Tag Archives: The Common Core Reading Book

Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Gretchen Owocki Part 2

In part 1 of our Q&A with Gretchen Owocki, she told us how her best-selling resources support best-practice CCSS instruction. Today, we ask her about some influences on her work and the impact they have on her writing.

Common Core Reading Book 6-8Your daughter is about to enter the middle grades. How has your experience with her learning influenced how you approached your K–5 and now 6–8 resources?

The school experiences Emilia finds enlightening and gratifying are pretty predictable. She enjoys group projects, working through tough challenges, simulations that involve taking on roles or personas (such as historian or mathematician), good reading, and writing that means something. Watching her as a learner has underlined for me how important it is for teachers to create contexts in which students can do what kids want to do naturally. They want to learn by doing; they want to interact with others; they want to be able to make choices; and they still want to play, even as they get older. In all of my writing I try to support teachers in creating such contexts.

As a parent, an educator, and a Heinemann author, what is your hope for education?

High expectations for all learners

Students who are active and challenged

Teachers who enjoy teaching as an intellectual pursuit

You’ve been a mentor to a great number of teachers throughout your career. Who were your education mentors?

The mentors that stand out most are those who helped me understand the intricacies of building the teaching around the learner. John Dewey wrote that the task of the teacher is “to keep alive the sacred spark of wonder and to fan the flame that already grows.” I am drawn to scholars who work and write from this perspective. From way back: Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. From more recent years: Emilia Ferreiro, Marie Clay, Ann Dyson, Gordon Wells, Vivian Paley, Jerome Harste, Donald Graves, and Luis Moll. Working in graduate school with Yetta Goodman, Kenneth Goodman, Richard Ruiz, and Denny Taylor had a powerful impact. They helped me shape my understanding so that I could begin to share my ideas with other educators.


Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Gretchen Owocki Part 1

Gretchen Owocki has long advocated for teachers as decision makers. Unlike resources that script CCSS instruction, her best-selling Heinemann titles (The Common Core Reading Book, 6–8; The Common Core Lesson Book, K–5; and The Common Core Writing Book, K–5) empower teachers to tailor instruction to the students in front of them. In part 1 of this Q&A, she tells us how these resources drive great instruction. Tomorrow, in part 2, we’ll ask her about some of the influences on her instructional outlook.

After writing three resources analyzing the Common Core ELA standards for grades K–8, you know them as well as almost anyone. What key opportunities for teacher learning and good teaching do you see?
Good teaching is good teaching, whichever standards are formulated. What teachers do with the standards makes the difference. Seen in this light, the standards have intensified the field’s focus on some important areas long in need of scrutiny: close reading, making meaning in the early grades, building disciplinary literacy, and engaging students in varied forms of writing.
You write that teachers and schools should be “avoiding paths that cast educators as secondary decision makers.” How do your books empower classroom practitioners to do what’s best for the kids in front of them?
I offer choices and possibilities. My resources encourage teachers to consider the standards in light of their students and their curriculum and to choose instructional areas that warrant development at this point in time. Rather than provide a set program or lay down a preestablished path, I offer specific strategies and ideas for enhancing good work already being done or developing curriculum in areas currently receiving little attention. I believe that teachers collaborating within and across grade levels are the best organizers and developers of their own curriculum. When they have the freedom to do it, they can do it well.
An amazing thing about these books is how you map the gradual-release-of-responsibility-model of instruction onto the standards. Why is this so important?
Curriculum should be organized around what students know and can do. Otherwise, teaching becomes inefficient and probably not as meaningful. In my interpretation of the model, the teacher uses ongoing observation to determine areas in which students might benefit from instruction. Once these areas are determined, students experience a cycle of demonstration followed by collaborative engagement and independent application, followed by more demonstration, and so on. The process allows each student to receive support tailored to reading or writing issues she or he is currently working through.
You also write a lot about the crucial role engagement plays in implementing standards effectively. How is engagement related to the gradual-release model?
The best teachable moments happen when students are engaged. Engaged students are reading hard and writing hard. They are at their best—at their most ready to expand their thinking and most receptive to putting forth the effort to move into new territory.