Reflections on the Saturday Conference

Most of you will attend the Teachers College Reading/Writing Project on Saturday. This is a space to reflect on the conference, and use it as a springboard for talking (actually writing) about literacy teaching and learning. You may want to talk about…

  • what you learned
  • questions you are pondering
  • connections you made to the ideas we’ve been exploring in class
  • ideas for your focal student or your own classroom practice.

What did you take away from the conference?


7 responses to “Reflections on the Saturday Conference

  1. I am always inspired and excited to get back to my classroom after a day with the TCRWP.
    What an amazing turnout of teachers and educators!!!

    A few highlights of my day:
    -James Howe was inspirational! His ideas about getting students to write from their heart were amazing. Getting students to write these ideas not only help them, but those reading their stories.
    – His books allow for talk in the classroom around ideas that are sometimes difficult, but kids CAN talk about!
    – Science and literacy is a wonderful connection.
    – Start with science and literacy immersion
    Take discovery walks, trips, do lots of read alouds, experiment, do investigations, sort traits and science word wall words (that are on a separate word wall), watch videos, and invite guest speakers that are experts on topics.
    – When students are writing nonfiction focus first on volume of writing and then you can go back and add details and editing. Get kids excited to write.
    – Check out Beth’s website at
    for all of her FABULOUS ideas!!!!
    – Leveled library work, get to know your students and ALL of your books.
    – In a primary classroom there should be 1000-1500 books per classroom. WOW!!!!
    – Ask great interview questions to guide book recomendations
    1) what do you like to read
    2) what is your favorite book
    3) what book do you see yourself in
    4) what do you like to do after school
    5) who is your family
    6) what are your passions and interests
    – Kathy Collins in amazing. I loved listening to her and I can’t wait to read her new book Reading for Read. Her ideas are exciting to try in the classroom for the students and for me!
    – Get kids to USE the classroom around them during writing workshop. Let the classroom guide their word solving strategies for their stories.

    Questions I am pondering:
    1) How can my school educate parents more about their childs reading process and what makes a good reader?
    2) Are leveled libraries the way to go? Are we keeping children in leveled groups for too long?
    3) When do we take the levels off and let the kids choose what is best without taking a book out of their hand!!!
    4) How do I find more wall space : )

    Connections to ideas in class:
    The use of technology with the science writing unit was great. Get kids taking pictures for their nonfiction books on plants! Get kids to take video tape of walks around the school to do research.

    Focal Student:
    I loved the idea of packing a take home library bag for my student on Fridays of books on tape. My students parents do not speak english so this would be a great way for her to get read to at home.
    I also really liked the addition of some of the reading interview questions – especially the one about ” what book did you see yourself in” what a great question to learn more about your student and who they are and want to be.

  2. I also was inspired by James Howe. At one point he said, “They are more than people their age. They are people.” I think he really highlights the importance of teaching our kids to be text analysts – to read critically and to place what we read in broader social contexts. They are never too young or without experience to make these connections. And as writers, too. We want our students to write as people, people with opinions and things that matter. I agree with Casey that young students can and should talk about topics that we may consider difficult. Some of them have actually experienced difficult things already!

  3. tiffanyworden

    Teaching with Heart

    I agree with you, Casey! Saturday Reunions are always inspiring! James Howe’s message about “heart connections” resonated with me throughout the day. Howe reminded us that when we write from our hearts we write the truth. This takes courage. I think it also takes courage to teach from our hearts. It got me thinking about how important it is to be real people, real writers, real readers in our own classrooms; to learn alongside and from our students; to engage our students in genuine conversation and meaningful learning activities. James Howe’s message reminded me of Paley’s The Girl with the Brown Crayon. Paley had the courage to engage her children in real learning. She believed in her children and knew they came “to school knowing how to think about such matters.” And that as teachers, “we only need to give them the proper context in which to demonstrate and fine-tune their natural gifts” (86). The three workshops I attended seemed to echo this message.

