You’re Going to Love This.

I’m participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge, hoping to write every day in March. My thanks to them, their team and to all of the writing community there that provides support and caring challenge as we all strive to be better writers and better coaches of developing, literate learners.

Little eyes peeked over top of the picture book my daughter pressed to her face (a sign of book love).

“Please read this to me?”

She held out “Stuck with the Blooz,” a book she’d chosen all by her four-year-old self at the library earlier that day while I was looking for my own books.

“Sure” I said” “Let’s have a look.”

As I opened the cover, she touched my arm, “You’re going to love this.”

“Oh,” I replied, a bit surprised “so…you’ve read this already?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” she assured me, “read it.”

Two sentences in, my preschooler began pointing at parts of the illustrations saying things like “see? see? look what he’s doing!” and “Look what’s going to happen next!”She was right about everything that was going to happen, and she was right that I’d love the book. She was right because she’d really read the book herself first.

Now, some people might tell you that my little D can’t read yet. The truth is that she recognizes letters and some sounds, although she doesn’t decode words independently yet. But she can read. She’s literate. Because I believe that reading means bringing meaning to a text in order to make meaning from a text, I’m able to see that she is, in fact, reading, even though she’s not decoding words yet. She can skillfully interpret nuanced illustrations. She understands how books and stories work. She’s interested in predicting what will come next and then following up to see if her prediction was accurate. She knows that she can go to a book by herself, look through it purposefully and get meaning and joy from a text. The kid is a reader and she believes she is.

IMG_2228Ten years ago, if you’d asked me if she was reading, I’d probably have said no. That’s because, at that time, I didn’t know enough about developing readers and writers and text-makers to know what I should be looking for to help me answer that question. I hadn’t yet learned that I needed to first determine what a learner knew and could do before I could plan for their next steps in learning. I hadn’t yet learned how to look deeper to discover all the abilities a child had that would support them in continuing to develop their literacy abilities. As I read to my child and watched her interact with the whole text of the book,  I was struck again by her assertion that I’d love the book.

Having though about it many time yesterday, I realize her saying that reflected important information about her identity as a reader. She is already literate. She’s developed some sophisticated reading skills. But most importantly she knows and says she’s a reader, and she’s a confident one, confident enough to recommend books to others.

What if we began each day looking at our developing readers, writers, meaning makers and instead of asking “are you literate?” we asked “how are you literate?” I wonder how our interactions with learners would change if we went looking for what they were able to do and used that information to plan what we might expose them to, engage them in next. All  of our learners come to us literate–what beautiful questions can we ask that will help reveal all the abilities they already have?


Every Thursdsay


I’m participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge, hoping to write every day in March. My thanks to them, their team and to all of the writing community there that provides support and caring challenge as we all strive to be better writers and teach our writers better.

For this post I used a mentor text. Much of my work right now is with teachers and supporting them as they use mentor texts with their developing writers. We often base our own writing on mentor texts so that we can immerse ourselves in the work we are inviting our students to do. The Mentor text is Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

Thursdays are my favorite day.

They are the least predictable of any day of the week for me but I know that every Thursday I will learn. I will learn something new about the world and I will learn something new about learning. I’ve learned to watch and listen to those who are learning. Those remarkable people teach me important things.


I get in my car and drive into the sunrise. I think about the day ahead. Some days I sing loudly and passionately. It’s like meditation. Other days I slowly sip hot sweet coffee. I learn about stories and how they carry important information generation to generation. I learn about how to hold a camera so I can capture learning in action and share it with others. I learn how to ask the right questions that will help learner focus and uncover possibilities at the same time. I learn how to slow down. Nothing needs to happen as fast as we think it does.

I drive all over my sprawling city so that I can learn and support learning.  Every Thursday I end up in a place of learning–a school, a river, a learning commons. Every thursday I drive into the sunset, return home changed because of my learning.


Thursdays are my favorite day.




Building a Writing Identity

Our backs warm against the brown leather of the family room couch, my son and daughter and I settled in to read a delicious stack of books we’d curated during our library visit earlier that day. We flipped through glossy pages, marveled at rich illustrations and wondered “What will happen next?” We did all of those things that parents and teachers do when we apprentice our children into to a lifelong love of reading. Together we read book after book after book and then came across one that was a little bit different from the rest. It was a copy of “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” by Jen Bryant. The book introduced us to a young boy who loved to write lists. A boy who had many interests and who found joy in using writing to organize and index the world around him. A boy who was a lot like my boy. “Hmmm. I think I know someone who loves writing lists…do you know anyone like that?” I asked my six-year-old son. Beaming, he exclaimed “Me! I’m a writer!”


Since he started writing he has always talked about himself as someone who knows how to spell, someone who knows how to write, someone who can write five-star sentences, but seeing his style of writing reflected back to him in a book helped him see that he was a writer. When he left the couch to get ready for bed, my son made sure that the book about Roget the list-maker was on the top of the book stack, for easy reference I assume. His moment of seeing himself as a writer caused me to wonder: how can I better support learners in uncovering and exploring their own reading identity? What kinds of texts or experience can help them come to know who they are as writers? I hope every writer I work in the fuure experiences the joy of discovering the truth: we are all writers. The question we need to explore isn’t am I a writer? it’s how am I a writer?


Joyful Text Creation

There’s nothing more wonderful than hearing learners say “let’s keep doing this!” “do we have to switch, I’m doing some really important work right now.” It’s wonderful when it’s a room full of teachers who are taking time to engage in joyful text creation as learners.

