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    ILA 2019: Behind the Scenes

    By Kelly Bothum
     | Aug 30, 2019
    ila2019-behind-the-scenesWhen attendees arrive in New Orleans, LA, for the International Literacy Association
    (ILA) 2019 Conference, they won’t have to worry about navigating the convention center, accessing Wi-Fi, looking for water refill stations, or even finding the nearest bathrooms.

    All of that—and much more—will have already been done by the ILA staff handling the behind-the-scenes logistics of a dynamic conference that draws 5,000 educators from around the globe each year. From constructing the conference Exhibit Hall and deciding on room placements for speakers, to helping with dietary needs and mapping out shuttle routes for attendees, ILA staffers work hard to make the conference the benchmark of educational professional development.

    Their attention to detail allows attendees to focus on what matters—listening to internationally renowned speakers, networking with fellow educators, and getting inspired by other literacy leaders.

    “This conference is meant to be a one-stop shop for anyone in the literacy realm,” says Becky Fetterolf, professional learning manager for ILA. “If you are a classroom teacher, an administrator, a reading specialist, or librarian, we want to make sure you can take something back to your school.”

    By the time attendees head into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans this fall—October 10–13, to be exact—ILA staff will already not only have been on-site for several days, ensuring finishing touches are perfect, but also be deeply entrenched in the planning for the 2020 conference and beyond.

    “It’s like creating a strategic plan every year,” says Valerie Sumner, ILA’s director of meetings and events. “We look at the conference through the eyes of those who are attending. We focus on what you see when you arrive at the airport, when you get to the hotel, when you look at the app to see the speakers. All those little pieces are strategically discussed and planned so that it all comes together. It seems like it naturally happened, and that’s the goal.”

    Bringing the vision to life

    The ILA conference lasts four days, bookended by Institute Day and Children’s Literature Day, but the prep work starts long before the first speaker takes the podium.

    ILA teams begin mapping out the logistical pieces of the conference puzzle more than a year in advance. ILA carefully considers a range of criteria when selecting a city and securing agreements for a convention center to host the conference (often solidified anywhere from three to five years in advance). A typical convention center will have 30 to 40 rooms of varying sizes that can handle the 300 sessions that take place over the four-day span.

    High on the list of conference must-haves is a city with good access to an airport and flight options. It also needs about 2,500 hotel rooms for the estimated 5,000 attendees and exhibitors. Walkability is tricky. The city needs to be accessible on foot, but hotels and conference sessions should be in relative proximity or be on a shuttle route to keep attendees from growing tired.

    Once a city is selected, Sumner says, the meetings and events team is dispatched to the host city to prepare for the marketing, professional development, and other critical needs of the conference. Even while latestage conference planning is going on in New Orleans, several teams from ILA will already have been visiting Columbus, OH, the site of the ILA 2020 Conference.

    Michele Jester, program implementation manager for ILA, was part of the team from ILA that visited local education and library officials earlier this year to learn more about Columbus’s educational and literacy environment. The team also helped to identify opportunities for interaction, partnership, and sponsorship.

    “It’s about getting people in the city excited about us coming,” Jester says.

    Crafting the theme

    The theme of this year’s conference is “Creating a Culture of Literacy.” Fetterolf says programming began more than a year ago with brainstorming about potential keynote speakers and presenters who embody the theme. The process includes soliciting abstracts a year in advance from people who hope to present. Approximately 800 proposals are received, but only about one third are accepted due to a combination of space availability and the desire to craft a manageable conference experience that offers something for everyone without being overwhelming.

    Over the course of four days, the conference will include hundreds of sessions, featuring speakers with different topics and formats and in front of audiences of varying sizes. The General Session is the largest, and that’s where the biggest names—and audiences—can be found. This year, the lineup features Chelsea Clinton, Pedro Noguera, Renée Watson, and Hamish Brewer. Previous years have seen Octavia Spencer, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kwame Alexander, and LeVar Burton.

