More than 200 Naperville-area teachers gathered at North Central College June 18-22 to learn from some of the nation’s leading experts on literacy education.
The College partnered with Naperville Community Unit School District 203 to present the weeklong symposium, which provided teachers the opportunity to learn about the latest trends and best practices for teaching reading and writing to children in grades kindergarten through high school.
The sessions featured five leaders in literacy education who present at workshops and conferences nationwide. Most of the presenters also are classroom teachers and have authored books on teaching literacy. The stellar lineup of presenters featured Patrick Allen, Mayra Daniel, Kelly Gallagher, Maria Nichols and Katie Wood Ray.
“When we began planning this more than two years ago, we booked Katie Wood Ray as our anchor and built around that,” said Kathy Klees, assistant principal at Naperville’s Prairie Elementary School and former District 203 assistant superintendent for curriculum and staff development. “The dream was to offer excellent literacy development to teachers at no charge.”
Fees for all sessions totaled $800, but attendance was free to North Central College graduate students, alumni and faculty and to all District 203 teachers and staff. In addition to support from the College and Naperville school district, fee waivers to the North Central College/District 203 Literacy Conference were made possible through grants from the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Fund for Literacy and funds honoring Lora Tyson, a North Central College education faculty member who died in 2008, and Laura Peterson, a District 203 teacher and principal who died in 2009.
Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville died in 1983 at age 10. Her sister, Christine Roy, is a fourth-grade teacher at District 203’s River Woods Elementary School.
“Ever since the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Fund for Literacy was established, it’s been the hope of Jeanine’s parents and her sisters Christine and Kathy to offer an event like this that would make professional development available to every teacher in the area,” Klees said.
The five-day conference demonstrated how highly the College and District 203 value the importance of literacy education.
“We’re thrilled to partner with North Central College,” said Sarah Malik, a 2002 North Central graduate who manages District 203’s literacy project while serving as a reading specialist and language arts department coordinator at Lincoln Junior High School. “I had Dr. Tyson as a teacher, so that makes this extra special.”
Many of the more than 200 teachers who attended sessions represented not only language arts instruction but areas as diverse as music and physical education.
“The push now in education is to stress that everyone is a teacher of reading and writing,” said Maureen Kincaid, associate professor of education and chair of the College’s Department of Education. “More and more teachers are realizing the importance of literacy education.”
While the conference was a first for the area, organizers hope to secure funding for similar events in the future. Presenters contributed to the cause by donating a portion of the book sales during the week to the memorial funds that supported the conference.
The presenters’ sessions offered valuable insight into how teachers can better engage children in reading and writing. Gallagher’s presentation included advice on how instructors can help young writers better edit and revise their work, while Allen shared his experience on the importance of conferring with young readers individually on a regular basis.
“During reading conferences they think we’re there to catch them doing something wrong when really the purpose is to show we’re there for them and listening to them,” Allen said.
Wood Ray presented separate sessions that targeted primary and intermediate readers. Her presentations touched on such topics as the value of having children in younger grades read aloud.
“It’s important for me as a teacher of writing to pay attention to the way the sound of the writing is crafted,” she told an audience. “Communicating sentence structure as a craft links to kids knowing good writing. Kids have to hear it in order to know what good writing is supposed to sound like.”
Educators who attended said they found the sessions very valuable.
“I was very excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the literacy symposium,” said LeAnn Gonzalez, an interventionist at Hill Middle School in Indian Prairie School District 204 who earned an undergraduate degree from North Central in 1989 and a master’s degree in 1998. “I'm so glad that it was available to alumni. This was a perfect opportunity to update my professional development and become current on the latest in education.”
North Central College offers an undergraduate degree in elementary education, with opportunities to earn minors in reading, English language learning and health education. The secondary education minor is designed to be paired with majors in art, biology, chemistry, English, French, German, mathematics, music, physical education, physics, social science/history or Spanish. The College offers a master of arts degree in education, with emphasis in curriculum and instruction or educational leadership and administration. Master of arts in education is among seven graduate degrees offered at North Central College.