Step into the world of education transformation with Jonathan Lemaster on the ML Chat Podcast. As a language and learning specialist in the Poway Unified School District in San Diego, and the co-founder of Literacy Geeks, Jonathan’s passion for skill-based instruction and ed tech shines through. With over two decades of experience, he emphasizes the importance of engaging all students and fostering skill development for successful teaching. Join the conversation as we explore Jonathan’s journey from the classroom Language & Learning Specialist Coach, and his unwavering commitment to supporting teachers in their efforts to empower language learners. Don’t miss this insightful discussion!
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[00:00:32] Justin Hewett: Hi, everybody. I am super excited for our guest today.
[00:00:36] Justin Hewett: He comes with such a unique background. Jonathan Lemaster is a language and learning specialist in Poway Unified School District in San Diego and is the co founder of Literacy Geeks. Literacy Geeks is where he helps create online reading and writing assessments to support the teaching of explicit, Skill based instruction.
[00:00:56] Justin Hewett: He got his master’s in rhetoric and writing studies from San Diego State University, and has spent the last 21 years in education, working with language learners. He’s passionate about the cognitive approach to teaching and helping students master literacy skills. And we are live with Jonathan. Jonathan, welcome to the ML
[00:01:17] Jonathan Lemaster: chat podcast.
[00:01:19] Jonathan Lemaster: Hey, Justin. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Super excited to be here.
[00:01:23] Justin Hewett: Hey, it’s our pleasure. We’re excited to have you. You have such a varied background. It’s fun to look through. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now.
[00:01:33] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah, so Literacy Geeks launched first in 2010 as Literacy TA.
[00:01:40] Jonathan Lemaster: And what we were trying to do is support educators in the classroom to deliver skill based instruction. And what we realized is that we needed to do more than just reading because there’s this reading, writing relationship that students need to learn. They need to learn to be good readers, but also then transition that good reading into some sort of expression.
[00:02:01] Jonathan Lemaster: And so we launched literacy geeks and literacy geeks now focuses on reading and writing using ed tech, using skill based pedagogy and a little bit of gamification to motivate students.
[00:02:16] Justin Hewett: That is Very appropriately named how fun like that’s a fun brand that you’ve worked to create literacy and I can tell that you’re really passionate about that work and you know being an educator now for 21 years now you are the Tell tell us a little bit about the work you’re doing in Poway with English learners.
[00:02:38] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah. Thank you. So the transition from classroom to the district office was difficult. It was personal. I love the classroom. I love teaching students. And to think about every day going into an office versus going into a classroom was a big shift for me. But it’s been wonderful to be able to work with teachers in the district.
[00:02:58] Jonathan Lemaster: I support teachers grade six through 12. So I support secondary. We’re a unified district, so we have K all the way to 12 and we, work, wake up every day trying to support teachers in their efforts in helping our language learners. So the shift has been pretty big in my life. I miss the interaction with the students, but it’s also fun to, to go into other teachers classrooms and see the impact and have relationships with teachers being able to, Teach them how to help MLs and give them strategies.
[00:03:32] Jonathan Lemaster: So they feel successful and they implement in the classroom. I actually launched a professional development program last year called EL champions. And the EL champions program is focused on, it’s backed by research and focuses on giving teachers professional development continuously throughout the year so that it’s not a sit and get one day and leave.
[00:03:56] Jonathan Lemaster: And it allows the teachers to take what they’re learning from the sessions, implement them. While I’m in the classroom and while other peers are in the classroom. And after the lesson’s been completed, we come together and we talk about it and we debrief it, and it’s been very powerful. So I’m starting it again this year, 30 teachers last year and 30 teachers this year.
[00:04:20] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s called EL champions. It’s been really awesome.
[00:04:23] Mandi Morris: That’s so neat to hear about, Jonathan. I’m wondering, a wonderful part of your role and what you’re talking about is being able to see best practices in other teachers classrooms. I think that’s something that’s really cool about like the coaching specialist position is floating into so many different classrooms.
[00:04:41] Mandi Morris: What’s something that You see that you wish more teachers would do more of and what are some practices that you’re working to Correct and improve what are some things that just really stand out to you?
[00:04:55] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s a great question. I appreciate you asking. I think it’s very simple Two kids need to be talking in class, right?
[00:05:01] Jonathan Lemaster: And talking in the ways we want them to talk. They’ll, they’re happy to talk. But we want them to talk about the, the content. We want them to talk about the information that we’re providing them. And what EL champions really focuses on is how do I engage all minds? How do I engage all learners in a classroom through academic discussions?
[00:05:24] Jonathan Lemaster: And Jeff’s Wires talks about academic discussions and how students play the game of school, right? What’s the expectation? What’s the parameters? I’m going to go ahead and complete whatever task you’re asking me to complete. And really what the teacher wants students to do is engage in authentic discussions.
[00:05:42] Jonathan Lemaster: So what Yale Champions focuses on is providing, as you said, best practices, strategies that teachers can use to engage all kids. I’ll tell you that our emails are often in the back of the room. They’re the silent ones. They’re the ones that are not being called on. They’re the ones that are not raising their hands.
[00:06:00] Jonathan Lemaster: And so as an educator, how do I ensure that my MLS in my classroom are practicing their spoken English? And the best way to do that is to engage all students. And by engaging all students, everyone’s a part of it. It’s not a question answer system. The students are motivated because they’re talking.