    In addition to one-hour speaking sessions, there are smaller, two-hour, roundtable-style workshops where attendees can experience a more hands-on approach. Poster sessions round out the offerings, allowing people to individually present their own research in literacy in an informal, conversation-friendly format.

    Given the number of presenters needed, the ILA team has more than their share of work just selecting speakers. It’s a tricky process that sounds a bit like a fantasy football draft, only featuring literacy superstars instead of athletes.

    To help simplify the process, each year, Lara Deloza, ILA senior communications manager, and the team create their own classification system using sticky notes, index cards, and spreadsheets, color-coding potential speakers on the basis of a number of factors including topic, availability, and diversity of background, thought, profession, and location.

    “It’s really a numbers game,” Deloza says. “It’s a math equation.” Availability during the conference matters, but it’s just one factor to consider. A mix of voices—authors, researchers, and scholars—is also sought. Diversity is a major driver, Deloza adds, but the goal is to recognize diversity in ways beyond race, age, gender, and ethnicity to include experience and educational background, among other considerations.

    A final criterion for consideration, for presenters other than General Session and featured speakers, is peer review. At least three people are asked to score each prospective speaker on a scale of 1 to 10. The higher the overall peer score, the better that person’s chances of being asked to present. “If you get a 30, you’re going to get on the program,” Fetterolf says.

    Unlike some conferences, most speakers aren’t compensated by ILA for their participation. The majority of General Session speakers, for example, come courtesy of a publishing company—such as Clinton for this year.

    Room to grow—or a no-show

    Fetterolf says one of the most frequent questions attendees and speakers ask regards the size of the room that is assigned to a speaker. Room assignments can vary from small spaces for under 100 people to larger areas that can accommodate 600 people for featured speaker sessions. It takes a bit of prediction—and sometimes luck—to determine the best size room for a speaker, Sumner says. Considerations include professional interest in the topic and the speaker’s own past crowd draw.

    There have been times where a speaker’s popularity has meant a fully packed room with people standing outside the door and additional people allowed in only when someone else leaves, per the restrictions of the local fire marshal. Conversely, there also have been times when a speaker was expected to be a big draw but attendance was lower than expected.

    “We do collect data of room attendance. We do data crunching,” Jester says. “We guess as best as we can.”

    Ready for long days—and anything else

    During the four-day conference stretch, it’s not unusual for staff to literally be on their feet for 14 or more hours each day. Thanks to the popularity of fitness trackers among ILA staff, we know that works out to about 25,000 steps a day each day of the conference, on average. (The unofficial daily record is 31,000 steps for one weary-footed staffer.)

    Veteran conference staff know there is little downtime during these days, but they like the opportunity to interact with attendees. ILA staff are not hard to find. All staff attend conference events in their signature Meyer lemon yellow conference shirts and gold name badges.

    “You’re hands-on the whole weekend,” Jester says. “We’re the first ones to get there and the last ones to leave.”

    Like any good team, they can hustle on the fly. When bad weather caused a power loss at the ILA 2017 Conference in Orlando, FL, the staff continued registering attendees by hand. They quickly reconfigured meeting spaces in San Antonio, TX, in 2013 when conference organizers discovered they were missing two previously scheduled rooms. Security and safety plans previously put in place meant there was a protocol when a pregnant woman became overheated and fainted during one of the sessions.

    “You just have to be ready for anything,” Jester says.

    Many of the last-minute challenges come from helping attendees locate missing cell phones, purses, or personal items. As much as the staff tries to anticipate attendee needs, there can be a few surprises, like realizing that conference-goers are walking in a different direction in the convention center than organizers expected.

    “As you are there walking around, you see it’s not what we thought,” says Amy Taylor, meetings and events coordinator, of the conference center layout and signage. “Then you need to go ahead and make that adjustment on-site.”