All literacy learners need to know how to interpret and compose text, it’s essential for full and active participation in many communities. As educators, we all want to support our learners as they develop their many literacies and grow as active and engaged citizens. We also want to co-design learning experiences with our students that are joyful, that motivate them to engage with, to apply and explore their literacies outside of our classrooms. img_9357

In a personalized, student-centered approach to learning, learning designers often begin by considering the learners they serve and asking: what are their interests? What are their abilities? What might be their next steps? What might be joyful and engaging for these powerful, capable people. As teachers, putting ourselves in learners’ shoes can help keep the learner at the center of the learning  design process. Which is why this experience might be a place to start when thinking about designing joyful literacy experiences with your learners. Start by experiencing joyful text creation. Try it yourself or with your colleagues. Reflect on it, then consider: how might I co-design a joyful literacy experience for and with my learners that gives them a similarly joyful, engaging experience?


For this experience I used the ideas of Lynda Barry, Elise Gravel and Angela Stockman and put them together to create an opportunity for learners to create a non-traditional text in a scaffolded way. Follow the steps below or listen here for Lynda Barry’s instructions in her own words. You will need a piece of paper (scrap paper is great) and a pen or pencil. Add crayons, markers and other materials as you see fit.

  1. Divide your paper into quarters (one line horizontal, one line vertical) to give you 4 frames or square
  2. In the first sure, draw a squiggle. In the second, a closed shape. In the third, a line. In the fourth square, another squiggle
  3. Then take 1-2 minutes to turn each line or squiggle or shape into a monster. (You know what a monster is–crazy amounts of arms, eyes etc. they have teeth, maybe fur…you got this.)
  4. Put the monsters aside and write down a “To-Do” list of 10 things that you should be doing (sentence starters you might use include ” I really should…” “I’ve been meaning to…” “I have to…”)
  5. Now stop. Have a look at your monsters. Take a good look at them and consider your list. Which one item from your list best matches your monster? Write that in a complete sentence under that monster–like a caption (You will not use every item on your list, much like writers don’t fully develop every single one of their story ideas)
  6. Repeat that process for the rest of your monsters.

What you’ve created by putting together images and captions is a text. Some may call it a comic. Whatever it is, you’ll have experienced success creating a text that included images you created playfully and words that are meaningful because they are from the fabric of your life. That text might even make you smile or giggle.

Next, if you’d like to gauge your audience’s reaction to your initial creations, try this silent feedback protocol I picked up and adapted from Angela Stockman’s Make Writing.

(**This unfolds in silence. no explaining your work–this is your time to enjoy and react to your colleagues’ or classmates’ creations.)

  1. Take a pen or pencil with you
  2. Wander away from your own text and have a look at the texts others have created
  3. If any comic or any panel causes a reaction in you (a “me too!” feeling, a little snort, an “oo, that’s interesting”), any reaction, draw a little star beside the monster

When you return, have a look at the stars–the feedback at the point of need–that your audience left for you. What seemed to resonate with your audience? What part of your work are you most please with or inspired by? What surprised you?  Use your answers to these questions to take your work even further, if you like.

If you want to, you can take inspiration from Elise Gavel’s I Want a Monster! and you can further develop your monster–train it, deciding what special skills it has, and ponder its favorite foods.img_9360

When I walked around the room as I worked through this process with learners, I noticed people enjoying playing with crayons and shape and line. I noticed everyone could write a “to-do” list, and they enjoyed deciding what monster needed to do what. Some people couldn’t leave only stars as feedback, they were compelled to write “I hear you, sister!” and “yes!” in response to the monster. No one left to go to the washroom, or checked their email…they were engaged. They were creating something that mattered. I wondered: How might different teachers use or adapt this for their learners, their context? How did taking time to put ourselves back in the place of learners change the way we thought about designing joyful literacy experiences?

I realized that we need time to remember: we are all capable. We all have many literacies that we bring with us into learning and we love to be social in our literacy experiences. It was joyful to engage in creating, sharing and giving and getting feedback on the texts we’d all created.



#Carry Curiosity

“imagine a world…

… where each word,

each thought,

each turn of a page in a book

is the beginning of a bigger idea.”

(Rob Gonsalves)

People often ask where ideas come from. For me, it’s not a single place but a collection of impressions that come together and merge, sometimes forming and becoming visible, while other times dissolving as if never imagined.

The idea for #carryCuriosity started when I was reading Angela Stockman’s ‘Make Writing’ and Lynda Barry’s ‘Syllabus’ at the same time. I flipped back and forth between these two books marveling. I wondered, what would happen if these two books had a baby? A text and tweet later, I was committed to following my initial curiosity with two creative sidekicks, Meghan Morden and Angela Stockman, who had immediately expressed interest in playing along.

So what exactly is #carryCuriosity?

It’s a place to contemplate what makes you curious and make it visible via a composition notebook and a collection of Post-it notes, with room to grow.


The seed has been thrown to the wind and is now on its collective journey.  It will travel between authors, artists, makers, and curiosity seekers.  Each time the package rests in a place, those near to it will be invited to add pieces of their curiosity and their knowing. With each new person it visits, it will become something new and different. We don’t yet know what it will look like but we believe that it will be a place of collaboration and wondering and a source of inspiration for all who contribute to it.

Curious? We are!

Check out #carryCuriosity on Twitter for glimpses of what happens when curiosity travels and makes itself known and visible.

Interested? Tweet us and we’ll tell you more about how you can join and help this idea grow.

Looking forward to wondering and making with you.


Heather and Meghan