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Make Learning Transferable with Jennifer Fletcher


Have your students ever asked, When am I going to use this again? Jennifer Fletcher believes that teaching students to think rhetorically through literature is the key to helping students develop skills that they can apply, not only in English arts classes, but in college, careers, and beyond.

Jennifer sat down with us recently to talk about her newest book, Teaching Literature Rhetorically, and how teachers can use the ideas inside this practical resource to help students communicate effectively and with confidence as they navigate important transitions in their lives.

Q: What is your book, Teaching Literature Rhetorically, about?

A: Teaching Literature Rhetorically is about teaching rhetorical thinking skills through literary texts. We practice skills like, analyzing genres, assessing different rhetorical situations, developing and supporting a line of reasoning, etc. The big idea is to make the most of our opportunities to develop transferable learning through literature, and help students get more out of their work in reading and writing about literary texts. When we teach rhetorically, we think about nuances. We think about the whole social world of the text, not just what’s there on the surface. We don’t just stay within the four corners of the text, we go outside of it and be more mindful of the full rhetorical situation.

Q: What can teachers find inside Teaching Literature Rhetorically that will help their instruction?

A: What teachers are going find is a practical guide to helping students understand the reasons for the choices that writers make, and for the choices that we have as readers. It brings together literature and rhetoric in a way that gives students all the big concepts of both of those disciplines. Teaching Literature Rhetorically will take readers on a journey from the nuts and bolts of critical communication skills to integrative thinking—bringing literature and rhetoric together.

Q: Why is thinking rhetorically important?

A: Thinking rhetorically is the key to communicating across different contexts. It’s about adaptability. It’s about responsiveness. For instance, when going into a new situation you haven’t faced before, you learn how ask, What’s important in this context? What do people care about? What do they want to talk about? How do they talk? Thinking rhetorically means paying attention to all those different contextual cues and being able to effectively communicate in different situations.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: One of the best things we can do for our students is give them the confidence and the problem-solving skills that will help them feel like they can go into any situation and figure out how to be successful. We want to help them learn that they don’t have to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do, or they don’t have to wait for someone else’s directions. They can draw on their own knowledge of things, like audience, purpose, context, and genre to figure out what’s called for in that situation.

Often literature is taught as if it’s in its own world, but literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s very much plugged into the real world. Thinking about literature rhetorically helps students engage literature in a way where they’re bringing it to life. They’re bringing to life all the different perspectives in the conversation and not treating literary texts as if they’re just something on the bookshelf that only exist in English classrooms.

Q: How will students benefit from thinking rhetorically?

A: The ability to think rhetorically shifts students away from thinking there’s a right answer in the text to understanding how individuals create meaning; how communities create meaning; and understanding how all these dynamic components make up communication. When students understand how dynamic and how interrelated those components are, I think it really is empowering. It honors their agency as meaning makers and as participants in different kinds of conversations.

To get a preview inside Teaching Literature Rhetorically, go HERE.

Add comment April 23rd, 2019

Deepen Number Sense with Number Talks

In Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker’s Making Number Talks Matter and their newest companion title, Digging Deeper: Making Number Talks Matter Even More, teachers learn not only how to use Number Talks to develop number sense, but how these short, daily routines can help create a thriving classroom community where students actively share their thinking and teachers become expert listeners.

What Are Number Talks?

Number Talks are routines in which students reason mentally with numbers. It is a time when students put their pencils and paper away to think about and try to solve a problem mentally, then share their thinking and strategies with their peers. The teacher’s role is to listen, to record the students’ thinking on the board, and to hold back on explaining or correcting. This can be difficult for some, but it is essential to making Number Talks work. “Number Talks turn students’ roles in math class upside down. Now they are supposed to figure something out rather than be told the steps to follow. Now they are supposed to explain what they think rather than waiting for us to explain” (Humphreys and Parker 2015).

Why Are Number Talks Important?

Number Talks allow students to take back the authority of their own reasoning, but they also bring interest, excitement, and joy back into the math classroom. Number Talks allow students to make sense of mathematics in their own ways by practicing making convincing arguments while critiquing and building on the ideas of their peers. “As students sit on the edge of their seats, eager to share their ideas, digging deep into why mathematical procedures work, they come to like mathematics and know that they can understand it,” (Humphreys and Parker 2015). Number Talks can help students build competence, flexibility, and confidence as mathematical thinkers.

How Do I Start Digging Deep Into Number Talks?