    The preponderance of women in education often means a quick reconfiguring of bathrooms to accommodate the disparity. This year, that also includes greater accessibility to gender neutral bathrooms.

    A personalized experience

    Over the years, the ILA conference has changed to better represent the needs of its attendees. Jester says gone is the one-size-fits-all approach, replaced by a more personalized experience that’s built upon the goal of connecting and enriching the experience of those attending the conference.

    Sumner says a good example is the conference program, which used to be a cumbersome, 400-page book that weighed attendees down. About four years ago, ILA switched to a mobile app that provides a continuous update of the day’s events. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has helped cut down on printing expenses.

    The program is still available in a smaller printed form—only about half the number of pages—but most users opt for the app, Sumner says. Even the most well-planned events usually have a hiccup or two, and the ILA conference is no exception. Fetterolf says attendees sometimes get frustrated by the room sizes, issues with lighting, or unexpected programmatic changes.

    But it’s their passion for education that overshadows any issues that may arise during the conference. ILA staff witness firsthand how attendees feel so strongly about the work they do. That perspective helps when trying to smooth over any logistical problems.

    “They’re really invested,” says Wes Ford, ILA digital communications associate. “It makes sense they get so passionate about it.”

    For example, at last year’s Equity in Education program during the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX, Ford says one attendee wept in appreciation for the panel on LGBTQ equity in the educational space.

    “He said, ‘Thank you for making me feel seen,’” Ford says, adding that the educator often saw work being done to ensure students felt seen, but he never felt seen as a teacher. That man’s reaction, Ford says, validated the work done by the team during the conference.

    “It matters to us. We don’t want them to feel like we are ignoring them. We are as passionate about their education as they are.”

    Witness it for yourself

    At the time of publication, there are just 13 weeks until ILA 2019. That’s about 90 days until showtime. And yet, the behind-the-scenes work doesn’t end when the conference begins. You wouldn’t know it—and that’s by design. Part of the job is making sure you get not only a seamless conference experience but also a sense of how valued you are for the work you do every day.

    “This is the one time of year when we get face-to-face time with our members,” Deloza says. “It reminds us of why we do what we do and why it matters. It’s all for them.”

    Kelly Bothum is a former newspaper reporter who now works as a communications specialist for the University of Delaware.

    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of 
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    ILA Announces 2019 Children's and Young Adults' Book Awards Winners

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 28, 2019

    The International Literacy Association (ILA) today announced the winners of the ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards, which recognize newly published authors who show exceptional promise in the children’s and young adult book fields.

    These titles, ranging from children’s books about a young girl who learns the origins of her very long and meaningful name and a gender-questioning child who finds acceptance from his grandmother to a YA novel about a high school girl navigating school politics and life in the wake of her brother's death, delve into issues of love, loss, family, identity, gender, race and politics.

    “In today’s vibrant world, teachers must design their classroom libraries consciously to show they value all students’ lives and identities,” said ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “We’re excited to shine a spotlight on these titles, which draw readers into the worlds of characters who may be different from themselves and that celebrate empathy, kindness and acceptance.”

    Awards were presented for fiction and nonfiction in each of three categories: primary, intermediate and young adult.

    The 2019 award winners are:

    Primary Fiction

    Winner: Julián Is a Mermaid. Jessica Love. 2018. Candlewick Press.

    Honor: Alma and How She Got Her Name. Juana Martinez-Neal. 2018. Candlewick Press.

    Primary Nonfiction

    Winner: Let the Children March. Monica Clark-Robinson. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Honor: Prickly Hedgehogs! Jane McGuinness. 2018. Candlewick Press.

    Intermediate Fiction

    Winner: Hope in the Holler. Lisa Lewis Tyre. 2018. Nancy Paulsen Books.

    Intermediate Nonfiction

    Winner: Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle. Erica Fyvie. 2018. Kids Can Press.

