Secondary Reading League

Leaders for Literacy in Grades 6-12

December 2016

President's Message

Teaching in December and January can be a tricky business. School days are interrupted by assemblies, winter athletics are in full swing, student musicians are performing in concerts, and students and teachers alike are eager for days off. Add to that end-of-term final exams and report cards, and you end up with a lot of stress.

As teachers, we've all seen articles about how to reduce our stress levels both in and out of the classroom, but I wonder how many of us actually follow the advice we're given? I know that between my school responsibilities and taking care of my family, self-care often ends up at the very bottom of the priority list. Which is why this year, I'm setting a goal to take care of myself first so that I can stay healthy and calm as I work my way through the cold winter months. I know myself, though, and I know I need a plan if I am going to keep to this goal.

My plan:

  • Set aside at least 45 minutes every day for myself - to read, to write, to watch Top Chef, to exercise. I know when I do this, I don't get angry about having to do so many things for school in the evenings or on weekends.
  • Make a list each day of the things that MUST get done and things that could get done. When I prioritize, I'm more likely to stay focused on the tasks at hand.
  • Find the good in every day. I try to end my teaching day by writing down three or four things that went well that day. By doing so, I stay focused on the positives and I leave my classroom looking forward to the next day.
  • Breathe. It sounds crazy, but I get so busy over the course of my day that I forget to take deep breaths. When I stop and breathe and look around I see things that I might otherwise miss in the busy-ness of my day.

All of us on the Secondary Reading League wish each of you a happy, stress-free holiday season and a joyous new year!

Mindi Rench, SRL President

Who's your literacy hero?

This is my fifteenth year teaching, and when I look back at the teacher I was early in my career, I cringe. I walked into the classroom armed with educational theory and a strong knowledge of literature. I knew very little about actually engaging students and supporting them as they work through the challenges of reading, thinking, crafting arguments, and writing. Thankfully, through experience and wonderful mentors, I became a much better teacher. Many times those mentors have been the amazing teachers with whom I have the pleasure of working; at other times, however, I have found my mentors in books, and a few of those authors have grown in my esteem from mentor to literacy hero.

I was first introduced to George Hillocks Jr.’s work when he presented at an English department meeting at my school. Prior to the department meeting, I did not know who he was, but within minutes I sat mesmerized, forgetting to take notes because I was so engaged in his presentation. Before me was a man who knew his craft, an amazing educator from whom I wanted to learn everything about teaching writing he could share.

I only had an hour-and-a-half with Hillocks, but it was enough time for me to learn that I did not know nearly enough about teaching writing. After the meeting I rushed out and purchased his book Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning. Through his presentation and his book, Hillocks taught me how to teach children about claims and warrants through the use of “whodunit” mysteries. Because of his influence on my teaching, my students are better writers and thinkers. They are able to critically evaluate other people’s arguments and create their own solid reasoning to support their arguments.

Hillocks did not limit his work to teaching argument. The second book of his I read, Narrative Writing: Learning a New Model for Teaching, helped me just as much as Teaching Argument Writing. Prior to reading Narrative Writing, I knew what made good narrative writing, but I did not know how to help students understand what made one narrative better than another. I often told them to add figurative language, to use dialogue, and to show, not tell. Those bits of advice assumed my students knew how to do those skills and how to do them well. Narrative Writing walks you through how to introduce each element of narrative craft, assist students through guided practice of the skill, and have students incorporate that feature in their own writing in a thoughtful and purposeful manner. Once again, Hillocks helped me become a better, more mindful teacher.

Every time I find myself struggling to help a student grow as a writer, I return to the pages of Hillocks’ books. When new teachers ask me about building their own professional libraries, Hillocks is always one of the first authors I mention. Hillocks is one of my literacy heroes, and I hope that you too have the privilege of reading his work and experiencing his positive influence on your teaching.

Adena Horwitz, SRL Membership Chair, New Trier High School

Day of Reading Preconference Recap

For those of you who missed Kelly Gallagher’s inspiring and practical full-day presentation on November 11, 2017, here are some highlights.

On Writing

Throughout the day, Gallagher demonstrated that the act of writing leads to deeper thinking. While we first approached a text via reading and rereading, we wrote BEFORE we talked and then wrote again afterwards. Powerful.

In peer writing conferences, students first share their writing. Afterwards, listeners/readers respond to two questions. What did I notice? What questions do I have?

The title of a piece is important. Rather than choosing a title haphazardly, student authors should brainstorm at least twenty possibilities. It’s almost a guarantee that the twentieth—or thirtieth—title will turn out to be the best one!

