VCR Spring Conference, April 12, 2019

Join us for a day of lively professional learning with authors and literacy experts Donnalyn Miller & Kate Messner!

Donnalynn Miller
Donnalyn Miller has taught upper elementary and middle school students in northeast Texas and received TCTELA’s 2018 Edmund J. Farrell Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to literacy education. She is the author of several books about engaging children with reading, including The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. Donalyn is the co-founder of the popular blog, The Nerdy Book Club, and co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat #titletalk.
Kate Messner
Kate Messner is passionately curious and writes books that encourage kids to wonder, too. Her titles include award-winning picture books like Over and Under the Pond, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Over and Under the Pond, The Brilliant Deep, and How to Read a Story; novels that tackle real-world issues like Breakout, All the Answers, and The Seventh Wish; mysteries and thrillers like Capture the Flag, Eye of the Storm, and Wake Up Missing; the Fergus and Zeke easy reader series; and the popular Ranger in Time chapter book series about a time-traveling search and rescue dog.

Vermont Council on Reading

2019 Spring Conference

Donalyn Miller & Kate Messner

Friday, April 12, 2019

Stoweflake Resort and Conference Center

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Lester Laminack: VCR Spring 2018 Conference!!

Lester reading

When Books Become Best Friends: One Book/Many Visits

Explore the potential of revisiting a small collection of carefully selected books through focused read aloud experiences across time. Imagine slowing down to explore a small set of books in layers, one layer at a time with a clear focus for each read aloud experience. Lester will take you through the potential of a few picture books to demonstrate what can be done with numerous well-loved Best Friend Books because he understands that to be a good writer you must first be able to read deeply and understand author’s intent. Lester Laminack will show you that the key to successful writing is harnessing the power of close reading. You will learn how your students can transfer what they know about reading structures and strategies into practices that will
hone their writing skills and help them become more focused writers

Join us:

Vermont Council on Reading Spring Conference
Stoweflake Inn and Conference Center, Stowe, VT with Lester Laminack
May 11, 2018

LESTER L. LAMINACK is a specialist in children’s literacy and professor emeritus at Western Carolina University. Laminack has written numerous books and articles for educators and is a familiar speaker at professional meetings and reading associations nationwide. He lives in North Carolina.


Chris Lehman in VT! April 7, 2017!

Save the Date!  

Vermont Council on Reading Spring Conference

Chris Lehman is coming to Vermont on Friday, April 7, 2017

Sheraton Burlington Hotel and Conference Center


Christopher Lehman is the Founding Director of The Educator Collaborative. He is an international speaker, education consultant, and New York Times best-selling author. His books include: Falling In Love With Close Reading with Kate Roberts; Energize Research Reading and Writing; Pathways to the Common Core with Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth; and A Quick Guide to Reviving Disengaged Writers. His articles and interviews have appeared in many publications and popular blogs including Voices in the Middle, SmartBrief, EdWeek, Choice Literacy and Talks with Teachers.

Chris has been a middle-school teacher; a high-school teacher; a literacy coach; and a Senior Staff Developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Now, as Founding Director of the The Educator Collaborative, he is working to innovate the ways educators learn in-person and online, providing opportunities for teachers, coaches, and administrators to share their expertise so students can hold their brightest futures.


BOOK REVIEW: Writers ARE Readers

Writers ARE Readers-

Flipping Reading Instruction into Writing Opportunities

By Lester L. Laminack and Reba M. Wadsworth Portsmouth, NH/Heinemann 2015

Laminack and Wadsworth help us to understand that “When reading and writing instruction are planned separately, each without regard for the other, the resulting instruction fails to weave clear connections between these related language processes.” Rather, the authors argue, “We pursue the notion of helping students to recognize reading and writing as mutually supportive processes to make their developing literacy more meaningful and efficient.”

Laminack and Wadsworth offer us a workable, accessible book with sections addressing such topics as: Problem and Solution, Inferring, Noticing Important Details, as a few examples. Each section includes: Lesson Focus, Flip-It From Reading to Writing and Writing Samples. This book offers practical advice from authors who lead by example with beautiful and concise writing.


Professional Books and Resources from Jennifer Serravallo

Note—these reviews are excerpted from Jennifer Serravallo’s rich website of book descriptions –Please see links for more details about her publications, great articles,books reviews, and podcasts, and her contact information.

The Reading Strategies Book

Here it is—a book JUST about reading strategies themselves. The strategies outlined in this book will complement any reading program and are presented in usable steps for hands-on teaching in the classroom. Serravallo cross-links each strategy to different genres, skills, Fountas and Pinnell reading levels and assessments.  This user friendly guide helps teachers to develop goals for each reader and models step-by-step instructions and prompts aligned to specific literacy strategies and craft demonstrations.

