Monday, March 3, 2014
A little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending the 25th annual Dublin Literacy Conference in Dublin, Ohio. I've been attending this conference for the last several years, but this year was special in that I presented for the first time with my writing partner Holly Mueller.
We've been working on manuscript for a book about literacy contracts (about which we have both blogged before). Basically, contracts are a tool we both use in our classrooms to develop lessons around a theme topic and ensure our students are exposed to book groups, high-interest nonfiction, and digital literacies each month. Our contracts have been a hit with our students for several years and it's always encouraging when our students make comments around the cohesiveness of our lessons because they are all related back to theme topics. We wanted to get the word out to other educators that are maybe looking for a new tool in their classrooms. We decided to present our first contract of the year, focused on the theme topic EMPATHY. You can check out our Prezi presentation here. We had a packed house that day and it was so fun to present something that works well for us to others that are looking for new ideas. I have garnered so many great ideas over the years from presenters at this conference that I was honored to be a presenter this year.
Appropriately timely, I just today read an article about the importance of empathy when hiring an employee. The article stated that you can't outsource empathy, or automate it. Businesses need people who can be empathetic to a customers needs.
This came right from the article: A University of Toronto study on the effects of literature on empathy shows that those who read fiction frequently have higher levels of cognitive empathy; i.e., the ability to understand how another person feels. Keith Oatley, one of the researchers, said the reason fiction improves empathy is because it helps us to "understand characters' actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have." This improves interpersonal understanding and enhances relationships with customers and business associates.
Holly and I tapped into this same idea in our presentation. In our own words, "Not only is empathy important to us in the classroom, it is the cornerstone of reading. If we do not feel empathy, it is impossible to connected to characters." Most teachers work extremely hard at the beginning of the year to develop a safe, inviting classroom environment where students feel more like family than strangers. This is done by teaching kids how to be empathetic. By focusing our reading and writing at the beginning of the year on empathy, we are more likely to achieve a classroom environment that is forgiving of each others faults and celebrates others successes. This is what we highlighted in our session at the conference. The contract presentation went over well and we were so thankful to all of the educators who attended our session.
While we weren't presenting, we were listening to some pretty amazing educators. The keynote presenter for the conference was the amazing Penny Kittle. Her keynote addressed the importance of keeping students engaged in reading throughout their school career. So many kids start of as eager readers and then something happens around 5th or 6th grade that turns them off to reading and many of our youth don't read a single book for the remainder of their school careers. How sad! Penny touched on the importance of a classroom library. I tweeted this out during her speech: Classroom library environment is so important to entice readers. Makes students less teacher dependent to find books. How true that is! If we're teaching kids to read (either at an early elementary age, or at a middle and high school age where they are finding books of interest), it is our job to be well-read and knowledgeable to that we can recommend books to our students. Without someone who is excited about their own reading life, how can we expect to light a fire for our students?
I was lucky enough attend Penny's last session of the day, in which she focused on reading and writing conferences. Conferences are something we all know we should do, but they are so hard to fit in during our short amount of class time. Kittle acknowledged this and then validated (for me) that conferences do not have to be five minutes per child. Quick check-ins count as conferences (whew!). I've seen Penny present a few other times and one of the things I love about her presentations are the videos she inserts that show her talking with her own students. It makes is so real! The other take-away I got from the session is that "Writing floats on a sea of talk." This I knew. It's how I gain ideas, too. But, with all of the demands that must be hit every single day in my ELA class, it's sometimes hard to justify "talk time". However, it's something we must do if we want our kids to share their thoughts and help others come up with different ideas. Talk is the cornerstone of communication and we must make time for it each day in our rooms. As always, Penny Kittle is an inspiration to all teachers because of her love of kids. Here we are after she signed my Book Love book:
The other session I attended was presented by Don Brown, author of several children's nonfiction picture books, most recently The Great American Dust Bowl (a graphic nonfiction novel about what it was like on the prairie during the Dust Bowl). It's a hit with my kids! Brown led us through the publication process, from idea to hard-bound book. He does all of his own illustrations in watercolor for every book! Amazing! I would love for my students at school to hear Brown speak about his process and see his writer's notebook full of ideas.
Obviously, the Dublin Literacy Conference was a HUGE success! I look forward to it every year. If you've never attended and you live in the driving vicinity of Columbus, I would HIGHLY suggest you check it out next February. You won't be disappointed!
On a completely different side note: Does anyone know why half of my post is double-spaced and half is single-spaced? I've spent WAY TOO LONG trying to reformat it.