Coffee Break with... Dr. Diane Lapp

Don’t forget you are a teacher first and foremost, so your eyes should always be on the students and the instruction you are sharing.

Imagine learning deeply about literacy from two renowned leaders, both knowledgeable, and inspiring literacy educators, and being able to pick their brains for two hours every week for four years... That was me!

It was 2002, I was in my 7th year of teaching, and I started a new position as the K-12 Coordinator of a reading intervention program in urban schools in San Diego. The two scholarly and motivating educators were Drs. Diane Lapp and Jim Flood at San Diego State university.

Dr. Diane Lapp, Distinguished Professor of Education in the Department of Teacher Education at San Diego State University, has been an incredible mentor of mine for over 16 years.  She has encouraged and supported my journey, stretched my thinking and consistently provided the best advice. Her intellect, support and encouragement are traits of great role models.  

I had the pleasure to spend time with Diane at ILA West, and fire a few questions.  She was as engaging as ever. 

Let’s hear some of her thoughts...

What resources, for example books, researchers, journals, etc., do you find most supportive to your growth as a literacy instructor, and why are they important to you?

Two of the best resources for me have always been The Reading Teacher and The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.  The people who write in the RT and JAAL are teachers and teacher researchers and they always look at everything through the lens of a teacher.

I think that when researchers just write for researchers like in the Reading Research Quarterly that’s important too, but my goal as a literacy educator is to get the findings to the teacher so they can get it in the classroom.  The Reading Teacher, Educational Leadership, The Middle School Journal, and California Reader;  are all journals that share research based and research supported practice.  Journals like these matter to me.  I try to publish in these journals.

Diane Lapp w/students.jpeg

What is one piece of advice you would share with other educators in the field?  What is your nugget? 

Don’t forget you are a teacher first and foremost, so your eyes should always be on the students and the instruction you are sharing.  As you watch students engaging in reading, writing, listening and speaking across the disciplines, you’ll be able to see what they’re learning and you will be able to use the data you collect from watching them to accommodate their next steps in learning.  You can do this with flexible instruction that focuses on their success and independence.

What do you believe is especially important for educators to understand about being a Reading teacher?

I would include all the language arts.  It’s important for teachers to remember we are supporting children as they develop the skills and confidence to succeed in future workplace and school situations.  So the eyes of instruction must be focused on each student to ensure he or she is developing needed skills and independence.

It’s the conversations that build the language base students need to read and become lovers of reading, talking, and learning.

What are your thoughts on ensuring a love of reading versus building strong capable readers?

We can do both.  Start by reading and talking about wonderful books with young children.  Engage them in talking about the books you’re sharing and their favorite characters, topics, and authors. Involve them in talking about the author’s language, style, and illustrations.  Expand the types of literature, and informational books being shared.  Skill building should become a natural dimension of these teacher and student interactions about books being shared.  Make it your goal to get students to love books and talk about books.  Continually assess their developing skills, interest, and independence. 

Once children are lovers of information and stories found in books, the skills needed to read independently can be taught through the conversations and additional well planned systematic instruction that helps them realize that reading involves mapping their language on to letters they see in their books and then comprehending it as whole words and thoughts shared by the author. 

Teaching a child to read gives them the key to know the world.

It’s the conversations that build the language base students need to read and become lovers of reading, talking, and learning.  You can create very engaged readers who become very skilled readers and communicators.

How or what do you do to ensure all students are learning?

Pay attention to students!  Watch them all the time.  Use the insights you are collecting as the DATA from which to plan your instruction.  That’s what formative assessment is.


You have a lesson purpose, you know your children through formative assessments, you know how to design lessons.  Put it all together.  As you implement your lesson, you are watching, watching, watching, so never take your eyes off your kids.  This is where you get the data you need to plan the next steps, the next scaffolds to ensure their continued learning and independence as learners.   

Watch them and with the data you’re accruing, you’ll know exactly what they need.

Pay attention to students! Watch them all the time. 
Use the insights you are collecting as the DATA from which to plan your instruction.  That’s what formative assessment is.

If you hosted a dinner party for heroes (authors, educators, dead or alive), who would you invite and why?  Tell me who’s on your guest list?

How fun!  I’ll need a round table of ten so everyone could engage and be engaged.

The first person I would invite would be my own mother, Mary Lapp because she  was one of the wittiest people I’ve ever met.  People loved to be around her because of the fun things she said and she saw the loveliness in everyone.

Next I’d invite my long time collaborator and friend Jim Flood because I really miss him.  I would invite him to the table.  He could make a conversation with anybody and he had so many ideas.  (You can read Jim’s obituary here)

My mother and Jim were very inclusive and charming people.

I’d definitely invite Maria Callas, because I love opera and her voice.  I met her once in Boston.  She was a powerful woman who had such presence on stage.  I would love to discuss with her why, as powerful as she was, she put up with all the crap from Aristotle Onassis?  I think she could have changed a lot of what is happening today for women.  Her moves could have been pivotal for women.  She was as powerful in her own right as Onassis was, and yet she never took a stance regarding his unfaithful behavior... She remained mute, at least publicly.  I would like to talk with her in the corner and say, “Girl, what was going on with you?  You could have been speaking for all woman.”  But of course I realize it’s hard to look through the rearview mirror at another’s life and make suggestions.  So really I’d just enjoy her presence and glamor at the dinner.  Maybe she’d sing an aria from Carmen for us.

There are so many powerful women I’d like to know about.  I’d invite Susan B. Anthony to hear what it was really like to fight for women's suffrage.  I’ve always been fascinated by the Harlem Renaissance, so I’d need seats for dancer Josephine Baker and writer Zora Neale Hurston.

I’d like to have some humor so I’d also invite Tina Fey or Wanda Sykes.  I’d save seat eight for Steven Spielberg because I am awed by the range of topics of his movies.

I’ll take seat nine and seat ten I am leaving open for now because I always like to add another guest at the last moment.  I have so many wonderful friends, colleagues, and family members I could easily fill the restaurant.


Diane Lapp, EdD is a Distinguished Professor of Education at San Diego State University where her work continues to be very applied to schools.  Diane is also an instructional coach at Health Science Middle School and Health Sciences High and Middle College.  Throughout her career Diane has taught in elementary, middle, and high schools.  Her major areas of research and instruction regard issues related to the planning and assessment of very intentional instruction and learning.

Diane has authored, coauthored and edited numerous articles, columns, texts, handbooks and children’s materials on instruction, assessment, and literacy related issues.  She has conducted many professional trainings addressing topics related to differentiated learning, purposeful instruction and assessment, the gradual release of instructional responsibility, close reading, classroom collaboration and conversation, balanced literacy, and writing across the curriculum.  Her many educational awards include being named the Distinguished Research Lecturer from SDSU’s Graduate Division of Research, IRA’s 1996 Outstanding Teacher Educator of the Year, and IRA’s 2011 John Manning Award recipient for her work in public schools.  A member of both the California and the International Reading Halls of Fame she can be reached at  Follow her on twitter @lappsdsu

Interested to know more about Dr. Diane Lapp, such as her educational background, teaching experience and a sample of books she's written in the last 3 years.  Click here for short version of her impressive vitae

Here are just a few of the informative and practical tools for the classroom I recommend by Dr. Diane Lapp: 

Dive into close reading. Strategies for your 3-5 classroom. By Lapp, Moss, Grant & Johnson

Dive into close reading. Strategies for your K-2 classroom. By Lapp, Moss, Grant & Johnson

A close look at close reading: Teaching students to analyze complex texts (K-5)By Moss, Lapp, Grant & Johnson