The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 171 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

GONZALEZ: The word “literacy” has always kind of bugged me, because it feels inadequate. Meek. Watered down. Like one small item in a long checklist of “things we need to make sure we do in school.” That one little word encompasses reading, writing, speaking, and listening, but it’s so formal-sounding, it doesn’t pack the punch that it should.

Because really, literacy is kind of everything. Without literacy, our students’ ability to learn is choked off. Their personal growth is stunted. Their ability to advocate for themselves is blocked. Without literacy, a person has to depend almost entirely on other people to navigate their world. 

So as a starting point, I’m taking a moment to give the word literacy its proper weight. One of our most important priorities as educators should be to make sure our students complete their schooling with the ability to read deeply, widely, and critically, to communicate clearly and effectively in speech and in writing, and to listen with care, empathy, and discernment. Accomplishing that is no small task; it requires a multifaceted approach with a wide variety of techniques over many years.

What we’re talking about today is how schools can figure out if they are actually achieving that goal, and what they can do if they’re not. The answer to this question doesn’t come from test scores; it comes from comparing literacy best practices against what your school is currently doing. 

This is the work my guest, Angela Peery, does with schools. As a literacy consultant, she observes instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, research, and technology use, then helps schools identify areas for improvement. In the new book she’s co-authored with Tracy Shiel, What to Look for in Literacy, Angela offers a complete set of tools schools can use to do a DIY version of the consulting she offers—self-check instruments for determining how they’re doing on all facets of literacy instruction, from PK through grade 12, in all content areas. 

I wanted to give you a sample of these tools, so I invited Angela to share a few of them. She’s written a guest post over on the site that covers some of the basics that she looks for in reading instruction, writing instruction, and the school environment as a whole, along with check-up tools you can download and use yourself. In our interview, we go through those areas and talk about some of the key items in the checklists—things every school should be doing to give students the best chance at being literate in the fullest, most robust sense of the word.

Before we start: I’d like to thank Studyo for sponsoring this episode. Today by Studyo is a free add-on to Google Classroom which allows students to track and plan all of their classwork, with tools that allow students to estimate how much time a task will take and divide larger tasks into smaller ones. Teachers can also track how each student is handling their workload over time. This is a valuable tool to share with parents during parent-teacher meetings to help each student plan their work and pace themselves for longer-term projects. Coaching students on being better organized has a direct impact on their grades as well as their long-term success and together, we can make a difference! Today is free for individual teachers; school and district plans come with added features like timetable import, student-entered tasks, and LMS integrations. Visit to create your free account now and get your students planning!

Support also comes from Scholastic Scope Magazine. Scholastic Scope is a powerful middle school resource that builds stronger, more engaged readers and writers. All year long, your class receives fresh ELA content in the format of your choice—print, digital, or both. Your students will love reading Scope’s thrilling stories, discovering new genres, watching amazing videos and writing about everything they’ve learned. And you’ll love that every story and activity builds core ELA skills, from summarizing to synthesizing. Visit to learn more and use code 2021 to save 20%.

Now here’s my interview with Angela Peery about literacy check-ups.

GONZALEZ: Angela, welcome to the podcast. 

PEERY: Thanks.

GONZALEZ: Welcome back, actually. I think this is your second time. 

PEERY: I don’t remember. 

GONZALEZ: I know. Well you’ve written another thing about co-teaching, but I don’t remember if we actually recorded an interview. I should have checked that beforehand. We are going to be talking today about literacy audits and literacy in schools, so before we start to get into all the details, just for my audience’s sake, tell us a little bit about the work that you do to help schools improve their literacy practices. 

PEERY: So I have a small team of consultants who help me. My main work the last two or three years has been conducting what we call literacy instruction audits and also implementation reviews that are a little bit less involved. But a literacy audit is really a top to bottom review of the literacy instruction practices, policies, everything literacy in a single school or in a system or in a part of a school system such as a certain cluster of schools. We also do what we call implementation reviews, which are a little more focused, and that’s where we go in and look at a certain initiative, something like guided reading or writing workshop, and we collect information on that. Then of course also as most consultants do, I do coaching, consulting and presentations focused on effective instruction in general but really the last few years, very focused on literacy instruction. 

GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. So this interview came about from a conversation you and I had a couple of months ago where you were telling me about the fact that COVID hadn’t seemed to impact anything at all about changing the way that we did literacy instruction. And you were really sort of bothered by what you were seeing in the schools. So tell me a little bit about that, about what have you been seeing that makes you think that across the board, many, many schools still really need improvement in literacy instruction? 

PEERY: Yeah, so I guess like a certain number of folks that I thought the time away during remote instruction, fully remote, and then also hybrid instruction, I thought once we got back to face-to-face instruction, especially in literacy, that things would be different, that everything would be more engaging than it had been before and we would just be doing all these wonderful things. Workshop-type instruction for writing and that we’d have literature circles or other kinds of book groups going where kids were reading books they really liked and they were talking about them. 

Unfortunately what I saw is that what we have done is fall back on some practices that even before COVID we knew were not effective. So if I can talk about it kind of from the lower grades moving up, what I see in pre-K, in kindergarten, it’s mostly pre-K and kindergarten, some first grade I would say, I see a lot of video watching. So where the teachers, so you take that wonderful time on the rug in kindergarten or pre-K where the teacher is reading a book, and the kids are engrossed in it, and the teacher is engaging in conversation and pointing out things in the illustrations, and that wonderful interactive read aloud time, I keep telling people I want to tell teachers to stop pressing play. What I see is people just pulling up a video, and it could be another teacher reading a book out loud, or it could be a kind of slickly produced person, a read aloud of the book where you don’t see the person, but it’s going through the book and reading aloud from the screen. So that’s not what an interactive read aloud is supposed to be, especially for our kids that don’t get read to very often or at all at home. A read aloud is supposed to be a really immersive experience where everyone’s enjoying that book, and there’s spontaneous comments from the kids and the teacher, and I just don’t see that happening as much as it used to. And that’s a really integral part of early literacy instruction is that read aloud time. 

Combined with that, I’d say at the elementary level, but even moving into secondary, I see just a ton of device use. So I see kids sitting at a screen doing something. In the elementary years, it might be some kind of reading software where they are, something’s being read to them or they’re reading off the screen and they’re answering questions. As it moves up the grade levels, the quality of what’s being done on that device changes, and of course the older the kids are, starting at upper elementary, they’ve got a bunch of other tabs open, and they’re not doing necessarily what the teacher wanted them to do. So I see a lot more device use, and it’s almost like the lessons that kids, some of the things that kids were doing remotely that now they’re doing the remote instruction while they’re sitting in the room with a real live teacher. 


PEERY: And there’s just not enough conversation. There’s too much kids staring at devices. Then a couple of other things that do work their way all the way up to high school, believe it or not, and I always reference one of your blog posts about friggin packets. I quote that one a lot in reports that I write, and I mention it in presentations. I’ve seen so many worksheet packets, and I’m talking, I was in a 10th grade English class in a state I will not name very recently and saw a teacher unceremoniously starting the study of Julius Caesar by handing out a 30-page packet and even called it a packet to the kids. You know, here’s your packet. You need to get started on Julius Caesar. And truly in today’s political climate, I think we could start off Julius Caesar in a much more engaging way because it has a lot of, there’s a lot of parallels we could draw. 


PEERY: And then lastly, so the worksheet packets is another thing that’s just predominant right now. And then I’d say just overall the lack of classroom interactive discussion, so either kids being in groups talking about something, or either the teacher orchestrating a class discussion that engages all the kids. Now I will say, and I think there’s even some research somewhere on this, not a huge research study but something about the fact that we might talk less when we’re wearing masks. That might have been a factor in some of it, but it was always kind of difficult to get a discussion that’s either student-led or very student-driven. So I know that’s always been kind of hard to do, but it kind of seems like we just discounted it or gave up on it or something, and it’s a lot of individual work and not a lot of talking. And if people should be talking together, talking about literature. Where else should you be doing all that talking if it’s not in your literacy, your main literacy instruction class? So the lack of discussion has also been kind of concerning. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. You have written a blog post to go with this interview that we’re going to be publishing the same day as this interview, and one of the things that you said that really struck me is that you feel literacy is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time. Tell me, talk a little bit more about that, about what you’re feeling is on that. 