[00:06:20] Jonathan Lemaster: They’re sharing ideas and teachers are learning these great routines that help all students. And I think that’s also the other simple component is get kids talking. And what you do for MLs is always excellent for all students. So it’s not like it’s, Oh, now this is ML time. We’re going to carve this time out.
[00:06:38] Jonathan Lemaster: No, what a language learner needs is what all students need.
[00:06:46] Mandi Morris: When you say that, it reminds me, I don’t know if you’ve heard the expression of the popsicle sticks of doom. Where the teacher has like the cup with the popsicle sticks and like each one has a student’s name. And you have the three kids in class who are like, I hope the teacher pulls my name out of that cup.
[00:07:02] Mandi Morris: And then you have your English learners that are just like, oh, please don’t let it be my popsicle stick. And what you’re talking about is accountable talk where every… Student is responsible for their part in the conversation and we’re providing scaffolds and support so that they can do that with success But there’s no opt out option
[00:07:21] Jonathan Lemaster: Right and that opt out option expectation that to say look you can’t opt out You are going to speak in my classroom You set that early in the year day one. And, don’t go over your syllabus go over your expectation for speaking, get kids talking day one, and then they don’t, they’re not afraid anymore because they know that, hey, in this class, I’m going to be speaking every day, every time I don’t know when, I don’t know what that’s going to look like necessarily, but I know when I walk in this classroom that there’s an expectation that I speak.
[00:07:53] Jonathan Lemaster: And I think that’s very powerful. And then it helps teachers in the future. They don’t have to drag kids through conversations because they’re used to it. That’s part of how they learn.
[00:08:04] Justin Hewett: Oh, this is, we are in for a treat today, ladies and gentlemen. This is going to be a lot of fun. Jonathan, it is it’s fun to hear about where you’re at now, what you’re working on, how you’re serving students how you’re working with educators around the country and doing some of this work.
[00:08:20] Justin Hewett: I want to go back because I obviously it seems like you’re you’ve used literacy geeks and Quinn do like You’ve used that as an avenue to share what you’ve been learning, right? You’re putting in this work. You’re learning these things And you, you’ve developed a platform to be able to share that out.
[00:08:37] Justin Hewett: I want to go back to when you got started. Like, how did you get started in education and how did you get started serving
[00:08:43] Jonathan Lemaster: English? That’s, yeah, that’s a great question. Back in the day yeah, no, it was I immediately wanted to be a part of a community that Focused on best teaching practices.
[00:08:56] Jonathan Lemaster: I started at Elkhorn Valley High School here in San Diego. And that was a school that I never really saw myself teaching in because I just, I don’t know, you, you start as a teacher, you just, you don’t have much of a guide. You don’t really know where you’re going and what you’re doing. And you go back and read your essays that you wrote in the credential program.
[00:09:16] Jonathan Lemaster: And it’s just hilarious. What? What you would say. And then you, then the reality hits you. El Cajon Valley High School was absolutely amazing. And I think it’s what gave me what we call our literacy chops. It really taught me how to be a teacher of skills not a teacher of content. And I believe there’s a divide there in, in education where it’s, you’re a teacher of content or you’re a teacher of skills, and it’s not that you have to choose either, or it’s just the reality of how we approach teaching, how we approach education.
[00:09:48] Jonathan Lemaster: And so I wanted to be in a community where skills were at the forefront of everything that you do. I wanted to learn as many skills as I possibly could. And I joined different organizations and worked for different companies and trained and it just kept growing and growing. And in 2010, that’s when Common Core came out.
[00:10:06] Jonathan Lemaster: We finally had teeth behind skills. It’s yes, we actually now have a, people have to listen. There’s a reason we should be teaching skills and. And that really started to get me thinking about how can we get more teachers teaching reading, speaking, and writing skills, critical thinking skills.
[00:10:27] Jonathan Lemaster: And so my business partner and I he’s actually a friend of mine from middle school. So we’ve been friends. We grew up in Big Bear. It’s a small mountain town in California. And His name is Lee Ramsey. He’s the co founder of Literacy Geeks. And he said, right after Common Core came out, he says, Hey, Jonathan, you’ve been doing a lot of work with skills and you’ve written a book for a company.
[00:10:49] Jonathan Lemaster: Let’s launch Literacy TA. Let’s launch it. And what was interesting about TA is from the university perspective, there’s these teacher assistants. That’s what TA stands for. And so we thought, Hey, how cool would it be to call this company literacy teacher assistant, but that’s a mouthful, right? So literacy TA, it was born and we did professional development across the country and trying to get teachers to see that, Hey, your content is the.
[00:11:14] Jonathan Lemaster: Is the source the path, but really what you want to teach is skills through all of this content that you’re teaching. And then by doing that, you’re going to help your language learners. You’re going to, you’re going to help your students with special needs. You’re going to, you’re going to help everyone if you focus on skills.
[00:11:29] Jonathan Lemaster: My master’s degree is in rhetoric and writing. And as you mentioned in the introduction and my master’s thesis actually was about the gap that exists between high school and university. The gap that is expectation, the gap that is how we ask kids to think and learn. And it is massive.
[00:11:48] Jonathan Lemaster: And what, the biggest difference is how we ask kids to think. Content isn’t going to get you there, but skills will. So that was really the focus. And we rebranded as Literacy Geeks. And now we have Quindu, which is our online reading platform that is authentic, just like you guys, just like Flashlight.
