literacy · professional books · Read Aloud · reading workshop · reading-writing connections · writing workshop

Layers of Learning: A Review and Giveaway

Time has always been a precious commodity, but the 2020 back to school season has made it more important than ever to make the moments count in the classroom.

School looks different for many of us. You might be teaching remotely and have a certain amount of live teaching before students work on asynchronous assignments. You could be in a hybrid model where you see your students in person on a rotating basis. You might be teaching in person, as I am, but struggle with staggered arrival and dismissal times and scheduled mask breaks throughout the day. Our instructional minutes need to be planned purposefully if we are to accomplish all the learning goals we have for our students. And yet….we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Students have been through trauma, in varying levels. Social and emotional needs must be addressed as we build classroom communities and strive to help every student feel seen, valued and heard.

Enter your next must-read professional book: Layers of Learning: Using Read-Alouds to Connect Literacy and Caring Conversations by JoEllen McCarthy. As fellow Long Islanders, I’ve had the good fortune to know JoEllen for several years now. In addition to being a staff developer and The Educator Collaborative’s Book Ambassador, JoEllen is one of the co-founders of  #nErDcampLI, which has been an inspiring annual event for teachers, authors and students. JoEllen’s love of literacy and passion for learning shines through everything she does and in every page of Layers of Learning. About this book, JoEllen has said, “My biggest hope is that teachers will find the book to be a valuable resource that can complement reading – writing workshops, existing units of study, and support conferring conversations. Rather than isolated lessons, and beyond bucket filling, I hope it helps teachers look for opportunities to purposefully connect the books we share to both academic and social-emotional learning.”

The premise of this book is that picture books can be our co-teachers in the classroom and help us make reading and writing connections. They can also tap into students’ hearts and teach life lessons. With every instructional minute needed, a single picture book can be used to teach reading skills, help writers grow, and create conversations around community, agency, respect and empowerment.

Layers of Learning is divided into two parts. The first part is entitled “Learning as heartwork” and describes the heartprint framework and the elements of CARE, which include the aforementioned community, agency, respect and empowerment. Part two is where your heart will beat a bit faster and your list of books to purchase will grow rapidly! Each part of CARE is explored in another chapter, with 15 book titles shared for each component. Beyond the book title being shared, there is a two page spread per book. A brief summary of the book is offered, as well as “Life Layers- Invitations to Share Connections, Cares and Concerns.” This section offers discussion ideas that tap into the social and emotional aspects of the book. Next, literacy connections are explicitly named. There are three ideas for the teacher to consider for teaching reading and three ideas to consider for teaching writing. For example, in the Community section, one of the books shared is The Little Red Stroller. The teacher can use this book to help writers analyze craft, develop ideas and explore sentence fluency. JoEllen provides ideas and more detail for how to use this book as you are teaching writing workshop.

Each book also contains a “Literacy Snapshot”  to adopt or adapt which includes two photographs from classrooms. The photographs are often classroom display ideas for reading and writing to help students connect with literacy on a deeply meaningful level.(I LOVED looking through all these fabulous ideas that I can add to my classroom!) Three more picture book titles that relate to the spotlighted book are shared. There is also a section for additional professional reading or other resources at the bottom of the page. The amount of inspiration and information in each two page spread is incredible! Each book shared provides so many different entry points to explore with students and ways for the teacher to keep learning and growing as well.

Some of the other writing lessons mentioned in the book include: drafting and developing ideas, exploring point of view, writing from sources, researching to build knowledge and supporting a claim, exploring word choice, writing conclusions, writing in response to reading, exploring language, writing to show not tell, writing narratives, drafting and revising and more.

Each chapter opens with a relevant and inspiring quote. The books JoEllen has selected are representative of our classrooms and feature children from all cultures, family structures, religions, and sexuality. It is an inclusive text that offers countless picture book ideas for helping every child to see himself or herself in the books read aloud. The picture books selected also allow students to learn about children who are different from them. Many of these books will be mirrors, windows or doors for children, as first described by Rudine Sims Bishop, who wrote, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”  At this time in our history, I believe it is more important than ever for our students to understand and empathize with children from all walks of life.

If a professional book could be personified, this one would be wearing a warm sweater, sipping a cup of tea and offering you a spot at the kitchen table after walking in from the cold. Reading Layers of Learning was a book that not only helped me grow as an educator, it also filled my soul. It is a book full of powerful teaching moves for readers and writers, but also for helping children to be people of character who care for others. Layers of Learning shows you how you to maximize your instructional minutes through powerful read alouds. But, it also reminds you of the awesome power and responsibility we have as teachers to share the very best books with students as we help them become skilled readers and writers… and thoughtful and caring people.