    I attended Mary Ehrenworth’s Virtual Writer’s Notebook session. She suggested that if our writer’s workshop feels flat, it might because we are not living like writers in our own classroom. She suggested creating a writer’s notebook in which you do the same kind of writing your students to do. She showed us ways to teach out of these entries during small group strategy lessons. Mary suggested using an over-sized sketchpad-type notebook, so students could gather around your notebook during strategy lessons and see your writing. For example, if you notice your students are writing summary-like entries like, “I went to the beach. We swam. It was fun” you could also write an entry like this. On the next page over you could use the space to show how you improve your entry using dialogue, action and internal thoughts. She suggested writing some of these ahead of time so we teaching out of our best work.

    While Mary showed us how to be genuine writers in our own classrooms, Kathy Collins showed us how to engage children in genuine reading – through reading clubs. I love this idea! She defined a reading club as “a couple of kids reading sets of books related I some way.” I love the idea of kids reading books on a self-selected topic or theme of interest and talking to others about it. I imagine a non-fiction reading club (say a reading club that decides they want to read about snakes or pyramids, etc.) would compliment a science, social studies or math inquiry unit. This connects to the idea of content area literacy Casey described.

    My last session was Carl Anderson’s workshop on conferencing. Carl focused on the teaching portion of the conference. He reminded us to do real teaching in the conference. Instead of just saying, “Let’s add some dialogue here” to actually show the writer how to go about doing this.

    I think Saturday Reunions ask us to pause and reflect on our practices, envision new possibilities and most importantly, give us the courage to teach, write and learn with heart.

  4. I was reviewing my notes today at school, I decided to make a list of books mentioned by speakers as well as those written by James Howe. Often when I start units or when I am looking for just the right book to talk about issues in the classroom, these lists help me a lot! Thought I would pass it along…

    Juvenile Fiction : By James Howe
    Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery
    Bunnicula Strikes Again!
    Celery Stalks at Midnight
    Howliday Inn
    Return to the Howliday Inn
    Sebastian Barth Mysteries
    Dew Drop Inn
    Eat Your Poison, Dear
    Stage Fright
    What Eric Knew
    Pinky and Rex Series
    Morgan’s Zoo
    Teddy Bear’s ScrapBook
    Totally Joe

    Picture Books: By James Howe
    Horace and Morris, but Mostly Dolores
    There’s a Dragon in My Sleeping Bag
    There’s a Monster under My Bed
    I Wish I Were a Butterfly

    Suggestions throughout the day by Speakers

    Let’s Get a Pup Said Kate By: Bob Graham
    Houndsley and Catina Series by James Howe (great for young students)
    How To Book
    Let’s Cook
    Non Fiction Written in Poetry / List Book
    A Little Peace (National Geographic Book) By Barbara Kerley
    A Cold Drink of Water
    Non Fiction: Great Intro Read Aloud Book
    Rockets and Spaceships (DK Readers) (Great for Nonfiction Introduction)
    Protect Our Planet Series

  5. Reading Clubs

    I attended Kathy Collins’ calendar day on reading clubs. I learned…
    • Reading Clubs are different than book clubs. Book clubs are geared toward upper grades. Each group has one book. Clubs read then talk. Reading clubs are geared toward lower grades. Each group reads several books at a time. The books are united by a theme. Groups can be as small as 2 members. Talk happens between and across texts.
    • Reading clubs allow students to orchestrate strategies in authentic ways. Students use strategies for comprehension, partnership, talking. Clubs grow out of authentic interests: they can’t be planned. Students develop understanding and expertise, grow ideas. Students begin to see reading as part of their lives.

    I like the idea of creating time and space for reading clubs so that students can see the connections between texts, their interests, and the world. Doing so can be logistically and procedurally challenging (especially because different groups/pairings work with different texts and themes). Kathy emphasized how important it is not to let reading clubs replace independent reading.

    So, while we can’t “plan” reading clubs in the sense that we can’t decide what will captivate groups of students, we need to plan for students to interact productively and make decisions as a group about which texts they will use and how and when. We can teach explicitly teach students how to do this in our minilessons. When we first begin to implement reading clubs, we must be explicit about how the clubs work procedurally and the expectations for what students will do and produce. After this initial instruction, I can imagine teaching a regular comprehension strategy minilesson, then extending the minilesson to include how to apply that strategy within the reading club structure.