[00:12:06] Jonathan Lemaster: You guys are taking an authentic approach. to teaching skills. Reading a text, which I’m a rhetorician, right? So I see your images as text. So reading text and then being able to speak about that text, write about that text is critical for our students. And so not multiple choice, right? Getting let’s get rid of multiple choice.
[00:12:28] Jonathan Lemaster: And so Quindu and it’s mission is to. remove multiple choice and have kids engage authentically in reading experiences at the same time using modern technology to evaluate students ability to read without taking a long test. And without using multiple choice. So it’s just been really an amazing journey.
[00:12:48] Jonathan Lemaster: And with more technology, you guys know, the more technology you have, the, the cooler your tools can be the more you can do online. And I just think we’re really an exciting moment in education. Yeah,
[00:12:59] Justin Hewett: it does feel like a lot of things are changing, right? A lot of things that, you know, that we haven’t been able to use technology for we’re beginning to use technology for.
[00:13:07] Justin Hewett: You mentioned Flashlight and really our ability to turn speaking into data has changed the game in being able to understand where students are at on their language development journey and work through some of that. you were in the Cajon Valley Union School District.
[00:13:22] Justin Hewett: So for those of you who don’t know, Calhoun Valley is super progressive and they are, they have really done a lot of amazing things through their their superintendent is just really fantastic and pushing things forward. They have a great leadership team. They have a TEDx event where kids get up and are.
[00:13:42] Justin Hewett: Sharing different ideas and anyways, what a perfect place for you to start, your career, learning new stuff, pushing, very much embracing new technologies and new ways of thinking and doing things. How much do you think that influenced, your direction here?
[00:13:59] Jonathan Lemaster: Oh, it’s… Had I not taught, so I taught at El Cajon Valley High School, which is in the Grossmont Union High School District. Cajon Valley school. Oh I’m wrong. Okay. No, it’s good. It’s good. It’s all the same family. Cajon. Oh, it is. Okay. Cajon District is the feeder schools into the high school district.
[00:14:15] Jonathan Lemaster: And so we work very closely with the whole, it’s the whole community, the whole family. All of their kids go through pretty much El Cajon Valley High School. And so what you’re saying is 100 percent right. I always, so my brother’s an educator as well. He’s actually a big time guy now at the district office.
[00:14:33] Jonathan Lemaster: And I always said, bring your tea, when I wasn’t working in the power unified school district, I said, bring your teachers down here for a day. I want to teach him how to teach, just just messing with them because I think, I think what I learned.
[00:14:45] Jonathan Lemaster: at Alcone Valley High School is to really bring it every day. We have students from, at the time when I was teaching there, we have, we had students all over the Middle East from Iraq, we had people from Afghanistan and a lot of these families were war torn refugees. You don’t just go in and teach Shakespeare to students, who have these experiences.
[00:15:08] Jonathan Lemaster: You have to be creative, you have to be clever, You have to reach them, you have to find out what they need and respond to it immediately. You gotta bring it. And I think being at Elkhorn Valley High School shaped me into the educator that I am and has made me an advocate for MLs.
[00:15:28] Jonathan Lemaster: And I think in the beginning I was a little intimidated by language learners. I myself barely got through a second language in college. And… Sitting here in a room saying, I don’t speak this language, how will I ever teach these children was a big paradigm shift for me. And then I realized the beauty of it.
[00:15:49] Jonathan Lemaster: And I realized how amazing it is to work with language learners and the assets that they bring and being able to leverage those assets and understanding that they don’t come to us. I wrote this down in my note stick, cause I think it was really important. They don’t come to us with a blank slate.
[00:16:06] Jonathan Lemaster: They come to us with rich experiences and culture and traditions. And I think sometimes we miss that. I think we miss that. And I think if I were in a different district in the beginning, and I wasn’t immersed. in different cultures and different traditions and different life paths. I don’t think I’d be here today the way, the one I’m doing in education.
[00:16:30] Jonathan Lemaster: I don’t think so at all.
[00:16:34] Mandi Morris: You said something about joking around with your brother and have teachers come here so they can learn how to teach. It made me think of an article that I had read a couple weeks ago. It was an op ed for the New York Times and it was talking about Not just teacher morale being low, which we’ve heard that over the years, but more specifically teachers perception of themselves as professionals being low and the value that they feel they bring to the community around them and how the community perceives them, which.
[00:17:04] Mandi Morris: Is an interesting shift. I think that’s something new in the conversation That feels different from overall teacher morale and when we were warming up you were talking about traveling to different classrooms and seeing how teachers are doing things and talking to teachers across the nation and How that invigorates you and excites you i’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about What is the environment like for teachers right now?
[00:17:31] Mandi Morris: What are the struggles? How do we address that? What does that look like moving forward in your
[00:17:36] Jonathan Lemaster: perspective? It is definitely an interesting time to be an educator I went through COVID and teaching online. And I think everyone who is an educator realized like, okay, teachers are definitely needed this whole online teaching thing is not working.
[00:17:58] Jonathan Lemaster: And so I. I think things shifted after that. I think I think students and teachers are getting getting back to their groove. They’re getting back to some normalcy. Districts ask some teaching, some districts ask, Oh, come back as a hybrid, come back, teach half the kids in the class and half the kids at home have cameras facing this way, that way.
[00:18:25] Jonathan Lemaster: And it really removed. Educators from what they loved it removed them from the focus of learning and is more about like how to learn. So it’s different. It’s it’s a challenging time. For sure.
