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ILA 2017: Literacy magic in Orlando!

By Lisa Lysne, Senior Product Marketing Manager

From July 15–17, thousands of teachers, librarians, authors, and others passionate about the power of reading gathered in Orlando, Florida for the 2017 International Literacy Association conference—better known as ILA. I was one of those attendees. This annual conference is the premier destination for literacy educators seeking classroom inspiration, professional development and networking opportunities, and the tools to put inspiration into action. The ILA organization is committed to changing the world through literacy, and that passion was evident in every person I met! It was clear that this community of literacy practitioners eat, sleep, and breathe literacy. They work tirelessly to help students develop their knowledge and potential and to enjoy the richness reading adds to their lives. I returned from the conference just so inspired by this group, and with a renewed personal passion and even deeper motivation to help students grow as readers.

“Reading should always be fun”

While in the “The Theme Park Capital of the World,” I attended a few sessions and got to explore the conference. With hundreds of sessions running concurrently over three days, there was no shortage of interesting topics to choose from, but the first session I stumbled into was my favorite.

Infused with humor and interactivity, the “Reading Makeover” was one of the most engaging conference sessions I have ever attended. The presenter, Dr. Danny Brassell, is a nationally recognized speaker, bestselling author, and highly acclaimed trainer and coach, who has motivated educators around the country to create reading programs that nurture lifelong reading. Dr. Brassell did not disappoint. He entertained, inspired, and gave many practical ideas, all within an hour! He started things off with getting us out of our seats to learn reading cheers and practice Japanese bows and American handshakes. Then we settled into learning how to make reading fun for even the most reluctant and struggling readers. The presentation centered around three key strategies: 1) providing access; 2) the business of reading in the classroom; and 3) how to get students to read outside the classroom.


The three elements of access are choice, interest, and the opportunity to read. One memorable tip Dr. Brassell shared was the suggestion of setting up classroom library areas that appeal to the senses of touch, sight, sound, and even smell. For example, you want to create a sensory experience that helps students associate reading with relaxation. It’s important to provide plenty of choices in reading materials, because it doesn’t really matter what students read, but how much they read. The quote that stuck with me about this was, “It’s only reading when we choose to do it for ourselves.” Dr. Brassell recommended that the classroom library be stocked with anything that would get students interested in reading—books, magazines, newspapers, comic books, reference books, multilingual books, or sports trading cards. (Check out the 2017 What Kids are Reading Report for some great “must haves” in your classroom library.) Make sure to set aside classroom time for reading—we should all be able to carve out 10 minutes per day—preferably scheduling it right after each recess break.

The business of reading in the classroom

The three main ideas conveyed were making it fun, accommodating, and getting help. The key takeaway around making it fun was that “Book reports stink. They make students hate reading.” On the accommodation front, we need to remember that one size does not fit all. Students should be given exactly what they need. That could mean phonics for one child, reading alone for another, and so on. Another interesting idea was the use of poetry to help struggling readers. Dr. Brassell told us how he used to spend about five minutes in his classroom each day reading poems; he had students read poems out loud, and even “become” a poem. By the end of the year they had been exposed to over 700 poems, building fluency and alliteration practice.

Reading outside the classroom

The point emphasized here was that we need to enlist parental help. Dr. Brassell suggested that parents can do much more than just make sure students are reading at home. Other strategies include playing car games like the license plate game, eating together as a family or having other time set aside to get together and talk, parents reading in front of their children, and having some kind of weekly “party night” as a family, where the television or other distractions are turned off. Another interesting point Dr. Brassell made was that if students have to be “bribed” to read, we are showing them it is something not worth doing on its own. Instead, he suggested that a great reward for time spent reading is more reading time! What a fantastic idea!

We’re already looking forward to ILA 2018 in Austin, Texas! If you were able to attend ILA this year, what were your key takeaways? If you weren’t able to make it, what are some of the insights that you have about reading? Let us know in the comments below, post on our Facebook, or tweet us at @RenLearnUS!

Looking to spark reading growth in your classroom? See how Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360® can help students discover a love for reading and prepare them for college, career, and life success.

Lisa Lysne, Senior Product Marketing Manager
Lisa Lysne, Senior Product Marketing Manager
Lisa Lysne is the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360®. She grew up in a household passionate about education and reading and has spent her entire career marketing educational solutions in both K-12 and higher education.


  1. Rita Platt says:

    I was there! It was great fun!

  2. P R says:

    I like the point made that students need a reading area in the classroom that appeals to all the senses. That would be a great idea for a grant.

    • Liana Ferrer says:

      I agree with you. A good reading area is a great thing to have in the classroom. The students read more because they like spending time anywhere that is not their desk.

  3. Jessica m says:

    Love that he gave ideas to help encourage parents to go beyond just reading at home. My 2 year olds are becoming very aware of text.. Everywhere we go they say look at all the letters mom lol.

  4. Sandra says:

    The last paragraph supports reading outside the home very well. Any print can be turned into an on the go game. When kids are asking what does that word say and what does it mean, its an awesome opportunity to take advantage of natural curiosity!

  5. Andrea says:

    Reading for choice, interest, and giving children opportunities to read! Text is everyone…….not just on your phone!

  6. Jody Steinhaus says:

    I was not able to attend the ILA 2017 Conference so thank you for sharing some of the highlights. I especially like the quote from Dr. Danny Brassell: “Its only reading if we choose to do it ourselves!” I couldn’t agree more!

  7. Renee Graham says:

    I wish parents could understand how very easy it is to read every day. Anything! Books, magazines, recipes, cartoons, cereal boxes. It is so simple!

  8. Heidi says:

    I was not able to attend but it sounds wonderful.

  9. After reading this article, I can see just what I missed.
    Technology plays a huge part in today’s curriculum.
    So why aren’t districts eager to send teachers?

  10. Christina says:

    The power of choice! And reading outside the home! Two great themes!

    • Carly says:

      I want to make my classroom more comfortable for reading. I do what I can having a limited amount of space per student. I love to see classrooms with areas set up to look more like living rooms. Sadly, testing requirements in my state (students are mandated to desks) prohibit such creative learning environments. Look up “classroom eye candy” then go to images for more inspiration.

  11. Connie Reddick says:

    I did not attend, but would love to at some point in time. I love the ideas that libraries in the classroom should appeal to all senses. I never thought about it before and plan to use this perspective in my classroom library.

  12. Kimberly Bell says:

    I was not able to attend but am thankful for the helpful article.

  13. Melissa Robles says:

    I wasn’t able to attend but I would really like to participate in something great like this!

  14. Ami K. Edwards says:

    I also like the sensory area idea.

  15. Morgan says:

    I did not attend, but such great ideas. I would like to incorporate more poetry into my classroom.

  16. Lisa Capon says:

    Did not attend but picked up some great ideas from this article.

  17. David Keech says:

    Sounds like this was a great conference!