We’ve witnessed the tremendous strength that schools, families, and communities have in supporting student learning, especially over the summer. In October 2017, the Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence recognized Make Summer Count 2016, a partnership among Greenville County Schools, Public Education Partners, and Scholastic, for its work to help prevent summer learning loss.

Recently, Michael Haggen, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Education, contributed a story to Language Magazine titled “Year-Round Reading.” The article explores how summer reading is an integral and achievable piece in a district’s comprehensive literacy plan, with Make Summer Count 2016 as an example.

As part of this discussion, Michael highlights four essential factors that he believes significantly contribute to the positive results of programs such as Make Summer Count 2016, which can be replicated across the country. These factors include family engagement, professional learning opportunities for educators, promoting choice, and increasing access to books. Below is an excerpt from the article which outlines the results of Make Summer Count 2016, and highlights specific ways that districts can make literacy a priority while school is out of session.

You can read the full-length article here.


Year-Round Reading

Michael Haggen explains how summer reading is an integral and achievable piece in a district’s comprehensive literacy plan

With the end of another school year nearing, we must remember to keep the imperative message of reading over the summer top of mind, even as we look forward to end-of-year activities. Because the summer slide—the common loss of academic skills while students are not in school—is responsible for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between higher- and lower-income students (Allington, McGill-Franzen, 2009), we cannot risk entering summer without a plan to make the home-to-school connection around literacy. 

I have been re-energized around summer learning thanks to incredible work I have seen in districts across the country, and also because I’ve been reminded there is still much work to be done. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 6th Edition, a national survey of children ages 6–17 and their parents, revealed that only 48% of parents have heard of the summer slide. There is also an inequity of information: only 38% of low-income parents are aware of the summer slide, and one in five kids from low-income families told us they did not read any books over the summer. This is a problem that we need to address. 

Overall, we found that for parents who have heard of the summer slide, teachers and schools are their number-one source of information about it. This is a strong call to action for educators to ensure all families in our communities have access to the information and resources they need to make summer count and turn the summer slide into a summer leap. 

An excellent model for this can be found in Greenville County Schools in South Carolina. Last year, local nonprofit Public Education Partners (PEP) released results of a new research study examining the effects of Make Summer Count 2016,a reading initiative supporting summer learning for 18,000 students in grades K–5 across 29 higher-needs elementary schools. PEP and Scholastic provided participating students with the opportunity to select 11 books of their choice to take home for summer reading, and hosted 23 Family Reading Night events to foster family engagement. 

The research findings indicate that with increased access to books and family engagement, a majority of students maintained or increased their reading levels over the summer of 2016, and also that the program had an overall positive impact on students’ reading habits and attitudes. In October 2017, Make Summer Count was awarded the Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence for demonstrating successful strategies to help prevent summer learning loss, in large part due to the research around the program displaying an overwhelmingly positive impact. You can find the full results in the report Addressing Summer Reading Loss: A Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools Initiative, but here are a few incredible highlights: 

  • Seventy-eight percent of students in grades 3–5 maintained or increased their reading levels from spring to fall 2016.
  • Students read an average of 14.7 books, compared to the national average of 12 books—a statistic reported in the Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition.
  • The percentage of students who read for one hour or more without stopping grew from 13% to 26%.
  • Eighty-two percent of students agreed that they were better readers after the summer.
  • Ninety-eight percent of families agreed that their children were better readers because of summer reading.
  • Ninety-nine percent of families agreed that the program contributed to their children reading more books over the summer.
  • One hundred percent of families found Family Reading Nights valuable for learning about how to support their children’s reading.

While reflecting on the powerful results of the work done in Greenville, I want to call attention to four essential factors that I believe significantly contribute to the success of programs such as Make Summer Count, which can be replicated across the country.

Excerpt and cover image from March 2018 issue of Language Magazine printed with permission from Language Magazine.



Subscribe to EDU RSS