Offer students writing models. One of the best texts shared that day was the poem “Knock, Knock” by Daniel Beaty. View it on YouTube here:

And if you haven’t already read it, be sure to download Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools by Steve Graham and Dolores Perin. For Gallagher, this important compilation of research is a touchstone, and it should be one for you too. You kind find this resource at

Finally, according to Gallagher, “Kids need lots of unpressured, ungraded writing before good writing will emerge.”

On Reading

Help students begin to notice an author’s moves as they read by asking these three questions: What does it say? What’s not said? How is it said?

Worried that you have some kids “faking” their reading during SSR? During reading conferences, try one of these prompts:

· Open up to any two pages and tell me about the author’s craft/the author’s

decisions. Show me you are reading like a writer.

· Pick out a page from your book and read it aloud to me the way you know it should

be read.

It’s time to sound the alarm: Kids fall off the reading train by the age of eight. If our society wants students to be excellent readers, then the primary goal of teachers and schools should be to enable students to read as much as possible. According to Richard Allington, “Reading is less about ability and more about opportunity.” Also, the number of books a student has finished by graduation is more significant than his/her test scores; that statistic is the biggest predictor of future success.

A New Twist

A new twist to this year’s Preconference Workshop was the use of a Shared Google document for all conference attendees to contribute notes on Kelly’s presentation. With over 200 teachers in attendance, the Google doc produced an excellent record of the day. The collaborative e document of the 40th Day of Reading Pre-conference can be viewed at:


These highlights only scratch the surface of Kelly Gallagher’s teaching insights at SRL’s Day of Reading Preconference. If you’d like more, check out one of his many books or his website Follow him on Twitter @KellyGToGo.

See you next year at SRL’s 41st annual Day of Reading Conference with Penny Kittle!

Nancy Steineke, SRL Member, Day of Reading Preconference Attendee

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The 40th Day of Reading Conference Delivers

The 40th Day of Reading Conference took place on Saturday, November 12, 2016 and once again, the conference delivered an exceptional professional learning experience. Nearly 120 educators were in attendance to seethe morning keynote presentation by Kelly Gallagher and YA author Jennifer Lynn Barnes' luncheon keynote address.

Kelly Gallagher's address focused on “Motivating Adolescent Readers and Writers.” Exploring some of the factors that impact student motivation and engagement, Gallagher hammered home the point that teachers control many of the decisions that influence motivation and engagement.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ afternoon keynote was atypical of the addresses we have come to expect from previous DOR YA authors. Using her expertise as a University Professor with a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, coupled with her insights as an accomplished YA author, Barnes explored “Fictional Friendships and the Lifesaving Power of Literature” as she wove her clinical and research background into her experience as both a writer and consumer of fiction. The result was a thought provoking examination of why we create and why we consume fiction, and the “real” role fiction plays in all of our lives.

While the DOR keynote speakers are one of the main draws for SRL’s yearly conference, the backbone of the Day of Reading Conference are its concurrent sessions focused on various topics related to adolescent literacy and literacy-based instruction. This year’s concurrent sessions, many led by SRL members, did not fail to deliver!

Attendees could choose from a number of session topics, carefully selected to provide a diverse range of adolescent literacy topics. Just a small sampling of session topics included building engagement and student interest, translating academic talk to text/writing, and disciplinary literacy coaching. The complete program of concurrent sessions and presenter information, can still be accessed at the Day of Reading web site .

A Day with Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Co-Authoring, Mindreading, Fictional Friendships, and Saving Lives

As a newly retired teacher I have not totally cut the apron strings from “my previous profession.” I occasionally relive my educator days as a substitute teacher, and I still peruse professional journals, hang out at bookstores, make my way to author visits, and travel to the IRC Conference. So when the announcement of the 2016 DOR arrived I was delighted to see that Kelly Gallagher was coming. I devoured my pre-ordered Readicide back in the day. I’ve heard Kelly Gallagher speak before. Kelly Gallagher makes me long to go back to teaching…

But actually, the main draw for me was someone new to me. The title of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ “Fictional Friendships and the Life-Saving Power of Literature” as well as the breakouts “Audience as Co-Author: Reading and Imagination” and “Mind-reading Between the Lines” got a grip on my curiosity, caused me to ponder, and I found myself registering for the Day of Reading. Though I’ve spent years reading middle reader and young adult fiction, I identify more as a nonfiction reader. Now that I no longer read to “market,” I can read anything I fancy, but I seldom choose fiction. I have taught the value of fiction reading--that you learn empathy, that you can learn information, that you can live more lives than your own---but I consider my own self weak as a fiction reader. So my leanness in fiction and penchant for learning new things drew me to listen to Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Professor Barnes is quite the multi-talented energetic force. She is a psychologist, a research scientist, a reader, a writer. She has a laboratory solely for the research of fiction reading! That alone blew me away! Her first breakout “Audience as Co-Author: Reading and Imagination” began by reminding us that children like to imagine, to make-believe, and that continues on throughout adulthood. “Our brains are built for story,” she says. All of our daily life experiences are stories. In fact, as we read fiction, we are still imagining, that is, adding things to the story from our experiences that the author did not. Hence, the reader is a co-author.