    Young Adult Fiction

    Winner: Dear Rachel Maddow: A Novel. Adrienne Kisner. 2018. Feiwel & Friends.
    Honor: The Beauty That Remains. Ashley Woodfolk. 2018. Delacorte Press.

    Young Adult Nonfiction

    Winner: I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope. Chessy Prout with Jenn Abelson. 2018. Margaret K. McElderry Books.

    Additional information on the ILA Children's and Young Adults' Book Awards can be found here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    ILA Announces Winners of William S. Gray Citation of Merit, Other Awards

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 28, 2019

    The International Literacy Association (ILA) today presented the William S. Gray Citation of Merit to D. Ray Reutzel, Dean of the College of Education at the University of Wyoming. ILA's most prestigious award, the William S. Gray Citation of Merit honors a nationally or internationally known individual for his or her outstanding contributions to the field of reading/literacy.

    An ILA member since 1982, Reutzel is a former member of the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association) 2007–2010, past president (2017–2019) of the Reading Hall of Fame, former coeditor of The Reading Teacher and a current member of ILA’s Literacy Research Panel.

    “Reutzel has been a consistent and influential voice for teacher preparation reform, evidence-based reading instruction and educational equity. His work has been vital in protecting the rights of all children to learn—and love—to read and write proficiently,” said ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “We’re thrilled to recognize his important contributions to ILA and to the literacy community at large.”

    Before joining the University of Wyoming, Reutzel was the Emma Eccles Jones Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair of Early Literacy Education at Utah State University for 14 years. He has authored more than 230 research reports published in leading psychology and education research and professional journals, articles, books, book chapters and monographs as well as the best-selling textbook, Teaching Children to Read: The Teacher Makes the Difference (Pearson Education). To date, he has received more than $17 million in research and program development grant funding.

    In addition, the Timothy & Cynthia Shanahan Outstanding Dissertation Award, given annually for a dissertation completed in reading or literacy, was presented to Courtney Hattan, assistant professor of Elementary Literacy at Illinois State University. Her dissertation for the University of Maryland, College Park, Prompting Rural Students’ Use of Background Knowledge and Experience to Support Comprehension of Unfamiliar Content, investigated the effectiveness of traditional (mobilization) and novel (relational reasoning) techniques for activating students’ background knowledge.

    Other award highlights include:

    • The Corwin Literacy Leader Award, presented by ILA to Stacia Lewis, director of Elementary Education for Sevier County, Tennessee
    • The Erwin Zolt Digital Literacy Game Changer Award, presented to Margaret Hawkins, professor at the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
    • The Jerry Johns Outstanding Teacher Educator in Reading Award, presented to Amy McClure, Rodefer Professor of Education, chair of the Education Department and director of the University Honors Program at Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio
    • The Leaders Inspiring Readers Award, sponsored by Achieve 3000, presented to Jan Wasowicz, founder, president and chief learning officer of Learning by Design, Evanston, Illinois
    • The Maryann Manning Special Service Award, presented to Tilka Jamnik, head and national coordinator of activities at the Centre for Youth Literature and Librarianship, Slovenia
    • The Regie Routman Teacher Recognition Grant, awarded to Kelly Palomeque, teacher at Riverside Elementary School, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

    The full list of awards/grants and recipients can be found here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    The Research Address at ILA 2019: Talking the “Dos & Don’ts of Writing Instruction”

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 21, 2019

    It’s often said that reading and writing are inextricably connected. They draw
    upon shared knowledge bases and work in tandem to help students learn across
    all content areas. Studies have proven that, when students practice reading, they
    become stronger writers—and the opposite holds true as well: As students write
    more frequently, their reading comprehension improves.

    Yet despite a large body of research establishing this connection, writing is an
    often overlooked tool for improving reading skills and content learning.
    The research address at the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2019
    Conference, “The Dos & Don’ts of Writing Instruction,” provides practitioners
    with research-based information about how writing improves reading while
    making the case for teachers, literacy specialists, and administrators to place
    greater emphasis on writing instruction as an integral part of school curricula.

