Tag Archives: Mentor

Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen Part 1

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen have been friends since meeting on their first night of classes at Teachers College. Sonja discovered the true work required in interpretation while listening to her fifth graders’ book club, and she and Dana then decided they needed to find out what interpretation really looks like in the classroom.

In Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, Sonja and Dana show how students can successfully form interpretations whatever their reading level or age. In today’s post Sonja and Dana discuss the evolution of the book and point out that even experienced readers have a hard time with interpretation.

What led you to team up and write Teaching Interpretation?

We were so lucky to meet each other at Teachers College and find a common passion in teaching! We instantly connected over the things we love: good food, dogs, picture books, and of course, teaching reading and writing. Over iced teas and Ollie’s Chicken Lo Mein, we talked about what we were teaching that week, the books our students loved, and what we were struggling with. In one such conversation, we confessed that teaching interpretation was challenging. What did this word really mean? How could we demystify this critical-thinking process for our students? We both wanted to improve this area of our teaching, so we made a plan. We read everything we could get our hands on about teaching interpretation, learned as much as possible from our mentors and advisors at Teachers College about teaching reading, and identified strategies we wanted to try in our classrooms. Inspired by the work of Lucy Calkins, Stephanie Harvey, Kylene Beers, Chris Lehman, and Kate Roberts, we brainstormed ideas and designed minilessons. Some worked, some didn’t. We discarded some strategies and revised others until we felt they truly raised the quality of our students’ interpretations. Sometimes we spent months discussing and debating a single topic—teaching students how to identify and interpret the tone of a text, for example. Teaching Interpretation is the product of our teaching, our research, and our (sometimes hair-pulling) brainstorming sessions. The strategies included are tried and true. After seeing the results in our students’ learning, we wanted to share our work with fellow teachers. We feel so grateful for this opportunity and have loved getting to know the Heinemann family.

You say in the book that your goal is to help teachers develop their students’ ability to “analyze, synthesize, and interpret literature and information texts.” How did you identify this need?

Looking back on our teaching careers, we remembered the difficulties many of our students had trying to analyze symbolism, theme, and figurative language. We recalled listening to the ideas of those few precocious students who seemed to interpret texts effortlessly while their peers looked on in clueless awe. We struggled with how to teach interpretation in ways that would reach all of our students. How could we help all students make strong claims, revise their ideas, and locate evidence in the text? When we asked our students to interpret a text, some would come up with ideas quickly but with no evidence to support them, while others struggled even to come up with an idea. We also had advanced readers in our classrooms, our precocious students, and we needed strategies that would challenge their thinking and push them to form stronger interpretations. We wrote Teaching Interpretation as much for ourselves as for our fellow teachers.

In teaching, time is precious; we need strategies that will meet the needs of all our learners and raise the quality of their work. In Teaching Interpretation we provide strategies, text recommendations, and teaching tips that can be easily incorporated into any curriculum. This way, you’re not changing your program, you’re raising the quality of the work you’re already doing. We wrote the book with our own “dream list” of teaching tools in mind. We love books that have strategies for differentiated instruction, text recommendations, and sample lessons, so these features are prominent. We include assessments and strategies for both novice and advanced readers, recommendations for print-based and digital texts, and sample lessons that can be used for preteaching, launching, reviewing, and solidifying concepts. Our favorite feature in Teaching Interpretation is the QR codes throughout the chapters that link teachers to “digital bins,” free digital text sets they can use to teach interpretation. These digital texts increase student motivation and engagement.

You point out that even experienced or fluent readers have a hard time with interpretation. Why do you think that’s the case?

The ability to construct strong interpretations is not related to reading levels and Lexile measurements. Just because students are considered advanced readers doesn’t mean they are thinking critically about what they are reading. Stephanie Harvey discusses this in her workshops and reminds us that text complexity is not about the words but about ideas. Interpretation is a circuitous process. Some of our strongest readers struggle the most with interpretation because they maintain myopic viewpoints and do not consider other interpretations. Or our students are afraid to take risks in forming interpretations because they fear being wrong. Thankfully, the process of forming interpretations can be demystified for all students. For advanced readers, this may mean having them look at a variety of texts and encouraging them to try on varied lenses and perspectives.

In our next post, Dana and Sonja talk about their writing influences, their mentors, and how they balance life while teaching, completing doctorates, and writing a book.

Read a sample chapter of Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and be sure to check out Dana and Sonja’s blog. Be sure to "like" them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter; join the conversation using hashtag #tchinterp.


Meenoo Rami interview with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio

Yesterday, Ed Talk Radio interviewed Meenoo Rami about her new book, Thrive. Listen to this if you've ever questioned whether teaching is the right career for you, or not. Discover your own power to solve problems, gather resources, and find mentors as well as the energy and joy to thrive!  

