Literacy for All Conference

I’m just back from a long day at the Literacy for All Conference here in Providence Rhode Island. The day has been somewhat mixed. The keynote addresses were fair, although I cut some slack for the first presenter — Linda Alston, author of the book Why We Teach — who got stuck in the Denver airport in a snow storm and was speaking on 24 hours of no sleep. Given that, her views on early literacy and the photographic tour of her classroom were magical. The afternoon speaker was Linda Gambrell, who used research in the field of literacy to really talk about the power of reading in the lives of our students.

I went to two break-out  sessions today.

The first was by Carl Anderson, who talked about establishing effective writing conferences for students. He showed us a few videos of him conferencing with students of a variety of ages, but I wish we had been engaged in some activity.

Here are my notes:

Predictable structure to conferences (not aimless conversation)
●                 Ask assessment questions
●                 Read student writing
●                 Make a decision on what to teach
●                 Give critical feedback
●                 Teach the mini-lesson
●                 Show sample of writing
●                 Have student talk through example
●                 Move towards independent writing

Ideas – advice

●                 Don’t be afraid of silent thinking by students before responding
●                 Take student responses and re-frame/re-state with writing discourse language
●                 Ultimately, the teacher can shift focus of conference
●                 Use your own writing experience in the questions that you ask
●                 Trust yourself with your questions and direction you take the conference
●                 Not necessary to read the whole piece by the student  — pieces of it are fine
●                 Use cues from students to know where to focus on a piece

And then I attended a session by Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer, about moving away from Whole Class Novel Reading. She had a great personality that led to some interesting discussions. Many of us in the room were upper elementary/middle school teachers.

Here are my notes:

Why do we use the class novel?
●     Common text
●     Exposes students to variety of genres/cultural texts
●     Teacher can invest a lot in teaching of the one book

What are concerns about using Whole Class Novels:
●     Varied reading levels and interests of students
●     Novels take too long
●     Extension activities reduce reading time

How to streamline approach to Whole Class Novel:
●     Shorten time on novels
●     Strip units of many activities and vocabulary work
●     More read aloud books and shared reading
●     Provide more for independent time for reading
●     Alternate Whole Class Novels with independent reading units
●     Provide instructional support for reading of novels

How to re-position reading instruction around Independent Reading:
●     Design instruction around genre studies, literary elements or comprehension strategies, not specific books
●     Create guiding questions and common assessment to be used for any book
●     Use common texts like short stories, articles, first chapters, etc.

More sessions on tap tomorrow.

Peace (in Rhode Island),

  1. Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing your notes on your day at this conference. I was intrigued with your discussion with Donalyn Miller about whether or not the class novel should be taught. I am still young in the field, and our department does a great job balancing both the class novel and student choice, however, this idea of changing up how the class novel is taught or not taught really gets my gears grinding.
    Thanks so much for that and everything else you do in sharing and prompting idea exchange within our profession.

    • You are very welcome, Dana. I write in order to process my own thinking.
      You know, Donalyn had a great handout in which she laid out some possible unit plans around genre and literary elements. Let me know if you want her email and I am sure she would send you a copy. She seems nice like that.

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