For practical guidance as to how to start Number Talks in your classroom, pick up a copy of Making Number Talks Matter, an introduction and how-to guide to Number Talks. In order to get a full grasp of Number Talks, however, and see exactly what they look like, Digging Deeper is a must-have. This essential companion book uses extensive video footage of teachers and students practicing Number Talks in real classrooms. This personal and accessible book shows teachers:

  • The kinds of questions that elicit deeper thinking
  • Ways to navigate tricky, problematic, or just plain hard exchanges in the classroom
  • How to more effectively use wait time during Number Talks
  • The importance of creating a safe learning environment
  • How to nudge students to think more flexibly without directing their thinking.

“The process of engaging students in reasoning with numbers is one we hope you will consider as a problem-solving venture—an investigation that will help you to learn to listen to your students and learn along with them as you build your lessons around their thinking” (Humphreys and Parker 2015).


Humphreys, Cathy, and Ruth Parker. 2015. Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4 – 10. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Ruth Parker co-created Number Talks with Kathy Richardson in the early 1990s. Cathy Humphreys has been instrumental in extending Number Talks to the secondary level. Together, Cathy and Ruth have developed a deep knowledge of the best ways to teach Number Talks with students of all grade levels. Their extensive knowledge is packaged nicely into these two highly accessible books. Order them HERE today.

Add comment April 23rd, 2019

REVIEW: Teaching Literature Rhetorically by Jennifer Fletcher

Below is a customer review of Jennifer Fletcher’s Teaching Literature Rhetorically: Transferable Literacy Skills for 21st Century Students, which  is one of the most accurate descriptions of this wonderful book and how it can help teachers help their students develop a love for reading that will last a lifetime.

Simply put, this book is about teaching literature for real life. Fletcher makes a case for why we need to teach students reading and writing skills they can transfer to any situation and provides high-quality, engaging, thoughtful ways to help students do just that.

Fletcher helps us see how we might use students’ identities, values, and communication experiences to help them understand both literature and the world on a deeper level. My notebook is now full of strategies I can’t wait to use: values hierarchy, communication feature analysis matrix, Walk Up Music, descriptive plot outlines, character style sheets, peer reading quizzes, GoFundMe requests–I could list a dozen more.

Importantly, Fletcher never discounts or dismisses the way literature can move us personally. Instead, she explores how we can channel that emotion toward additional connections with others and the world at large. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for ways to help students make the connection between literature and the world they encounter when they walk out the school doors. In other words, all English teachers should read this book.

–Alison Farmer, Secondary Instructional Coach for English and Social Studies, Centerville City Schools in Dayton, OH

By teaching literature rhetorically, we prepare students to be adaptive thinkers and communicators who can transfer their learning to new tasks and settings. This book explores rhetorical approaches to novels, short stories, poetry, and drama that empower ALL students to read and write across the diverse contexts of today and tomorrow. To learn more and preview Teaching Literature Rhetorically, click HERE!

Add comment April 22nd, 2019

Amy Stewart is Helping Kids and Helping Teachers

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.

Add comment April 22nd, 2019

REVIEW of Brain Words by J. Richard Gentry and Gene Ouellette

Jennifer Allen, a literacy specialist from Waterville, ME, has discovered the power of Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching by J. Richard Gentry and Gene P. Ouellette. Read what she had to say about it below, and click HERE to learn more about how you can support your students’ reading development with the ideas from this important book!

I honestly love Brain Words. I have learned first hand that books alone and loose decoding instruction does not always cultivate readers.  In working in a district with hard-to-reach learners, I have found that we need to provide intentional instruction with a lot of repetition to help some students get a sense of the alphabetic principle.  Some of our youngest learners need to build a bank of words to support their reading development, as described in Brain Words. The methodology shared can be added to our toolbox so that as teachers we can better match instruction to the needs of our students.” Jennifer Allen, literacy specialist in Waterville, Maine and author of Becoming a Literacy Leader and a literacy specialist.

With Brain Words, you will learn how children’s brains develop as they become readers and discover ways you can take concrete steps to promote this critical developmental passage. Introducing their original, research-based framework of “brain words”—dictionaries in the brain where students store and automatically access sounds, spellings, and meanings—the authors offer a wealth of information that will transform your thinking and practice. With the insights and strategies of Brain Words, you can meet your students where they are and ensure that more of them read well, think well, and write well.



Add comment April 22nd, 2019

Incorporate Nature-Based Learning into Everyday Instruction

Earth Day doesn’t have to be celebrated just one day per year. You can incorporate nature-based learning into your teaching every day by using the ideas from these three classic Stenhouse books. Read on to learn more!

Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning

Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning: Using the Outdoors as an Instructional Tool shows how the school grounds—regardless of whether your school is in an urban, suburban, or rural setting—can become an enriching extension of the classroom. In this comprehensive handbook, Herb Broda blends theory and practice, providing readers with practical suggestions and teacher-tested activities for using the most powerful audio-visual tool available—the outdoors.

