A Conversation with Faye Brownlie

Over the last several decades, Faye Brownlie has been an educator, a reading clinician, an author, and a keynote speaker. In January 2005, her expertise in literacy education and inclusive learning led her to write her acclaimed book, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles. With its focus on engaging learners and fostering a love of reading, Brownlie’s work has changed the lives of thousands of students. The principles in the book have taken her around the world; she’s travelled through Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia leading workshops and speaking at seminars and conferences.

Today, nearly 15 years later, the second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses is here! We caught up with Faye Brownlie to chat about her continued passion for literacy education and diversity, and what to expect from the new edition.

PMP: What experiences in your life lead to your passion for literacy education? 

FB: I grew up as a reader and began teaching junior high in a small, rural school. I imagined myself as spending time sharing books with kids and was very surprised to learn that not all my kids thought this was such a fabulous idea. I became compelled to ‘turn them on to reading,’ and I truly believe that we can and must create readers who read and choose to read, and writers who write and choose to write to communicate. Literacy changes lives—opening doors, lifting out of poverty, changing life expectancy. The impact of the stats is staggering. 

There are so many choices in what to read today. We have the resources to reach each learner. It is our challenge to find their interests and passions and match these learners with text they want to read and text they want to talk about or do something about.

PMP: Since Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses was first published nearly 15 years ago, do you feel educators are facing different challenges or many of the same roadblocks as they work to engage their students? 

FB: Perhaps our classes are more diverse in some parts of Canada. But in many parts of Canada, that diversity was there 15 years ago. We have been working on inclusion of all learners for a long time, and our immigration policies have welcomed new Canadians for many years. 

Diversity is often presented as a challenge, but I also think of it as an opportunity. The diversity of our learners—their backgrounds, their languages, their life experiences, their wide range of skills—all enrich our classroom community and are a reflection of our society.  

I don’t think of roadblocks in terms of engagement. That is not a term I would use. Learners want to be engaged; not being engaged is boring! Doing the same thing, at the same pace, with the same expectations is not a recipe for success. We can’t return to that pattern. Having choice and agency, the expectation to succeed, and the supports to help you succeed invites all learners to the table.

PMP: For educators who aren’t familiar with the first edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses, what are some highlights from the second edition that you think will lead to exciting breakthroughs for new readers? 

FB: I think the structure of no roles, no limits on amount of reading, choice from a selection of texts, student-run conversations about the texts they are reading, and writing in reflection and response to their reading sets learners up for success and provides teachers with an easy-to-use format for teaching. It enables us to have more time for 1:1 conferences, to listen deeply to kids in conversation, to notice what mini-lessons will move the learning forward, and to deeply connect with our readers. 

Teachers will notice the addition of an early primary scenario, teachers’ work with co-created criteria for response journals and comprehension activities, an intermediate/middle years information text example, and a secondary example that extends into a social media format. 

Most exciting, if you haven’t tried this version of literature circles before, you will be amazed about the amount that your learners read, their engagement with text and with each other, and their excitement about reading.

The second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles launches today. Be one of the first to dig into this transformative resource by ordering your copy now!

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