Empowering Student Voices in Literacy Through Habits of Learning

John Slagle, Senior Curriculum Specialist, McGraw-Hill

McGraw-Hill
May 31, 2019 · 7 min read

“Again, Tata, again.”

These are words I hear repeated each time I am blessed to spend an adventurous afternoon with our two young granddaughters, Elena and Siena. “Tata” is their affectionate name for me. It is a name I am always happy to answer to, and hearing the pleasure in their young voices when they call it out fills me with unspeakable joy. Throughout all of our shared times, Elena and Siena’s voices call me to play, invite me to discover wonder, ask me to taste, encourage me to climb, and implore me to read . . . again and again.

Our best times together are crafted of teaching and learning opportunities spent guided by their voices and filled with their choices. They love doing their favorite “Tata things” — and what they relish most are the things we do over and over — our shared habits.

Playing at the park.

Crafting in the maker’s space at our local children’s museum.

Drawing and writing about the fish in the koi pond that graces our village mall.

Stopping for a well-curated treat from the “cupcake museum” which is their chosen name for the bakery.

Whiling away hours reading at the library before carting our book bounty home.

Here is what I have learned from these Elena and Siena afternoons . . . learnings which have greatly enhanced my daily work in thousands of our nation’s school districts and literacy classrooms. Learnings which have most recently enriched my collaborations with our brilliant colleagues in McGraw-Hill Academic Design.

An engaging literacy curriculum must honor the voices and choices of students. It must be filled with new discoveries and trusted favorites. It must welcome new adventures yet include valued rituals and routines. It must honor the primacy of speaking and listening. It must offer sufficient time for playing, for making, for comparing, for choosing, and most especially, for reading and writing. It must be built on the knowledge that the things we value, which teach us the most, which bring us the most satisfaction, we repeat. The best literacy curriculum must build habits.

Dr. Doug Fisher, renowned instructional expert, identified the importance of empowering students to build habits and translated this need into a tangible, actionable practice articulated through what he calls the Habits of Learning. Like the activities Elena, Siena, and I repeat in our most valued times together, Dr. Fisher’s Habits of Learning make deep literacy learning possible for every learner. The six habits are:

I am a part of a community of learners.

I believe I can succeed.

I am a problem solver.

I think critically about what I read.

I write to communicate.

I use a variety of strategies to understand.

I invite you to work to develop these six important habits within your individual students, to ask some of the important reflective questions positioned in this post, and to work to craft a sense of collective efficacy around these habits in your classroom. Agreeing on the importance of developing these habits, talking in community about how your students are exercising their use, and labeling evidence of the habits throughout the school day will deepen literacy growth and raise achievement.

To learn more about Dr. Fisher’s Habits of Learning and to embed them into your literacy instruction, I encourage you to review Wonders, which employs Dr. Fisher’s Habits of Learning and Close Reading Routine.


John Mark Slagle is the Senior National Curriculum Specialist for Literacy at McGraw-Hill. John works in schools and school districts around the world partnering to develop teacher capacity and student engagement. His work, at all grade levels, includes advising the development of instructional resources and the shaping highly interactive professional learning opportunities. John participated in the Comer School Redevelopment Project at Yale University and is the co-author with Angela Maiers, of The Parent Teacher Partnership: Making the Most of the Middle Years.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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