I recently discovered The Literacy Teachers’ Playbook by Jennifer Serravallo. The book details practical strategies for utilizing data to truly guide instruction in reading and writing. Inspired by the book, I reached out to Jennifer to share her insight with us in a 5 Questions feature. We are proud to have Jennifer share with us this week.
5 questions with… Jennifer Serravallo
1. What do you most want your students to take with them from your classroom, school or district?
I don’t have my own classroom anymore, but what I hope to help teachers to create is a space where questions are valued as much as answers, and where children love learning and recognize the power of literacy.
2. What are the most rewarding and/or the most frustrating aspects of education?
The most rewarding is the moments of success with students. The looks on their faces when they “get it” or the chill-worthy insights they offer during conversation. I will never tire of the fascinating inquiry that is involved in trying to figure out what’s going on inside a student’s mind and how to help each individual learn best.
Frustrating: tests. This isn’t an original thought by any means, but the testing culture in our schools has so many negative consequences, from making teachers feel distrusted, to training our children out of abstract thinking and into reading the test-maker’s mind. I work with districts who turn away professional learning for months and months during testing, pull art teachers and teacher librarians from their important work to monitor tests, and spend too many hours on practice and preparation. I’m so sick of subjecting children to tests that are so hard that they don’t even give teachers valuable information (and the results come in so late that by time they get the information it’s old news anyway).
3. What advice would you give to young teachers?
To be sure you have a strong set of core beliefs (while still being open to new ideas), to read professionally and take advantage of professional learning, and to find a mentor in your school to take you under their wing. If you expect that every day while teaching you will learn something new, then you’re in the right job.
4. What has influenced your career the most?
I feel very fortunate to have had teaching experiences in schools with children who need the very best teachers. My norm was large class sizes, high numbers of ELLs, many kids with IEPs, and other sorts of challenges typical to high poverty schools. I was certainly no expert in my first years, but I tried to rise to the challenge, work very hard, and outgrow myself every day. My first years teaching were years ago, but I still draw on those experiences daily in my work as an author and staff developer. The second enormous influence was being part of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for 8 years. I learned about teaching children, but also teaching adults, and was inspired by by brilliant colleagues every day.
5. As an educator, what are you currently focused on?
A lot of my work stems from the idea that the best teaching is focused on an individual child. I want the idea of an “IEP”–an individualized education plan–to be something that all children have. So, I help teachers look closely at student work, figure out methods to teach individuals and groups, and organize and manage the various needs in the classroom.
Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker, and the author of the popular Heinemann titles The Reading Strategies Book, The Literacy Teacher’s Playbooks, Teaching Reading in Small Groups and Conferring with Readers (co-authored with Gravity Goldberg). She is also the creator of the two-time award-winning Independent Reading Assessment Series. She was a Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and taught in Title I schools in NYC. Check out her blog at www.jenniferserravallo.com and tweet her @jserravallo.