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.
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 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.
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!
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