Q&A with Valentina Gonzalez & Melinda Miller

We sat down withValentina Gonzalez and Melinda Miller, co-authors of our newest book, Reading and Writing with English Learners, to learn about the writing process, the benefits of having a fabulous co-writer, and why this book means so much to both of them.

Q: Is this your first time writing a book? 

Melinda: Yes, this is my first time to write a book, and the experience was very exciting! It was such a pleasure to put into words the ideas and methods I have always used successfully in the classroom. Seidlitz Education provided for me the missing piece I had always looked for: specific support for English learners that fit easily into Reading and Writing Workshops. Publishing with Seidlitz Education was so meaningful, as I saw the pieces of the puzzle come together for English learners. 

Valentina: Yes, this is my very first book. I’m delighted to publish it with Seidlitz Education because when I was teaching in the classroom, 7 Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive Classroom was the book and training that changed the way I thought about teaching, planning, and instruction. 

Q: What made you decide to write this book?

Melinda: My inspiration came from my desire to help English learners find joy in reading and writing. I always felt like I was not doing enough to engage English learners in the Reading and Writing Workshops. Through 7 Steps to a Language Rich, Interactive Classroom and Sheltered Instruction in Texas, I found so many ways to support and engage English learners. It made me think of the endless possibilities that could be provided for ELs by integrating the various strategies into the Reading and Writing Workshops. My hope is that readers of our book will find what they need to help their ELs find success and joy in literacy learning. 

Valentina: My inspiration for this book grew from my own experiences as an English learner, a reading and writing teacher, and an ESL specialist. I remember my own struggles as a reader and writer in the classroom, and I don’t want any student to go through their days feeling left out, left behind, or unintelligent. I wrote this book for that kid. I was further driven to write for the teacher who is wondering about how to help English learners become stronger readers and writers. And for the instructional leaders who hope to inspire and support teachers in the district with strategies to expand students’ literacy and language development starting from an asset-based perspective. I hope you find what you are looking for in the pages of our book.  

Q: What’s the most important thing you hope educators will learn from this book?

Melinda: My hope is that educators see this book as a comprehensive resource for teaching English learners through Reading and Writing Workshops. I hope they experience many “aha” moments as they read the text and find success as they use these strategies and methods with not only ELs but all students. I hope teachers will experience the joy of seeing their students fall in love with reading and writing.

Valentina: Educators who read our book should leave it feeling well equipped to serve English learners in reading and writing. My hope is that readers will be able to reflect on each chapter and think, “Yes, I do x, but I could also add y to increase language development for English learners.” I hope readers will learn how to make subtle but powerful changes to reading and writing instruction that will make a positive impact on English learners’ linguistic and academic progress.

Q: How did you choose each other as writing partners?

Melinda: I think Valentina and I were looking for the same thing: exciting ways to engage English learners in Reading and Writing Workshops in order to experience success. John Seidlitz saw that in us and put us together as authors. The rest is history! 

Valentina: Funny! John Seidlitz actually matched us up! He’s a great matchmaker like that. He had a vision that Mel’s experiences as a university professor and mine as a practitioner would meet up nicely. And I have to agree that they do! 

Q: Melinda, what was your favorite part of working with Valentina? And Valentina, what was your favorite part of working with Melinda?

Melinda: Valentina and I think alike! We are the same type of person, and we each have our own strengths that complement each other’s strengths. I think we make a great combination, and I so admire her extensive work with English learners and the fact that she is, herself, an English learner. Her perspective has been such a valuable asset to our book. Valentina is an amazing educator, communicator, and friend.

Valentina: This is such an easy question for me to answer. Even though Mel and I have a lot in common regarding our love of literacy and working with students, she offers such a great compliment to what I don’t have. Her work as a university professor gives her a perspective that I simply lack. She has valuable experiences that I treasure and have learned from as we wrote the book. And since I can’t pick just one favorite part, I have to add that Mel has a kind heart and sweet spirit. It’s easy to work with people like her. 

Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned from working on this book?

Melinda: My biggest lesson was that when you write about what you know and what you are passionate about, writing is easy! That is what our students, especially English learners, need as well. That is the beauty of the Writing Workshop! Students are able to write about what is familiar and what they love. I believe that is one of the main keys to becoming a writer, and that is why I have always loved writing. I already knew that students need to choose their writing topics, but it became so real to me as I wrote this book about something so special to me. 

Valentina: In case you haven’t heard, there’s a debate surrounding teaching reading. Some call it the “Reading Wars.” While writing our book, I continued to read more and more research on reading. My biggest takeaway is that, as reading teachers, we all have more in common than we think, no matter what “side” we are on: we all want kids to love reading and to learn to read, and most teachers value reading aloud to students, practicing shared reading, and reading to students in small groups. I’m not a fan of wars, so I would prefer to stay out and be a diplomatic, neutral party who keeps students’ best interest at the forefront at all times.  

Q: What advice do you have for other educators who might want to write their own books?

Melinda: My advice is to write about something you are passionate about, just as we did! When you are excited about what is happening in your classroom, you want to spread the news so other teachers can help their students become successful. Writing a reflection of each school day is a great way to start! The more you write, the more fluent you will become, and the more you will realize how much you have to share! I also suggest writing book reviews or writing for local or state practitioner or academic journals as a starting point. Many journals have sections entitled something like, “Voices from the Field.” Since teachers are the experts in what is happening in the classroom, the journals want to hear their success stories! 

Valentina: I know a lot of people who are experienced and knowledgeable and could definitely write a book! My advice is to start writing regularly if you’re not already doing that. Blogs are a great way to practice writing skills and build a PLN. Also, read…a lot! The more you read, the more you know, and the better writer you become! (P.S. This is also why our kids benefit from voluminous amounts of reading, right!?) 

Q: What are you working on next? 

Melinda: Valentina and I are currently brainstorming ideas for our next book, so stay tuned!  In addition, we are providing online workshops using our current book. Participants will become familiar with the book and experience many of the strategies described in the book. We hope you will join us!

Valentina: Oh wow, what a great question. So much! Mel and I are busy delivering online workshops that complement our book. We have full-day trainings and half-day sessions too! We are offering a conference on Dec. 14. It’s open to educators around the globe but has limited seating, so sign up if you’re interested. 

Thank you, Valentina and Melinda! And to all our educator friends, we hope you’ll order your copies of the book and register for our upcoming in-person training! (Want a sneak peek? Catch the replay of the free, introductory webinar below.)

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