I am Not a Reading Teacher, I Am a Gatekeeper of Information

Working with hundreds of educators over the past ten years, the phrase I hear most frequently is, I am not a reading teacher. From science teachers to math teachers, when you ask most Middle School and High School educators what they teach, reading is the last response (if at all) you typically hear…unless you ask a literacy teacher.

When this occurs, I can’t help but think of them as  “Gatekeepers of Information”. An educator who claims no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher” can most definitely be classified as such. With this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific discourse. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class, able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th-grade science test question:

The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require and teach a classroom novel, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Ways to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy:

  •  Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.
  • Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold-Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.
  • Organization – Content-specific text often has repetition in the organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying and modeling how the author organizes the text will help students locate needed information.
  • Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is a specific example that students can approach from a variety of angles because it has so many things done correctly. Students use mentor texts reflectively and ask themselves, how can I parallel what that author did in my own work? All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing examples) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.
  • Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to comprehend the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence

Being able to support students as they encounter discipline-specific texts means ALL educators support and teach literacy. Remember, you are the expert in that content area and need to unlock how to read like a… historian, mathematician, musician for students!

4 Games to Boost Media Literacy Skills

Critical thinking, healthy skepticism, fact-checking; in today’s information age, these three are more important than ever. On a daily basis, students are bombarded with information from multiple platforms that they must wade through, analyze and interpret, to make the most informed decisions on the authenticity and relevance. 

Media Literacy, according to NAMLE, is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication that are interdisciplinary by nature. Media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable, and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surround us. 

I am an advocate for the teaching of these skills in classrooms across the country. In fact, just last week I was speaking at a conference in Connecticut, and after my talk on Developing Healthy Skeptics, a  professor approached me and told me that starting this year, media literacy was going to be a part of all Teacher Education programs at his university. We are making progress!

From websites to extensions to games, there are many ways to talk about and use media literacy in the classroom. From single lessons, to longer units, I typically start off with a game that provides a launch into the inquiry. I have found that games in the classroom provide rich simulations in which students learn content and hone skills. In the case of teaching Media Literacy, this is no different. These games focus on the consumption of digital information and place students in a variety of situations to evaluate epic headlines, analyze misinformation, or even use strategies to gain influence and followers just as an online troll would do.   

4 Games to Get Students Thinking Critically:

Factitious – Factitious, developed by the American University Game Lab and the JoLT Program, is a viral hit! Released in 2017, this Tinder-like game asks users to swipe left or right based on if the article is real or not. In its most recent updates, Factitious now has 6 game levels and 3 different reading levels making it accessible for a huge age range. Plus, it’s super fun! 

Get Bad News – Get Bad News has users take on the persona of a fake-news tycoon trying to make a social impact by spreading disinformation while trying to get more followers. This online game developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Dutch media group Drog, tasks players through six different tactics in an effort to understand this propaganda and fake news while actually creating and sharing it. As you advance through the game, users earn badges and increase their fake-news radar by walking in the offenders’ shoes. 

Cast your Vote – A recent update and release of Cast Your Vote, by iCivics is perfect for the upcoming election. Users discover what it takes to become an informed voter–from knowing where you stand on important issues to uncovering what you need to know about candidates. This new version offers ELL supports and educator guides and questions to deepen the learning! It’s a perfect way to help students identify issues that are important to them and evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, voting record, endorsements, and messaging.

Troll Factory – Troll Factory, my most recent discovery, does come with a warning. Because of the authentic content and sensitive material, it is not appropriate for all students. With that being said, the insights and explanations at the end of the game are fantastic.  When placed in the right learning context, I could see this game as being useful for upper-grades and college-aged students. Troll Factory shows users how disinformation merchants infiltrate social media and spread their anti-democracy propaganda. Created by Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle’s News Lab, this game asks you to imagine you are a professional troll who tries to amass influence on social media through fear, bias, and propaganda.  

There are many more resources, tools, and games popping up as the need for media literacy increases. From chrome extensions to URL validation websites, using multiple resources to support student discernment of digital discourse should be a priority in every classroom. It is only through an ongoing effort by all teachers that we can best equip students for a life filled with digital information and the critical thinking skills necessary for life. 

