Summer of the Reading Summit, Part 2: My story

After canceling my trip to ILA in St. Louis, I was bummed. It didn’t matter, because my family is important and our activities that week went well. Reading everyone’s posts on Twitter and Facebook allowed me to live vicariously through them, and that was ok with me (and hopefully they didn’t mind sharing). While I was reading, I noticed quite a few mentions of #readingsummit in various cities over the summer. A workshop day where one can learn, meet new people (including authors), and browse books from Scholastic? Yes, please! Count me in! Why didn’t I know about that before?

I found out that Cincinnati was one of the host cities for Scholastic’s Reading Summit. I signed up immediately! An easy drive southeast meant I was there quickly and checked in to a hotel. I needed a lot of rest for the whirlwind day ahead of me. In the morning, I met a wonderful couple from Chicago. She was attending the Summit as well, and her husband came along for the ride. It was nice to find a friend, and now we follow each other on Twitter, too! What a wonderful world to live in, where we can connect with people so easily!

The very first thing I did upon entering the lobby area was browse the book displays. Ah! A reading teacher’s dream! I set a budget and bought two books on my “to read” list. Then I headed over to meet Cynthia Lord (!) and have her sign my copy of A Handful of Stars (I brought that one from home). I love this book! One of my favorite passages made me think of my friends on a Twitter chat the week before — #brave.

“I’d always thought of being brave as a big thing. Fighting aliens or sailing across the ocean or singing in front of a whole church full of people all by myself. Maybe bravery didn’t have to be that big, though. Today, I’d only felt a little bit braver than I was scared. Just enough to tip the scales.”

Cynthia Lord is a lovely, brave person. We talked for a few minutes, and she thanked me for coming and wished me a nice day. I felt brave, too, leaving home on a whim to travel alone and meet another fabulous author, another writer I can share with my students.

Next I looked for Donalyn Miller. I finally met her for the first time in Warsaw, Indiana, and now it seems I am following her around. She’s my reading rock star, for sure. I found a few other Nerdy Book Club members in the grand ballroom: Franki Sibberson and Katherine Sokolowski, who I also met in June, and Colby Sharp and John Schumacher (Mr. Schu). The place packed quickly, and we officially began the day.

My first breakout session taught teachers how to give better book talks. I admitted that sometimes I give away too much during book talks. This session was designed to remedy that. The room was packed, and Steve Black (I called him Scholastic Steve) put on a pair of wacky slippers to talk about Sandra Markle’s What If You Had Animal Feet? Steve said that sometimes a prop helps you to create a hook. He said, “Find a hook, for the book; They’ll want to take a look!” (Cute!) The session was not long enough for participants to each create their own book talk using the props on the tables. But we all left with good advice and we have some book talks in mind for the fall semester. Score!

After a grand lunch, I headed to my second breakout session on conferring with readers, led by Donalyn Miller. The “book whisperer” guided us through some actual case studies where participants got to talk about what we would do in certain situations. Conferring is a challenge in classrooms across the country: time and distractions keep us from completing conferences the way we would like as teachers. It is important to model what we want for students, and it is important to make time for each child. Donalyn told us about the “Golden Gate Bridge method” — start with the first student and make your way around; then start again. That’s how workers paint and maintain the bridge. It’s a continuous process. We covered types of conferences: standards-based, comprehension, and reading habits talks. A conference should not be about a student retelling a story to the teacher, who already knows. After conferring, the teacher and student set goals and plan for the next time. Then it’s back to reading!

The afternoon was awesome! Colby Sharp spoke about becoming Brian after he read Hatchet (by Gary Paulsen) and needing a hatchet. His words about “opening a world of possibilities” allowed us all to dream. Then Cynthia Lord took the stage, and one thing she said made me sad. She told us that her parents never read to her after she learned how to read on her own. They thought that once someone knew how to do something, one should practice. Reading aloud in our classrooms is so important. The research continues to show that students who hear great reading become more intelligent learners. Read aloud! Every day! Ms. Lord also shared her writing process with us. We saw pictures of the parking lot in Rules and the many photographs of dogs, which led to the cover of A Handful of Stars. One of the take-aways for me is just how much research is done to write a book. Our students need to know that the process of writing a story is a challenging one, but so worthwhile.  Cynthia told us that she did four things to become a published writer: 1) Read, 2) Write, 3) Learn, and 4) Dream. She said to write down everything in life that surprises you, because “the surprises become the golden details.”

It made my day when Cynthia Lord said that A Handful of Stars was about bravery. She quoted herself, the same quote that I loved from the text! “I only feel a little bit braver than I feel scared. But that’s all you need.”

To my teacher friends: Go out there and be brave! Have a great school year. I hope you are inspired!

To my family and friends: Thank you for putting up with me during my journeys. I appreciate you to the end!