Top Seven Takeaways from the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention #WSRA16

1. Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the U.S.Learn About Educational Change from Others?
The speaker was Pasi Sahlberg, a native educator from Finland. His country regularly scores at the top in terms of student achievement and teacher satisfaction. He offered five ideas to improve American education:

  • Invest in equity, not just excellence
  • Invest in teams, not just individuals
  • Let the children play!
  • Make school ready for kids vs. kids ready for school
  • Celebrate failure, not just success (A national day of failure is celebrated every year in Finland on October 13.)

2. Examining Acts of Literacy Processing in Grade 2

The speaker was Dr. Elizabeth Kaye. She is a professor in the Department of Reading at Texas Women’s University. Here is a summary of findings from Text Reading analysis of 2nd graders reading at grade level.


  • always attempt words.
  • always work left to right.
  • use a variety of word parts on the run.
  • never sound letter by letter.
  • never appeal before attempting.
  • never stop and wait for a work to be told.
  • never skip a difficult word and read on.
  • have a large and varied repertoire of solving actions at the word level.

Implications for struggling readers: Teach for flexibility and expect them to take initiative.

3. Author Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific author. She has written 30+ books from picture books to young adult novels. Her latest book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is on the Battle of the Books list. Check out this author’s website at: Multicultural themes that would make excellent read-alouds for your classroom.

4. Speakers and authors Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty discussed their book Grammar Matters: Embedding Instruction Into Daily Classroom Practice (Stenhouse, 2014). They share ideas and strategies for including grammar instruction in teachers’ units of study for narrative, informational, and persuasive writing. If you click on the link, you can preview the entire text online. Here is one example:Deconstruct for students to reconstruct:

Take a portion Saturday and Teacakes (which we would have already read) and break up some of Lester Laminack’s great text into a simplistic rendering:

She opened the oven door.

The kitchen filled with a smell.

It was a sweet smell.

It was sweeter than summer gardenias.

It was the smell of teacakes.

Tell students to rewrite them by combining thoughts that naturally seem to go together. Try it out two or three different ways. Think about these things:

  • Do I need to add words?
  • Could I eliminate some words?
  • How many sentences did you write?
  • What punctuation did you decide to use to make your message clear?

After examining the way the author chose to write these thoughts, compare his craft to your craft. What is the same? What is different?Have the kids try their ways first and then show them what the author actually did. Remind them there is no right way. The author’s way is just one way. They may like their own way better and that is ok too (as long as it’s still grammatically correct :-).

5. The Power of a Project-Based Approach

Nell Duke is the Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture, and the Faculty Affiliate in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan, and a member of the International Literacy Association Research Panel. This presentation was based on her new book Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text Through Project-Based Instruction (Scholastic, 2014).

She appeased a teacher’s need for a sense of direction when learning. This session provided a framework for project-based learning that reaffirmed the best practices and beliefs of our school.

  • This framework balanced engaging students through choice, addressing standards across curriculums, and providing a connection or purpose outside of school. Planning guide:
  • Structure was provided for the project through five phases: project launch, reading and research, writing and research, revision and editing, presentation and celebration.
  • Whole class lessons; small group, partner, or individual work; and whole class wrap-up were promoted.
  • Mentor texts were used as models.

6. We Teach Thinking! Curiosity Powered by Pedagogy in the Workshop Classroom

Kristin Ziemke is an author, first grade teacher and innovation specialist for the Chicago Public Schools. This presenter made the audience want to be a learner in her classroom. The top five takeaways from this session were:

  • Children are naturally curious. Keep that curiosity alive with an “I Wonder….” chart.
  • Use iPads during interactive read-aloud to blog or post on Padlet ( Those students who do not have a device can use a clipboard and paper. The iPads rotated among students.
  • Teach students to “read” images from,, and (PREVIEW FOR APPROPRIATE CONTENT)
  • Launch a unit by creating an image file where students view the images, think and wonder. After picking three images, students create three points of wonder and verbally record these wonders. At the end of the unit, students rewatch their points of wonder to see if their research answered their questions.
  • When students ask a question, wait 6-7 seconds and they think of it themselves, or respond to them with “Say more about that.” or “Think that through.”

7. Expanding Understanding: Engaging Dialogically with Multiple Perspectives

Maria Nichols, the author of Comprehension through Conversation (Heinemann, 2006), offered specific ideas for how to structure classroom conversations that helps students develop a deeper understanding of the text(s) they are reading.

One example was to teach the importance of perspective (click here for the slides):

  • Show a picture of a lion. Kids turn and talk about what the picture makes them think. Share and listen to lots of different ideas.
  • Add heading “Cecill the Lion” to the picture. Now turn and talk again and share. Again, lots of different points of view are observed.
  • Show a cartoon with definite point of view against the dentist. Turn and talk and share. This shows a definite point of view whether you agree with the point of view or not.
  • Introduce the New York Times article from a person from Zimbabwe. Read it, turn and talk, share, and develop different points of view based on a unique perspective.
Several of our teachers attended the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention. I asked them to summarize their learning for our faculty in my most recent staff newsletter. What they shared was very helpful. I was unable to attend, so I thought I would throw their thoughts up on the ol’ blog.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

3 thoughts on “Top Seven Takeaways from the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention #WSRA16”

  1. Thanks so much for the recap! A great idea for your teachers, I’m sure. I wanted to attend but couldn’t make it, so this is nice snapshot. As a teacher of beginning and struggling readers, I’m particularly interested in Dr. Kaye’s presentation about competent 2nd grade readers. We know many of those details about good readers from various quantitative research studies, but it’s interesting to see her combination of them all in one study. I imagine their were qualitative elements to the study, too, so that would likely help to flesh it out more.


    1. I also wanted to attend, which is why I asked our teachers to summarize the learning (what you see here). Glad you found what was shared here helpful.


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