CCIRA 2020 Recap: Ideas Galore for Teachers!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.  Mark Twain

I have been attending the wonderful CCIRA (Colorado Association of the International Literacy Association) conference for over 20 years, and have presented there many times, including two different presentations this year, one on using Lego projects to foster reading and writing skills, the other on teaching literacy through genre studies (More on these presentations in future blogs!). I chose these session topics since the theme of the conference was “Innovation: Imagining the future of literacy.” While working in schools, I used shared my notes and learnings with the teachers at my school, but since I’m retired, I’m going to share all that I learned about teaching reading and writing with all of you!  I hope that you are able to grab a few good ideas from the sessions I attended.

At her session on teaching writing skills first to students so they can learn to read as a writer, Colleen Cruz, one of the authors of the Units of Study series, shared several ideas that resounded with me:

  • We need to let kids talk about books that they “love to hate”. Of course, as teachers, we always need to foster a love (or at least a strong liking) for reading, but it’s unrealistic to expect that all students will love all the books they read. We teachers all have books we LOVE to hate! Mine are a few gems from Honors English in high school: The Odyssey by Homer and The Prince by Machiavelli. There are several books I’ve abandoned as adults, but I can’t say I hated them like I hated those two. What about you? What books do you love to hate?  Share in the comments below!
  • Cruz made a great point about the difference between editing and revising, saying that anyone can edit writing, even someone else’s writing. But not just anyone can revise someone’s writing…the author should be the only one to. This gave me a pause, as while working with students on many a writing piece, I feel that the younger students need to have someone explicitly model how to revise as that is a very high-level thinking skill. They can quickly understand the concept of fixing mistakes, but too often they feel that once that is done, they are done with the piece. I’ve had to approach this skill very tactfully, by giving them suggestions and ideas on improving their writing such as, “Do you think it would make more sense…” or “Do you think this sounds better…” or “Would your character really say or do this?” But I fully agree that once students are older and understand the concept of revising, they should be in charge of the revision.
  • Critical literacy was a theme at not only Cruz’s presentation, but at a session on Media Literacy, presented by Tracie King, a media specialist from my former district, Douglas County Schools in Colorado. Both Cruz and King shared videos from the Fortnite game. We had discussions about not only the violence in the videos but the lack of emotion from the characters when they end up to be the last man standing…having killed all the others and blown up many buildings. Cruz made the point that video games have become the new “backyard”; many parents just open the back door and let them go play, without thinking of the consequences of what they might be playing at. She also had kids watch a video clip from Thor and count how many times violent acts appear in the video. King uses these questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 1.28.12 PM
  • I once again attended an excellent presentation on exploring narrative possibilities by a former Douglas County district colleague, Jennifer Gottshalk, a writing specialist.  She offered so many fun ideas for kids in narrative writing:
    • She presented several old, run-of-the-mill prompts to use on National Tell a Lie Day, April 4th (I had no idea this holiday existed). She had us take one of these “tired” prompts and craft a believable lie around it. I wrote one about a trip to Australia (never been there) and the horrific journey there, with canceled flights, terrible hotels, etc. IMG_5967
    • Another great option for writing prompts…a kid-friendly version of the Cards Against Humanity, called Not Parent Approved.  This game (which I am planning to get for the whole family, grandkids included) has some hysterical prompts on cards that your students would love writing about!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.08.12 AM
    • Another fabulous idea…you can type in your search bar the words: Visual Writing Prompt and find some amazing ideas to use with your students! You can filter the results to match your grade level or types of prompts (note: check it out first on your own before you project to students; internet searches can yield some “interesting” things!)Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.04.05 AM
      • Jennifer offered another source for photos, but without captions, for writing prompts, Unsplash. My tip for the same kind of photos is Pixabay.
    • A few other ideas for writing prompts from Jennifer:
      • What is the “cheese touch” on your school’s playground? (And check out the hilarious clip from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie!)
      • How about this for a prompt…memoirs from a Disney Princess (or any other franchise character kids like!). Jennifer first showed us this video clip from Wreck-it Ralph which features pretty much every Disney princess ever…this will help kids to choose one. Here’s my “memoir” from Cinderella: “Everyone remembers me as sweet, good, kind, cheerful, blah blah blah. But that’s not really me…that’s what you saw in the movie. I am a fully rounded person with good AND bad traits! For example, when riding the royal carriage, I silently swear at other carriage drivers. I also send anonymous hate Tweets to my stepmother and stepsisters (they deserve it!). And, when eating at the royal banquets, I’m supposed to eat like a bird, so I grab some extra rolls and put them in my royal handbag to enjoy later…”
    • By the way, Jennifer is a published author of some young adult books! Check out her website!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.32.33 AM
  • Todd Mitchell, another Colorado children’s book author, shared with us some ideas for quick writing games, mostly around poetry. One is a “Lost and Found” poem; he had us make a list of things we have lost, then things we have found. He said these items you love and find should not be objects; he pushed us (as we should do with students), to go deeper than that. Here is my attempt as the poem:
    • I lost…my ability to go down the stairs without holding on to a rail.
    • I lost my little daughters who are now grown up into young women.
    • I lost my “school family” when I retired.
    • I found my purpose when I became a teacher
    • I found sleep when I retired from teaching
    • I found a new family when I married my husband.
  • After we wrote these poems in our session, he asked someone to share, then he had another person volunteer to be the “official listener”; they were the person who would listen carefully, then volunteer their feedback. Todd only allows positive feedback from the official listener. I think this is such a great idea; this ensures that someone is going to offer the brave soul who shares their poem some feedback!

That wraps up my feedback for CCIRA! I hope that you are able to try a few of these ideas in your classroom; if you do, please post in the comments!  Stay tuned for my blog posts on using Legos for reading and writing activities and teaching literacy through Genre Studies (Part 2). Here are a few sneak peek photos!

Author: Jan Anttila

I recently retired after 25 years of teaching (yay!) I started my own tutoring and consulting business and am now anxious to share my passion for teaching and many lessons, projects and activities I did with my students over the years, as well my current practices for tutoring.

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