12 Quotes About Writing from the Experts Teachers Love

I love teaching writing. Well, let me rephrase that, I love teaching writing, now… It wasn’t until I was in my graduate studies that I actually learned how to teach writing. Sure, I wrote in college, learned grammar and convention rules, explored genres, and had writing classes during my undergraduate work, but a class on how to actually teach writing… I don’t recall that being part of any course I took for my education degree.

Following my graduate studies my philosophy on the teaching of writing changed. I found my students more interested in writing and sharing their thoughts. I, too, began to write more and eventually started a blog to share with other educators. And along with an increase in enjoyment and confidence, the skills and craft of writing strengthened.

Now, I work with other educators on how they can best refine their instructional practices. And when I am lucky, I get to also share my best practices in the teaching of writing. One thing is certain when I share my love of writing with other educators; I have been influenced by many experts in the field of writing. The following is a small sampling of what I feel are important quotes, suggestions, and affirmations on the teaching of writing.


A person can read without writing, but he cannot write without reading. If we neglect writing, it is also at the expense of reading.


Linda Rief


The world of writing is a mural, not a snapshot. Students’ notions of genre should be expansive, not narrow.

Tom Romano


Writing is not thinking written down after all of the thinking is completed. Writing is thinking.


Donald M. Murray


We are living in a new era of literacy, one in which participation is key – participation in:
A digital culture
A democracy
A global conversation
What this participation mostly entails is writing.


Randy Bomer & Michelle Fowler


Writing taught once or twice a week is just frequent enough to remind students that they can’t write and teachers that they can’t teach.


Donald H. Graves


You don’t learn to write by going through a series of preset writing exercises. You learn to write by grappling with a real subject that truly matters to you.

Ralph Fletcher


Teach the writer, not the writing.

Lucy Calkins


Studies over time indicate that teaching formal grammar to students has a negligible or even harmful effect on improving student writing.

Regie Routman


Very young children can write before they can read, can write more than they can read, and can write more easily than they can read—because they can write anything they can say.


Calkins; Graves; Harste, Woodward, & Burke; Sowers


Writing, in this instance, is a particularly powerful tool for helping adolescents listen, reflect, converse with themselves, and tackle both cultural messages and peer pressures.

Peter Elbow


After all, teachers should not be able to grade all of the writing students do. If they can, they aren’t inviting students to write enough.

Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey


But of all of the strategies I have learned over the years, there is one that stands far above the rest when it comes to improving my student’s writing: The teacher should model writing – and think out loud while writing – in front of the class.

Kelly Gallagher

Teaching students to write is something very few teachers learned how to do during their undergrad. But when we do teach writing, the voice that is developed in our students carries with them into their adult lives. It’s hard, difficult at times, but definitely worth it! And just when we least expect it, a former student drops you a line like this one on Facebook!

MAP Reading Fluency: A New Tool to Save Teachers Time & Focus on Instruction

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and NWEA.org. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

Across the country, literacy, especially in grades K-3,  is a priority in just about every district you visit. Educators are banding together to share best practices, evidence-based interventions, and inspiring stories; all in an effort to impact student literacy.

All learning in rooted in language, and as one progresses throughout life, access to continued learning, both personal and professional, is typically accessed through written communication.

For me, literacy is my passion, and I have dedicated my life to reading, researching, and sharing not only how to develop young students into lifelong readers, but to advocate for high-quality instruction in literacy for ALL students. Being literate not only allows access to information, but influences one’s personal, professional, and civic lives. Upon graduation, my wish was for students to be equipped with passion and skills to be critical discerners of information, make informed decisions for the betterment of society, and be able to advocate for self and others. To be able to do these things, a solid literacy foundation must be formed in the early grades.