[00:18:38] Mandi Morris: I think it’s informative for us and thinking about the work that we do to support teachers and how we show up in space.
[00:18:44] Mandi Morris: Taking like a growth mindset to that perspective Jonathan, maybe you could speak to moving forward. How do we support teachers best? Like, how do we show up in that? space and bring assets that the teachers are bringing to the room that us that are working parallel to teachers to support them bring into that space.
[00:19:07] Mandi Morris: How do we do that
[00:19:07] Jonathan Lemaster: best? I think teachers feel pulled in so many directions, right? With every initiative, with every new online program, tool, they feel the phrase in education is one more thing. One more thing. I feel like I’m doing one more thing. And I think if companies could work together, if teacher leaders and administrators could connect the dots for teachers, they’re probably all working towards the same outcomes, yet they’re not presented that way.
[00:19:42] Jonathan Lemaster: And so staff members will hear something in the beginning of the year, and there might be a platform or program to support whatever vision or initiative. And then three months later, there’s a new. Staff meeting and then there’s a, there’s something else that they’re supposed to be doing because someone read a book and said, you should be doing this.
[00:19:59] Jonathan Lemaster: And although it’s all connected, I think we don’t do a great job for educators connecting it so they don’t feel like it’s one more thing. But instead, it’s a how to do this. And this is how this will support that. It’s more of. I need you to do this. And some, it’s all the way down to, I need you to do this 20 minutes a day, or I need you to do this four times a week, or I need you to do this.
[00:20:22] Jonathan Lemaster: And teachers just get frazzled. And that, it’s a lot to take on and unless you can step back yourself. So going back to the point of, educators and, if there’s low morale. Is it valuable for teachers to be engaged in other things outside the classroom? I’ve learned that systems work together and how they work together.
[00:20:41] Jonathan Lemaster: And so for me, I can stitch things together. I can hear an administrator say, I need this done and say, Oh, that connects to this or that connects to that. But are we explicit about that? Are we really showing educators? This is how this work gets done, and this is the tool we’re using to help you.
[00:20:56] Jonathan Lemaster: And this is the theory or the philosopher that we’ve been reading in our book study that helps us understand the research behind da. So I, I think that there’s a thread that needs to be everything needs to connect to a thread. And I don’t know if that’s done well.
[00:21:11] Mandi Morris: Yeah, so it’s what’s the vision?
[00:21:12] Mandi Morris: How do all these things fit together in an ecosystem? And being able to articulate that vision, I think it’s
[00:21:18] Justin Hewett: really powerful. Otherwise it does become one more thing, right? Because it’s, you’re thinking you’ve got your system. Each teacher has their system. They’ve been working to build this for years.
[00:21:28] Justin Hewett: This is how they’re doing things. They learned it this way. This is why they’re doing this that way. And then you’re coming in, and administrators coming in and saying, actually, we need you to do this now too. And that’s, and I think that’s where the one more thing comes in. And so I think, what a great lesson for leaders, to think about as we are, trying to do something new, trying to innovate and, make adjustments, use this new technology that’s coming out that can help us do our jobs better.
[00:21:56] Justin Hewett: How do we make sure that it doesn’t become that one more thing and I think that you know What you articulated there jonathan is huge for that, you know Stitching it together helping, you know show how it’s a part of the vision and what we’re doing together as a team How do you think you know?
[00:22:13] Justin Hewett: In working with secondary you have lots of different content teachers that are focused on this is what I do, right? And yeah, I guess one of my questions is how do you how would you do that? How would you bring a group together that all has you know what they’re focused on in their classroom? And how do you get them on the same page, to focus on building, adding more language, building more language, opportunities for speaking and writing and ways to develop language in their classroom?
[00:22:44] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah, that’s a really good question as well. It’s going to go back to skills. Every content has a every, I’ll talk about it as a discipline, right? So every discipline has a way of, every discipline has a way of communicating. They have a way of writing, they have a way of what they read, what they consume.
[00:23:06] Jonathan Lemaster: And so if we can from a high level, help content areas, understand that there’s a literacy in their content and that it must be explicitly taught, then we can start thinking about, or asking questions. What sorts of skills do our students need in order to access this content? What do people in social science produce?
[00:23:30] Jonathan Lemaster: What do people in the field read? Why do they read that? And how is that different than what people read? Say in an English class or a person who is in the arts and helping them understand that there is a content area literacy and that there is a discipline and that discipline has a community and that community has expectations and those expectations.
[00:23:52] Jonathan Lemaster: are all rooted in communication. What’s read? What’s produced? How do we write here? And if you can get there, and we know that language is the bridge, right? We know that language is the bridge to production. So how do we then go from my content area to helping kids access that content area using skills as that bridge?
[00:24:17] Jonathan Lemaster: And what skill? And so the common thread for content areas across the system, because I used to, one of my jobs it was to be a school wide literacy coordinator. And how do you get all these different content areas in secondary to work towards the same goal, was your question. And I think you have to, you can’t, we’re not going to write the same way.
[00:24:38] Jonathan Lemaster: So let’s stop saying, everyone’s writing a five paragraph essay, because that’s not what you produce in, in different content areas. Math out. physical education out. So what is it that we do commonly and how can we attack that approach that with our different disciplines? And it really comes down to skills.
[00:24:59] Jonathan Lemaster: And again, right back to the simplicity of let’s get them talking, let’s get the kids talking. And then it’s gonna, help everyone move in the right direction.
