A couple of weeks ago I attended the Illinois Reading Conference in Springfield, Illinois. We were lucky to be able to go as a team, all the literacy coaches in our district (except one who is on maternity leave - we missed her!). We had the privilege of listening to so many amazing authors and educators and here are some of my take aways...
1. The first session I went to was Patricia MacLachlan speaking about how she is inspired as a writer. She told the behind the scenes stories from where her books came. I have to tell you that she is one great speaker. She's hilarious and sassy! My favorite book has always been All the Places to Love! I'm looking forward to reading Kindred Souls, as she told about how this story came from her own grandfather and the sod house he had built and has strong connections for her growing up on the prairie in Cheyenne Wyoming. It was just a great reminder and inspiring to see how you can weave together fiction stories based on your own life.
2. This may seem small, but it's a nuance about instruction. We were at Harvey Daniels presentation and he was sharing a video and talking with students about "What does it look like" when we are collaborating. In the video the teacher, Debbie King, was having her students help her create a chart for this. The students began by saying the typical things, "We listen." There were a few other responses then I saw her push them to be more specific. She said, "What do you do when you're listening?" They began then to share things like, "turn your head towards the person." It taught me to get very specific when listing behaviors, otherwise I don't think these charts are really helpful to students.
3. Another amazing author/educator/consultant we heard was Ann Grall Reichel! She has done amazing work in science and shares that thinking in her book, "Expect More: Children Can Do Remarkable Things." But now she has been expanding her work to social studies also. My biggest take away is the power of visual literacy and using art, along with multiple sources, specifically complex texts and original sources to dig deeper into time period in history. She showed this picture below and had us make inferences. Then suggested looking to texts to confirm or revise our thinking.
3. We were also listening to Seymour Simon share about his amazing nonfiction or "real books" as he likes to call them, with the amazing pictures and powerful comparisons. I realized that making comparison, which I've been finding that students, even young students, are very capable of, really help a reader understand your ideas. He talks about how a blue whale's tongue is the size of a baby elephant! Wow! But what really struck me about his presentation was when he talked about how he was inspired to become an author. He talked about how in second grade his teacher took his papers for his story and stapled them together and they all (the class) had to listen to him. It was this power of audience that inspired him to tell stories - people listened! We've all been learning the power of audience this month too!
4. After seeing Chris Tovani, I couldn't help but go up to her and tell her that I felt like I was in church. I just wanted to keep saying, "Amen, sister!" She spoke so powerfully about the importance of teaching students strategies all the way through high school and not just for strategies sake, but as a way for them to unlock meaning for them with a text, there's a purpose in them. They seem to forget this in high school. What struck me when she was talking though, was how she mentioned that we are always thinking when we're reading, but we are either thinking about the text or we are thinking about something else. It was the something else that I'm not sure if I've talked enough about with students. For us it could be our shopping list, what we're making for dinner, emails we need to send, etc. For our students it could be playing outside, texting friends, what sport practice they have after school, essentially daydreaming. That's what we want students to notice and listen to, the voice that's in their head and realize if it is about the text or something else. And if it's something else that means they need to do something to get back on track.
There was so much more, but those were some of the highlights. I have to say though, that the best part of the conference was being able to share and discuss new learning with my colleagues. We never have enough time for this!
Just for kicks here's a quote about Lincoln by Stephen Douglas, because you couldn't help but be in awe of this amazing leader and lover of books as you were there! This quote I think shows the power of the story:
"Everyone of his stories seems like a whack across my back...Nothing else - not any of his arguments or any of his replies to my questions - disturbs me. But when he begins to tell a story, I feel that I am to be overmatched."
Stephen A. Douglas about Abraham Lincoln
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