PEERY: Yeah, so I’ve always felt very strongly that attaining a high level of literacy obviously changes your life. It certainly changed mine, and I’m the first person in my family to ever go to college, and I just kept going and going and going until I got a doctorate. And now since I got my doctorate, I got bored, so I wrote a bunch of books. I love, I love learning, I love school. Literacy changed my life, and I wanted to do that for my students. I was mostly a high school teacher. I did a couple of stints in middle school as well, but I always seem to have great success, particularly with the boys who swore that they didn’t like reading and they didn’t like English class and that kind of thing. I had some particular success with African American males in one school where I taught and we did some grant writing for them to have literacy role models and that kind of thing. 

So I think in the past couple of years certainly, I believe we’ve all become aware of how folks can be mistreated or manipulated if they don’t understand what some of their rights are and what some of their freedoms are. I think that we have, we’ve seen where people can really get not only distracted but fully engrossed in conspiracies and other things that just aren’t based in fact. And if you’re not highly literate, and you’re not working those critical thinking skills all the time, it’s very easy for you to be sucked into things that aren’t good for you, potentially harmful for you, put you in harm’s way even. So I always took it very seriously to educate my students, to have them read and to be well read and well spoken and have large vocabularies and all of that wonderful stuff because I want them to have more opportunities. I think I make the point in the blog post as well, we know that a higher level of literacy and a higher level of education correlates with a higher salary for the rest of your life, and the more educated you are, the less likely you are to be incarcerated and all of those wonderful things. 

So I think at this time in history, it might be more important than ever for all our children to really just understand, to understand more about the world, to be more literate, to be able to decipher information and understand what credible sources are versus suspicious sources or what the media might be trying to do or what social media might be trying to do. I just really think it’s a critical time for us to help kids understand all that. 

GONZALEZ: And you know, I don’t know if there has been any research on this, but this, in the eight years I’ve been doing this, this seems to be a trend in that when you, when you go to schools in more economically disadvantaged areas, you tend to see more of the kind of sit and do a packet work —

PEERY: Yes. 

GONZALEZ: — versus when you go to a very wealthy school, the kids are sitting around small Harkness tables and having discussions and doing project-based learning and having plenty of time for independent reading. So those best practices really aren’t being doled out in equitable ways either. And so if we want to give all of our students as much opportunity as possible, we need to make sure that teachers in all schools are using the best literacy practices. 

PEERY: Yeah. I mean as you pointed out, and I think we could probably go back 20, 25 years, the practices were not equitable to start with. And now I feel like it’s worse. 


PEERY: And COVID also, I think what you’re, another thing related to what you just said is that a lot of teachers have chosen during COVID to leave the profession and I believe some of the things I’ve seen at higher rates than in other years. So the other thing is we may not have a well-trained teacher in each classroom, and then where are the places that have the least well-trained teachers to start with and that now are really scrambling for teachers, and those are our underserved areas to start with. So that would be kind of our urban schools that have problems retaining teachers and also a lot of what I see are in very rural areas. And as you noted in both those types of places, in some areas we’re dealing with very impoverished families and students who really, everyone needs great literacy instruction but some of our students really need it desperately. 


PEERY: So I think yeah, this is a time for, I think we could really change for the better, and we need to grasp the moment and do that. 

GONZALEZ: So you have a book that has just been published called “What to Look for in Literacy,” and in that book, it’s basically, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve basically taken your audit process and sort of turned it into a DIY guide for schools to sort of do their own checkup on their schools. So in that book you have, I believe you said over 90 tools that schools can use to sort of check up on every area of their school and to do their own audit of their literacy practices. So we’re going to actually get into some of the tools, but just in general, tell me a little bit about the kind of tools that are in this book. 

PEERY: Yeah, so my editor’s the one that gave me that final number. I believe we have more than 90 tools, roughly 90 tools in the book. So the book is “What to Look for in Literacy: A Leader’s Guide to High Quality Instruction,” and what we’ve done, what my co-author Tracey Shiel and I have done, is we’ve taken a lot of what we do in our own processes when we work with schools and school systems, and we’ve tried to make user friendly checklists and other guides that will help you if you’re in a school, you’re in a school system, it will help you do a process like what we do. 

