It is entirely due to my Twitter account that I ended up attending the Wisconsin State Reading Association conference this week. Over the summer, I decided to participate in Teachers Write which was started by Kate Messner, Jen Vincent, and Gae Polisner. I will have to admit, I was a bit more of a lurker and did not quite get as much writing done as I had hoped, but it did strengthen my commitment to writing and writing instruction. Through this amazing experience, I got to "meet" two incredible authors as well as reading insights from a plethora of wonderful writers. Towards the end of the summer, on one of the last discussions, I noticed another teacher saying that they would be seeing Kate Messner in February in Wisconsin. I immediately looked it up and found this awesome convention!
Let me just say that this conference was FILLED with big names in education. For each session there were AT LEAST 4 sessions that I would have loved to go to (and only 2 sessions to sign up for).
Each day, I narrowed the choices down to these presenters and then had to pick from there. I would have loved to go to all of their sessions:
On Thursday: Donalyn Miller, Aimee Buckner, Ellin Keene, Georgia Heard, Jeff Wilhelm, Doug Buehl, Chris Tovani
On Friday: Kate Messner, Jack Gantos, Douglas Fisher, Peter Johnston, Jeff Anderson, Linda Hoyt, Richard Allington
*This is the short list! There were several more big names in reading education that I ruled out for a variety of reasons.
At least on Thursday I could pay a little extra and have lunch at a smaller setting with some of the Rockstars! I was able to eat with Donalyn Miller and loved our excellent table conversation about reading.
On Thursday, the whirlwind day started out with finding and meeting Erin (@teachandgolf). We sat together with one of Erin's colleagues for the day's keynote with Jeff Wilhelm---who actually did some of his graduate work in Wisconsin. His talk was really based on the ideas in his book Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change. It was a heartfelt message and I felt myself tearing up during sections of his presentation. Of course, I immediately bought the book. I love the way Wilhelm makes the case for units that teach kids about how to be in this world. This is the kind of teaching I want to do and I cannot wait to apply this concept to my planning. My biggest a-ha was the idea of turning essential questions into existential questions to deepen the students' awareness of their world.
The first session I attended was Aimee Buckner's session about Nonfiction notebook writing. Her ideas were applicable and got me thinking about the informational writing that I am working on right now with my students. Many of the strategies she presented will fit right into the research unit I am working on with students and I loved the practical ideas. I loved Notebook Know-How and am excited for her new book that will be coming out soon.
LUNCH WAS AWESOME!
Not only did I get to meet and talk to Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks), I also got to meet Tom and Leah Whitford. I just recently "met" Tom on Twitter but it has been great to connect with more Wisconsin educators and I am so excited to have met them in person. I may be a shy member and kind of quiet about it but I am a card-carrying member of the Nerdy Book Club tribe and I was so happy to have this small pocket of time to have that conversation. (I also got to be a fangirl and I am not ashamed to own up to being a bit of a groupie)
The two afternoon sessions I attended were also great. First, I went to see Chris Tovani. She was presenting ideas from her newest book on assessment, So What Do They Really Know? I read this book over the summer and it was great to be reminded of some of her excellent ideas for feedback. The way she stressed the idea of feedback being most important from the student to the teacher really got me thinking about my classroom. I know I will be going back to her book soon to apply some more of her great ideas about assessment.
Jeff Wilhelm presented the last session I attended on Thursday. He talked about the idea of using drama in the classroom to motivate students and set them up for success in reading. I absolutely loved the activity we did and now am a proud owner of You Gotta BE the Book. I know that these strategies will start to work themselves into my classroom as well.
Friday started out snowy. I thought I was going to be late to the morning keynote because of all the snow removal necessary. I got there right in time for the keynote and found out that Linda Darling-Hammond had not been able to get to Milwaukee. Thank goodness for technology! She did her entire presentation through video conference and I was really amazed. It is so nice to learn about the research which supports the efforts of teachers to make schools more effective. I wish the policy makers would listen to these statistics and understand that what is being done to our schools will not make us more competitive in the world. Rather, it is widening the gap in our country.
Friday morning I went to Kate Messner's session. After all, she was the reason I signed up for this conference in the first place! I was so glad to be able to see her TED talk in person. The idea of building an imaginary world is so important in writing fiction. I have some strategies that I can immediately apply. Plus, I met Kate Messner! If you haven't read her books, you should. She has some great titles for all ages. Also, she is just a really great person who gives back to the world in a big way.
In the afternoon I attended a session about literature circles. The teachers presenting had some great ideas about how to take literature circles online and give kids online tools for responding to books. I definitely did some thinking in this session about how I could incorporate their great ideas next time I do literature circles. The best takeaway for me was the use of a digital recorder to record the group conversations. This is great for accountability and discussion standards as well as a good way for absent students to make up the work. So simple but absolutely brilliant!
The last session, but certainly not the least, was with Jeff Anderson. He was talking about the ideas in his new book 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. I read this book during the summer and was almost overwhelmed by the abundance of great strategies for teaching writing. It was nice to have some time to remember the ideas and see them in action. I will definitely dive back into this book to go slower and savor the ideas so I can start to apply them in my classroom.
Overall, I left the conference with 4 new professional books and 3 that I want to go back to. I have some new friends that I will enjoy continuing the virtual connection with, and my brain is still swirling with all of the amazing ideas. I feel energized and ready to jump back in on Monday and continue the work of creating readers and writers in my classroom!