This year’s meeting of the International Reading Association had to have exceeded enrollment expectations – teachers from all over the country (and many other countries) invaded San Antonio to see Julie Andrews, Dave Berry and hundreds of other not so famous but probably more relevant presenters. I arrived on Saturday and joined Neal Shusterman, Adrianne Fogelin and Gordon Korman for a pre-conference session on YA lit. The session ran all day, from 9-4 and I can honestly say, the time just flew by. Wound around the author talks were teacher presentations detailing ways to put literature to work in the classroom. That day was a stark contrast to some of the retailers displaying their wares in the convention exhibit area – programs from worksheets to Dibles that have very little to do with putting kids in touch with books. Dibles proposes that a teacher can time first grade readers with a stop watch and predict their reading potential. A stop watch! I would have had a nervous breakdown on the spot if Mrs. Ellis had tried that on me. I’m insecure enough as it is, thankfully no one ever tried to introduce stop watches into my learning curve.
Wednesday was definitely the highlight of the week for me. Dr. Bonnie Campbell Hill put together a stunning session with three teachers from Seattle who, for the purposes of this presentation, agreed to use poetry in their classrooms for the entire year instead of just at the end of the year, as is the custom in many schools. Joining this amazing bunch was Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher and me. Teacher attendees came as much as three hours in advance to claim their seats and we began the session 30 minutes early since everyone was seated and the fire marshall was blocking the doorway. Georgia talked elegantly (as always) about imaginative thinking and revision, Ralph about metaphor and I spoke on using poetry as a vehicle for learning and performance. What a wonderful blend of talent and learning. But the best part for me was seeing the poems produced in the Seattle classrooms in response to literature and lessons by the three teachers on our panel.