    Lingering Questions
    • Why is this structure not appropriate for the upper grades? It seems like we have many different names for similar structures (reading clubs, book clubs, literary clubs, literature circles, etc.) across grade levels. To me, it’s more important to implement such structures with an understanding of the rationale, purpose, and desired outcomes than it is to implement the structures according to rigid guidelines.
    • If we organize the clubs based on our units of study (as suggested), are we really allowing students to choose texts that captivate them most? Again, on one hand, it would be must easier to facilitate if we organized groups based on our units, but doing so seems to defeat the purpose of allowing students to engage in texts for their own authentic purposes.

  6. One of the sessions I attended was a session about multi-cultural read alouds with Jane Bean-Folkes. Jane presented and summarized a long list of multi-cultural books that could be used in the classroom. I originally decided to attend this session because the population in my school is 97% African American. At the beginning of the session, Jane shared a story about being in a primary classroom and reading a book about a Korean family. While she was reading, a little boy (whose family was from Korea) jumped up and exclaimed, “This book is about me.” I began to reflect on my own classroom library and read alouds, and I realized that most of my books do not reflect my students and their families. As Jane introduced books, I thought of many places within my curriculum that I could use these books. How nice it would be for my students to see themselves in books. However, I think more important than seeing themselves in books, they can and should see many different cultures represented in books. I was inspired to start using more multi-cultural read alouds in my classroom; however, I’m left wondering about the impact these books might have on stereotypes. It seemed that many of the books about African Americans were stories of families who live in the inner city and are struggling with issues like gangs, drugs, and poverty (eg. Gettin’ Through Thursday and Chess Rumble). While this may be reality for many of my students, it is not for all. And it is certainly not a reality for every African American family in the country. I think, as with any read aloud, it is important to find balance of perspectives in multi-cultural read alouds, so that students don’t end up with a stereotypical view of many cultures, including their own.

  7. In the spirit of sharing book titles, I have copied a list of my own below. My friend and I began it together a couple of years ago when we were working with Teach For America. We shared it with the new teachers with whom we were working. We—and our colleagues—have gradually added more titles. The first books listed are teacher books. The rest are student books (but, let’s face it, they’re teacher books as well).

    I hope this can be helpful for some.


    Books on Our Shelves:
    Race, Class, & the American Dream.
    • Letters to a Young Teacher, Jonathan Kozol (I haven’t read this, but I heard Kozol speaking on NPR and I think it’s a must read for your first year)
    • The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol
    • Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit
    • The Skin We Speak, Lisa Delpit
    • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
    • Teachers As Cultural Workers, Paulo Freire
    • Pedagogy of Hope, Paulo Freire
    • Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love, Antonia Darder
    • Critical Pedagogy Reader, Antonia Darder and Marta Baltodano
    • Latino Urbanism, Antonia Darder (not out yet, but sure to be good)
    • Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks (not endorsed by Mia)
    • Unfinished Business, Pedro Noguera (Nikki’s hero)
    • City Schools and the American Dream, Pedro Noguera
    • On Freire: Revisiting the Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Applying Its Lessons to American Public Schools, Pedro Noguera (also not out yet…can’t wait though)
    • Con Respeto, Guadalupe Valdes
    • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, Beverly Daniel Tatum
    • Can We Talk About Race, Beverly Daniel Tatum
    • The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson-Billings
    • Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn Singleton
    • Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know, Donaldo Macedo and Paulo Freire
    • Subtractive Schooling: US Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring, Angela Valenzuela
    • Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education, Sonia Nieto
    • A Mind At a Time, Mel Levine (cognitive development and teaching children with learning challenges)
    • The Other Face of America: Chronicles of Immigrants Shaping Our Future, Jorge Ramos
    • Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality, Jeannie Oakes
    • Ain’t No Making It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood, Jay Macleod
    • Rousings Minds to Life: Teaching, Learning and Schooling in Social Context, Tharp and Gallimore