So the book contains two different kinds of tools; in the blog post and on your site we’re only highlighting what we call checkup tools. So checkup tools are really where you would collect evidence through observation. These are where you walk through the school or you sit and observe, and you are looking and listening and learning and collecting information. We also have what we call check-in tools, and the check-in tools are designed to guide conversations. So an administrator could use some of these tools to sit in conversation with the teacher. A literacy coach could do the same thing, and we even have a few tools that are survey questions that you, and we’ve got tools where you sit and talk with a student or group of students, but we also have some items that are survey items so that you could collect a lot of information if you wanted to about student perception by using those tools. 

So we hope what we’ve provided—and of course there’s quite a bit of discussion in the book too about what effective literacy instruction is and about the importance of monitoring what you’re doing. But what we hope we’ve done is provide enough tools that if you wanted to do a really extensive process, you could. You could use every tool that’s in there. If you wanted to start off in a focused way, you could say, hey, I think we have a problem with writing instruction. Why don’t we go to the writing chapter and let’s look at these tools and see if we could gather some information. So you could go very broad, or you could go very focused. We wanted to give people a lot of options. 

GONZALEZ: Got it. And so the book covers reading instruction, writing instruction, the environment of the school. It includes things like technology use and research practices. 

PEERY: Yep, and speaking and listening. 

GONZALEZ: And speaking and listening, okay. And so it really covers the whole spectrum of what we mean when we say literacy.

PEERY: Yeah. We took, we tried to, we realized that most states now have their own standards, but those were derived from the Common Core standards, so we really looked at that, all the areas that are covered in those standards. And of course the book, the heaviest parts of the book, the lengthiest parts are the reading and writing sections, but we did, as you noted, we also wanted to deal with classroom and school environment for literacy and then the research, technology, and speaking and listening. 

GONZALEZ: Good, okay. And so what we’ve done in the blog post is that you’ve actually shared eight of the tools so that people can get sort of a sampling and even get started on some of their checkups. And what we’ve got are, we’ve got two tools for looking at the environment, three for reading instruction and three for writing instruction, and these are at different grade levels. So what we decided we were going to do with the rest of our time here is just basically take a look, really quickly, at each one of these tools and just have you talk about what’s on the tool and what are some of the key things that are on these checklists. So let’s start with the two environment tools. You’ve got one that’s sort of the whole school and then another that’s a classroom library. 

PEERY: Right. So the first tool that’s shared in the blog post is what do the halls and walls say about literacy. That tool just has basically eight questions that you go around and collect some information on. And we do this kind of work in our audits and our reviews. So basically you would take the tool and a team could do this, a teacher could do it alone, a literacy coach, an administrator, anyone, a district person could do this, and walk through all the schools and collect this data. But it’s an important part of literacy. I guess kind of the literacy vibe of a school or a school system is how literacy is promoted from the moment you walk into the school. And frankly a lot of elementary schools are really good at doing this. But what we look for is the total amount of wall space and then we’re looking, I’ll just highlight a couple of things on that tool, is just walking through the hallways to see how much blank wall space is there and are there other displays that are there. Because truly, especially at elementary schools, there could be a lot of artwork. I’m finding these days there are a lot of messages, posters, all sorts of things related to mindset and perseverance and grit and social-emotional learning. All sorts of great messaging about that. 


PEERY: …quotations and visuals, but we could take some of that space and promote reading, writing, literacy. I actually saw a school not long ago that had a pretty well-done bulletin board right near the entrance of the school that was about argument and had all that key vocabulary about argument on that bulletin board, just as a reminder, that was a middle school, so I know the kids were studying about that, and it was a great reinforcement. So to have literacy and even numeracy displays, I’ve seen some schools that do a great job. They even have things posted on the rise of the steps, so when you go up steps, you might be reading quotations or there might be mathematical terms. So I’d love for people to think about how they could support literacy, and I do mean the enjoyment and the promotion of reading, but I also mean how could you highlight student writing? There could be student writing. There’s a lot of glass cases in this country that have old trophies in them from the ‘80s. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. 

