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Dispatch from the Literacy for All Conference: Inspiring speakers, inspiring teachers

The 21st Annual Literacy for All Conference focused this year on “21st Century Literacy Skills.” To this end, the keynote presentation by David Booth, was entitled “Why is my iPhone Sitting on a Pile of Books?” Dr. Booth is Professor Emeritus, Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, OISE University of Toronto. What that long title doesn’t say is that Dr. Booth is witty and engaging as a speaker and presented a keynote address that was relevant to literacy teachers ranging from pre-K through high school. The focus of his address was the question: “How will we prepare today’s student’s for a literacy world encompassing text forms that have not been invented yet?” Among his suggestions to facing this question was an invaluable message for teachers to think about reading and text that will transcend the years: inspire students to want to learn; inspire them so that students will know that wherever they can find information and stories, it will be worth reading and understanding text, regardless of the format of the media.

Literacy For All Conference 2010Throughout this week’s Literacy for All Conference, I was honored to visit and speak with hundreds of teachers who are engaged in the challenge of teaching young children to read. Over and over again, I was moved by the focus of these educators. I am inspired by the sincerity with which they face the question of "What book will reach my student?" I am always pleased by the number of times that teachers tell me that one of our stories, about Bella & Rosie or Gilbert the Pig or Jasper the Cat, has been THE story that prompted a student to "turn the corner" and become a reader.

One teacher this week had me laughing and crying at the same time as she told me about a student she has been working with since last year. This student, John, comes from a family where reading is not a priority. His single mother works three jobs and John hasn’t seen his father in four years. She started working with John last year, in first grade, and he was unable to read anything but his own name. By September of this year, he had only progressed to the point that she was working with him at a Reading Recovery level three. The teacher held my attention as she told about the weeks of attempting to inspire him in any way she could.

One day, in early October, a teacher in her building shared her plush Jasper with her. The next day, she brought John the book, Jasper the Fat Cat and the soft, fat stuffed Jasper to John. Immediately, he picked up the plush Jasper and started to tell stories about him.

Being a cat lover myself, John’s reaction resonated with me. The teacher sharing the story felt the same. She asked John if he wanted to know more about Jasper. Of course! And so they read Jasper the Fat Cat together. As most students do, he laughed out loud at the story. And then he asked to read it again, and again, and again. The teacher looked at me, she reached over to the display shelf and picked up Jasper’s Birthday Party, (a level 10/F) and she told me, “This is the book John read to me yesterday. Jasper unlocked John’s passion to read. THAT is why I teach reading. And that is why I love your books.”

From the timely and engaging keynote addresses to our myriad interactions with teachers, we continue to feel how powerful the conference experience can be. We take your enthusiasm and passion with us wherever we go. 

Lauri Yanis

Director of Sales and Marketing, Pioneer Valley Books