Educators learn about their young readers in a variety of ways when they enter their classrooms. Understanding what they enjoy reading and learning about, how they choose books, which foundational skills they have acquired as opposed to which ones they still need to practice or learn. Typically, in a K-3 classroom, teachers administers some sort of fluency test with accompanying comprehension questions. These assessments provide an abundance of information on students to inform instruction. The drawback to this type of testing is the large amount of TIME it takes to test individual students with classrooms of 25+ young readers. And we all know the one thing teachers need is…More TIME. That is why I was ecstatic to preview a new assessment tool launched by NWEA called MAP Reading Fluency.

I want to stress, NOTHING takes the place of an Expert Teacher, but when resources like this become available and save teachers time to then reclaim and use for instruction, it is a WIN – WIN for kids.

MAP Reading Fluency is the first and only K-3 oral reading assessment using speech recognition, automatic scoring and computer adaptive technology.  It allows data to be collected around; oral reading fluency, comprehension, and foundational reading skills. With this information, teachers are able to make decisions on which areas they may need to dig in a bit deeper in order to differentiate instruction and meet needs of students.

I am also a firm believer in two things when it comes to assessment and data. First, MAP Reading Fluency provides a snapshot of the student as a reader; multiple snapshots across time allow teachers to notice trends and trends should be noted and investigated to find out the What/Why. Second, assessment data does not paint the whole picture of a child as a reader. This is where the beauty of computer-aided assessment comes into play. Reading Fluency data that is generated is immediate, organized, disaggregated and actionable. This is a huge win for teachers and a time-saver due in part to the streamlined process of technology. The follow-up, the instruction, and the passionate teaching to the student is then provided by the Expert Teacher.

For the past 5 years or so, I have been investigating tools and resources that would support teachers and students in this exact way; it is as if NWEA read my mind and delivered with Reading Fluency. MAP Reading Fluency was named the 2018 CODiE award winner for Best Student Assessment Solution. It is adaptive to accommodate  pre-, early-, and fluent readers, and is recorded so that teachers can listen to their students during a planning time or while working with their PLC. I am excited about the possibilities of this new assessment tool and appreciate how it aims to shorten the time spent assessing so more time can be spent on instructing! Want to learn more? Check out this FAQ sheet or request a Demo of MAP Reading Fluency.

3 Unique Benefits of eduCLIMBER

My Post (10).jpg

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and eduCLIMBER by Illuminate Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

When I support districts on their school improvement plans attention is given to a root cause analysis and typically analyzing data. While there is an abundance of data collected in schools and districts, using the data to make evidence-based decisions often falls shorts because of:

  • Too much data
  • Not clearly disaggregated
  • Unclear next steps
  • Inability to make sense of data
  • TIME – time to dig into the data, collaborate with colleagues, manipulate data to discern information in a way that is important to you

The importance of analyzing data can’t be stressed enough. Research shows that educators who consistently analyze data, in appropriate ways, have students who grow. Therefore, there may be an abundance of data, however, it may not be used in appropriate contexts or for the best purposes.

That’s why I was excited to preview eduCLIMBER, a cloud-based data system created for educators by educators to make data analysis more efficient and accurate. This interactive tool allows you to visualize data from assessments, behavior incidents, attendance, and response to intervention (RtI) to use in minutes.

While digging into eduCLIMBER I found multiple uses for both the teacher and district. A bonus was the parent-friendly visuals that were available to communicate with parents and guardians about their student’s learning. I also appreciated the attention to the triangulation of data. One data point is considered a snapshot; triangulating the data creates a more clear picture of our students. Finally, I found 3 unique benefits that eduCLIMBER provided that I have not seen on other platforms.

3 Unique Benefits of eduCLIMBER:

  1. Easily import data from nearly any standardized norm-referenced, criterion-referenced, formative/summative assessment. (Read my post here to understand the types of data listed) The ability to disaggregate data across sources is something every school and district should be taking advantage of.
  2.  Evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of interventions within districts. If we don’t know how well interventions are working, how can we assume they are working at all?
  3. Collect, report, and analyze school-wide behavior incidents with a fully customizable PBIS suite. Data can be used not just for academic growth but for analyzing students holistically (i.e. Social-Emotional Learning).

Want a free demo?  Use this link: eduCLIMBER demo