PEERY: That could have some really cool current student writing in there. 


PEERY: And then vocabulary. I do see some schools that have some great displays about the important terminology in the various disciplines and that supports the kids as they’re walking up and down those hallways, they’re seeing those words, they’re talking about them. If you’re in an elementary school and you’re waiting in line to get in the cafeteria, or you’re doing the bathroom break, to have things on the walls that you can talk about and that support learning, it helps you extend that learning out into the hallways. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. As you’re talking, I’m picturing something and I just want to get your opinion on this, because I’m thinking someone’s listening to this. They might just run out and buy a 20-pack of those read posters where, these were very big in the ‘80s. I don’t know if they still make them, but it’s a celebrity holding a book and it just says “read.” 

PEERY: Oh yeah. 

GONZALEZ: Do you know what I’m talking about? Yeah. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about with promotion of literacy? Or are we talking more about what we’re reading this month or it’s promoting actual books? Because I remember as a kid, those posters didn’t do much to make me want to read. They were cute but do you know what I mean? 

PEERY: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, hey, that’s, I would certainly applaud that as a first step if anybody were doing that. I think this has to be done, I think the promotion of literacy throughout the school in the hallways on the walls throughout the building, I think the school principal and the school library media specialist need to be the people driving those efforts and collaborating with teachers to do that. Because the school library media specialist is the person that is most well-versed in literacy and information and media and all that, and I think when I’ve been in places that have a really great media specialist then everything just kind of flows from there, that there are. Let me just name some of the things I’ve seen that are very effective. So displays of important terminology that’s always going to be important, some literacy words, some mathematical words like in the hallways, just the words or words with images that help kids remember the words, that’s great. I’ve seen student-displayed book reviews. So where kids are recommending, and usually a great librarian is managing some of that, so those are posted near the library. I’ve even seen some that are done on something as small as a decent-sized Post-it note. Like, you’ve got to read this book! 


PEERY: So kids recommending books to each other, so this doesn’t have to be elaborate displays created by the school personnel. We can get kids involved in this. There’s a librarian in Fargo, North Dakota, who blows up a book cover to a huge size every couple of months, like one or two book covers of very popular young adult books and hangs them outside the library. And what do you know, every time she does that, the requests for those books goes up like 30 percent. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, I could totally see that. 

PEERY: Yeah. So that’s more effective than the celebrity sitting there saying read. Right? 

GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. So similarly, you’ve got another tool that’s just specifically about the classroom library. 

PEERY: Right. So within your own classroom, if you are an elementary teacher or at the middle and high school levels, if you’re an English language arts teacher it’s certainly really important for you to have a classroom library, and we do see teachers of other subjects at the secondary level with smaller classroom libraries, and I’d say the social studies, history people are probably the best at that. But there are guidelines for classroom libraries about how large they should be and what they should be made up of. So there is a tool in the book that helps you do that, and that’ll be in the blog post. Some of those recommendations I’ve adapted and used material from Scholastic. They’ve been kind of the leaders the last 20 years, especially focusing on independent reading and kids’ access to books. 

So if you look at that tool, it’s certainly meant to be kind of a reflection tool for an individual teacher to just go through their own collection and to answer the questions yes, no, I’m not sure. For a school system, what we do find when we do these audits is that the libraries are quite inequitable, and we find some teachers that have huge classroom libraries, as I did in my 9th grade English classroom. That’s what I most frequently taught, but guess who bought all those books for my 9th grade English classroom? Me. I bought a lot of them at yard sales and I got donations and all that. So we want school systems to fund really good libraries. And if you look on that tool, the first item is about the size of the library, and the guideline at elementary is about 30 books per student, so 30 books for 20 or 25 students that are in that classroom all day or if you’re at the secondary level, we’re talking a collection of about 300 books or more. 

Then we also talk about the variety. Do you have a variety of both fiction and nonfiction? Do you have it labeled and accessible so that students if they know they like books about vampires, they like that kind of thing, they can go to that section and get that kind of book. But similarly if it’s someone who likes to read realistic stuff or they’re really into animals or whatever that they could also go find that. 