[00:25:07] Mandi Morris: I appreciate how practical your approach is. And you’re really thinking of that end in mind, which is what is life for students after high school? So what does it look like to be prepared for college or be prepared for some type of study or skill that you need for success after high school? And we know in Our nation we have a pretty good system set up for kindergarten through 12th grade.
[00:25:32] Mandi Morris: It’s free. It’s accessible to everybody But we’ve not made that step to what happens after high school. 18 19 years old. It’s like good luck We hope that you have what you need for the next steps And you’re really approaching the way that students are educated in high school with the you?
[00:25:51] Mandi Morris: To ask the questions you need to ask to prepare yourself to have the skills you need to be prepared For life after high school. I think that’s a very unique approach And it’s so encouraging to me to hear you talking about that For our multilingual learners and like you said earlier, it’s just the right way to approach Thinking about life after high school for all students
[00:26:16] Jonathan Lemaster: And there’s a word that I like to use, it’s not my word, but it fits into this practical approach, and that’s transferability.
[00:26:24] Jonathan Lemaster: What can transfer from what you’re teaching? I think that’s really critical. And as an educator, who starts the year brand new, not knowing what kids know coming to me, pick a grade, ninth grade, don’t know what they did in eighth grade, pick a grade, 11th grade, I don’t know what they did in 10th grade.
[00:26:40] Jonathan Lemaster: And we all start over. Every year instead of building on something that the kids are coming to us with. Transferability, to your point, Mandy is critical when we talk about next steps, when we talk about moving from one course to another. Why is there a cap and a ceiling in science?
[00:27:00] Jonathan Lemaster: Why is there a cap and a ceiling in mathematics? It’s like these kids hit these walls or ceilings and they don’t go further, maybe because they didn’t learn the skills. That are going to help them progress through the different, more rigorous coursework. Why isn’t our AP, it depends on the school and the district, of course, but like AP, our ML is going to be able to get into our advanced placement courses.
[00:27:22] Jonathan Lemaster: I hope so. I hope that they’re learning the skills, but they’re not going to have the English development necessary to AP class and make their way through it. They have to have defined specific skills. that they can use to be successful in those rigorous environments. And without them it’s really left to chance, unfortunately.
[00:27:48] Jonathan Lemaster: And I don’t think that’s what we’re in the business of doing is leaving success to chance. So I, I think the transferability of skills is critical. And again, I was attracted to flashlight because of that, because I recognized immediately that you’re creating a safe space for students to practice.
[00:28:06] Jonathan Lemaster: writing and speaking and that those skills transfer. That’s huge. They, the skills that we’re teaching must transfer for them to be successful in other academic environments.
[00:28:18] Justin Hewett: I love what you’re sharing here. It’s amazing to think about that skill transfer and how important that is.
[00:28:24] Justin Hewett: And I just, I still go back to that classroom teacher in the high school and trying to figure out how do we get everybody rowing together to develop language, right? That everybody really. Yes, you’re a content teacher, but you’re also you’re teaching the language of History of social studies of whatever it is that you’re really focused on algebra to algebra, whatever it might be and do you think there’s some specific?
[00:28:53] Justin Hewett: Tactics or approaches that work, especially well That we can share across disciplines that teachers can use to develop language in their classroom, or is it just a mindset?
[00:29:06] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah a lot of it’s mindset. A lot of it’s a belief. A lot of it is a recognition. Along with transferability is this phrase I like to use is, language opportunities.
[00:29:20] Jonathan Lemaster: Where are the language opportunities in your content area? And getting teachers to see that versus understanding a fact. Or being able to reproduce a process. Where’s the language, right? The language that’s coming from you, the presenter, the speaker, the lecturer. The language that’s in your textbook, the language that’s required to produce the writing you want kids to produce.
[00:29:48] Jonathan Lemaster: And then how is that writing constructed? So you’re hearing my rhetorician now come out. This is my background, right? I am a partner to a linguist, right? So rhetoricians and linguists are similar in many ways. And we care about language, we care about how language is construct, or how language is used to construct meaning.
[00:30:08] Jonathan Lemaster: And so we’re always looking at how is that being done? So I think there is a mindset, I think there is a paradigm shift that, I love that term, I get it from Sean Covey this paradigm shift concept. It fits so well because I think we’re always going through paradigm shifts in life, and I think we have to be open to that.
[00:30:28] Jonathan Lemaster: Just having the openness to shift is a paradigm. So it’s being able to say, okay. There is something here in my curriculum that I haven’t really paid much attention to. And for our language learners, for our MLs, they need to learn how language is used to communicate, right? And obviously we know they start that through speaking.
[00:30:51] Jonathan Lemaster: And then so we use language frames to start guiding that cognitive path. Like, how do I want you to think? What could you say here in this situation? And so your academic frames or language frames or sentence starters, they have so many different names. But just that language to get them started. It is huge, and there is commonality because we all have language in our discipline.
[00:31:14] Justin Hewett: Ooh, I like that. I like that. I love that, that we do have commonality because we all have language in our discipline. Wow, that is beautiful. Really well put, and I really like the way you work through it. Jonathan I’m not sure we necessarily covered this, but how did you get, like what has drawn you to this work?
[00:31:32] Justin Hewett: At this point, like you are really focused on serving multilingual students. At the secondary level there in Poway. And I guess my question is what really has drawn you to this work? Like how did you end up deciding that this is What you wanted to focus your career on was serving our multilingual students.
