The Stenhouse Blog

Engaging Literate Minds: A Foundation

Posted by admin on Jan 10, 2020 3:55:48 PM

The following is excerpted from Chapter One of Engaging Literate Minds, the newest book by Peter Johnston, et al. Read to discover what inspired this important book.

“This is what we hope for our children and grandchildren. This book is our attempt to make that possible.”

Engaging-Literate-Minds-cover-FINAL-R_web-rgbThis book began when our small group started working together to become better teachers—to help the children, each other, and ourselves. We were in our first, third, sixth, eighth, thirteenth, and twentieth years of teaching at the time, and each found we needed a supportive intellectual community. We felt then, as now, that there must be something more than the steady stream of skills and strategies dominating school curricula. We also felt that the social and emotional life of the classroom was just as important as the intellectual life. As our teaching has evolved, so have our expectations for what’s possible in our classrooms. We’ve come to believe that in intellectually healthy classrooms children should be: meaningfully engaged (not merely complying), inquiring/questioning, theorizing, seeking evidence, productively disagreeing, helping each other and seeking help when necessary, collaborating, and expecting and engaging different perspectives. We should not expect children to be held in place by intellectual hierarchies. These behaviors are possible only when the school curriculum is thoroughly permeable to children’s interests and proclivities.

We’ve also come to realize that an intellectually healthy classroom is impossible unless it is also socially and emotionally healthy. Consequently, we also expect to see and hear: positive relationships, positive social behavior, cooperation, empathic concern, emotional self-regulation, dialogic discussion of emotional and relational issues, a sense of gratitude, no social hierarchies, and happiness (yes, happiness).

This vision has come to guide our teaching decisions. When our classrooms reflect our vision, we help our students recognize what it feels like and how they contributed to it. But our classrooms are works in progress, so, when they don’t reflect our vision, as particularly at the beginning of the year they do not, we help the students recognize the problem and what it feels like, and we figure out how to solve it. We do not waiver from this vision because within classroom life children generate their sense of self, their value (and values), their sense of competence and belonging, their relationships with others, and their happiness and sense of well-being. In short, our classrooms are responsible for helping children develop their humanity. Our vision, and the joys that come with the journey, pull us forward—that and the other members of our intellectual community.

To learn more or order Engaging Literate Minds go to

Order the Book