    Picture Books:
    Immigration, American History, & Civil Rights.
    • Si Se Puede: Yes We Can, Paul Mirocha and Francisco Delgado (janitor strike in L.A.)
    • Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, Kathleen Krull *
    • I See the Rhythm, Toyomi Igus (a tour through the evolution of black music in the U.S. from slave beats to hip hop. Link to the teacher’s guide:
    • (multicultural books + teachers guides)
    • Going Home, Eve Bunting (Mexican American family travels back to Mexico—raises questions regarding bicultural identity.)
    • Smoky Night, Eve Bunting (the L.A. riots from a child’s perspective)
    • Upside Down Boy, Juan Felipe Herrera (elementary school Mexican child who spends first week in American English-only classroom)
    • Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence, John Duggleby
    • The Great Migration: An American Story, Jacob Lawrence *
    • Remember: The Journey to School Integration, Toni Morrison
    • Through My Eyes, Ruby Bridges
    • The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, Russell Freedman (the controversy around Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939)
    • Let’s Talk About Race, Julius Lester
    • Ellington Was Not a Street, Ntozake Shange (Shange’s memories growing up in Harlem and meeting prominent black artists such as W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, and Kwame Nkrumah. This book also features gorgeous illustrations) *
    • The Honey Jar, Rigoberta Menchu (the activist tells tales from Guatemala. She’s also a highly controversial figure and her work has raised issues regarding memory, testimony, and “truth.”)
    • My Brother Martin, Christine King Farris
    • The Story of Ruby Bridges, Robert Coles
    • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Doreen Rappaport (if we were to chose one book about MLK to read to our class, it would be this one) *
    • Rosa, Nikki Giovanni
    • The School Is Not White!, Doreen Rappaport (integration)
    • The Keeping Quilt , Patricia Polacco (identity/immigration)
    • Pink and Say, Patricia Polacco (Civil War)
    • The Butterfly, Patricia Polacco (Holocaust)
    • No More!: Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance, Doreen Rappaport
    • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, Carole Boston Weatherford (beautiful) *
    • Victory or Death!: Stories of the American Revolution, Doreen Rappaport (stories about historical figures from the AR that we hardly hear about. Great book!) *
    • The Lotus Seed, Sherry Garland

    Miscellaneous Goodness.
    • Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold
    • Thank You Mr. Faulker, Patricia Polacco
    • Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss (great beginning of the year book to discuss big goals. remember…”kid, you’ll move mountains…”)
    • Knuffle Bunny, (a story about a lost stuffed animal, a sub-story about language acquisition)Mo Willems *
    • Ish, Peter H. Reynolds (all about mistakes being generative)
    • The Dot, Peter H. Reynolds *
    • Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon, Lovell (great book for a lesson on teasing/difference)
    • I Like Myself! (another great book for self-esteem)
    • Any book by Ezra Jack Keats (one of the first white author-illustrators to feature prominent black characters; his books also take place in Brooklyn) *
    • Come on Rain!, Karen Hesse (besides being stunningly beautiful, it’s a great book to teach poetry and figurative language) *
    • A Blue So Blue, Jean-Francois Dumant (so very dreamy, says Mia) *
    • I Am Absolutely Too Small for School!, Lauren Child (from the Lola and Charlie series. It’s a great first day of school book) *
    • But Excuse Me That Is My Book, Lauren Child (from the Lola and Charlie series. It’s a great book to open a conversation about favorite books/authors)
    • Short Cut, Donald Crews (great book for figurative language)
    • How I Became a Pirate, Melinda Long (so you can practice your pirate voice. Aargh!)
    • Dancing in the Wings, Debbie Allen (great story about achieving one’s goals)
    • The Story of Colores/La Historia de Los Colores, Subcomandante Marcos (folktale from Chiapas) *
    • Plantzilla and Plantzilla Goes to Camp, Jerdine Nolen (author) and David Catrow (illustrator—Catrow is great for an illustrator study!) *
    • Any book by Robert N. Munsch. He is great for a lower elementary author study: Something Good, The Paper Bag Princess, Stephanie’s Ponytail, I Have to Go!, Andrew’s Loose Tooth, The Dark, Good Families Don’t
    • Voices in the Park, Anthony Browne *
    • John’s Secret Dreams, Doreen Rappaport (John Lennon)
    • Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver (Really. Kids will sing.)
    • The Three Little Pigs (Any version will do. Great for teaching natural and imposed consequences early in the year.)

