Saturday, February 8, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.


This weekend was our state reading conference and tonight I'm celebrating that experience. I've attended CCIRA for more than thirty years, since I was a senior in college. Don Carline, my reading professor at CU, was the president that year. He strongly encouraged, maybe even required us, to visit the conference. None of us had the money to register for sessions, but we walked around the exhibit hall and picked up all kinds of freebies. And now, thirty years later, I'm still going.

This year, like every other year,  I had the privilege of hearing some amazing speakers:

Regie Routman, kicked off the conference with a great question, "What is the minimal scaffold we can provide the learner so he/she can become independent?"

Next, I listed to Ellin Keene. Ellin's latest work is about student engagement. Ellin asked about a million really great questions, ones I know I will be thinking about for a long time:
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  • Who’s in charge of student engagement? Is it the teachers or the students?
  • What is the difference between motivation and engagement? What about compliance
  • When we do things like "marbles in a jar" are we trying to buy engagement from kids? 

Ellin believes that the deepest engagement comes from the gut- an intellectual urgency or sense that "I must know more." I wonder how often we help students arrive at that place.

Another Colorado friend, Mark Overmeyer, talked about writing focus lessons and conferences. Any time I see Mark's name on a program, I will attend because I know I will be a better teacher of writing afterwards. That was definitely true this time!

 Peter Johnston also talked about engagement. He and Gay Ivey have recently completed a study of eighth graders' levels of engagement when they are allowed to choose books for independent reading. Johnston and Ivey discovered that these students not only became better readers, but also experience other benefits, including more positive social skills, have larger social networks and are viewed more positively by peers.

 David Harrison shared decades, actually almost half a century, of his life as a poet. Harrison suggested that children become poets and develop a sense of language inside the womb, when they listen to their mother's heart beat and the gurgling noises inside their mother's bodies. So cool to think that children are born with a sense of poetry.

Doug Frey gave a fascinating talk about his experiences as a reader, when he went back to school to study the brain. Frey got into a class where he was way, way, way over his head and drew on prior experiences as a learner- hunting down easier texts, finding videos on YouTube, using a styrofoam head created by his partner, Nancy Fisher, and buying meals for other students so they would study with him. 

Frey also had really interesting things to say about close reading, text complexity and text dependent questions. He used primary texts by Chief Seattle and by Dwight Eisenhower, right before D Day. Wow.

Finally, I heard Donalyn Miller, who is always brilliant.  Donalyn talked about the habits of lifelong readers. She said several things  that I will be thinking about for a long time.  
  • If kids are readers while they are in our classroom, but don't sustain that habit after they leave us, we have not really helped them. They need to sustain that habit indpendently.
  • If we are helping kids find books in October, that’s scaffolding, if we are still doing that in April, it’s dependence.
And besides all of this great thinking, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a number of colleagues and friends. I laughed with Lori Conrad about how much easier life was when we used overheads (am I dating myself). I had coffee with Claudia, who hired me to work in the Denver Public Schools.  I sat with Missy Matthews, who was in some of the very first graduate classes I ever taught at UCD and is now a high mucky in a close by school district. I got to talk to folks who served with me when I was on the Executive Board at CCIRA. And so many others…

Tonight I'm celebrating a terrific three days of learning and connection and rejuvenation.

Head over to Ruth Ayres' blog for a lot more celebrations.


Ramona said...

Carol, so much learning from so many fabulous people. Learning, connection, and rejuvenation - it doesn't get better than this.

Franki said...

CCIRA sounds wonderful! I haven't heard Regie speak for so long--her question is a powerful one! And I am fascinated by Johnston's new work-are they publishing something on that I wonder? Thanks for sharing!

Mary Lee said...

Wow! Lucky YOU!!

Ruth Ayres said...

I feel like I just spent some time chatting over tea with you. Thanks for a powerful recap of your conference!