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Teacher to Teacher: The Many Layers of an ILA Conference

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning. ~William Arthur Ward

The International Reading Association annual conference, “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0”  is exciting and informative, with many options for teachers to explore. The program is filled with workshops and sessions on literacy, and four exhibit halls offered opportunities to browse, purchase, and question vendors and authors.  Signings for professional books and children’s books were taking place every day almost all day long. I had books signed by nonfiction children’s author Stephen Swinburne and purchased  two professional books at the Stenhouse booth, Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing With Mentor Texts  by Stacey Shubitz and Story: Still at the Heart of Literacy Learning by Katie Egan Cunningham.

This year’s location, Boston, offered other opportunities, too. When I arrived on Friday, my husband and I wandered through Boston’s North End, Boston’s “Little Italy.’’ It’s famous for its Italian food and feasts. Boston’s oldest neighborhood takes in a one-square-mile waterfront community not far from Faneuil Hall .  A large part of the Freedom Trail runs through the North End. It is also home to the Paul Revere House.  The Old North Church is here, too, founded in 1722. The church boasts the oldest set of change ringing bells in North America. Indulge in 18th-century chocolate at Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. We played several games of bocce ball and dined at Lucia Ristorante before indulging in sweets at Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street – a must when visiting Boston! 

The real reason for the trip to the North End was to spend time with Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan, authors of Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Readers Behind the Numbers.  The ILA Conference is a time to catch up with educators scattered across the country and renew friendships. It is surprising that you’ll often unexpectedly meet up with teachers and administrators from your area of the world, too.  I was thrilled to see Laura, one of my graduate students from Arcadia University, attending a session on books for a global society and another about academic vocabulary across content areas.  Dina, an administrator from Upper Moreland  School District, texted me to let me know she was there. Together, we attended the young adult  literature luncheon.

Two New York Times best-selling authors, April Henry and Renee Ahdieh, spoke after lunch. They are both known for novels with intrinsic plots and strong protagonists.  Henry was fascinating! She spoke about practicing how to best run while handcuffed (Yes, she had a pair on hand!) and trying it out in a little park near her home when she thought no one would be there. Unfortunately, she had to run past several people who were walking or jogging. Fortunately, no one took notice (perhaps, she mused, because she smiled at them and looked pleasant). Henry has become a master of page-turning mysteries including The Girl I Used to Be (2016), The Night She Disappeared  (2013) and Girl, Stolen (2012).  In contrast, Ahdieh’s  books are about romance and intrigue. You might try The Rose and the Dagger and The Wrath and the Dawn.

I enjoyed attending a session with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. They spoke about the most effective practices for engaging students in reading and writing and the work of John Hattie, author of Visible Learning.  We looked at surface learning, deep learning, and transfer learning.  It was important to note that student expectations of self are highly correlated with learning across the spectrum.  Another session I attended was on content literacy-building knowledge across the curriculum with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.  Their motto, “Read it, Write It, Talk It, Do It,”  helps students build their toolkit of comprehension strategies through inquiry in science and social studies  and use their knowledge to even take action.

There were other surprises, too. In Paula Bourque’s session on close writing, I was thrilled to hear Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of Fish in a Tree, Jennifer Richard Jacobson, author of Paper Things and Cynthia Lord, author of Rules. They (including Paula) spoke about mindful practices that encourage relationships between the writer and the writing. From Hunt: “A big part of being a writer is learning your own processes.”

The ILA Conference is always a chance to renew friendships, listen to great speakers, browse books, form networks across the country, and find something new to take back to your classroom and your colleagues that could help students be more successful readers, writers, and thinkers. It certainly provides me with much food for thought – a literal feast for summer reflection.


Lynne Dorfman is a 1989 PAWLP fellow and a Co-director. She is currently working on a second edition of Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 with her co-author Rose Cappelli.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. mbuckelew #

    Lynne, Thanks so much for sharing ideas, authors, and for sharing so many reasons to attend conferences! Although I couldn’t attend ILA — your ILA conference takeaways inspire me to pick up some new books, revisit favorites, and checkout upcoming conferences. What a fabulously rich experience!
    Many thanks!


    July 14, 2016
  2. Hello Lynne,

    I too enjoyed the ILA Boston Conference. I attended both Hattie and Fisher’s sessions among others. These two, however, made my time there over the top!


    July 13, 2016

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