[00:31:52] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah, in the beginning I told you I was intimidated, right? I was worried that I would not be effective. I was concerned that I didn’t have the skill set and the ability to help a language learner. And then I fell in love with that population their stories and their grit, their ability to persevere.
[00:32:12] Jonathan Lemaster: I saw soft skills in these kids that I really hadn’t seen before. And so I was very interested in, okay, if you’ve got a motivated child, if you’ve got someone who just wants to succeed. And with all odds going against them, like, how cool is that to be able to be a part of that journey when, I didn’t think I was going to bring it up, but I’m going to bring it up elemental.
[00:32:39] Jonathan Lemaster: I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but Pixar’s new elemental is just phenomenal and so simple in its message and in the making of elemental is even more powerful. If you watch that, I’m going to have that as a professional development opportunity. I want my staff to watch. The making of elemental because they talk about the, the extreme complexity that these kids are experiencing with language and family and culture and expectation the culture clashes, the desire to be American, but then this strong pull to their family.
[00:33:15] Jonathan Lemaster: And it’s these are the kids, man. This is, you can’t get any more dynamic than this. And, I think growing up I struggled in school a bit. I had decent grades, but I definitely struggled as a reader. Things did not come to me as easily. And when I was going through education they just write you off a little bit.
[00:33:32] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s or kids were allowed, it was okay for kids to laugh at you. And so I’ve got a little bit of that trauma in my past. This unintended trauma from what happened in my schooling, and I wanted to be an advocate for those students who also have trauma who also need to be taught these skills.
[00:33:55] Jonathan Lemaster: I remember Doing this assignment, I was training a bunch of, or teaching a bunch of kids that I, there weren’t mine on my roster and I was teaching them how to analyze prompts because we really believe that you can’t write until you really understand what you’re writing about. And so there’s a process, there’s these micro skills, these prerequisite skills.
[00:34:14] Jonathan Lemaster: That are not in this, the common core that students need in order to be successful. There’s tons of them. And I was teaching very explicitly on this whiteboard in the gymnasium, a couple hundred kids at once for what was known as the high school exit exam. And I was going through this process very methodically.
[00:34:32] Jonathan Lemaster: And this student who was talking to her friend tells her friend to stop talking to her, right? She goes, stop talking. And she looks at the whiteboard and she starts listening to me. And I walk them through the whole process. And she shares. No one’s ever explained anything like this before no one’s ever explained how to do this and it was like, wow, okay.
[00:34:58] Jonathan Lemaster: So when we talk about explicit instruction, it’s really the explaining of how learning happens. How do I do that? And it makes, it’s hard for us who, it comes easy. If it comes easy to you, it’s really hard to slow down the process. And say, how did I come to know that? So I think part of my past is guided that as well.
[00:35:22] Justin Hewett: Oh, so powerful. And it’s just important for the kids to understand, for our students to understand that the game that they’re playing, understand, what are you really being assessed on? What are they looking for here? And what do you need to show that you’re capable of and what you’ve got and anyways, it’s I love hearing you say that I can see you in a gym in a gymnasium With the whiteboard and the and the light and the marker just going through it and breaking it down into detail I love that.
[00:35:50] Mandi Morris: Jonathan, this makes me think about, I’m a verbal processor. So when I teach, I often. think through my process out loud. And it was several years into my teaching career that I read that’s actually a teaching methodology to talk through your process out loud, so students can learn your thinking.
[00:36:10] Mandi Morris: And I would have students sometimes say Mrs. Morris, you’re always like talking out loud as you like work through something, but like helps us figure out how to think about it. But it’s explaining, it’s pulling back the curtain, right? What are the mechanics and the inner workings of how I problem solve writing a paragraph?
[00:36:27] Mandi Morris: How do I problem solve addressing the prompt? How do I think critically about pulling apart this paragraph? That’s actually asking me to do five different things. Where are the verbs that I can lift so that I know what I need to do. But talking through that out loud for your students is really powerful for multilingual learners and just learners more broadly.
[00:36:49] Jonathan Lemaster: As I said earlier, I really truly believe that if you were to approach teaching with all of the ML research and all of the methodology and strategies, you’re going to do all the things for all kids. And I’m hesitant to say, Oh, just do this and it fixes everything or to say, just keep doing that.
[00:37:14] Jonathan Lemaster: And you don’t need to worry about anything, obviously there’s every group of kids in front of you is different, but what kids need to know is. How to think and how to write and by assigning things, they’re never going to get there, right? Get under your document camera.
[00:37:32] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s always interesting when the document cameras are like dusty. I’m like, what’s happening there? Get under your document camera and show students how to process through a paragraph, and what questions you might ask. And then have them turn and talk about what you just saw.
[00:37:52] Jonathan Lemaster: And I think that’s also I, another background, I used to do a camp work. So I was, and I went to camps as a kid and camp counselors are the best, right? And the debrief is the best. And so I brought that into my teaching. You got to debrief this stuff. You can’t just show them the thing and then be like, there you go.
[00:38:09] Jonathan Lemaster: And never let’s get into that metacognition. Let’s talk about what just happened to you. I have a phrase that I use school happens to kids. School happens to kids and what I mean by that is they go through all these classes and no one tells them why they’re doing what they’re doing or how it’s relevant.