    * = great illustrations & worth focusing on in terms of artistry, visual and textual placement, etc.

    Chapter Books:
    • House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (even with younger students, I use chapters from the book like “My Name”, “Hairs”, “Darius and the Clouds”, “Cousin Louie”)
    • Seedfolks, Paul Fleischman (This book can be used as young as 3rd grade through middle school. Each chapter is about a different person in this one urban neighborhood in Ohio and how each person contributes to a local community garden. It is brilliant and I only discovered it last year. If I were teaching upper elementary this year, it would be my opening book for September and the theme of our classroom. I’d have each student create their own “seedfolks” chapter (culture, language, migration/immigration story etc.) that contributes to our classroom “community garden” and create some sort of visual using the garden metaphor and how our minds will grow like seeds (this might even be my tracking visual to invest my students in the big goal). I’d create a classroom seedfolks book that would be an evolving project throughout the year. Someone please do this!!)
    • Color of My Words, Lynn Joseph (Dominican teenage girl wants to write about the political unrest on her island…beautifully written. Appropriate for 4th-middle school)
    • Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan (Esperanza loses her father and wealth and crosses the border into a migrant workers camp in California. I’ve taught this book every year and just love it)
    • Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman (the authors were in high school when they went around the projects and tape recorded interviews with the community. I used parts of it with a 4th grade class a few years ago. A close friend reads the entire thing with her high school class. Middle schoolers would love it.)
    • Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
    • Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
    • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
    • Jessie De La Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker, Gary Soto
    • Any book by Gary Soto
    • The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child, Francisco Jimenz (any books by Jimenez are excellent)
    • Kira-Kira, Cynthia Kadohata (a Japanese-American family’s experiences in Georgia)
    • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Bette Bao Lord (a young Chinese girl immigrates to the U.S. in the 1940s and adopts Jackie Robinson as her role model)
    • Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis (it’s the first book Nikki’s little brother ever loved, so it’s special. A young 10-year-old runaway orphan is looking for his father, who he believes is the jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry.)
    • Number the Stars, Lois Lowry (WWII, the evacuation of Jews from Denmark)
    • The Giver, Lois Lowry (utopian community is not as utopian as it seems…)
    • Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World, Mildred Walter (10-year-old Justin learns what it means to be a “man” when he visits his grandfather’s ranch and learns about black cowboys. Oh, being a “man” involves cooking, cleaning, and making one’s bed.)
    • Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson (whatever your kids tell you, the movie is not that great)
    • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor (racism, segregation, community, set in rural South in the 1930s)
    • Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
    • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
    • Matilda, Roald Dahl (but, as with any Roald Dahl, we need to work through the ethnic stereotypes with kids)
    • Boy: Tales of Childhood, Roald Dahl (great companion to Dahl’s fictional texts; good for conversations re: real-world experiences as inspiration for one’s writing. Kids get really excited when they start finding those connections between Dahl’s life and his writings.)
    • The Flight of Red Bird: The Life of Zitkala-Sa, Doreen Rappaport (nonfiction, story of Gertrude Bonnin, a Sioux Indian who left the Sioux reservation in South Dakota and was educated in Quaker schools. She struggles with her identity as a “Sioux woman,” who no longer feels Native American yet isn’t accepted by white America)
    • Escape from Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglass in His Own Words, Frederick Douglass (nonfiction)

    • Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes
    • Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll
    • Poems by Gwendolyn Books (check out “The Bean Eaters,” or “We Real Cool”)
    • Poems by Eloise Greenfield (check out “Rope Rhymes” or “Riding on the Train”)
    • Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, Eloise Greenfield
    • Poems by Dionne Brand
    • Jean Toomer (middle school teachers: try some poems from Cane. Get ready; they’re deep)
    • Poems by Walt Whitman
    • Poems by Nikki Giovanni (check out “Ego-Tripping”)

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