    A new format

    This year’s format will maintain the traditional research address but add a
    roundtable discussion, creating a space for more participatory, engaged, and
    self-steering conversation. With a more intimate setting and focused content,
    the roundtable discussions will allow participants to connect with like-minded
    professionals, ask questions, bounce off ideas, and receive feedback in real time.

    The kickoff

    The event will kick off with opening remarks by Douglas Fisher, professor of
    educational leadership at San Diego State University and a past president of the
    ILA Board; Diane Lapp, distinguished professor of education in the Department
    of Teacher Education at San Diego State University; and David Kirkland, associate
    professor of English education in the Department of Teaching and Learning
    at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human
    Development. The session cochairs will provide a brief overview of today’s
    literacy landscape, mapping some of the challenges that prevent effective writing instruction in the classroom as well as potential avenues for growth and

    Writing as a powerful driver for reading comprehension

    Following is a keynote by Steve Graham, a leading expert on the educational psychology of writing. Graham, the Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, has dedicated more than 30 years to the study of writing. His research focuses on identifying the factors that contribute to writing development and difficulties, developing and validating effective instructional procedures for teaching writing, and the use of technology to enhance writing performance.

    Graham is a past editor for leading journals such as Exceptional Children and Contemporary Educational Psychology and the author and editor of several books, including Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students (Brookes), Handbook of Writing Research (Guilford Press), and Best Practices in Writing Instruction (Guilford Press). In recent years, he has been involved in the development and testing of digital tools for supporting writing and reading through a series of grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences and the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

    Graham will share his insights into the connection between reading and writing and discuss a series of studies that have examined four factors—writing strategies, skills, knowledge, and will—that play an important role in writing performance and development. His keynote will make a compelling case for emphasizing writing in the classroom and across content areas.

    Deep dive into topics of interest

    Following the research address, attendees will have the opportunity to unpack, critique, and expand on the points put forth by Graham. Participants can choose to attend any of the 14 group discussions, facilitated by table leaders who are experts in specific aspects of writing.

    Each table leader will explore one contemporary topic on writing instruction. The leaders will approach all topics through a lens of equity with the goal of improving outcomes for all students.

    Following is the full list of table experts and topics:

    • "Emergent Writing Instruction," Sharon O'Neal, professor, Texas State University
    • “Elementary Writing Instruction,” Brian Kissel, professor of the practice of literacy, Vanderbilt University
    • “Middle & Secondary Writing Instruction,” Kristen Campbell Wilcox, associate professor, SUNY Albany
    • “Scaffolding for ELs,” Danling Fu, professor, University of
    • “Preparing Writers for the Workplace,” T. DeVere Wolsey, professor, The American
      University in Cairo
    • “Self-Regulation,” Karen Harris, professor, Vanderbilt University
    • “Spelling While Writing,” Malatesha Joshi, professor, Texas A&M University
    • “Motivating Writers,” Zoi Philippakos, assistant professor, University of Tennessee
    • “Writing Assessment,” Margarita Gomez Zisselsberger, assistant professor, Loyola
    • “Technology: No Replacement for the Teacher,” Kay Wijekumar, professor, Texas A&M University
    • “Digital Writing,” Troy Hicks, professor, Central Michigan University
    • “Preparing Culturally Responsive Writing Teachers,” Marva Solomon, associate
      professor, Angelo State University
    • “Writing and Reading Connections Across the Disciplines,” Jennifer Serravallo,
      teacher, author, and consultant, New York City
    • “Inclusive Writing Instruction,” Sharlene Kiuhara, assistant professor, Utah University
    Tangible takeaways

    Kirkland, an ILA 2019 featured speaker who also serves as executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, will provide the closing keynote.

    A leading national scholar and advocate for educational justice, his transdisciplinary scholarship explores intersections among race, gender, and education, focusing on the relationship between literacy and incarceration.

    Kirkland’s presentation, “Gaining and Sharing Knowledge: Reading and Writing Joined Forever,” will outline key takeaways from the event as well as next steps educators can take to help students cultivate strong reading and writing skills in the 21st-century classroom. Participants will leave with easy-to-implement strategies and methods, grounded in culturally sustaining pedagogy, that promote academic achievement.

    For more information about the Research Address, as well as a list of other featured research sessions at ILA 2019, visit

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    The Research Address at ILA 2019 will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, 3:00 PM–4:30 PM. For more information, visit
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    Creating a Culture of Literacy at ILA 2019

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 14, 2019
    ila2019_themeSchools that prioritize literacy as a central mission of the school have greater retention, more proficient readers, and higher levels of overall academic achievement. But what does that mission look like in practice, and how can we get there?

    As we count down to the International Literacy Association 2019 Conference with its theme of Creating a Culture of Literacy, we asked our Twitter community, “What is something often overlooked when working to create a culture of literacy in learning environments?” Their responses remind us that there’s no one-size-fits-all blueprint; the exact formula is unique to each school and classroom. 

    “Authenticity. Don’t get so caught up in teaching lessons that you lose sight of teaching kids through responsive teaching within a cohesive literacy environment.”
    —Kristen Babovec, educational consultant, Texas

    “When creating a culture of literacy, don't overlook local knowledge and traditions. These can be marginalized in the haste to conform to mainstream norms. Be sure to adopt a broad definition of literacy to promote inclusion.”
    —Salika A. Lawrence, associate professor of literacy and teacher education, New York

    “Educators are so caught up in teaching the skills and strategies of reading education, not to mention TDA’s, that we neglect to discuss the deeper concepts and themes within the text. Ask, ‘What are we reading?’ and ‘Why are we reading it?’ Bring back collaborative conversations.”
    —Kimberly Kennedy, gifted support (fifth grade), Pennsylvania 

    “My colleagues and I have found that people often think of literacy culture as a classroom, but the best literacy culture is schoolwide and community-wide. It involves everyone: teachers, crossing guards, administrative assistants, ELA and non-ELA staff, bus drivers...EVERYONE!”
    —Kenneth Kunz, K–12 supervisor and ILA Board member, New Jersey

    “Student culture.”
    —Aleshea Jenkins, teacher, literacy specialist, instructional coach, Missouri

    “Involving parents in that learning environment/learning culture beyond using ‘reading logs.’ More work needs to be done so that parents know what is expected, and so that they may contribute.”
    —Kristopher Childs, national mathematics content specialist, Florida

    “Community perspective towards literacy.”
    —Federico Brull, Mexico

    “Something that is often missed on our rush to address gaps in literacy is explaining to students what literacy is for and that one of its most overlooked purposes is enjoyment. We must show and practice with our students the sheer fun of reading by offering choice, knowing what is available for students and helping them access it by building their own libraries, having library cards, access to audio books and a teacher modelling a love of reading on a daily basis from K–12 and across all subject areas.”
    —Dia Macbeth, assistant principal, Canada

    “A community of stakeholders who actually read for pleasure and enjoy reading. No one has all of this mysterious time to read, but we who value reading get it done. Besides the modeling aspect, enthusiasm for reading comes from adults who are actually enthusiastic readers.”
    —Shalonda Archibald, ELA Response to Intervention teacher and literacy coach, New Jersey

    “I think we often overlook how important pre-K literacy is and its capacity (if done right and effectively) to create a culture of eager readers and writers ready at kindergarten and beyond. Pre-K should be every child's right and not just for those who can afford it.
    —Oluwaseun “Seun” Aina, founder of Magical Books, Nigeria

    How do you work to create a culture of literacy in your workplace? Do any of these statements resonate with you? Join the conversation on Twitter.

    Alina O’Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.
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