So the tool is meant to be reflective, and I think for schools and systems it could be very useful because if a kid, let’s think about a second- or third-grade student that has reading time every day in their core classroom. If they are in a classroom where the teacher has 50 books on the shelf versus the kids down the hall who have access to 300 books on the shelf, then they’re getting very different experiences. And there is research, and I think I cite it in the blog post about when books are at kids fingertips right there in their classroom, I understand they can go down the hall and go to the school library. I understand that they can also access books on a device. But there is research that if physical books are at your fingertips, you’re more likely to pick them up and read. And that’s what we want. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so those were just two of the many environment tools that you have in the book. Let’s move to reading instruction. You’ve got three different tools for schools to assess their reading. You’ve got the early years, PK through 12, middle and high school, and then, sorry, I’m going out of order, and then grades 3 through 5. 

PEERY: Right. 

GONZALEZ: So pre-K, elementary, and middle and high school. So let’s just, tell me a little bit about what’s on each one of these. 

PEERY: So we do, in the reading chapter of the book, we have, it’s the longest chapter in the book because we want to make sure we’re paying attention to those five pillars of reading instruction that have been around since the National Reading Panel’s report in the year 2000. So that is phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, reading comprehension and then also vocabulary development. So what I’ve shared here, everything in the book is broken into different levels, so there are four levels. The early years we call it, and that’s grades pre-K through 2, elementary grades 3 through 5, middle years roughly 6 through 8, and then high school 9 through 12. So what’s in the blog post for the pre-K level is just a checklist yes, no for vocabulary instruction. And I think the most important thing to remember here is that, well, and for all the tools, it’s not that anyone would see everything that’s on the tool at any given time, but if you were to go back and to keep taking little snapshots of this type of instruction then eventually you should see all of it come together, right? 

GONZALEZ: Got it. 

PEERY: So I think most important in this tool is, is the teacher during his or her instruction giving some explicit—are they talking about word meaning? If a kid asks a question about a word, do they stop and try to help the whole class make sense of it? So part of the tool says “the teacher provides an explicit definition or meaning of a word,” not just reading those words out loud or just showing a definition, but that the teacher actually talks about it a little bit. 

GONZALEZ: There’s just some informal conversation a little bit about. 

PEERY: Yeah, yeah. And I think Marzano and his six-step vocabulary process and he kind of talks about, I think it’s Marzano, who says just giving something to hang their hat on. Like if it’s a difficult word and it’s slowing down their comprehension of whatever you want them to do, you kind of stop and talk about it. Then the next part of the tool, right under that, it says the teacher discusses one or more words so that students can make connections. So those two kind of go together. It’s really, is the teacher stopping to notice a word or point out and help kids work with some word meaning or either it could have been student generated, but are we seeing the teacher talk about the words? 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Why is that? I sort of have a general sense in my gut about why that’s better or preferable to just showing a definition or reading a definition out loud, but tell me what your thoughts are on why that’s preferred. 

PEERY: Well, so your listeners might not know this. I know you do, that I’ve written several books on vocabulary instruction as well and really dug into that work for a couple of years. You need repeated exposures to words in order to make them part of your own lexicon. 


PEERY: So you can see it, you can see a definition of it, you can hear your teacher talk about it, you can read something else about it. It’s going to take quite a few exposures for you to fully understand that word, and if you’re always seeing it or hearing it in the same context and someone’s just giving you that bland definition, then it doesn’t help you make connections. You know, Piaget and schema theory and all that. It doesn’t help you put it in another place. 

GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. I feel like it also just adds some level of novelty. 

PEERY: Yeah. 

GONZALEZ: That you remember this human being that you know saying this thing and giving an example from local context or something like that, that just adds that extra level of novelty to your learning about it. 

PEERY: Absolutely. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Okay, so that is the elementary level, and then—I’m sorry, that was early years. So then once we move into elementary level, tell me a little bit about the kinds of things that are most important to be looking for in reading instruction. 