The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook (Grades K-2 or Grades 3-6)

This text guides teachers in the process of how to collect literacy data that is useful and how to analyze and synthesize multiple assessments to develop instructional plans and learning goals. The book includes actual samples of student work and models the process of how it was analyzed to make specific instructional decisions.

Independent Reading Assessment

Independent Reading Assessment is a complete comprehension assessment guide that includes hundreds of lessons to turn formative assessment results into instruction. The guides are available in both fiction and nonfiction versions for grades three, four, and five and are packaged with 32-26 trade books with specific questions on sticky notes to guide student -driven assessment.  Online support for teachers includes instructional videos and a place to organize anecdotal notes, store and organize results, and sort students for specific strategy instruction.

Conferring with Readers

Conferring with Readers is a comprehensive guide that provides frameworks for conferences that focus on six purposes for reading and provides suggestions for targeting instruction to meet individual student needs.


Other resources:

Jennifer’s online PD resources are located at

Videos of Jennifer are located at


Kathy Leo-Nyquist


Lida Winfield: Growing Up Dyslexic

by Stacy Raphael (@raphaelstacy)


I remember so clearly the first time I met Lida Winfield in November 2011. This was before I directed school programs at the Flynn, and I had been invited to be a guest at their Engaging Active Learners Conference—a day long immersion into arts integration with Vermont educators and Flynn teaching artists. Lida was one of those artists, but that morning, she was also the keynote. And this was no ordinary keynote speech; Lida was presenting her one-woman solo dance and theater performance, “In Search of Air” based on her experiences growing up in Vermont with a learning disability.


In one brief hour, the audience and I experienced the entire range of emotions—poignant heartache, laughter, concern, rage, compassion, and redemptive joy. We experienced it first as fellow humans, together in this journey but second as educators—as people committed to helping children learn and grow and develop. Lida’s painful experiences as a learner with dyslexia and the cast of characters who alternately helped and hindered her growth were all too personal for us. This was our field, our love. Her pain was our own students’ pain.


I practically sprinted to Lida after her performance. This show. It has the power to be a call to action for educators, a reminder of why we got into this field to begin with. I told Lida that I had a number of audiences that I’d like to put her in front of. And that’s exactly what I proceeded to do.


After presenting Lida to the education cohort in my graduate program and then again in the Vermont State House for legislators and other statewide organizations and subsequently when I came to work at the Flynn, I strove to share her performance with as many audiences as I was able. And although I have seen it more times that I can count, it gets me every time.


You see, one of the most potent elements of the arts is their power to convert data and information into a palpable human story. By engaging the heart and the mind, we are transported to seeing our universal oneness, our belongingness beyond the categories that separate us. As stated on her website, “Lida’s presence on stage expresses her life so clearly that it brings us closer to our own.”


It also paints such a vivid picture justifying the arts and their place in the academic curriculum through arts integration. During the Q&A session following each performance, people often ask Lida what would have made a difference in her education. In the show, Lida says, “this is the story of the transformative power of art,” and she re-asserts this in her response: if teachers had utilized curricular approaches to teaching reading, writing, and more such as those used in the Flynn Center’s Words Come Alive program, she could have had an avenue to access literacy. If teaching had been differentiated to include kinesthetic and embodied approaches to reading, she might have learned this skill before she was in her 20s.


Lida’s work has inspired me. It has challenged me to push further and design at the margins. When we plant ourselves resolutely at the edges and teach to each child’s strengths, the floodgates of opportunity open for all students. Celebrating difference, creating multiple pathways for students to experience success in schools, unlocking potential—it’s a monumental effort, but worth the stretch, the risk, the growth for those in the teaching profession.


When people experience “In Search of Air,” they are changed. I am changed. And I am grateful.


Learn more about Lida’s performance and how you can bring it to your school or district for a teacher in-service or student performance and workshops by visiting

Videos of Lida:


Book Review: Stella by Starlight

by Carol Renca

    Inspired by her grandmother’s memoirs and dedicated to her beloved father, writer Sharon Draper’s latest novel, Stella by Starlight, is a powerful story for early middle school youth. Set in Bumblebee, North Carolina 1932, amid a segregated community filled with prejudice and indifference, eleven year old Stella Mills begins to discover the courage emerging from her inner heart.  The novel opens with a gripping scene as Stella and her brother Jojo hide while watching flames in the dark night sky. Nine robed Ku Klux Klan members have gathered for a cross burning near their close knit community. Stella and Jojo are terrified of being discovered. Her father and others in their neighborhood have been emboldened to vote in the next presidential election and there are those in town who are planning to stop it. Stella knows that this meeting of the KKK means trouble for her family and friends and she must warn them.

