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Another Conference for the Books

by April Hall
 | Jul 21, 2015

IMG_5143The International Literacy Association 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO, is now a piece of history. A whirlwind of sessions, networking, meetings, and learning was crammed into the three days of July 18-21 (plus the bonus preconference institutes on Friday).

Curious what you missed? Get a small taste of what conference was all about here to start planning for next year in Boston (July 8-11) or make note of what your schedule didn’t allow this time around.

Some events are linked to full-length stories already published on Literacy Daily.


Preconference Institutes: America’s Convention Center was abuzz with the earlybirds who spent a full day in deep-dive sessions on some of the hottest topics in literacy. The ILA Central Friday Sale was a hit, and new items, including ILA T-shirts, went like hotcakes. Only a handful of the newly designed T-shirts were left when lines started to form for the Opening General Session Saturday morning and were gone by lunchtime.


First-Timers Coffee: About 150 first-time conference-goers gathered on the second floor atrium prior to Opening General Session to talk to fellow newbies and ILA staffers about topics ranging from St. Louis attractions to the basics of ILA Membership.

Opening General Session: In addition to ILA leaders welcoming thousands of literacy advocates to St. Louis, the city welcomed the conference by declaring July 18 Literacy Day. Social entrepreneur and activist Shiza Shahid was the first inspiring keynote speaker, encouraging the audience to find one cause to dive deeply into and make a difference in. Retired basketball star and businessman Shaquille O’Neal gave the second keynote, praising the work of teachers and touting the importance of dreaming big, whether as a child or adult. The conference launch ended as it began with energetic tunes.

Exhibit Hall Opening: As is tradition, a huge queue formed before Opening General Session even began. When the floodgates opened, thousands poured into the Exhibit Hall to learn about new programs and collect books and swag. “It’s huge,” Monica Hogue from Tuscaloosa County, AL, said of the hall. “I really didn’t think it was going to be this big when I signed up.”

William Joyce: The founder of Moonbot Studios, who has earned an Emmy, an Oscar, and numerous accolades for writing, shared during the conference’s first Author Luncheon how he came to be an author and how his first book written some 45 years ago has found a new life in an updated version.

Author Meetup: The inaugural offering of the Author Meetup sold-out quickly before the roster of authors were even announced. Crowds lined up to chat with some of their favorite authors (including T.A. Barron, Candace Fleming, Jenny Han, Christian Robinson, Cindy L. Rodriguez, Ruta Sepetys, Andrew Smith, and Mark Teague), and collect a bag full of books and autographs.

Teacher Preparation Panel: ILA convened a panel of experts to take on the topic of teacher preparation. Keynote speakers and panelists reviewed recent research and how to proceed in improving not only educator training, but how teachers are certified across the country.

Literacy Night at the Ballpark: Hundreds of ILA attendees made their way to  Busch Stadium to see the St. Louis Cardinals take on the New York Mets. ILA’s Associate Executive Director Stephen Sye threw out the first pitch before the Cardinals trounced the Mets 12–2.

Notable Sessions and Speakers: Nell Duke and Lynn Bigelman offered a Teaching Edge session on project-based learning; authors Ruth Culham, Lester Laminack, and Kate Messner taught educators how to be writing thieves. Feature speakers included Meenoo Rami, Stephanie Harvey, and Steven Layne.


Meg Cabot: The wildly popular author of The Princess Diaries series was the guest of honor at Sunday’s Author Luncheon. She shared her advice for how to “embrace your inner princess.”

Meet the Editors: The editors of every ILA publishing platform met with lots of hungry writers to give advice on the best venue for their ideas and run down requirements, whether for Literacy Daily or Reading Research Quarterly.

Book Awards: The 2015 Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards were presented to some of the best work published in 2014. Vince Vawter and Liesl Shurtliff were also on hand to share their personal stories of how they overcame the challenges of writing and getting published.

ILA Awards: Steven Layne hosted ILA’s annual awards program with a host of guest presenters. This year the ceremony also included some Council awards.

Notable Sessions and Speakers: (Newly) Past President Jill Lewis-Spector and Julie Ramsay held an informal session at the Age of Literacy exhibit about advocacy. Lori Oczkus and Timothy Rasinski paired up for a Teaching Edge session on close reading workouts. Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle presented a Teaching Edge on how to foster “readerly” lives. In addition, Chris Lehman, Jennifer Serravallo, and Pam Allyn were featured on Sunday.


Closing General Session: School turnaround leader and author Stephen G. Peters delivered the first of the session’s keynotes by talking to attendees about the challenges that face today’s teachers and how to combat them. In a change of format, Academy Award-winning actress and author Octavia Spencer spent her time being interviewed by ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post and local incoming ninth-grade students Dale Chesson and Kiara Crawford. The actress then stayed on stage nearly an hour signing books for eager fans.

Nick Bruel: The author of the Bad Kitty series shared some turning points in his life, from the time he was first encouraged to draw as a child, to the moment he saw an autistic child smile widely for the first time reading a book he coauthored with Bruel.

Farewell: In the early afternoon, attendees made their way out of the convention center, many with their luggage ready to head home with all the knowledge they collected over the long weekend as exhibitors packed up their booths.

Reflecting upon ILA 2015, Natalie Stephenson, a teacher from Maryland, said teachers normally have very little time in the day-to-day to network or learn from peers, making the ILA Conference an especially valuable experience

“I’m really loving ILA,” Stephenson said. “I feel renewed, re-energized and excited. You feel empowered. I feel more support than ever coming to ILA.”

See you at the ILA 2016 Conference in Boston!

April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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