Thoughts and Learning from CCIRA (part 1)

It is a snowy day in Denver, but things are warm and bright here at the Colorado Council International Reading Association conference.  Yesterday was the kick off with an eye opening speech and presentation by David Allington called “We can teach them all to read but will we?”  One of the more shocking statistics he shared is that students who are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school than their peers that are reading on grade level.

Tami Thompson gave a terrific session titled “Literacy Re-Boot Camp.”  She provided an amazing list of Web 2.0 resources. Many of these resources are listed on her blog  My favorites so far are which provides you with a  word and gives you 60 seconds to record as many thoughts as you can about the word, and which is exactly what it sounds like – draw a stickman and let the story unfold.

Angela Maiers was also an inspirational speaker.  To borrow a bit of her presentation – think of the word literacy.  What two words come to mind?  For many the words they think of are reading and writing.  Instead we need to associate the words power and privilege.  Literacy, the ability to speak, read, and write, provides us with power over others and creates privileges that illiterate students don’t receive.  We as teachers can help our students attain this power by teaching students’ brain to find patterns in writing/reading so it makes more meaning.  We also have to teach information in context.  “x” may be a letter of the alphabet with set sounds in reading, but in technology it means exit and in math it could be a function or a variable.  Context matters in all things.  Teaching items in isolation can be damaging to students.

Right now I am sitting in the Friday morning keynote by Steven Krashen.  First and foremost, this man has a very sick sense of humor.  I’m not sure we have had enough caffeine this morning for the bad jokes he is throwing at us.  The jokes are done and now the factual portion has begun.  We do not have a literacy crisis in this country, instead it is a math crisis.  Students in grades K-4 are constantly labeled as the lowest quartile in terms of literacy proficiency.  The problem with that is that no matter how much the scores increase, they will still be the “lowest quartile.”  Views and reports by media and government are skewed on this issue in a misleading way.  Half of all kids will be below grade level because that is what grade level is.  Would we label a hospital as failing because the patients in the emergency room are sicker than patients in other parts of the hospital?  The kind of reading that really counts is the reading that you do because you want to not because you have to.

I’m not sure how the rest of the day will go.  Several sessions have been cancelled because of the snow.  So stay tuned for part two to be posted later this evening!