IRA–Chicago, IL

Just got back from IRA last night and what a fantastic trip!!!  Being both my first ever conference experience greater than 20 miles away from my home as well as my first ever trip to Chicago, this was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had the opportunity to take.

(For more of the instructional learning, head on over to the ORC’s In Perspective blog!)


Arrived.  Stayed at the Sheraton.  Was surprised by the number of cars out and about at 6:00 on a Sunday evening, but even more surprised that cars in Chicago seem to have no concept of driving in lanes (perhaps a consequence of the sporadic and crooked road lines?  I think so.)


After finding my way to the shuttle, I somehow made it to McCormick Place.  There were SO. MANY. PEOPLE!!!

Keynote Speaker:  Dr. Steve Perry–Wonderful speaker (all the keynotes were simply amazing!)

Key Takeaway:  We know there are bad teachers in some of our schools.  If you know a bad teacher, it is your job to get them out of teaching.  We are doing a disservice to our profession and our students when we let bad teachers stay in their classrooms.  He said, “teaching is a high art,” and some people are not born to be teachers.  He said we have to stop making excuses about why we can’t teach kids (their parents, their home lives, their lack of motivation), and we have to do.  He said, “I don’t want you to try; I want you to do.  You don’t want a doctor to try to help you, you want them to help you.” Dr. Perry was a swift kick in the butt; one I think a lot of us need in order to feel good again about who we are and what we are doing as teachers.

Sessions:  Reading Like a Writer, Writing Like a Reader;  When Texts Get Complex:  Assessing Comprehension, Crafting Goals, and Getting Students to the Next Level; Engaging the Disengaged Teenager in Academic Literacy

Key Takeaways:  I learned a lot about the connections between reading and writing, something I personally frame with my Common Core lenses.  I think we’re making great strides toward recognizing these connections.  I think about my own approach to teaching writing, which typically involved essays that were separate from and unrelated to reading unless in the form of a literary analysis of a text we read.

Dinner:  (I know, it’s a little creepy and too Facebook-status-like for me to include my Chicago cuisine choices, but trust me the food in Chicago was one of the most important aspects of the trip)  GIORDANO’S PIZZA, Chicago style deep dish–OH MY GOODNESS.

(I’m going to hypothesize that the mile round-trip walk to and from Giordano’s was enough to negate each and every calorie from this deliciousness)


Keynote:  First, we heard from Dr. Steven Layne, and second, Ron Clark of the Ron Clark Academy.

Takeaways:  Both speakers had us laughing, crying, and right in the palms of their hands.  I thought it was unfortunate that they didn’t amass the crowd from Monday morning (too much sleeping in?), because they were enthusiastic, energizing, motivating, and inspiring.  Dr. Layne talked about “balcony people,” those people who sit in the metaphorical balconies of our lives, always cheering us on, which inspired me to write this Facebook post to people who probably never even knew the impact they had on me–

Then, Ron Clark, who I would love to lock in a room with my two-year-old to see who would wear the other down first, made me criticize and critique things about myself as an educator.  He talked about teachers who do cool, innovative things that get kids excited about school and how there are some teachers who discourage this because they aren’t doing it.  I’ll throw myself under the bus here….Last year, a new 9th grade teacher started at my school.  Now, I tend to think that I think outside the box, but she was so far outside the box with her creativity that I couldn’t even be in the same ballpark!  She did this really cool poetry activity where she brought in Christmas lights, strung them around her room, moved desks into little tables, bought Starbuck’s Frappuccino that students could buy, and turned off the class lights.  This “Cafe Garree” became the talk of the kids.  They read poems and had a fun time.  On other occasions, this same teacher dressed like characters in books.  How cool?  But instead of telling her how cool I thought everything was, and I did, I told her she was spending too much time killing herself for the activities.  Here was an innovative, creative person getting kids excited, and I was encouraging her to stop.  Ron Clark made me think twice.

Sessions:  Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives (Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher), Write Like This:  Teaching Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts (Kelly Gallagher–I was the official Stenhouse Tweeter!), The Seven Keys to Common Core Writing Success

Takeaways:  In the Fisher/Frey session, I appreciated that they are making connections between all these initiatives.  Nancy said, “The RtI approach is essential to Common Core implementation,” something I have begun touting in my own work.  Their view of close reading, which helped me define my own view, is that in the past, teachers have done all the heavy lifting of reading, but now, students get to do it on their own.  Be sure to check out their text-dependent questions ppt, it’s excellent.  Kelly Gallagher taught me how to teach writing.  He said in order for students to write in a genre, they need to swim in that genre.  His approach is 1) read (what does it say), 2) analyze (what does it mean), 3) emulate.  He said sometimes “emulate” can be uncomfortably close to “copying,” but that’s how we learn everything we do.  For example, if you want to learn how to shoot free throws, you will watch how pros do it, and copy their moves exactly.  So long as the “emulations” are not being published or sold, consider it practice for students learning to write.  I was so enthused by Gallagher’s session, I couldn’t wait to start talking to everyone I know.  Something as simplistic as deconstructing a strong mentor text can help students learn to write–how cool.

Dinner–Again, super important.  We ate at the Grand Lux.  This restaurant was beautiful but the prices were reasonable!


No keynote today.

Session:  Anytime “free books” are involved, teachers will flock, and Wednesday morning, we all flocked to the “Bullies, Bullied, and Bystanders” author session with Rita Garcia Williams, Siobhan Vivian, Heather Brewer, and Jay Asher.  Each author talked about his/her own experiences with bullying and how these manifested in their books.

Takeaway:  I never did enough when it came to bullying, and I wonder if some of my sarcasm didn’t come across as bullying to students.  Can’t change the past, can only affect the future.

Dinner: Gino’s pizza.  Not quite as good as Giordano’s, but delicious nonetheless.


One thought on “IRA–Chicago, IL

  1. Pingback: One of the best on ELA and #commoncore reflects on IRA | Common Core Online |

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