by Anne Riccio, Senior Supervising Editor, ELA & Humanities
I recently attended the ILA conference, which took place in Austin, TX. While attendance has been decreasing over the past few years, the teachers who were in attendance were very enthusiastic. I certainly came away feeling energized by what I heard at the sessions.
I attended the opening session, the theme of which was “Be a Changemaker.” Speakers at this session included:
- Adan Gonzalez, a first-generation Mexican immigrant who grew up in Houston and was the first member of his family to attend college. He received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, and then completed his master’s at Harvard. He has returned to teach at the school he attended as a child and to run an educational nonprofit, Si Se Puede. This article tells more about Adan’s inspiring story.
- Nadia Lopez is the founder and principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, a very marginalized area of New York City. Her underprivileged scholars are defying odds to go on to college. Nadia’s story was featured in the ILA publication Literacy Today this past spring
- Cornelius Minor, a very dynamic speaker and educator, is a former middle school ELA teacher who now works with Lucy Calkins at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York City.
I also attended a guided reading session given by Dr. Michele Dufresne and Dr. Jan Richardson. Dufresne is the owner of Pioneer Valley Books (a WPS K-12 client). Richardson works with Dufresne to ensure PV’s readers meet rigorous literacy standards. In addition to continuing to publish readers, Dufresne is writing a professional development book with Richardson.
The recurring theme “Mirrors and Windows” wove through all of the literary sessions I attended. Kids need “mirrors” so that they can see themselves or their experiences, which are likely to be similar to experiences lots of kids have, in the books they read. It’s also important for children to have books that act as “windows” into other peoples lives so as to open them up to the experiences of others. Among the literary sessions I attended that built on the mirrors and windows theme, were sessions on the following topics:
- Graphic novels – A very interesting session about how kids love reading these books and have a sense of accomplishment because they can finish them. From a learning perspective, it requires them to use reading skills such as inference to really understand them.
- YA novels – Another very fascinating session. This one had me ready to go to the library and check out the books of the authors who presented. One of the authors, Jeff Zentner, reported that he gets emails from readers simply saying, “I hate you Jeff Z” because he killed off characters who turned out to be reader favorites. Another author reported getting the more expected “you changed my life” emails.
- Diversity and Inclusion – Classroom Libraries as Mirrors and Window was a panel session that included Dr. Jane Fleming (Director of Literacy for the Chicago Public Schools), Hannah Erhlich (an editor for Lee & Low), Jonda McNair (a professor/teacher trainer from Clemson University), and Jane Bean-Folkes (Assistant Professor at Marist College’s Education Department). Bean-Folkes gave an in-depth interview about the session with Center for the Collaborative Classroom after the conference.
- LGBTQ – A panel that was helpful in providing new terms being used to describe gender, again with the intent of making sure kids are able to see themselves in the books they’re reading.
I was inspired by the many wonderful ideas I heard in the ILA conference sessions. I’m looking forward to applying the mirrors and windows concepts to the literacy projects I work on for Westchester K-12 Publishing’s clients, to help students see themselves and the world around them in ways they can understand and ways that help them to expand their world view.