Childhood and Nature

In Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators, author David Sobel makes the case that meaningful connections with the natural world don’t begin in the rainforest or arctic, but in our own backyards and communities. Based on his observations of recurrent play themes around the world, Sobel articulates seven design principles that can guide teachers in structuring learning experiences for children through place-based education projects.

To Look Closely

Whether it’s a trickling stream, a grassy slope, or an abandoned rail line, the natural world offers teachers a wonderful resource around which to center creative, inquiry-based learning throughout the year. Nobody knows this better than veteran teacher Laurie Rubin. In To Look Closely: Science and Literacy in the Natural World, she demonstrates how nature study can help students become careful, intentional observers of all they see, growing into stronger readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists in the process.

Go to to find more professional resources that are sure to give you expertise a boost!

Add comment April 19th, 2019

7 Ingredients to a Successful Writing Community

A thriving writing classroom community is vital to successful writing instruction, but it’s not always easy to know where to begin. Here are the seven ingredients that Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman suggest from their new book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, that are essential to a successful writing community.

Building a writing community starts in September, but sustaining the community is a yearlong effort.” –Stacey Shubitz & Lynne Dorfman

Student Attitudes

You are bound to come across students who are reluctant to write. By listening closely to what those students find interesting and what their needs are is your best plan to get these students engaged.  “Our goal for writing workshop is total immersion in the writing process. Teachers who make time to find out about their students’ interests can work on using those interests to improve students’ attitudes,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).

Teacher Attitudes

It’s also necessary, however, to examine your own attitudes toward writing and teaching writing. If you are a reluctant teacher of writing, Stacey and Lynne want to remind you that you are never alone. They recommend researching some quality professional books and building a library of engaging mentor texts to use as great examples of author craft. “Share your thoughts and concerns with trusted others, but always look for ways you can learn more, problem solve, and turn negative into positive,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).

Teacher as Writer

Stacey and Lynne cannot stress enough that the secret to the success of a teacher of writers is to be a teacher who writes! “A teacher participates as a member of the writing community by writing, often modeling during minilessons, writing in her writer’s notebook and referring to it often, and sharing examples of the kinds of writing she does outside the classroom,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019). The authors compare it to teaching violin: you can’t teach it if you don’t know how to play it yourself. You can’t be a part of a writing community if you don’t also share in your students’ experiences as writers, struggling with word choice, voice, organization, etc.

Writing Partnerships

Stacey and Lynne believe that it’s important to establish writing partnerships during the first few weeks of the schoolyear. In order to avoid your students choosing their best friend as their partner or partnering with another student who might not make the best partner, start by asking them to choose three or four other students they would like to partner with and a few with whom they do not think would make a good partner.  “We can help students make wise choices when it comes to who they’ll work with for a unit of study, a semester, or—if things go well—an entire school year!” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).


One of the greatest ways to build your community of writers, according to Stacey and Lynne, is to share the work of all the writers in the classroom during the end-of-workshop share. “This is a time to highlight the strategies students have tried in their writing. It’s a time to showcase students’ processes in ways that can be helpful for their classmates,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019). Be sure to give a nudge to those quieter students, or to those who don’t think they have any valuable knowledge to pass on to their peers. It’s important for each member of the writing community to understand that they have something to teach to, or learn from, each other that will make them stronger writers.


“One of the easiest ways to infuse joy into your writing workshop is to celebrate the work of young writers. Afterall, we write to be read!” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019). Publishing parties are a great way to celebrate. At the end of a unit of study, you can invite family members and other students from different classrooms to celebrate the work of your young writers with treats! But it’s also important to celebrate throughout the writing process. Shubitz and Dorfman offer further suggestions on how to celebrate in Welcome to Writing Workshop.

Considerations for English Language Learners

One way to engage your English language learners in the writing community is to give them high-quality mentor texts, particularly picture books. More options include allowing them the freedom to sketch, use their own language, participate in oral rehearsal before they write, and partner with another writer to do some collaborative writing. “As a workshop teacher, you will have to consider your use of resources and what can maximize instructional time for your English language learners,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).

Creating a community of writers in your classroom is just part of overall successful writing instruction. To learn more about how you can design a writing workshop in your classroom that will instill a lifelong love of writing, pick up a copy of this important new resource, Welcome to Writing Workshop!


Shubitz, Stacey and Lynne Dorfman. 2019. Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. Portsmouth, NH. Stenhouse Publishers.

Add comment April 19th, 2019

Stenhouse Recommends: MATH

This week, we are recommending these math titles from three talented Stenhouse authors that will help you navigate math instruction and be able to teach it with meaning, confidence, and joy. Read to discover the books that you and your colleagues can read together and grow your teaching expertise to the benefit of all your students!

