When the alarm went off at 7:00, I was wondering why I signed up to do this on a Saturday during the school year. However, by 8:30, while I was singing "I love my white shoes" with Eric Litwin and James Dean (and an auditorium full of excited teachers), I was already glad I had come. (I'll admit, I thought that part was going to be silly at first, but by halfway through Pete the Cat, I was entranced.)
Next, we were treated to an amazing keynote speech by Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer. It was one of the most energizing presentations I've heard in a long time. You can view her presentation here, but I'll share some of my favorite highlights from her talk:
- "Boys want the same thing every reader wants -- to find themselves in books." (Donalyn) -- This seemed so profound because there is so much talk about trying to get boys to read, as if boys naturally don't want to read. It's not that they don't want to, it's just that they don't want to read girly books that aren't interesting to them! I bet if all the "classic" books were about war, monsters, and robots, we'd be moaning that girls didn't want to read!
- Seating kids according to the kind of books they like to read will help create reading communities where they naturally share & encourage each other to try new books. -- I had never thought of this, and it seems so simple! What an easy, natural way to get kids excited about reading!
- Set high expectations -- she wants her kids to read 40 books a year! Many exceed that, and the ones that don't get there still read way more than they ever have before. -- The numbers of books her students read were ASTOUNDING, and then I thought back to how I'd read over a hundred books every summer as a kid. Why do teachers expect kids to read so few books during the school year, when reading is so essential to learning? This definitely made me re-think how I'd approach reading with my students if I ever teach ESL.
- She shared TONS of great suggestions for making kids WANT to read, including:
- making reading the social norm by giving kids lots of time to read in class -- This seems like such a basic thing to do, and yet it seems like it would be so easy to say there's not enough class time to have kids spend it on reading. I can definitely see how kids would want to read more if they see that's what everyone is doing!
- lots of different ways to have peers recommend books to each other -- I had heard and thought of many of these, but there were a few new ideas and it was really neat to see them in action and hear how they had really worked for her students.
- "Reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale." (Donalyn) -- I especially loved this statement because I have lived it personally. I know I would not be the writer I am today if I had not been such an avid reader.
Later in the day, I got to attend not one, but TWO breakout sessions with the amazing Ruth Ayres from Two Writing Teachers! In the first one, she shared some great thoughts about celebrating writers by focusing on the student writer, not the piece of writing itself. I definitely got a new perspective on celebrating more often and helping students encourage each other. In the second, she showed us how to create and implement effective mini-lessons, with several great videos of her own mini-lessons as examples! I think the biggest revelation for me was to pull the kids into a meeting area for mini-lessons, even with older kids, to get the feeling of "coach to team" or "writer-to-writer". I'm thinking about trying this even with my Spanish classes, when I do mini-lessons with them. The practical steps and video examples she shared were so helpful and inspiring. (Plus, I got to meet my blogging hero in person!)
The afternoon keynote was author Sharon Draper, who was extremely dynamic and passionate about her books. She shared some parts of her books with us, as well as some sweet, funny, and heartbreaking emails from young readers about her books. My favorite part of her speech was a story about how she visited another country and talked with a man who commented that we Americans sure test our students a lot. He told her, “If we want an elephant to grow, we feed it. We don’t measure it.”