PEERY: Yeah, so I think, so the next couple of tools are very similar. There’s one for the 3-5, and then what we’ve done in the blog post is the 6-8 and the 9-12 tool in the book were the same, and so we’ve put them together. But once we’re looking at reading instruction itself, I’ve already mentioned, so this is on the tool for the elementary years, is looking for, is that teacher reading aloud and talking about it? That’s important throughout a student’s experience, especially if it’s difficult text, even in a discipline, but is the teacher reading aloud? That’s on the instructional tool for grades 3 through 5. Also you’ll see reflected in all of our tools that gradual release of responsibility. So are teachers perhaps, so let’s say, this is elementary but it’s science or social studies content, and let’s say we’re starting to learn about the continents on Earth in a geographic sense or whatever. So does the teacher start maybe by reading aloud and then has kids look at a next section, and then they stop and talk about it a little bit, and then the teacher maybe checks for understanding, has them turn and talk to a partner and answer some questions, whatever, and then at the end of the lesson, maybe turns them loose a little more independently to finish working with that material? I didn’t mention it at first, but I’d say another thing I’ve seen since we’ve returned to face-to-face instruction from leaving remote instruction, we do not see, I don’t see the handoff of, what I see is teachers saying, here’s the work. Go do it. 


PEERY: Here’s the reading, go do it. Instead of this, did I read them the title? Did we look at the photos or graphs or charts or tables? Did I read the first paragraph, then we talked? There’s not that, and you’ll see also reflected on this tool what I’m also speaking about that goes with gradual release is when students are reading difficult material. Have you done that before, during, after framework? 


PEERY: Did you [crosstalk] set the reading up, support them during the reading or give them tools and strategies, and then check them after reading for understanding? 

GONZALEZ: Yes, does the teacher participating and integrating, guiding the students into the work and then back out of it? 

PEERY: Right. 

GONZALEZ: Maybe a little debriefing afterwards, yes. Okay. Good. And so what about middle and high school for reading instruction? 

PEERY: So what we’ve included in the blog is a tool for middle and high school, and this is very similar. I’m looking at the tool is the one that’s more focused on English language arts, but it’s very similar. Does the teacher activate background knowledge? Is the teacher directly teaching some of the important vocabulary? Are we using the before, during, after framework? Then the other thing that’s included on some of these tools are specific named strategies that we know work for reading comprehension. So what you see reflected here are two reciprocal teaching and jigsaw. So those are specifically named because there is a research base that indicates they improve comprehension. 

GONZALEZ: So that is reading, and then the last area that we’re going to talk about with the tools is in writing instruction, and the sampling that we’ve given is a little bit different in that we’ve skipped over the early years for this time. I’m going to focus on elementary, and then middle and high school in English language arts, and then there’s a third tool that is middle and high school for non-ELA classes, the kind of writing instruction that happens in those. So let’s start with the elementary, the kinds of things that people should be looking for whether they’re doing a good job of doing writing instruction. 

PEERY: So we’ve modeled these a bit on the process we do when we come in and review what’s going on or audit what’s going on, so we first look around the room. And is it whole class instruction, everybody’s pretty much doing the same assignment the same way? Is it small group? Is it independent practice? Or is it something else? Then there’s a checklist of items that are focused on writing process and writing modeling and demonstration. That is the same all the way up in the tools through grade 12 for writing. But the difference on the elementary tool is that we’re also looking at handwriting and spelling instruction. 

So there are practices that are deemed more effective, and actually there’s a continuum that children move through with their handwriting and their uses of spelling and sound relationships from scribbling to things that look more like words. So anyway, this tool is trying to check where are they? What are they doing? Are they using an app? We reflect that on the tool. But on our elementary tools, we want to make sure that we do pay attention to the rudimentary parts of writing, which include handwriting and spelling. You don’t see that on the higher level tools. 

GONZALEZ: Got it. And then in terms of the writing instruction checklist, that is fairly similar to what we see at the middle and high school level for ELA classes. It looks like what you really are looking for is more of a writing workshop model, and I know just from watching my own kids go through school that that’s just not happening as much as I would like to see it happening. 

PEERY: Right, right. 

GONZALEZ: They’re doing a lot of stuff at home on their own without a lot of guidance, and then just sort of turning it in.