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had

While mathematicians describe mathematics as playful, beautiful, creative, and captivating, many students describe math class as boring, stressful, useless, and humiliating. In Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, Tracy Zager helps teachers close this gap by making math class more like mathematics. This important book helps us develop instructional techniques that will make the math classes we teach so much better than the math classes we took. You can buy Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had HERE and download the STUDY GUIDE.

The Necessary Conditions for a Successful Secondary Math Class

Math instruction in middle and high school is often something of a grab bag, with schools jumping from curriculum to curriculum, lacking a guiding vision or continuity between years. No wonder so many students conclude, “I’m not a math person.” Geoff Krall thinks that’s a problem, and he’s devoted his career to fixing it. His new book, Necessary Conditions, offers a coherent approach to a secondary math pedagogy by identifying three essential elements that will open the door to math for all of your students: academic safety, quality tasks, and effective facilitation. You can buy Necessary Conditions HERE and download the Study Guide HERE.

Number Sense Every Day Goes a Long Way

Number Sense Routines, Grades K–3 and Number Sense Routines, Grades 3–5 by Jessica Shumway is about tapping into every child’s innate sense of number and providing daily, connected experiences that are responsive to children’s learning needs. Through familiar five-, ten-, or fifteen-minute warm-up routines, Shumway offers both beginner and veteran teachers easy and effective ways to build and solidify students’ number sense foundations. No matter how familiar the routine, each are infused with new joy, depth, and life. You can buy Number Sense Routines, K–3 HERE and Number Senses Routines, 3–5 HERE, and download the Study Guides HERE.

To find more reading professional resources, go to


Add comment April 17th, 2019

Flipping the I Do, We Do, You Do Approach with Mike Flynn

Watch this video from author of Beyond Answers, Mike Flynn and learn how to reverse the teacher’s role in the classroom from a deliverer of knowledge to a facilitator of learning. Cast aside the stand-and-deliver approach to teaching and flip it to make the student front and center in their learning!

To buy or preview Beyond Answers, go HERE.

Add comment April 11th, 2019

Spelling Centers Support Strategies

Spelling centers can be an easy, low-cost way for teachers to support students’ development of spelling strategies. They provide opportunities for children to spell by hearing sounds and assigning letters, by noticing and using patterns, and by seeing words in their heads.

In this post, we explore some great ideas from Stenhouse author, Mark Weakland’s, Super Speller Starter Sets about how you can make spelling centers work in your classroom and how they can help your young readers and writers spell successfully.

Why Spelling Centers?

Spelling centers support strategies. Effectively designed spelling centers or workstations provide opportunities for students to use their spelling strategies, make connections to reading and writing, strengthen their orthographic processing systems, and practice their independent work habits. “In other words, a well-designed spelling center is a win-win-win-win,” (Weakland 2019).

Keep the Design Simple

Weakland’s philosophy regarding spelling centers is to keep it simple. “In the classroom, I don’t want to deal with complex centers that demand lots of attention. Nor do I want to replace old centers with new ones on a biweekly basis,” (Weakland 2019). With that in mind, each spelling center has one basic design regardless of the grade level it is used in and the content that appears in it. The teacher’s role is to rotate new content into a center at the appropriate times, regularly refresh the supplies of some basic materials, and collect and briefly scan some of the student work that is generated. The centers are fun as well as effective and are mostly low-tech!

When Do Spelling Centers Take Place?

During spelling center time, students can work independently or with a buddy at their desks or in a word study area. Center time can also be whole-group time in which each student picks (or is assigned) a center and uses it for ten to fifteen minutes, or during independent work time while you are instructing a small group in guided reading, guided writing, or a reading intervention program.

Stay on Task

As with all centers, you’ll need to explicitly and directly teach your students the purpose, routines, and expectations. Weakland suggests that you give your students guided practice time. If you do this in a whole-group setting, you can monitor the group to make sure everyone is learning the routines correctly. Weakland also suggests introducing one center at a time, which will give students multiple opportunities to practice each one to the point of mastery helping to promote on-task behavior. “Kids being kids, many have a tendency to veer off task. Thus, it’s a good idea to have some accountability options at your disposal,” (Weakland 2019).

Each Center Supports Each Student

Varying the content of the spelling centers will allow you to differentiate them to fit the needs of particular groups. In other words, multiple groups of students with various achievement levels can use the same center with individualized, differentiated lists, which nurtures a sense of community in the classroom.

To learn about the different kinds of spelling centers you can create in your classroom, pick up a copy of Weakland’s Super Speller Starter Sets.


Weakland, Mark. 2019. Super Speller Starter Sets. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse Publishers.

Add comment April 10th, 2019

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