JoEllen recently presented a workshop at the September 19th EdCollab Fall 2020 Gathering. I’ve included it here for more information on how to layer the learning with picture books.



JoEllen also shared a virtual bookshelf with clickable resources where authors give behind the scenes accounts of the books they’ve written.

Click the image first and then click on different book titles for resources.

I highly recommend purchasing Layers of Learning: Using Read Alouds to Connect Literacy and Caring Conversations. This amazing resource will help you teach writing while also emphasizing reading skills and life skills students need. You will diversify your classroom library to be more inclusive and representative by embracing the books that JoEllen curated. You might be the lucky recipient of this giveaway if you leave a comment on this post! Congratulations to JoEllen McCarthy for creating such a beautiful, thoughtful, practical, and much needed resource for teachers.


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Layers of Learning: Using Read Alouds to Connect Literacy and Caring Conversations. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S.A. mailing address — Sorry, no FPOs — to win a print copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Layers of Learning, please leave a comment on this blog post by Friday, October 2nd at 6:00 p.m. EDT. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced at the bottom of this post by Sunday, October 4th. 
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, I will ship the book to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – LAYERS OF LEARNING. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

25 thoughts on “Layers of Learning: A Review and Giveaway

  1. Congratulations to Carrie Cocciolone who is the winner of this giveaway! I’ve sent you an email Carrie and you have 5 business days to send me your mailing address. If I don’t hear from you after that time, a new winner will be selected. Thank you everyone for your comments on this post! I hope you all have the chance to read this beautiful book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am very excited to read this book. I love using picture books to teach reading and writing skills and I love how this book connects The social EmotionAl learning Component. I’m always looking for new ideas with picture books so thank you! I’m so excited!

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  3. Two Writing Teachers and Stenhouse are 2 great resources for teachers. As a retired reading consultant I used picture books and other mentor texts when working with students and teachers. Would love to give a copy to my daughter who is carrying on in the teaching profession. (maybe I would even read it first!!)

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  4. Kathleen, thank you for the kind words and this review. I am so honored to have my work reviewed by Two Writing Teachers. I really hope Layers of Learning is a book that will help with ongoing reflective practice, if its readers are inspired by the student work, connections, literacy snapshots and ideas, I will be extremely proud. And asI believe it will not be complete without the experience its readers bring to the pages. I look forward to learning from others as they share their own #LayersOfLearning.

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  5. My ELA department was just discussing how we would like to incorporate SEL and diversity into our lessons. I would love to hear more ideas about how we can have students reading, writing, discussing and learning life skills during a meaningful lesson.

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  6. Two years ago, I attended my very first NerdCamp and it was the Long Island one! What an incredible experience all the way around. Through friends and colleagues, I was able to meet JoEllen. The personified version of the book described above mirrors the essence of JoEllen – warm, cozy, easy-going, yet passionate and energized! I would be honored to read her work and implement the suggestions with my fourth graders to layer the learning and community building. This book is needed now more than ever! Thank you for the chance!

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  7. I teach junior high (did for a many, many years) and I just recommended to another teacher some mentor texts that could be used for her class. I’m thrilled to see so many other ways, through Layers of Learning, that picture books can be used in the classroom at any level. Thank you so much. This blog was inspiring.

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  8. Wow- this sounds like the perfect book for this moment- to help us teach, connect and support students as they and we navigate school in the pandemic. Thank you for sharing your review and bringing us such a wonderful new resource Kathleen.

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  9. Picture books are for everyone. The little Kinders can enjoy storytelling and the High Schoolers can dive deeper into the pictures. So rewarding to include them in the classroom and at home.

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  10. I am excited to have another great tool for teachers to utilize as they work through their literacy block with children in their classroom and through their online learning platform.

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  11. My school participates in #bookaday, reading a picture book everyday. Building in conversation and ELA skills is key with these books. Bonus: the kids love it! I’d love to read JoEllen’s ideas on how to continue this work.

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  12. I bought the book after watching JoEllen last weekend on the Ed Collaboration Gathering, but have not had time to read it yet. Your review makes me even more excited! I love the extras you added in and makes me sure it was a great purchase- so many great books, so little time!

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  13. SEL is an important component of our district curriculum. I am looking forward to using this resource to enhance our library collection, and sharing it with my teachers as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This book sounds like a valuable resource. Looking at the virtual bookshelf, I think I need to buy a copy of Every Good Thing. It is continually popping up on book lists.

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