Smart Answers to Tough Questions

Oct 1, 2010 by

Yesterday I wrote about a question many of our students ask us when they are writing:  “How do you spell…?”  I also shared some insights on invented/temporary spelling and ways to encourage our children not to rely on us when they are drafting.  That made me think of another issue this question raises.  What do you do when a parent or an administrator questions a teaching practice that you know is best for children?  What would you say if a parent said, “My child brings home stories she’s written that are full of spelling errors.  She spells words the way they sound.  You didn’t write any corrections on her paper so she’s being taught bad habits.  Why not make her copy words over and over until she gets them right?”  Even if you know what you are doing is developmentally appropriate for this child, would you know how to respond to her parent?

I love what Debbie Miller says in the first chapter of Reading with Meaning.  She writes, “When we know the theory behind our work, when our practices match what we believe, and when we clearly articulate what we do and why we do it, people listen.”  To me, that is a call to become knowledgeable about every decision we make in our classrooms.  We no longer have the luxury of doing something “just because”.  Every act in our classrooms needs to be intentional, and we need to know why we do what we do.  This leads me to a resource I would like to highly recommend to you.  It’s called Smart Answers to Tough Questions by Elaine Garan.


In this book Elaine tackles 20 tough literacy questions we are often asked.  Each chapter follows this format:

  • “The Tough Question”: This is a question often asked by parents or the public about various literacy issues.
  • “Your Bottom-Line Answer”: This section gives a straightforward answer to the question.  This is the “why I do what I do” explanation.
  • “Something for You to Thank and Talk About”: This section goes more in depth and helps refine the bottom-line answer.  These are great topics for whole staff professional development discussions.
  • “The Proof”: This is a summary of relevant research, including quotes, websites, journal articles, and more for those who want to become even more knowledgeable about a topic.

I believe this book is a must-have for all elementary literacy teachers.  It is a quick, easy read.  Because it is organized around the tough questions, you don’t have to read the book in order—just flip to the desired chapter (using the convenient side “tabs”) and the answers will be at your fingertips.  I take this book with me to every workshop I present because almost every time, one of these questions comes up in a discussion.

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