Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival 2014

I had been planning to attend the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival for months.


Why? Two words:

Donalyn Miller

I heard a brief presentation by Donalyn at NCTE last year and I what I remember most was her charisma. She is a charming Texan that has a way of making formal academic presentations feel personal.

book whispBefore going to the conference, I read both her books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.

The Book Whisperer is all about the benefits of an independent reading program and reading workshop. I liked it, but I liked Reading in the Wild more.

Reading in the Wild centers on the question:

How do we get students to become lifelong readers?

 In Donalyn’s classroom, she found that students read like wolves eat. But once her class was over? The vigor for reading dissipated for many students. For so many students, their reading environment was gone when they graduated from Donalyn’s class.

Reading in the Wild pinpoints ways students can develop independent reading habits.

After reading both the books, I was beyond ready to see Donalyn present again.

When I first signed up to go to the literacy festival, I didn’t look into it. All I knew was that Donalyn was going to be there and that was reading in wildenough for me. (I suppose I sound creepy with all this Donalyn stuff but I promise I’m not…I just like learning from her. Promise.)

The night before the conference, I began picking my sessions. Obviously I’d be attending Donalyn’s sessions in the afternoon but that left three morning sessions TBA. As I looked through the sessions, I was overwhelmed by the amount of sessions geared toward elementary school teachers.

Turns out that the Plum Creek Literacy Festival is actually the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. That would explain why there was so much emphasis on children.

Silly me.

I also discovered that I am unskilled at picking sessions. I’ve been to several academic conferences and I usually stew over which sessions to attend and then never fully enjoy the ones I go to. For this conference, I decided to skip the stewing part and keep it simple: pick a session that piqued my interest.

Twyla Hansen: Playing Around with Words: Reading, Writing and the Creative Process


I decided to go to this session because I love both words and poetry. Not knowing much about Twyla, I learned that she was the Nebraska State Poet for 2013-2018. I guess poets are in it for the long haul.

We began by listening to a poem and picking out interesting words. I would like to do this same exercise in my classroom and then have students create their own poem, using the words as a guideline.

Twyla gave us a different set of words (taken from a different poem) and let us practice writing poetry. I wrote about capitalism and Walmart but others wrote about Husker football and crops.

For the next writing exercise, we were instructed to pick our favorite food and write a poem using all five senses. I like the idea of sensory poems and using a central motif to do so. This makes poetry less intimidating for students not familiar with the genre.

Monica Burns: Creation Apps – Maker Movement

I’ve been hearing all about the maker movement on Twitter and I wanted to know more. Monica is an EdTech blogger and an Apple Distinguished Educator.


She took us through dozens of maker apps to use in the classroom:

  • Touchcast
  • Sketchbook pro
  • coLAR mix
  • makerbot printshop
  • modio
  • foldify
  • foldifyzoo
  • snapguide
  • minecraft
  • treehouse
  • hopscotch
  • codeacademy
  • sphero

I loved learning about the makerspaces I could incorporate into my classroom. I particularly liked modio, snapguide, and sphero. However, it’s difficult to imagine a makerspace in my language arts classroom, but that just means I need to learn more!

Jim Murphy: How Reading Ruined My Life!

Before this session, I took a break to fill up my water bottle. While waiting my turn at the drinking fountain, I admired the red pants of the girl in front of me: skinny jean red pants, cuffed at the bottom with flats. Her outfit eerily mirrored my red pants.

How funny, I thought.

The girl turned around and said,


Yep. My red pants twin was my good friend from high school, Megan. She was catching the first half of the conference with some of her classmates from college and then heading to the Husker game in Lincoln.


Red pants twins

How funny, right?

It turned out that we were both planning on attending Jim Murphy’s session so we grabbed a seat together, in the back of the room.

The session was packed!


Jim has written more than 30 books about American history.

For his session, he decided to veer from the topic and speak about his schooling experience attending a Catholic school.

Author Luncheon: Rosemary Wells

The luncheon was fabulously catered. We ate salads, wraps, croissants, fruit, and big pieces of chocolate cake. My belly was pleasantly surprised.


Rosemary is the creator of Max and Ruby. For the first half, she gave us an abbreviated tour of her artist’s studio and, for the second half, she talked about how she would change the education system.

Donalyn Miller: Bring on the Books!

And then it was the time I had been anticipating.


My anticipating face

Donalyn did not disappoint. She title talked dozens of books: graphic novels, picture books, middle grade books, young adult literature, etc. I walked away wanting more hours in the day to read. My Goodreads to-read list just got a whole lot longer!


Donalyn Miller: Conferring with Readers

The past few months, I’ve devoted a lot of time thinking about the writing workshop. Unfortunately, I have not been thinking about the reading workshop as much. I was grateful that Donalyn talked about a topic in the reading workshop I have been dreading: conferencing.


The best piece of advice she gave during this session was stop making conferencing a math problem! I think it’s so easy to think of conferencing as this big production that requires logarithms and graphic calculators.

Instead of whipping out your T-89, connect with readers. Have conversations with both good and bad readers; they both need you! How do you switch from mathematician to reading coach? There are three types of conferences to keep you on the streamline:

1. Content/Standards Based

These conferences are for student accountability. They are for you to ensure that all students can apply minilesson skills to their independent reading.

  • At the beginning of the conference, tell students what you’ll be conferencing about
  • Conference with all students before moving on to the second round of conferences
  • Only pick 1-2 standards per unit – they should be the most essential
  • Keep records

2. Comprehension

  • These conferences are the most time-consuming
  • They should not be every single week
  • This is where students identify strengths and goals (goals, not weaknesses)
  • Don’t be a slave to the form – goal is to see if students comprehend their independent reading book
  • Readers walk away with goals

3. Reading Habits

To develop lifelong readers, these conferences are the most important.

  • It’s about the reader, not the books
  • Focus on one skill/concept
  • Internalize habits of lifelong readers


I love going to conferences for the networking, the learning, the professionalism. I went with my good friend, Maggie, but I also met new people at the conference.


I love coming together with like-minded people and sharing ideas. Although the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival was geared towards elementary school teachers, I still learned so much about teaching literacy. Feeling grumpy because you didn’t get a chance to go? You can check out my live tweets on Storify!