Literacy Conferences

By Readingintheborderlands

The 23rd IRA World Congress is over and it is almost time for me to return to my real life. The end of a good conference is always a bit bittersweet; a really good conference refreshes your professional soul and restores your passion for teaching and learning.  You know you will miss the professional community of the conference, but you are eager to explore the ideas you encountered.

I believe that it is essential for teachers to continue their professional development through conferences. I know that many school districts in the borderlands emphasize local professional development; it is more cost effective for the district to bring in someone for a day or two rather than sending teachers out of town for a conference. However, while these district workshops and inservices may be useful, attendance at regional and national conferences allows teachers to interact with educators from other areas and to explore ideas that are not necessarily district-approved, but may be important for their teaching.

There are a number of different conferences focused on literacy that serve different purposes and audiences.

The International Reading Association organizes several conferences. Every year they hold a national conference in the late spring. This conference is huge and very teacher friendly. As a professor, I don’t find it particularly useful, but many classroom teachers I know love this conference. IRA also has state affiliates, including the Texas State Reading Association. Finally, every two years IRA holds the World Congress.

The National Council for Teachers of English has a conference every year the weekend before Thanksgiving. Despite the name of the organization, NCTE deals with all aspects of literacy; reading, writing, literature, and bilingual issues. The conference is teacher friendly, but with a slightly more academic edge than most IRA conferences. Like IRA, NCTE has state affiliates; the Texas affiliate has a conference late January.

The Literacy Research Association (formerly the National Reading Conference) has an annual meeting the first week in December. This organization has an academic focus and the conference sessions present cutting edge, new literacy research.

Finally, the American Educational Research Association holds a national conference every spring around Easter. The organization focuses on all aspects of education, not just literacy, and is definitely aimed at the world of academia.

What conferences do I attend? My favorite conference as an academic and a professor is the LRA Annual Meeting. Without question, this is my academic home. It is a smaller conference, easy to navigate, easy to get to know people. When I leave LRA, I am filled to the brim with new ideas, new possibilities, and excitement about my profession. As an educator, I love the NCTE annual convention. It’s larger, but still fairly easy to navigate. The people are friendly, the sessions are interesting, and I love that even though sessions are aimed at teachers everything is backed by theory and research.

I know that attending a state or national conference can be expensive. To me, however, it is worth spending the money for the professional benefits. Of course, check with your school to see if they can help support you. Some organizations also give out travel scholarships. And in some cases, conference attendance may be used as a business expense on your taxes.


Registration for Fall

If you are currently a student in the UTPA Reading M.Ed. program, it is time to register for Fall courses! I know teachers often wait until the last minute to register, but please don’t delay….any graduate courses with low enrollment will be canceled on August 4.

Reading courses for fall include READ 6308 Foundations of Reading I, READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature, READ 6313 Linguistics for Reading, and READ 6351 Content Area Reading. Other courses on the Reading M.Ed. degree plan will also be offered–check the schedule in ASSIST.

P. David Pearson’s Views on Assessment

On the second day of the IRA World Congress P. David Pearson was the plenary session speaker. David Pearson is a professor and former Dean of Education at the University of California-Berkeley. He writes and researches on educational issues, especially literacy assessment. His talk for the World Congress was titled, “Reading Assessment: Still Time for a Change.” He talked about the history of reading assessment in the United States, challenges in the current testing system, and his hopes for the future.

A few points that he made:

  • Tests aren’t good or bad; they are good or bad for particular purposes or for making particular decisions or for providing particular information. For example, a norm referenced standardized test is good for comparing how large groups of students compare in achievement in the tested areas but it is not good for making decisions about a particular student.
  • Many assessments/tests give us information about what the child can do, but just because we know it doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile to know. For example, timing a child on how quickly that child can read a list of nonsense words gives us information about how well that child reads nonsense words. However, since reading nonsense words has nothing to do with real reading, this is basically worthless information.
  • No educational decision or judgment should ever be made on the basis of just one assessment. No test can tell us everything important about a child. Using several assessments provides a better basis for decision making.
  • Test results are always estimates; they are approximations of the truth. Tests deal with limited content in specific, narrow contexts.
  • Any time high stakes are attached to tests, teaching will narrow to focus on the test. It does not matter how good the test is; teaching always narrows, even when the teachers are not consciously doing so.
  • A focus on passing the test does not ensure true learning, though it may result in good test scores. David discussed results of a study looking at two schools. School A focused on information that would be tested. School B didn’t worry much about the test. The study looked at test scores and authentic learning levels for both schools. School A scored higher on the tests, but much lower on authentic learning while School B had approximately the same levels on the test scores and authentic learning. Even though School A had higher test scores than School B, they had lower levels of authentic learning.
  • Curriculum and instruction should drive assessment; assessment should not drive the curriculum. This means that assessments should be developed out of the curriculum and instruction—how is it valid otherwise?
  • The truly important thing to know is how far the learning will travel. We want the strategies, skills, concepts, facts, and processes that the students learn in one area to be generalized to other areas. Most current assessments and tests only focus on the limited contexts of specific facts.
  • In order to assess reading comprehension, the questions the students ask are probably more important than how students can answer questions (especially teacher-posed questions).

David said that he would be posting his powerpoint slides at

Stay Tuned!

I apologize for the lengthy gaps between posts; with the end of READ 6308 comes the end of my ability to force my students to contribute to this blog. Although I am currently teaching READ 6309, the focus and organization of the course does not lend itself to blogging—though I hope some of the READ 6309 students will choose to write about what they’re learning in their research.

