Saturday, June 30, 2007

Musings from Mid-South

Last weekend I was privileged to be a presenter at the 18th Annual Mid-South Reading and Writing Institute. Over 1400 educators from Alabama, Tennessee, and other southern states came together for two days to improve their classroom reading and writing practices. Here were some of my highlights:

Peter Johnston, Professor, and International Literacy Consultant from Albany, NY opened the conference on Friday morning with a talk related to his book, "Choice Words." He spoke about how important it is to have reciprocal learning in the classroom. Students who contribute are then seen by their peers as "a teacher too." A thread woven through the classroom should be that change is possible and "errors" take on a new meaning. Similarly, teachers become learners and communicate that they're on the same page as their students, learning together. (For those of you who have taken writing workshops with me, this fits into my view of interactive writing activities in which students and the teacher come up with the best way to "jazz-up" a sentence.) Johnston encouraged teachers to make the classroom a fun place where students take responsibility for gaining knowledge.

I had so many conversations with Dr. Robert Wortman, Adjunct Associate Professor of Language Reading and Culture, College of Education, University of Arizona that I began to feel as if I was taking one of his courses. One of the themes which he kept returning to was: "Read like a writer; write like a reader." This is worth repeating to all of your students!

I attended one of the sessions given by Alan Farstrup, Executive Director of the International Reading Association. He commented that the term "reading wars" is very unfortunate. "We all have the same goal," he said, "to educate children." Teachers shouldn't be asking about phonics vs. whole language; the question should be, "What are all of the components we need to teach reading?" It is his experience that parents are concerned that too much classroom time is spent on testing.

Saturday's keynote speaker was the entertaining, passionate author and educator, Lester Laminick. Speaking on the topic of "Reading and Writing and Teaching and Learning: What Happened to Common Sense?" he challenged teachers who like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, should face their fears. For teachers, that means they must teach what they can teach and what they know students need. "We fear what we cannot see," Lester said, "which is causing us to lose our common sense." He further encouraged, "As teachers you are searching for something that is already in you. To be readers and writers - it's not in a kit or a script- it comes from the knowledge base of [being a] teacher." Lester encouraged all teachers not to "lose your common sense about education." I had the opportunity to chat with Lester while we were waiting for our flight back to Charlotte. When I admitted to being nervous before participating in my first Mid-South conference he said, "If it's not fun, then just stay home and write!" And since it is a lot of fun…I'll look forward to going back next year!

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