This past weekend has been one of the best weekends in my professional life! The Michigan Reading Association Conference seemed to be exactly what I have needed lately. It was refreshing and energizing to be around other educators that share my passion for promoting reading.
I started at the session with Jim Burke about using talk to deepen students’ understanding. It was inspiring! I really loved his demonstration of putting a picture up and having us explain how that picture representing a piece of literature. After writing, we discussed our ideas with others. I appreciated how he explained that talk can happen in many forms – even writing. And that even a quick one minute talk can be powerful for students. I am looking forward to reading more of his work (I have been using him for awhile now) and deepening the talk among my students in the classroom.
On Saturday, I also attended a session on classroom libraries presented by Erica Beaton and Lindsey Tilley. Again, I loved hearing from other teachers who so deeply believe in the power of reading in the classroom. I also appreciated the success stories they shared and the different ways they have incorporated student choice in their curriculum. The student interviews proved how effective choice and access to choices can be. I was particularly inspired by Lindsey’s research idea of students reading a piece of historical fiction and researching the time period to evaluate the book. I even contacted her today to get more information about the project and I plan on developing it to use in the 10 A class next year for our integrated research project. At the end of the presentation, I introduced myself to Erica as I had recently started to follow her on Twitter. It was an amazing experience to meet someone in person whom I was learning from through the internet. It made me excited for meeting up with the Nerdy Book Club that night.
One of the most exciting things of the weekend happened by complete accident. I was in the exhibit area with the middle school teachers from my district who also attended. I was enjoying the book distributor displays and spent some time debating which I would buy from. Apparently, I made an excellent choice! After purchasing The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, an ARC was slipped into my bag. I nearly died of shock and was too afraid to say anything about which ARC the cashier had given me. I received an ARC of Insurgent by Veronica Roth! Not only was this my first ARC experience, but how much better does it get than that?!
That night was one of the best parts of the weekend. I met up with members of the Nerdy Book Club. I was introduced to this amazing group of people through clicking around on Twitter through following my friend Sarah and Donalyn Miller, whose book The Book Whisperer blew me away when I read it this summer. It was amazing to be around so many passionate readers and educators that night. Everyone had great ideas and titles to share. It was an honor to meet everyone and person and hear what they had to say. We talked about everything expected as well as some of the unexpected. I was quite ecstatic to learn about Hunger Games inspired nail polish. We had a brief discussion about which paranormal boyfriend is best – Donalyn’s students decided on Sam from Mercy Falls. I have added a great number of books to me to-read list (five of which were ordered last night!). I felt completely accepted among my peers. I have to laugh when I think about what Shawn told me as I explained all of this to him: “You were completely in your element, weren’t you?” I really was.
The next morning was Donalyn’s key note. I am inspired by this idea of “Readers in the Wild.” I have had the issue where I see students reading in my class, but when I talk to them after they finish the course, they are not reading. The question Donalyn posed hit very close to home: “I’m I creating independent or dependent readers?” I think my students have become dependent on me to provide reading opportunities, but they need to learn the habits of becoming avid life-long readers. I am already seeing ways I can encourage and foster these habits for my students. I think one of my main focuses will be that students are recommending books to each other. Donalyn made the point that for every 1 book I share, 3 students should be sharing their books with the class. That is a huge focus for next trimester (which already starts next week!). I also had the lucky chance of running into Donalyn before I left and I had the opportunity to tell her how much I enjoyed her talk. We even discussed how these habits should be explicitly discussed and brought out in the classroom. I loved the analogy she made about how these habits can be taught and learned otherwise every gym and fitness class in the country would not be successful. I am really looking forward to learning more about helping my students develop life-long reading habits when her new book comes out.
I loved that I attended sessions that showed me that all teachers have their ups and downs, and that is ok. Just don’t give up! Hearing Jim Burke talk about his teaching failures was not something I ever expected to hear, but it reminded me that we are all human. At the same time, it was also inspiring to hear of the success teachers are having in the classroom promoting the same beliefs and philosophies I truly believe in and feel a passion for. I hope to be able to attend this conference next year, as well as other conferences like NCTE in the future.