[00:38:27] Jonathan Lemaster: They just go through all this stuff and at the end of the day, they’re like, that was great, and the parent says, what’d you do today? And they’re like, I don’t know. And I think that’s a genuine answer. I don’t know. I really don’t know what I did today. It’s wow, debrief, be that camp counselor in the classroom, right?
[00:38:42] Jonathan Lemaster: I think it’s really powerful for kids.
[00:38:45] Justin Hewett: Oh, my gosh. I love that. And I think those camps are so fun too, especially the best rent. Once you get around the campfire, you’re going to have a good time, it’s interesting that you talk through that because ultimately what we’re doing is where, it goes back to really where I feel like we started our conversation to some degree and talking about, skills.
[00:39:05] Justin Hewett: Developing skills, assessing skills, like looking on, the different ways to help students develop those skills and. When we go back, when we were first starting Flashlight, students were being assessed on, on these different language assessments, whether it’s WIDA or TELPAS or ELPAC or whatever it might be on the access and ultimately, were they prepared?
[00:39:25] Justin Hewett: Did they have the skills to navigate that assessment? A lot of times students actually have developed the language to a degree. But they weren’t ready to take that assessment, right? They weren’t prepared for that environment and to be successful You know in that moment and One of the things that you’re as you’re breaking this down as i’m thinking about it is It really comes down to preparing students To perform their best when they’re actually needed when it’s needed right to have the thinking have worked through It’s not the first time that they’re thinking about this or it’s not the first time they’re having to speak into a computer and Describe something or work through something and that really just that really resonates with me and it feels like it’s something That really belongs in every classroom every learning situation and Anyways, I appreciate you breaking that down and sharing that with us.
[00:40:20] Justin Hewett: Gosh, I Jonathan, what an amazing conversation. This is so fun to get to know you better. I feel like we could probably do this as a four part series, maybe even a five part series, and go through and break things down and go through on, on your in addition to obviously the great work you’re doing in Poway there we go in addition to that, just outside of San Diego, which can we just, I can be jealous that you get to live in such an amazing place.
[00:40:45] Justin Hewett: Mandy’s over there. She’s got that covered too. You both live in a paradise. But in addition to that, you, we talked about literacy geeks and what you’re doing with Quindu it looks like you’ve got a number of different curriculums and products and trainings and things like that that, you have been developing and I guess, where is the best place for people to go and learn more to see if that’s something that’s a good fit for them in their classroom and, is it something that they should be looking at from a district perspective or per teacher, maybe tell us just a little bit about that and unpack your,
[00:41:18] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah. Thank you. So at literacygeeks. com, you can learn about our philosophies and methodology, what we believe as educators. And then with Quindu, it’s quindu. com and that’s going to be our online reading program. But what’s really unique about it, as I mentioned earlier, is that we don’t use multiple choice and we don’t have sit down tests.
[00:41:41] Jonathan Lemaster: The students are learning and being assessed simultaneously and in real reading environments. And what I mean by real reading environments is it mimics what a teacher would do in a classroom with reading. So that students, we have a phrase, literacy reps, to your point, this isn’t your first time, you need practice, right?
[00:42:01] Jonathan Lemaster: So they get literacy reps on Quindu, they practice over and over again. And we follow a reading process that the teacher then can take away from the online platform and use it in the classroom. And that could be at a classroom level, it could be school wide, it could be district wide. And we then provide reading data.
[00:42:21] Jonathan Lemaster: So on top of all of that, the process for reading the skills of reading, we teach close reading on Quindu. There’s a video tutorials to help kids. Then you can take all of those skills and you can take the process and you can implement it in your classroom to really help going back to literacy TA.
[00:42:39] Jonathan Lemaster: Remember that was Our whole goal with letter CTA was to teach educators about skill based instruction and the cognitive approach to learning, which is not just what it is and how to do it. But why and when? Those are really important. Why is this important and when would I use this? Not like the whole math, when do I use this?
[00:42:59] Jonathan Lemaster: Not that question, but when so you can be strategic. You can be strategic about your skill selection. So that when you’re sitting in an environment, you know which skills to use and why to use them. If we do all the work for the kids and tell them what to do all the time, they’re never learning that independence and therefore transferability never happens.
[00:43:19] Jonathan Lemaster: And so that transferability is critical. That independence is critical. And then you back that up. How do you be independent? You have mastery. Okay. Oh my gosh. How do you achieve mastery repetition? Okay. So it’s you just back it out and now you realize there is a very clear path to doing this.
[00:43:37] Jonathan Lemaster: And that is repetition leads to mastery. Mastery leads to independence. Independence leads to transferability happens when you’re strategic, right? And so you, you have that. So that’s what Quindu offers at a global perspective. And then we also just launched, which I’m super, super excited about.
[00:43:54] Jonathan Lemaster: I don’t even know if you guys know this. But this summer we just launched a common writing assessment that uses advanced technology to provide rubric scoring for teachers, for classes, for districts and then provides skill based feedback. So how do I get better as a writer, skill by skill? And then also with lessons and things.
[00:44:17] Jonathan Lemaster: So it’s really exciting to support schools that are doing common writing assessments and our MLS who I was thinking about them the other day going like when we do these common writing assessments across the district, they’re getting dragged through it, right? So we provide the rubric in the beginning and then we translate it for him.
[00:44:35] Jonathan Lemaster: We provide vocabulary support. We provide that specific feedback and then we translate that for them. So we’re trying to really Use words elevate some of these different learners that go through these common writing assessments. But at the end of the day, we want to save teachers time so they can spend more time planning those skills, more time planning those reps and less time grading.
