Wednesday, May 09, 2012

IRA Conference Highlights

I got back from the IRA conference on Thursday, and it's now Tuesday as I'm starting to write this post. As expected, real life has hit hard, and I've been consumed with getting caught up on grading all the extra work I left for my kids to do while they had subs. I have a pile of books behind my desk in my classroom, waiting for me to put them into the computer so that I can put them on the shelf. My mind is full of undigested ideas and I don't have time to process them.

So, while they are still semi-fresh in my mind, here are some highlights from the conference:
  • Dr. Steve Perry spoke at the opening session. He seemed a bit of a quirky choice for a room full of teachers, since he seemed to hold teachers responsible for most of the ills of education. I completely agree with him that we can't use any of our students' challenges as excuses not to teach them the very best we can, and it's hard to argue with his interpretation of the conference theme, "Celebrate Teaching," that we should celebrate teaching by getting rid of the teachers who aren't doing a good job. He's absolutely right that it's a disgrace that in some parts of the United States, nearly 50% of the adults can't read. At the same time, there's definitely a place for mentoring and developing teachers, since reaching his standard of "amazing" every single day doesn't come instantly. In fact, in May in middle school, I'm frequently not feeling the amazing. It's a little hard to make a slogan out of Perry's words: "If it's too hard for you, find something else to do." But here, watch his talk for yourself. And here's a great quote from it: " the single greatest act of defiance, ... encouraging children to snap reality in half."

  • I went to a great session about teaching poetry. (More information here.) There were lots of useful ideas, but what sticks in my mind the most is that we need to stop summarizing what the text says for our students. I find myself doing that a lot, instead of letting them get to it themselves.

  • Cynthia Levinson wrote a book about the Birmingham Children's March, and I got to hear her talking about it. She put it in the framework of Joseph Campbell's ideas about the hero's quest. This was fascinating, and of course I bought the book to explore the history further.

  • The main thing on everybody's mind right now is the new Common Core Standards, and I went to a session on how all this homogenization affects ELLs, or English Language Learners. I felt a bit out of my depth here among the ESL experts and linguists, but I was introduced to many concepts for more research.

  • A session on revision discussed a new paradigm (to me) for helping students revise their work. Instead of beginning with what is wrong and what we can fix, we can encourage students to focus on what is strong about the piece. Then we can give a structured revision assignment, asking the student to write several more sentences in the part that we have identified which works.

  • ELLs can have their sense of themselves reinforced and enhanced when they are taught with a Writer's Workshop approach. Here's more information about that.

  • I attended a session on teaching essay writing using an hourglass graphic organizer.

  • I was privileged to get to hear Matt de la Peña speak. This was one of the two best sessions I went to. I hadn't read any of his work, but I bought several of his novels after hearing his presentation. He talked about what a powerful act it is to hand a kid a book, and the way we may never know the effects one book can have.

  • The other best session I attended was a panel of YA authors who spoke about bullying. The participants were Rita Williams-Garcia, Heather Brewer, Siobhan Vivian, and Jay Asher. I guess it's an emerging trend that the sessions I liked best were the ones with authors of YA books. It was wonderful to hear so many of them.

  • At a very expensive lunch, I got to hear Christopher Paul Curtis speak. He was funny and self-deprecating and made the very expensive price very worth it. Plus, my seventh grade boys were impressed.

  • At the closing session, there was a panel of four authors, who seemed sort of randomly chosen (as in, they didn't go together very well) but who were each interesting. The four authors were Esmé Raji-Codell, Laura Numeroff, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Linda Sue Park. The moderation was well done, excellent questions were asked, and if you could just imagine this session as four different sessions, it was great.
I started writing this post on Tuesday and I'm finishing it on Thursday afternoon. Blogger has been giving me fits and my internet connection has been slow (and I'm especially noticing it after just being in the States), but I hope this summary of my conference will have something in it that's helpful to someone.

I had never been to a conference this large, and I felt a tad overwhelmed by all the opportunities. There was no way to see everything. You could spend the entire time just going to book-signings if you wanted to. I felt that I wanted to be several people, so that I could experience multiple sessions during each time slot. It was exciting and energizing to be around so many people who care about reading, teaching kids, and great books. I highly recommend that you attend the conference next year in San Antonio!


Rich Bowen said...

Isn't Steve Perry that guy from Journey?

Linda at teacherdance said...

Thank you for this, Ruth. There are so many links that I will have to take several days myself in order to digest it all, but I did start by looking at the poetry source-looks terrific.I'm glad you had such a fun time.

Vicky Butler said...

Thanks so much for your blog.
I have just spent 30 minutes reading about 4 of your posts. I haven't read it much recently & realize I miss it. It is so refreshing to me.I also like reading the comments. I first found it right after the earthquake & read it daily & prayed for you, your family & school. It is interesting to see your posts now. I'll be spending sometime this weekend checking out some of the books you have recommended.
Again thanks, Vicky

Ruth said...

Vicky, of course I remember you. I always appreciated your comments and also your prayers. Welcome back!