PEERY: Right. So looking at both the, looking at the writing instruction that’s more kind of writing workshop-oriented is definitely you’ll see on there, are students engaging in peer conferences? Are students conferring with the teacher individually or in groups? And that’s really at the heart of that workshop type model is the feedback from peers and teachers, right? So we have the ELA tool that is slightly different from the non-ELA but most of the difference there is that we also include that writing environment on the ELA tool. 


PEERY: On the 6 through 12 or, yeah, we’ve got it 6 through 12, writing instruction in the content areas. We don’t have that environmental piece, but we, if you’re engaged in some cross-curricular literacy efforts, we want every teacher to understand that there is a writing process. You’ll see those items about planning and drafting, revising, and it doesn’t matter what you teach. If you’re assigning writing, you should also be providing an exemplar or modeling what you want. That’s not exclusively the domain of ELA teachers, so we’ve got that on our tool. 

GONZALEZ: Yep. I mean that was something that for me as an English language arts teacher, those two things were so huge. One was providing exemplars so that they had some idea of what they were shooting for, and then having them write in class instead of just, I know at first if I would just assign something and have them just do it at home, and then just turn it in, the success rate was dramatically different from when I would have them actually write in class and I could see what they were doing. They could check things with each other, and also—talk about a fix for plagiarism. 

PEERY: Yeah. 

GONZALEZ: If you’re going to have them just right there in front of you and draft it and work on it over time, it’s really hard for them to plagiarize in that kind of environment. 

PEERY: Absolutely, and that’s really important. I would say I am, you’re reminding me that I’m seeing writing that is assigned, but I’m not seeing writing that is taught. 


PEERY: As far as a process and about getting feedback, and I do hear, so the No. 1 complaint I get from secondary teachers is, if I give them an exemplar or I model and write along with them and we create a model first, then they just, they just copy the model. 


PEERY: And really, I mean, I always did this kind of instruction in my own classroom and that just didn’t really happen to me unless it was a very struggling student. But the reason it didn’t happen is because I’m conferring with them all throughout the process. 

GONZALEZ: Yes. I was literally thinking the same thing. You sit down in conference with them, and you help them get to the place where they’re doing something original. 

PEERY: Right. 

GONZALEZ: Okay, so what we have gotten here is just we’ve got a great sort of starter set of tools that people can go and find if they go over to the website and go to the podcast page, click Episode 171. They’re going to come to the page where we actually have, we’ve got these tools in Google Docs that people can just make a copy for themselves and use them. If people want to learn more from you, I mean we haven’t even talked, you’ve got tons of other books and services that you do that are all sort of built around literacy. Where should people go to find you online? 

PEERY: So I’m pretty easy to find if you know how to spell my last name. So we pronounce my last name Perry as if it has two R’s, but it doesn’t. So it looks like Peery, so my last name is P-E-E-R-Y. I’ve got, I’m @drangelapeery on Twitter. I’m I have recently created a new website and shortened it, so my website is just, but that’s D-R-P-E-E-R-Y, so Have a little description of our services there. I’ve got an Amazon page. Look up author Angela Peery with all my books there, including, you know we referenced vocabulary here, so I’ve written three books on vocabulary instruction, this new book on literacy, and I’ve written a book on writing across the curriculum and have another book coming out on PLCs as well. So I’m easy to find if you get that weird last name spelled correctly. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, and I’ve been calling you Peery for at least five years now, so I’m glad to, glad to learn that. 

PEERY: That’s what it looks like. I mean that makes sense, right? 

GONZALEZ: It’s just me using my phonemic awareness.

PEERY: Exactly. 

GONZALEZ: Oh gosh. OK, well, thank you so much. Thanks for putting all the work into the blog post. If people are listening and they like what we’re saying, they should definitely go check that out. And just thanks for your time and sharing all this wisdom with us. 

PEERY: Well, it’s been my pleasure to be with you, Jenn, and I just, I love Cult of Pedagogy. I recommend it everywhere I go, and pull up posts sometimes in working with teachers. So it’s really quite an honor and a privilege to be associated with you and thanks for having me today. 

GONZALEZ: Thank you.  

To read Angela’s blog post, grab free copies of all the check-up tools we talked about, and learn more about her book, visit, click Podcast, and choose episode 171. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.