For 12 of the past 13 years, I have attended the Write to Learn Conference in Osage Beach, MO, and each year this conference surpasses my expectations. This year stayed true to tradition: excellent and meaningful networking; professional learning from some of the best—Meenoo Rami, Barri Bumgarner, and Tanny McGregor, and one of my new favorites, Antero Garcia, author of Pose, Wobble, Flow; and one of the best motivational keynote speakers I’ve seen in over 25 years, Ron Clark from The Ron Clark Academy. Here are my highlights:

Meenoo shared the significant changes we see in communication today. She says that because of these changes, teachers must work hard to create empowered learning through self-directed learners. How does this happen? Through us, their teachers. She says that we are the biggest influence on student learning, and I agree! It’s not the gadgets and the tools, it’s us. It’s the pedagogy and culture we build in our classrooms as well as the authentic learning experiences we build. She discussed the fallacies of project based learning, explaining how all students can benefit from content driven inquiry that can fit into any classroom’s schedule. Meenoo’s charm and energy kept the pre-conference crowd involved and excited throughout the day.

Technology and easy to use apps were the focus of Barri’s session. She is a professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia in their College of Education, and she brought one of her students with her to present. What an awesome opportunity for this soon to be teacher! They shared ideas to help teachers encourage student driven learning and creativity. Interactive presentation tools, such as, Kahoot and Poll Everywhere are perfect for students to share their ideas with each other and hold the class accountable. Digital composition apps such as Our Books, Bitstrips, Go Animate and Animoto blend story telling with visual literacy. I’ve seen Barri present before in the past, and I’m always impressed with her relatability and knowledge.

Tanny McGregor presented as a keynote speaker. She talked about the importance of teaching students about metacognition, even students as young as first grade, and how student reflection reinforces this concept. Metacognition helps students understand what reading comprehension strategy helps them relate best to the books they read. She shared hands on practical ideas to reinforce this such as the reading salad and the metacognition diagram:

Text + Thinking = Real Reading

Image from: Comprehensive Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor.

Changing focus from instruction to culture, Antero Garcia shared what it takes to keep our preservice teachers and prevent current teacher burnout. He focuses on three major issues: teachers leaving, students changing and teacher competency. Garcia challenges ELA teachers to be culturally proactive in their instruction, whether students are marginalized or privileged. According to Garcia, there are three stages teachers go through as they adapt to the cultural differences of their students. Teachers must provide and stand by their belief, or pose, and then they will likely wobble as they adapt to the changes and challenges of their students. He shares ways to work through and overcome the wobbles of change to develop a positive process or flow of practices in the classroom.

Ron Clark

Ron Clark presenting at The Write to Learn Conference.

The grand finale of the conference was Ron Clark from the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. He gave a motivational talk on how we as teachers have the biggest impact on our students. Teachers who are positive, who have high expectations, and who move energetically around the classroom with care have the ability to change our students. He speaks of the importance of high expectations, and the more we expect, the more students will achieve. Ron’s energy was absolutely contagious. I have since Googled him, YouTubed him, liked him on Facebook, gone to his website and mentioned him in my Tweets. He is a fireball, and I can’t wait to visit his school, hopefully sooner than later.

Write to Learn started out as a conference of convenience. It is three hours from my house and located in the heart of the Ozarks. But over the years I have come to know this conference will be filled with talented educators helping each other provide the best environment and best practices for their students to engage in literacy. If you haven’t had the chance to venture out to Missouri, I suggest you try next year. It’s always one of the highlights of my year.

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