The annual CCIRA Conference is one of many reasons why I am so lucky to live in Denver. It has been a week since the conference ended, and my mind is still churning about it.
Last week I had the opportunity to eavesdrop on the giants. Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey spoke about the evolution of literature circles and the importance of authenticity in the classroom. They talked about how conversations and inquiries need to come out organically for the greatest student engagement and buy-in. "Smokey" also reflected about how much life has changed for educators in the last decade. He gave us the encouragement we need to continue to do what we know is best. Nancie Atwell talked about putting good books into children's hands, by 'selling' those books and making them irresistible. Tim Rasinski sang and laughed with us as he shared his newest ideas on fluency: accuracy, automaticity, and prosody. Lori Conrad demonstrated think-alouds to help us hone our own skills. Lauren Armour talked about background knowledge and it's correlation with vocabulary knowledge and how we can use that research to inform our teaching - realizing that struggling readers will not benefit from merely ‘reading widely.’ Mark Overmeyer led us through a workshop about assessment, and gave me some ideas that will save my sanity as a writing teacher. Nell Duke spoke about informational reading comprehension. Scott Murphy and Cyndi Branson – two local educators – spoke about intentional class culture and its impact on student achievement. Their research is right up my alley, and I’m excited to keep in touch with them and share what I’ve learned from the Northeast Foundation for Children.
I cannot forget the authors: Justin Matott, Tim Hillmer, and several others shared their personal stories to kick off the conference. Jane Yolen talked about the ABCs of great stories (and blasted some ‘not-so-great’ stories); Jack Gantos let us know the origins of his own great stories. Jon Scieszka spoke out as the Ambassador of Children's Literature, and he read aloud some of his wonderful stories. I had a chance to visit with Jarrett Krosoczka (and to read his two forthcoming books!), and to meet several other children's authors.
As I look over my notes and flip through the many hand-outs I collected at the conference, I realize that I only witnessed a fraction of all there was to learn. I would love to have listened to Laura Benson, Laura Robb, Nancy Harris, the Two Sisters, Jeff Anderson, and Ellin Keene (who got stuck in upstate NY!). I would love to have visited with Patricia Polacco, Julie Danneberg and Avi, among others. But alas, the conference lasts only three days and there will be other years.
Every year after the conference ends I feel not only exhausted from so much sitting, listening and thinking – but also energized, renewed, and ready to take on the rest of the school year. I love that CCIRA happens in February, because it is such a hard time of the year. State assessments are looming, the kids have cabin fever, and all of our springs are wound up a little tighter than usual. Spending a few days talking and collaborating with educators from all over really helps me focus again on what’s most important: the students.