Sunday, February 10, 2013

Put on your Student Hats: CCIRA Conference 2013

1st mind-map: not so great
Occasionally, as teachers, we need to put on our student hats and learn a little. Not only is this a way to reinvigorate our teaching, but we're typically required to do so. One great way to do that is to attend literacy conferences. These conferences are not just for the elementary and language arts teachers anymore. As I have said many times, the modern teacher is a teacher of everything, especially literacy practices.

 I put myself in the shoes of a student, and tried a new note-taking strategy at the CCIRA literacy conference this week. If you're not familiar with mind-mapping, you should educate yourself. I myself, have a very basic idea of the concept and almost no training. I decided to try it anyway. What I discovered? My first one sucked, but I got better, and I REMEMBER a TON! No more being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information thrown at you during a three day conference. As a side note, I did also rewrite some take-away points on a separate sheet following each presentation to help cement things in my brain. Basically, I used some strategies we tell our students to use, but don't apply to ourselves.
Last mind-map: better (they weren't all this overfull)

If you're not familiar with CCIRA (since there are far too many acronyms in teaching and this one is regional), it is the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association. I personally can't compare it's quality to other conferences, but I have heard that it frequently rivals IRAs national conference, and that is is potentially in the top 3 for state conferences.

This is the second literacy conference I have attended this year, as I am also a fan of the University of Wyoming in Laramie's free conference, offered in the Fall. Now, last year I did not make it to any conferences, but I had attended both of these conferences two years ago, and at both I noticed something fabulous. Literacy conferences are offering a lot of content support!

Here's a rundown of my course schedule over the last couple days:
  1. Promoting Thinking, Reading, Writing, and Wondering Like a Historian - Nancy Meredith, Annie Patterson, Michelle Jones, PEBC*
  2. "The Wonderful World of Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts" - Jamie Diamond and Meg Gaier, District 220, Barrington, IL
  3. Promoting Literacy with Primary Sources - Anne Bell, University of Northern Colorado
  4. Crafting Nonfiction Writing - Linda Hoyt, Professional Development Network Consultant
  5.  Fostering Mathematical Literacy in the MS Classroom - Laurie Wretling, PEBC*
  6. Student Self-Reflection That Helps Learning Last - Moker Klaus-Quinlan, PEBC* & Emily Quinty Mapleton Schools
  7. Writing to Learn in the Content Areas - skipped because I got a free ticket to #8
  8. Why "challenging text" and "close reading"? - Timothy Shanahan
  9. Reading the World: Applying Thinking Strategies in Science - Wendy Ward Hoffer, PEBC*
  10. Creating Classrooms Where Readers Flourish - Johnathon Mooney
  11. Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts - Kelly Gallagher
  12. Feedback is a Two Way Street - Cris Tovani
*PEBC: Public Education and Business Coalition (Regional - a Colorado thing again)

Now let's talk about my process picking conference courses. First, I never look at who the presenter is. I know a lot of people go for the big names to get some bang for their buck, but I am at a disadvantage when using that technique, so I don't try. What's my disadvantage? I am a third year social studies and science teacher - I just don't have a well-developed concept of who the great names in literacy are. Sometimes this is to my disadvantage, but mostly, I believe it is to my advantage. What this means is that I read thoroughly through all class descriptions to make my selections, and am very considerate of my needs as a teacher.

When I signed up for Linda Hoyt's class, did I know she was a lady with an impressive background? I had no idea. Did I even realize I had signed up for a Cris Tovani class until I walked into the room? Nope! Although I must say, Tovani wasn't the best bang for my buck, and neither was Timothy Shanahan. So much for the popular speakers who get the big conference rooms. It made me regret taking advantage of the free luncheon ticket I got to Shanahan that made me miss what I had signed up for. I did get some research back-up for my opinions as a teacher, though. Kelly Gallagher and Johnathon Mooney on the other hand: wow! They were so engaging and gave me a lot of insight into my teaching. Too bad I overslept and missed Lucy Calkins. I hear her general session was phenomenal as well.

I did not intentionally sign up for a slew of classes by the PEBC. However, I am so very glad that I did.  You see, their own mission at the conference matched mine. They are improving content literacy, through plain old good literacy. One thing that they incorporate are "Thinking Strategies" and it was helpful for me to see these as a theme in the History, Math, and Science courses I took from them.

Now I could continue to summarize what I learned in this blog - and no one would read it. So here's what I am going to do: summarize some takeaway points, and then as I test what I learned in my classroom, I will share that knowledge and any reflections I have from my own trials.

Big Ideas from this week:
  • We must challenge students to grow with more complex texts. No more matching students to texts.
  • We have to teach students "Thinking Strategies" to tackle the harder texts and content we provide.
  • We must model, model, model and "let students SWIM in mentor texts." (quote, Kelly Gallagher)
  • We need to revise our grading policies and strategies to make them more helpful in promoting student growth.
  • We need to be more transparent with our students about our own struggles.
Visit again for specifics on this, because generalizations like those above, often lead us to believe that we're already doing things right. Promote your own growth. I will also include both min-maps and my take-away note sheets from each conference lecture related to those blog posts.

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