by Julie Lineback

Over 60 educators converged on the University of West Georgia campus on October 2 to learn about the latest literacy research and teaching strategies at the Literacy and Beyond conference, sponsored by UWG’s Continuing Education and the Cherokee Rose Writing Project (CRWP).

Shoney BriceThe gathering was the brainchild of Shoney Brice, literacy coach for West Haralson Elementary in Tallapoosa. This one-day conference held sessions on the newest literacies, such as blogging and digital storytelling, and examined how literacy looks in the classroom, its purposes, and how it applies to our everyday world. However, the symposium went much further than that.

“I didn’t want it just to hit writing, reading, and phonics,” Shoney said. “I want them to go beyond what we think of literacy. I want them to have multiple ways of seeing literacy.”

Shoney was originally moved to create Literacy and Beyond after attending a National Council of Teachers of English conference in 2013. In mid-2014, she left her teaching position at Bowden Elementary, which she had for 10 years. She approached Assistant Professor of Reading Education and Director of CRWP Dr. Tami Ogletree with her idea. CRWP hosts events like the Literacy and Beyond conference as part of their quest in providing high-quality professional development writing programs to the teachers around the area.

“I told her that teachers need time to collaborate effectively and feel free to talk about the things that are relevant,” she said. “Staying on that cusp of what’s happening in the classroom is very important for teachers.”

“CRWP knows that informed teachers are the most important school-related factors influencing student achievement,” said Dr. Ogletree. “CRWP gives teachers regular opportunities to learn from other experienced educators in conjunction with building a community of support.”

Carolyn WatersCarolyn Waters, keynote speaker and English language arts program manager for the Georgia Department of Education, infused the attendees with renewed passion and energy during the opening session. She reminded them the power they have as teachers.

“It’s our job to speak life to students, to give them hope, and to show them that it is by improving your mind that you can break this downward spiral into nothingness that crushes the human soul,” she said. “You have to reach way down deep, deep inside to your core and remind yourself daily of why you wanted to teach in the first place.”

The teaching profession is evolving, Shoney and Carolyn agreed. Throughout the day, the participants attended various sessions that dealt with these changes, from curriculum modification to new research-based strategies.

One of the sessions, led by Coffee Middle School’s Kayse Morris, dealt with combining interactive notebooks (INB) with project-based learning. INBs allow students to incorporate their own ideas and encourage them to be creative independent thinkers and writers.

“Interactive notebooks help build relationships with your students,” Kayse said. “They are the future, they are now, and they are this generation.”

Many instructors feel that the incorporation of technology in the classroom is another one of the biggest ways that education has evolved.

“I feel like as educators right now, our biggest battle is getting kids to unplug from what they have at home,” said Bethany Rodgers, sixth grade language arts teacher at Creekside Elementary. “If they don’t have some form of technology when they come in the classroom, their go-to response is that it is boring.”

Such tools that are engaging for learners are ones like Nearpod, an interactive tool that teachers can use to create presentations and assessments. Dr. Zakary Kirk, English language art coordinator for Henry County Schools, spoke about how it can emphasize close reading, text-based questions and answers, and writing.

Carolyn advised another way teachers could handle the changes is to remember why they fell in love with the profession in the first place. Teachers need to take pride in their own profession and advocate for the change they have to make.

“It’s our job to speak life to them, to give them hope, and to show them that it is by improving your mind that you can break this downward spiral into nothingness that crushes the human soul,” Carolyn said. “You have the power to write on a clean slate every year. You have the power to tell children that they matter and there are futures for them if they will just come and feast at your table every day.”

Posted on October 14, 2015