In “Mind-reading Between the Lines” Dr. Barnes connected psychological terms of theory of the mind, social cognition, and metacognition to reading. Theory of the mind is when we can connect to the thoughts, beliefs, and emotions of another. We do this when we read about a character in a novel. Social cognition is our thoughts about the morality, norms, and relations with society. We do this when we read about characters and their relationships in a novel. Metacognition is thinking about thinking; thinking about what we feel. We do this when we read about characters and their conflicts in a novel. “All books ask readers to mind read,” Dr. Barnes stated. What a powerful statement to present to students. I think by challenging readers to read the minds of characters, to get inside a character’s emotions, values, reactions to social situations, this “predicting” sets excitement, purpose, value, and….co-authoring in reading.

The luncheon keynote “Fictional Friendships and the Life-Saving Power of Literature” began with Dr. Barnes stunning us with the fact that 235,000 years have been spent 24/7 in reading Harry Potter books or watching Harry Potter movies—a powerful example of the enjoyment and importance of fiction reading. Dr. Barnes continued to share some of the psychology of reading: Fiction reading fulfills the social needs of relationships and group membership. She went on to discuss how relationships with fictional characters can be as valuable as human relationships and extended that further to explain that young adults need fiction to ease the discomfort of “no one feels this way” and the value of using their imagination as they coauthor. “We add to books, books add to us,” Dr. Barnes said, urging us to find books with characters or circumstances with which our students can connect, make fictional friends, and make emotional and personal relationships. “Literature saves lives,” Dr. Barnes boldly proclaims.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ wonder about the cause and effect of fiction reading are obvious in her own writing (The Naturals, The Fixer, Raised by Wolves). Her book talk of her own books was compelling as she took us into the minds of her characters giving a glimpse of their personalities such that I later thought….hey, I am “co-authoring”!

Dr. Barnes’ three sessions captured the wonder of fiction, the value of fiction, and, I would say, the urgency of finding books that would connect and rescue students. Dr. Barnes breathed a new motivation and “fiction appreciation” into this reader, retired from “active duty” as a teacher, but never from active duty as a reader.

Cathy Askeland, SRL Member, Day of Reading Conference attendee

Special Thanks

The 40th Day of Reading and Preconference would not be able to occur if it weren’t for a well-organized group of local educators sharing their leadership with us to provide this professional development opportunity to you.

I’m particularly honored to be able to work with the Day of Reading Steering Committee.

  • Terry McHugh organized and maintained everything that fell under the heading of pre-registration and registration. He also helped with publicity.
  • Liz Strejcek created all of the signs and our Featured Speaker Hall of Fame board for the conference.
  • Camille Lutz obtained exhibitors, was their liaison, and managed the exhibit area.
  • Ellen Levy was responsible for the contents and development of the folders everyone received in their tote bags. She also was responsible for sponsorships, and assisted with publicity.
  • Patti Tylka developed the conference and preconference evaluations everyone received electronically and provided an email reminder on how to access them.
  • Mark Levine was responsible for social media opportunities via our Facebook and Twitter accounts before and during the conference.

My job was to oversee the Steering Committee, organize publicity, and be the liaison with the Tinley Park Convention Center, featured speakers, and breakout presenters.

It’s always a good day when I get to be with these special individuals. They make me feel so rewarded for being the Day of Reading Chairperson.

A special thanks to dedicated volunteers, Margaret Colucci and Joel Levy, for their many years of help with this event.

Barb Chrz-White, SRL Member, Day of Reading Conference Chair

Join Our Team

Many of you have probably realized that professional development for secondary literacy educators and their colleagues is not a common occurrence. Would you like to be instrumental in helping provide such opportunities for them? Join our team!

The 41st Day of Reading Steering Committee is seeking volunteers. There are many opportunities for you to share your leadership. If you are interested contact Barb Chrz-White at bchrzwhite@comcast or any other Steering Committee member.

Thank You Sponsors & Donors