I’ve been thinking about a response to a blog I read last week around how we gauge the impact of conferences on our work, specifically the IRA Conference our team attended last year at exactly this time! Immediately following our time away, each of our team members chose to reflect about one takeaway that resonated with us.
But what have I done with what I learned since then? Can I trace the growth of ideas that may have been planted then?
I can measure the impact on my work in some profound ways but I’ve chosen to represent some of these ideas as memes.
1. Steven Layne gets 2 memes because his work has found traction in both my reading and writing beliefs. Listening to him speak is like entering a story; he’s animated, passionate, entertaining and persuasive. In fact, once you’ve heard Steven Layne, it will be his voice that you hear when reading his books, whether professional texts or picturebooks or novels. His book Igniting a Passion for Reading was brought to life in our sessions by the same name where participants were given his text and a shopping spree based on the interests of their students. He’s published another book since then entitled, In Defense of Readaloud in which he expounds on the power of a teacher reading aloud to students from kindergarten to grade 12. He convinced me of the power of a teacher ‘selling’ reading by sharing what they’re reading with students. His ‘Hot Read’ idea has found resonance in every session I’ve been part of this year and I still have teachers singing its praises as they finally reach a student with just the right book. In fact, this meme is based on JP Robarts’ Grade 6 teacher Ryan Matthews adopting a Hot Read box for his students to display what he’s reading.
2. More recently, I’ve taken up the challenge that was first expressed by Steven Layne, though my supervisor has adopted its sentiment everyday. We anticipate shifting our focus to writing as we move forward in our professional learning series, Journeys into Literacy
3. One of the keynote speakers at IRA last year was Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to his presentation as I was never a big fan of his books. In fact, I may be guilty of encouraging some of my boys in past grade 6 classes to ‘move on’ from that series. And then I heard Dav speak. I was completely taken by his story. He talked about his childhood and how his teachers talked him out of reading by discouraging what he wanted to read. He shared a long list of change agents who struggled to learn but changed the world, like Steve Jobs. He shared his success criteria for a great read as a 10 year old boy: short, tons of illustrations because pictures tell the story, humorous, subject matter had to be cool…all opposite of what his teachers wanted him to read. He challenged us to get out of the way and let kids find clues to the universe in whatever book they choose. When he asked,
I walked away changed. What if I had to defend my reading? I’m a convert to the series being a potential gateway to reading for so many reluctant readers. In fact, a current project that a colleague, Niall Cooke, and I collaborate on is called Reaching our Reluctant Readers, an homage in many ways to Dav Pilkey.
4. Linda Gambrell was an unknown to me before I attended her session: Reading Non Fiction Text for Knowledge AND Pleasure. Right out of the gate, she shared her belief that “high interest books can ameliorate a higher complexity or challenging text.” Her research is clear: students who are allowed to choose their own reading materials are more motivated to read, expend more effort, and gain better comprehension of the text. This is no surprise to teachers as they see grade 2 boys and girls wrapped around a DK book on Dinosaurs despite not being able to necessarily read all the text. How much easier is it to read a book when you bring a wealth of interest and background knowledge? Gambrell is also a writer whose column, The Seven Rules of Engagement, was a key reading early in our Journeys into Literacy session this year. You can find that article on our Literacy Matters site under resources.
5. Had I never heard Penny Kittle or Kelly Gallagher speak before or read their work, I know their wisdom would warrant a meme. But it was their colleague Thomas Newkirk whose ideas inspired me to read and think more deeply. His talk, based on his book Minds Made for Stories, continues to percolate in the background of my thinking. He asked us: What sustains us as readers? Narrative. Newkirk makes the claim that narrative structure, the rise and resolution of tension across time, propels reading forward and plays a role in all forms of writing whether expository, persuasive or otherwise. He believes, “Story is the fundamental instrument of thought.” Another staggering claim from his book? Reading is a form of rewriting…that we have to mentally rewrite text that we struggle with to make sense of it. And isn’t that what we are doing when we leave tracks of our thinking in the margins? The power of what the reader brings to text has infiltrated all of my projects around reading this year. I wonder if we underestimate the importance of what students bring to make meaning of text.
I remember upon my return from the IRA conference wanting to post some of the powerful quotes that I recorded from my sessions because I felt I needed to continue to digest them like nuggets you hang on a fridge. One year later, they’re memes!