Amy Stewart is Helping Kids and Helping Teachers

April 22nd, 2019

The following is the foreword by Steven L. Layne from Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades by Amy Stewart.

I first knew the author of the book you are holding in your hand or perusing on your electronic device as Amy Kempf. She was my student—not my kindergarten student, not one of my fifth graders or eighth graders . . . a great big no to all of that. She was my master’s student, and she was a standout, as I imagined, even back then, she had probably been in every educational situation in which she ever participated. Amy’s writing voice was solid—our entire faculty spotted it immediately. No surprise that, with a little of what we in the Literacy Department at Judson University call nudging (and the students refer to as frightening intimidation), she published her first article in a peer-reviewed journal: “Conferring with Kindergarten Writers: They’re More than Just Illustrators” (2013. Illinois Reading Council Journal 41(3): 22–29).

And then there was the essay that I suggested she write for assignment credit in a course I was teaching: “Making Time for Reflection: One Teacher’s Quest Toward Deeper Student Understanding” (2014. The Reading Teacher 67(7): 527).

Amy’s ability to command the stage as a speaker was also evidenced that year—and a little more encouragement from some of us might have led her to draft and submit a proposal to speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference the following year where she literally WOWED the CROWD! She’s speaking there nearly every year now.

Long story short—now she’s Amy Stewart and has a wonderfully supportive husband and family, an ever-growing fan base (the more she presents . . . the more they love her), a doctoral cohort and faculty at Judson University who count themselves among her biggest cheerleaders and who are already prepping their “I knew her when . . .” elevator speeches, and me. She has me. One hundred percent. I’m all in. I’ll go to the mat for her anytime, anywhere. I’ll use any influence I have to help her, and you’re not surprised, right? Because it’s what teachers do. Moreover, look in the mirror and try to tell yourself it’s not exactly what you would do if she were your student. It’s why you . . . and I . . . and Amy Stewart became teachers! We want to see our students soar—and when we chose this profession, we committed to doing all that we could to help them get there. So, I need you to know that Amy didn’t ask me to write the foreword to her book and neither did Bill “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Varner, our editor. No, I offered. Just like you would have. Because (say it with me) . . . “that’s what teachers do.”

And I’m so glad I did. It has been quite a few years since I was working full-time, day-in, day-out, in a primary classroom; however, Amy’s book put me right back there. Her conversational style is so appealing—you will LOVE it—and you will feel you’ve made a new friend. It will be clear from the opening pages that she “gets it,” and that’s what we are always looking for in a strong professional book. For primary teachers who may have had some trepidation about how to employ close reading successfully: your worries are over! In this book, Amy lays out not only the rationale, the “why,” but moreover she clearly and simply articulates the “how” to facilitate close reading with little learners in very tangible and reader-friendly ways.

I found myself laughing aloud at times while I was reading, and I marked up the manuscript in several places because so many of her suggestions and illustrations were brilliant! I knew that you, her readers, would be scrambling to use them and to share them with your colleagues! Again and again in this book, Amy calls on you to make the decisions that are best for your little readers, but she also empowers you to better understand that much of what you are already doing can be gently morphed into close reading experiences that can capitalize on your readers’ interests and expand their skills. Her sample lessons, aligned to the CCSS (in case that really lights you up) provide tremendous exemplars of how to manage repeated readings as well as how to assist young learners in citing textual evidence, expanding their vocabulary, and employing both writing and drawing as they respond to the close reading of a text.

It is my great pleasure to invite you inside the teaching life of a young woman I truly believe was born to do what she is doing: help kids and help teachers. Congratulations—you are about to be able to say, “I was with her from her very first book!” And eventually “Oh, yes, I followed Amy from way back—I have all of her books!” Maybe even someday, “I had a coffee with her at ILA, and she is just so real. I’m a fan for life!” But let’s just remember one thing about her fan base, everybody—and it’s important—I was first. Teach the children . . . and treat them well.

— Stephen L. Layne

To learn more about Little Readers, Big Thinkers by Amy Stewart go HERE.

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