Here are the highlights:
The conference's theme, "Literacy Empowers Hearts and Minds" was just the message I wanted to hear. Pam Allyn was the morning keynote speaker. The thing that strikes me about Pam, and speakers like Penny Kittle, Lester Laminack and Kylene Beers- these literacy legends are so likable, so funny, and they know what it's like to be a teacher. Listening to Pam speak, you just know how smart she is but you also see how relatable and funny, too.
Pam described how in changing times, our work as teachers stays steady. She said there is a how and what to teaching literacy, but the bigger part is the why and the why is what will be our legacy, what students will remember. She described how her Grandma was a professor at Teacher's College and told a story about her Aunt Rita's marble cake. Everyone in the family wanted to bake the cake so it tasted just like Aunt Rita's, but no matter how hard they tried, using all the ingredients exactly like Aunt Rita, it always tasted different. Pam compared that to the teaching of reading- there is a science to it, but there is also an art. Aunt Rita's recipe might be duplicated (the science) but the way she put love into it (awww) is the art.
And so it it must be with teaching reading and writing. There is, of course, a science to it and the technical aspects of what we do. But our focus can't only be on that- we need to think of the why of reading and writing and dedicate time to that as well.
As a third grade teacher, I was moved by Pam talking about her third grade teacher and how she made all the difference in her life. Pam spoke about changing the language we use around students who are typically seen as "struggling." She suggested calling them "striving readers" because all of us are always striving to be better each day.
Pam also discussed teaching kids to be close listeners. Some students are always eager to share their answer =- the "oooh!ooh! ooh!s" she called them. But we want to teach our students to be more thoughtful and listen more, and ask questions that encourage exploration and thinking, not just a right or wrong answer. She suggested using technology for meaningful purposes, such as asking students to respond in writing in a shared Google Doc after a read aloud.
Pam spoke about helping students be confident and courageous readers. She said sometimes read something difficult for you and share that with the students- share that you are a courageous reader who will tackle challenging text and work through it too.
Pam Allyn and Ernest Morell have co-authored a book called Every Child A Super Reader, which I own! (I just need to find time to read it!) I highly encourage you to check it out, too.
STEAMify your Language Arts Program
This workshop was facilitated by Dr. Randee Bonagura, who is the principal of the Wantagh Elementary School, where my son is a kindergarten student. Dr. Bonagura recently published a book entitled Embrace Makerspace: A Pocket Guide for Elementary School Administrators. Last Fall, the Wantagh Elementary School hosted an amazing night for families all about Makerspace. I was so impressed by all the opportunities for children to be creative problem-solvers and was excited to learn more about the possibilities.
Dr. Bonagura was a second and third grade teacher before becoming the director of reading on her way to being a principal. She spoke about her heart being in literacy and this workshop was a way to marry literature with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and music) concepts. She shared many resources and ideas. When reading a book to students, such as The Three Little Pigs, you could ask students to think about a different type of structure that might withstand the wolf's huffing and puffing before the brick one. Students can then design and try to build their own creation.
One idea I loved was to encourage speaking and listening using Legos. You would create two identical packs of legos and pair students up, back to back. Student A has to put the legos together and then describe it to Student B, who needs to recreate the same structure by listening. Although I've seen this activity done with drawing, the physical manipulation of legos adds more of a kinesthetic element and design as well.
Dr. Bonagura also showed us theme backpacks which can be sent home with students. One "under the sea theme" included different possibilities for students to build, draw, and create while also sharing books on the topic, too. This is an amazing idea and something I would love to implement in my classroom.
I never feel that confident with STEAM lessons and concepts and Dr. Bonagura said that is true for many elementary teachers who feel a passion for literature. Using some of these ideas with the books you read to students can be a bridge to becoming more comfortable with STEAM and incorporating more of it into your instruction. This was an inspiring presentation and I am really eager to try these ideas!
(Part 2 tomorrow....)