I am also out of the USA right now, spending two and a half weeks in New Zealand. My major purpose here is to attend the 23rd IRA World Congress, but I’m also taking the time for sightseeing since it seems wrong to take a 12 hour flight for a three day conference. (As an aside, I thought a 12 hour flight would be great for getting a lot of work done, but it turns out that international flights offer free tv/movies and free wine, so my professional reading and that journal article that needs revising stayed in my carryon.)

As a literacy educator, it is inspiring to be in New Zealand, the home of progressive literacy education. This is where big books and shared reading began, where Reading Recovery was developed, where the foundations for whole language took root. While Kiwi educators have their struggles and debates, these issues are framed within a respect for the child and the child’s knowledge, the use of authentic texts, and the belief in the professional abilities of the teacher. This frame is sadly missing in much of the educational discourse in the United States and especially the borderlands.

It looks like I’ll have a lot of time over the next week on busses and trains. I am assured that the scenery will be fascinating, but I am sure that I will also have time to write up some of the things I have learned at this conference. Stay tuned!

Literacy through Art Appreciation: Descriptive Writing

By Frances

Literacy comes in many forms, thus the highway to learning  can be navigated by  learners of all walks of life. Literacy opens different avenues for people and builds bridges between cultures as it  edifies  communities. Literacy through reading is a universal set, I will present a new panorama of literacy through Art appreciation by discussing and describing :  “The Creation of Man” by Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

One of the stories from the Old Testament of the Bible tells how the first man was created. This story says that God molded the body of the first man from the clay of the earth and then gave the body life. Because the body of this man was formed from the earth, he is called Adam, from a Hebrew word meaning ground or earth.

This detail from the Sistine Chapel is called The Creation of Adam and shows the moment when God is about to give life to the body of Adam. Because Adam’s body has just been made from the earth, Michelangelo shows his body lying on the ground. Adam’s torso is propped up on one elbow and one leg is bent, as though he is trying to push himself up from the ground. But even though Adam has a large and strong- looking body, the way most of the body is pressed against the earth indicates  that Adam doesn’t yet have the strength to stand. The hand that he stretches out is bent and limp, and Adam seems to rest the forearm on his knee, as though he does not have the energy to hold his arm out.

On the right, Michelangelo has painted a God whose hair, beard, and clothing swirls though the wind created by God’s movement pushes them away. By painting God this way, Michelangelo helps us fell as though God is rushing though the heavens towards Adam. We get the felling that God has energy and power; the figure of God is muscular and strong that we feel he must be full of life. Michelangelo has painted God’s right hand so that it stretches firmly in a  direct line from the torso to the tip of the finger. This helps show that God’s power is flowing with much energy directly towards Adam. It looks as though all it will take to make Adam rise is for God’s finger to brush Adam’s waiting hand.

Michelangelo has done much to make sure we notice God’s hand reaching out to Adam’s. Michelangelo knew that when we look at a roughly square space, our eyes tend to look towards the center. Look at the meeting of the two hands in The Creation of Adam. Notice that it takes place roughly in the center of the painting, right where our eyes naturally tend to go. Now notice the way Michelangelo has painted light and dark spaces in the painting. The bodies of Adam and God seem to be surrounded by dark areas, but their  hands seem to float in the light,empty space that runs down to the only object to look at in this large, light area of the painting. By placing the hand in the center of the painting and by leaving lots of light and space around them, Michelangelo has made the hand of God and Adam the focus of the painting. This encourages us to think about what will happen when the hands meet.  This is the drama of Adam receiving LIFE!

Workshop for Children: Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys

By readingintheborderlands

What does the chupacabra look like? How about the other cucuys?

On Saturday, July 10 childen ages 4 and up can let their imaginations run wild at a workshop and program based on children’s author Xavier Garza’s book Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys. The program will involve drawing, coloring, and painting and is at the Weslaco Museum from 1:30-4:00.

If you are interested in attending, please call 956-968-9142 to reserve a space. Admission is $3 for non-members and free for Weslaco Museum members. The Weslaco Museum is located at 500 S. Texas in Weslaco.

Xavier Garza was born and raised in South Texas. He now lives in San Antonio, where he teaches middle school and writes children’s books. His books include Lucha Libre: A Bilingual Cuento, Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid, Zulema and the Witch Owl, and Juan and the Chupacabras. His latest book, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories, is now available.

Environmental Print

By Maryela Garcia Garza

I decided to look at my children’s environmental print at home after reading chapter two in Frank Smith’s Reading Without Nonsense.  He states “As you stroll through a shopping mall you are bombarded by print from all sides and from above-product labels, packages, prices, posters, slogans, lists, directions, greeting cards, magazines, wrappers-much of which repeats print found in the home or seen on television or on computer monitors.”  I was curious to see how much print my own children are surrounded with on a daily basis.  Here is what I found:

I did not sit down and instruct my son on how to read those labels or how each word was sounded out.  He picked them up from daily interactions with them and from listening to his brother and sister.  At a very early age he understood that print has meaning. 

I took a stroll to our local grocery store and here is what I found:

When we walked down the aisle, there was a display from the movie “Toy Story”.  He recognized Toy Story immediately.  My daughter, who is eleven months older, has had more experience with print enough to recognize that the box read Buzz Light Year and not just the words Toy Story.  We went further down into the refrigerated section and my daughter wanted yoghurt.  She asked for yoghurt “like the one on t.v.”  I have experienced that television influences a lot of our children’s purchasing decisions, and television also gives children many experiences with print.

As we were driving home, he recognized the sign outside the Peter Piper Pizza restaurant and called it out.  This reminded me of how Smith states in his book, children at an early age “make sense of written language in exactly the same way they make sense of any other aspect of their visual experience, by relating what they see to its meaning, to the function it seems to fulfill in the world”.  Peter Piper Pizza had meaning to him.  It was a place where he’s gone to birthday parties, played fun games, was given neat prizes, and where mom and dad play with him.