Find Additional Education Podcasts with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio
Click here for more information about Thrive.
To read a sample chapter, click here

Join the Thrive conversation on Twitter!

Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Meenoo Rami, Part 2

In Part 1, you got a glimpse into Meenoo’s work at Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and what led her to write Thrive. Today you will be introduced to more of Meenoo’s insights about how to better thrive in education.

If you were mentoring a new teacher, what advice would you share about the profession?

I’d say, find the people around you who are in love with their work. Become friends with them, ask a lot of questions, and ask for help when you need it. If you reach out, there are many people willing to help you and support you. Finding mentors is crucial. We have a tradition of mentoring in our profession: we all started teaching as student-teachers under the care of a cooperative teacher. This type of support doesn’t have to end when your fourteen-week stint in someone else’s classroom is over. Your need for support will become more apparent after you enter your own classroom and face your own challenges as an educator.

In your book, you cite both mentors and networks as crucial elements in thriving as a teacher, yet many teachers are more accustomed to working independently. Why do you see mentorship and networking as necessary?

The challenges we face every day in the classroom—finding ways to reach our students, managing grading requirements, finding resources for our learning community—can be addressed more powerfully if we band together and share resources, exchange ideas, and inspire one another. Closing the classroom door and doing your own thing robs you and your colleagues, near and far, of ideas that could be helping students learn.

You created #engchat, the weekly Twitter chat for English teachers. How have #engchat and other teacher-focused Twitter chats affected the profession?

Places like #engchat are where teachers can go to find energy and inspiration: they can send out a question, share an inquiry, or post a link to a resource easily via a relevant hashtag. When teachers curate teaching practices together and talk freely to one another, the sense of isolation is reduced.

Click here for more information on Thrive.

To read a sample chapter, click here.

Connect with Meenoo:


Join the Thrive conversation on Twitter:

Join the #engchat conversation on Twitter:


Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Meenoo Rami, Part 1

Meenoo Rami once experienced anxieties familiar to many teachers: the sense of isolation, a lack of self-confidence, and fear that her work was having no positive impact. In Thrive, Meenoo shares five strategies that helped her become a confident, connected teacher and shows both new and veteran teachers how to overcome the challenges and meet the demands of our profession.

Meenoo teaches English at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), in Philadelphia. In today’s post, you’ll hear about the attitude of collaboration at SLA that inspired Meenoo to write Thrive. In tomorrow’s post, you’ll find some of Meenoo’s suggestions for how to thrive as a teacher.

You teach in a district that has received national attention for its budget troubles and sweeping staff cutbacks, yet you’ve written a book about how to thrive as a teacher. How do you and your colleagues find meaning and energy in your work?

Our connections with our students are the source of much of our energy: when you’re asking deep, rich, and thoughtful questions with your students, the energy in the classroom changes; it feeds the students as well as you as a teacher. For example, right now my eleventh graders are writing creative pieces after studying how Tim O’Brien, the author of The Things They Carried, shapes stories by blending truth and fiction. We’re inviting parents, teachers, professors, and graduate students to make up a judging committee that will read these pieces. Knowing that their work will be judged blindly (they will put only their ID numbers on their papers) by readers other than me is bringing new energy to the classroom. I am certainly feeding off that energy.

I also get energy from my colleagues, from our being able to rely on one another for support when we need it. My colleagues go out of their way to problem-solve with me and provide their perspective on situations I face in the classroom. When I tell people from other schools this, they sometimes think this kind of collaboration is only possible at SLA. While I agree that I work with some amazing people, there’s more potential for teacher collaboration in schools than people realize.

What concerns from teachers about their work and the profession led you to write Thrive?

The teacher turnover rate was certainly on my mind as I was writing. Teachers have an unfathomable impact on student learning. We, as a profession and as a society, need to attract the best people and find ways to support them once they enter the classroom.

In Thrive, you write, “I believe this is the best moment to be a teacher. Despite attacks on our profession, union-busting that is rampant around the country, and unrelenting focus on standardization rather than individualization in schools, there is amazing and exciting work being done in our classrooms.” What gives you hope right now?

I have hope because I see a groundswell of teachers who want to move away from the factory model of education to education for the next generation of change-agents. We teachers are incorporating technology in thoughtful ways to leverage connections among students throughout our classrooms; we are bringing new audiences to the work our students are creating; and most of all, we are asking our students to claim their education actively rather than receive it passively.

Click here for more information on Thrive.

To read a sample chapter, click here.

Connect with Meenoo:


Join the Thrive conversation on Twitter: