Rocking on with Eric Litwin at the Young Years Conference in Missouri by Dr. Sam Bommarito
The recent Young Years Conference in Missouri was an amazing experience for me. I got to speak at the conference, but more importantly, I got to hear Eric Litwin “speak” as the afternoon keynote on Friday. A little background. I first met Eric at an all-day workshop that he did at the Tan-Tar-A Conference Center several years back. So, meeting him again at the Tan-Tar-A conference center this year brought things to a full circle. In the years since we first met, we have become good friends. It has been amazing to share ideas about literacy with him, especially early literacy. He is, after all, a world-renowned figure. His songs have brought joy to many children worldwide, and his materials have been a source of good teaching for many teachers- myself included. Let’s talk about what he did at the conference.
What he did was AMAZING. For most of the hour I spent at his session, he read from some of his many books. He was also doing songs from those same books. Early on, I got the feeling I was at a rock concert. His audience (over 1,200 early childhood teachers) were engaged from the outset. He quickly taught them “the moves.” If you’ve ever seen Eric perform, you just don’t read from an Eric Litwin book without using the moves. He also seamlessly got us all to read like storytellers.
“Did Pete cry? – oh no! He just kept moving along and singing his song.”
When I began this essay, I put the word “speak” in parathesis as I talked about his keynote because he did much more than just speak. He got audience members to come up and take part in reading each of the books he did. They also came up in groups and used the “moves” that Eric created for each book. All in all, as a rock concert, I would have to give this performance the very highest of ratings. The room was filled with electricity from start to finish. However, this was more than just a performance by an incredibly talented singer/songwriter. It was also a teacher doing a masterful job of teaching teachers how to teach.
Consider this. Eric built the whole performance around the acronym HELPFUL. Let’s look at the following slide.
Eric believes literacy instruction can be optimized by immersing children in all the elements of HELPFUL. During his presentation, he used several of his most popular books/songs to show the teachers how they could optimize instruction. So, as the teachers joined in the performance, they were also learning some important lessons. They learned how to make every minute count. Learning “the moves” leads directly to immersion and engagement. As I said, masterful teaching.
They learned about the causes of many of our reading problems. He took the time to share some statistics about the root causes of those problems:
They learned about Classroom Call Outs:
And they learned the most important lesson of all:
As a teacher, I was impressed with the way Eric masterfully wove the reading/singing of his book in a way that showed teachers how to create an immersive reading environment.
Besides children’s books, Eric has also authored a professional development book. The book is entitled The Power of Joyful Reading. Eric talked briefly about his professional development book. It is a book for both teachers and parents. In the book, he and his co-author, Dr. Gina Pepin, make a compelling, research-based case for parents and teachers to encourage students to want to read. He and Dr. Pepin talk about how we can use immersion and play throughout the day to help children raise test scores and become lifelong readers. I did a separate interview with Eric, where he talked about this book. LINK. So, in addition to all the other hats he wears, Eric is also a teacher/researcher.
BTW- The interview I just linked to helped to introduce the Book Club event that the Missouri Literacy Association held in July of 2021, where we talked about The Power of Joyful Reading. Another interesting tie to Missouri is that at the time Eric wrote the book, the pandemic precluded his taking photos of kids taking part in literacy activities for inclusion in the book. MLA arranged for Julius Anthony, president of the St. Louis Black Author’s Association, to provide Eric with many of the student photos they already had on file. Eric included many of those photos in the book. So that book holds a very special place in the hearts of folks from Missouri. The book is well-done and is informed by research. Teachers from Missouri and elsewhere have found it to be very helpful in guiding their creation of optimized literacy instruction for our youngest readers. I highly recommend that you add it to your school’s professional library if you haven’t already.
It is an understatement to say that my overall experience at the Young Years Conference in Missouri was positive. I watched a teacher of teachers and a masterful performer help teachers take their reading instruction to a whole new level. And all the time, we were having fun. Gives a whole new perspective to the term Joyful Reading. A very special thanks to Eric for permitting me to write about his presentation and to use some of his copyrighted slides. Like everyone else, I left the conference feeling recharged and ready to teach. So, I’ll leave you with a final thought from one of his most famous books:
“Keep walking and singing your song…
because it’s all good!”
Here are links to some of Eric’s Books.
The Power of Joyful Reading: LINK
Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes: LINK
The Poop Song: LINK
You’ll also want to visit Eric’s website. There are free downloads, links to videos of him singing some of his favorite songs, links that show some of the moves you can use while reading his books and links to buy one of his many books.
As my regular readers know, I’ve done several presentations at conferences around the country in the past couple of months. They all addressed my quest to find common ground in the reading wars. Next week, I’ll be a speaker at a virtual conference being held in Maryland. Next week’s presentation and blog will be cumulative, hitting on all the ideas I’ve discussed lately. Here is a link to the SoMLA conference Cultivating Literacy Through Multiple Lenses. LINK. It runs for three days, from March 28th to April 1st. I speak on April 1st. The conference is virtual and is open to all interested educators. Members of State of Maryland’s Literacy Association get reduced rates for the conference.
In addition, here is a link to the Missouri Dept of Education site LINK. Be sure to check in with them from time to time because they are already planning for the 51st Young Years Conference.
So. until next week:
Happy Reading and Writing.
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)
Copyright 2023 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely this author’s view and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
Memories from the conference- Eric speaking and Eric taking my wife and I to dinner after the conference. Such an incredible weekend!