[00:44:59] Jonathan Lemaster: the writing in these kind of common writing assessment environments. So that just launched this summer under Literacy Geeks and we’re super, super excited about that, but it’s all under that. Like you said, Literacy Geeks, it’s like a fun brand that we just geek out every day about how we can help kids learn.
[00:45:15] Justin Hewett: So fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing that and congratulations on all your success in building these. These wonderful programs that are being used, around the country and it’s fun to hear about your journey as, as you’ve gone through it and shared you definitely do have a lot to share, like you definitely have a level of mastery that you’ve.
[00:45:32] Justin Hewett: You know acquired and are able to transfer and share with the rest of us. I’d love that part I can’t wait to go but I wish I was wanting to push like rewind 10 seconds So I could hear you walk through that again So fantastic so powerful. It’s it’s really great. We’re coming to the end here of our conversation, and it’s been wonderful being able to spend this time together.
[00:45:52] Justin Hewett: I want to just maybe ask, I have one last question that I want to ask here in just a minute, but we need to understand like where can people reach out to you? We talked about Literacy Geeks and being able to go through that. We’ve got a couple different social media profiles that, you know, here for me that we can share out.
[00:46:08] Justin Hewett: Do you want to maybe share out one or two of those and then we can put it all into the show notes. So people have your website and your,
[00:46:16] Jonathan Lemaster: Social media. Yeah. Yeah. You can reach out to me at Jonathan. It’s J O N A T H A N. And then it could be LiteracyGeeks. com, it can be Quindu. com. And then our social media handles are the same.
[00:46:29] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s Quindu it is LiteracyGeeks, LiteracyTA we have all of those social media handles. And it’s interesting with Quindu, it is, everyone asks what in the world, where’d you come up with that? And obviously, it’s hard to come up with a name, right? You guys know. How do you, how’d you name that?
[00:46:46] Jonathan Lemaster: And so I went back to just some of the people I have read and respected over time in education, and one is John Dewey. So that’s where you get the do from in Quindu, is John Dewey. And then the other one is an ancient rhetorician, Quintilian. And they both, John Dewey and Quintilian, were disruptive in education.
[00:47:08] Jonathan Lemaster: And, if you read John Dewey’s book written over 123, 123 years ago, he says kids need to be standing up and talking to each other. And yet we’re still talking about this. And Quintilian was also disruptive and education philosopher. And so I took the Quinn from Quintilian and the do from Dewey and you have Quindu trying to be revolutionary and disruptive.
[00:47:36] Jonathan Lemaster: With
[00:47:36] Justin Hewett: With content from 123 years ago. I love it
[00:47:39] Jonathan Lemaster: That’s exactly right hey they say education moves slowly so
[00:47:43] Justin Hewett: I think it’s I think it’s starting to move faster every year right now and we’re making a lot of great things Happen and you’re doing a lot of good work jonathan. Thanks so much for coming on and sharing with us Maybe a lot of times at the end of our conversation.
[00:47:55] Justin Hewett: We like to ask You know, what is one piece of advice that maybe you would share with, and we can say maybe with an early educator and someone who’s still trying to figure out where they want to take their career what advice would you share with them?
[00:48:11] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s not going to be about a product or a brand or a skill.
[00:48:14] Jonathan Lemaster: It’s going to be, it’s going to be very much, it’s very personal. And I, my advice to new teachers is find positive communities to be a part of. Find those people in the lunchroom who are speaking about our emails with assets based lenses. Hang out with those people who want to make change at the site instead of identifying all the problems at the site.
[00:48:39] Jonathan Lemaster: Spend time with, companies who are trying to make a difference and have a clear mission and vision that you support. I think as a new teacher, You come in looking, just like joining a new school, you’re looking for friendship, you’re looking for guidance, mentors, and I really, in my heart of hearts, believe that you’ve got to find those positive lights because sometimes when you’re teaching, it gets challenging and you’re going to need that positivity and you’re going to need that forward thinking person and not someone who’s identifying some of your pain and they constantly identify your pain.
[00:49:22] Jonathan Lemaster: We’ve got to get through that. And you can, when you focus on what is possible and you focus on what you have control over. I think, it’s not something you get in a book necessarily. It’s not a methodology, but it’s definitely a person to person relationship piece that I think is critical.
[00:49:40] Jonathan Lemaster: When you’re a new teacher and a veteran teacher, to be honest. That’s so powerful.
[00:49:47] Mandi Morris: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. That resonates so much with me as an educator. I think that community is powerful, and that collaboration that can happen in a lunchroom or in the hallway with those teachers can translate into reforming the instruction that students experience in the classroom, and I think being thoughtful about building and fostering those relationships in the building Again, it’s very strategic.
[00:50:16] Mandi Morris: You have an analytical mind even when it comes to building relationships
[00:50:20] Jonathan Lemaster: Yeah, so I appreciate you guys yeah, thank you so much
[00:50:23] Justin Hewett: Yeah, thanks for joining us and being a part of the ml chat podcast we’ll look forward to putting all of that information in the show notes So people can connect with you outside and afterwards and I hope everybody enjoyed being here. I gosh jonathan Thank you so much.
[00:50:37] Justin Hewett: Mandy. Thanks for being here as well. Love co hosting this with you. It’s great to have you As our guest co host today thanks everybody and we’ll look forward to being in touch soon. See ya Take care