Reflections & Takeaways From #ILA15

This past weekend I attended the International Literacy Association’s Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference offered hundreds of workshops led by many greats within the literacy community from The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Brooks, the Writing Thief’s Ruth CulhamHarvey Daniels, Kelly Gallagher, and Lucy Caulkins (those mentioned are only a fraction of the many the amazing authors and educators who presented. In addition, there were more than a hundred young adult authors speaking and signing books. My three days at the conference were filled with informative workshops, book signings, and connecting with my Professional Learning Network. Throughout the conference, the following ten ideas were mentioned repetitively:

1. We need more diverse texts. It is so important that the books we share with our students reflect a wide range of experiences. In addition, there should be a range of ethnicities, race, socio economic classes, and sexual orientations. Teachers cannot only offer the classics as reading material in their classroom. There are so many amazingly diverse YA authors who are telling honest stories our students need to have access to. These authors include Jason Reynolds, Kekla Magoon, Kwame Alexander, and poet Janet Wong to name a few. Diversity is also about offering different formats and genres of texts.

2. There is a lot of research on reading. Research shapes our teaching and offers beneficial information about our students from reading abilities to self perceptions about oneself as a reader and writer. Teachers need to remember that data is more than just numbers and test scores. Keeping records helps to inform our practice, and helps teachers to reflect on how we can do better to meet the needs of our students.

3. Surround yourself and your students with great books. I call this book love. Share with your students your own reading life and have students write their reading autobiography. Allow students to choose their own reading material and read aloud great books to introduce your students to different genres, authors, and texts. #BookLove is not going to happen if everyone is reading the same book. Classroom libraries should contain more than 500 books.

4. Reading Writing Workshop is back in style. Maybe it never left your district, but it left mine and now it is back. Students need time to read and write in class everyday and the reading writing workshop model helps students cultivate their reading and writing life. Teaching in small bursts (mini-lessons) is much more effective than 40 minute power point lectures.

5. Get your struggling readers invested. We all have angry readers, disenchanted readers, quiet readers, attention readers, picky readers, and competitive readers. Teachers need to motivate, engage, and build confidence and connections with these types of readers to help raise confidence in all our readers. Teacher and Nerdy Book Club writer, Justin Stygles, presented a great session about transforming the struggling readers in our classrooms. He spoke about teachers being reading mentors rather than reading dictators. He mentioned that time and building relationships is key when working with struggling readers.

6. Literacy is EVERY teacher’s responsibility. Yes, I am talking to all the math, science, and social studies teachers out there. One cannot leave all the responsibility of teaching students to read in the English Language Arts teacher’s hands. All content area teachers are responsible for helping their students be literate and succeed. Integrating literacy in the content areas can include reading aloud a text with content connections to having students practice specific reading and writing skills. The key is to work together.

7. Collaboration is key.The old adage says, “It takes a village.” Within your school, district, and community, educating young people is not an isolated task. With social media teachers can collaborate in many ways beyond their classroom walls. Get involved in a Mystery Skype, global collaborative project, or the Global Read Aloud.

8. There need to be more word work. Yes, I am talking about vocabulary. And no, a word wall is not enough to help students learn words or an effective vocabulary strategy. Neither is giving students a list of words and having them define and write sentences for each of the words. Teaching students roots, prefixes, and suffixes helps students to decode words and define the word in context. Let’s give it a try, do you know what arachibutyrophobia* means? Break it down and see if you can figure it out without using Google.

9. Teachers are writers too. If you are going to teach writing and expect your students to be writing like “real” writers, than you also need to step up to the plate. So, start a blog, write a story, poem, or article and share your work with others. Model the  reading and writing life you want from your students.

10. Connect with others, you are not alone. The amazing thing about social media (Twitter especially) is that you can connect with so many amazing educators around the world on any digital device. Annual conferences like ISTE, NCTE, and ILA just help to bring us all together under the same roof from time to time. It is so important for all teachers to have and cultivate a professional learning network (PLN). A PLN helps build connections, inspires, is collaborative, and contributes to one’s learning and professional development. Great teachers don’t just show up, they share and participate and are always learning.

*Arachibutyropobia – the fear of peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of your mouth.

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