All I Really Need Is...Ten Non-Negotiables To Guide My Literacy Instruction

All I Really Need Is...Ten Non-negotiables To Guide My Literacy Instruction a blog post by Janiel Wagstaff
  I can't believe I haven't posted here all summer, but...I've been in the middle of moving from my Title I school, the place I've been for 10 years, to my newly assigned school.  As you can see from the mayhem in the photo above, I have a lot of teacher STUFF.  I keep asking myself, why?  Why can't I just trust my own brain, and 30 years teaching experience, and leave some of the stuff behind? I'm not worried about moving the picture books (I have gazillions), chapter books, professional books and hands-on materials.  It's all the 'papers' that get me.  Papers, papers, papers!  Papers of every lesson I've ever concocted (since I like to think things out on paper), thoughts I've had about literacy, handouts from conferences and meetings, copies of journal articles and articles from the internet...this endless sea of tattered white sheets that should all be filed away neatly.  Oh, and the files!  I actively use many of them, and I don't have an issue with those, but it's the others that are bulging with the best strategies and lessons EVER that I haven't touched in 5 years.    
     I know people will say I should be more digital (I am of the age at which saving these 'essentials' on a device and needing paper copies still feels most comfortable), but here I am.  In the midst of it all, I ask myself, after 30 years of teaching and immersing myself in literacy instruction, why can't I trust that all I really need is in my head and I can confidently enter any school without all this clutter?  I can imagine how freeing to walk away with much less and walk in much lighter, ready to problem-solve with the teachers and students that are right in front of me at that moment.  
     As I've packed in the 90 degree heat (of course, no air conditioning in a public school in the summer), I've spent time thinking about this.  All I really need is...?  What?  What do I know that are the non-negotiable practices, the ones I absolutely believe in and know by heart?  The ones that will give my students the most success? What better way to soothe the anxious mind than to write them down.

I know:
  1) Students need to read, write, speak & converse, and listen across the curriculum.  Literacy is always on the menu.
  2) The work must be meaningful and relevant.  Why are my learners engaging in this process?  What does it buy them in their world? Work that is purposeful is automatically engaging.
  3) Students need choice and voice--lots of it!  Empower your learners and they will surprise you.
  4) The foundational skills of literacy must be explicitly taught and the majority of our time should be spent applying our learning in real reading and writing contexts.
   5) Gradual release of responsibility within a balanced literacy framework is key.  Students need my explicit modeling, and to learn from each other. (The more students lead the learning the better--their models capture the attention of their peers.)  We need to puzzle through a lot of the work together.  But, students also need plenty of time to read, write, and think independently.
  6) I am a co-learner in a collaborative, student-centered classroom.  Relationships are key.
  7) Supports and meaningful references in the classroom (like Word Walls and anchor charts) are helpful scaffolds if they are co-created with students and used consistently in modeled, shared, guided, interactive, and independent experiences.  
  8) Feedback is HUGE, both the feedback I give and get from students, along with the feedback they give each other.
  9) Formatively assess--all day, all the time, and guide instruction accordingly (hold small groups, meet with individuals, whatever is needed to make learning happen).
 10) Ongoing student self-assessment and goal setting makes learning more impactful.

     There are 10 things (the number was not planned, by the way)--10 non-negotiables--I'd hang my hat on any day.  I DO feel better now that I've written them down.  I can further examine and tweak my list.  I welcome your feedback to assist me as I refine.  I figure with this taped in the front of my teacher planner, I am headed in the right direction whether I have this resource or that one, whether I can find this file or that one, and whether or not I throw out reams of these papers I'm holding onto that are simply cluttering my space.  Oh yes, clarity is a good thing.  Wish me luck as I move!

Here's to a happy and successful 2018-2019 school year!


  1. Absolutely love this! You got it all down! All the necessities for an awesome literate class! Now the papers? I am in the same boat, but I did get rid of alot when I was cleaning my office at school at the eoy. (I’m a literacy coach.) love this andvtganjs got posting!

    1. Sounds like you and I are on the same page and in the same boat 😂. Good for you getting a lot done at the end of the year. I put things off, because there's always better things to be doing than cleaning and organizing (says my brain!). Glad you like the post! Thanks for your comment!

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