    This engaging first chapter will draw middle school readers into the story right away. As Stella tries to understand the prejudicial “unwritten rules” and dangers of living in a racially divided South, she is also determined to rescue those she loves from harm. Throughout the novel, Stella struggles with and uses the art of writing as a means of unraveling her inner thoughts. Just as author Sharon Draper and her grandmother have crafted stories to reveal truths, Stella dares to write about the intimidation symbol of KKK for a local writing competition. She cleverly titled her piece Slaying Dragons, and boldly submitted it.

    Stella by Starlight is a story that informs youth about extreme prejudice and the violent practices against African-Americans historically in the United States. It provides cultural awareness and a context for many of the racial challenges that we face today and can be a great book for discussion. Additionally, it is a story that speaks directly to youth with universal themes of hope, resolve and compassion and can provide a sense of empowerment in an adult world.


  • Carole Renca, Edmunds Middle School Teacher-Librarian, Burlington, Vermont



Words Come Alive: Reading Comprehension Through Joyful Engagement By Stacy Raphael

porters_point_dan_shepherd“If we study earthworms, we will do well to feel ourselves slither and push, tentatively explore a direction looking for softer passages through the soil, contracting and expanding our rippling muscles in the direction of scents, moisture, grubs. That is, as we learn about the anatomy of an earthworm we have to feel our own way into that anatomy, to feel how the world would feel and taste and smell with that anatomy… It sounds romantic; it is romantic. But without the sense of romance that vivid images can convey, the content remains dull, dry, and meaningless.” – Kieren Egan, Imagination in Teaching and Learning (1992)


In 2001, the principal at J.J. Flynn School in Burlington’s New North End approached the Flynn Center to propose that we find a meaningful way to partner together. After all, she said smiling, both the school and the arts organization shared the same namesake. Until this meeting, the Flynn Center had predominantly been focusing its school programs on providing in-school student workshops to connect to our matinee series to exend and enrich the students’ experience with the professional performances that came to our venue. We jumped at the opportunity to form a collaboration and asked what need was most pressing for the school to address. The answer was reading comprehension.

The National Reading Panel (2000) had just released their landmark report, “Teaching Children to Read,” which identified five essential components of reading instruction: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. The Flynn took the findings and recommendations of the report and aligned specific performing arts strategies that addressed vocabulary and reading comprehension in particular and Words Come Alive was born.

The marriage was a natural one between performing arts and reading comprehension. After all, reading is active. Reading is thinking guided by print to construct—not just derive—meaning. In his article, “College Readiness: Reading Critically” Ben Johnson writes, “Reading has to be synonymous to thinking. How can you have the one without the other? Reading is an active learning method, as opposed to listening, which is passive. In order to read, students must be physically engaged—eye movement tracking words, turning the page (clicking the mouse, or flicking the page)—mental decoding of symbols to sounds to meaning, carrying a storyline or topic flow in short term memory, and arriving at understanding through assimilation of mental images produce by reading the words.”

But many students struggle making the leap from decoding to comprehension, as they have a purely technical interaction with the text through a process of decoding the symbols without the metacognitive functions that help to connect vivid imagery to the words they read. In Marilyn Jager Adams’ Model of Skilled Reading, we see the beginning reader faced with the task of connecting the phonological processor with the orthographic processor so that the connection between spoken and printed words is made explicit. It is only then that students can access semantic information or meaning derived from text. When the orthographic, phonological and context processors all work together with the semantic processor and their individual connections to one another are strong, comprehension is finally within students’ reach. Embodied and active engagement with a story or concept from a classroom reading through theater or dance is exactly the type of activity that can fire all processors to work together, often unlocking a door to a text that the student had previously been unable to enter.

Laura Botte, a teacher in the Words Come Alive program describes it this way, “Once you have been the transfer of momentum, you understand the transfer of momentum. I mean, they’ve been the bowling ball, they’ve knocked the cues over—I think for physics especially Words Come Alive has been very helpful. And sometimes in the ecology unit, the words get dense, the vocabulary gets dense—there’s a lot of it. But I have a feeling that you could ask any kid in that class right now what any of that vocaculary meant and they could give you a very thorough understanding of it as opposed to just memorizing it from the book for a test. They know it, they don’t just… know it.”

This model of “learning by doing” is experienced in each phase of the Words Come Alive process, as teacher professional development takes on a hands-on approach and teaching artists and teachers co-create and explore units of curriculum through an interdisciplinary lens, with teachers testing out new ideas in their classes with the feedback and support of their artist partner. Debby King, Director of Curriculum in Milton Town School District, notes that teachers in this program are given the opportunity to develop and refine their own creative impulses, which in turn get brought into their classrooms.

Furthermore, there is a high level of flexibility in the model. Teachers may bring any content or curricular unit to the partnership to undergo a thorough review and examination of ways in which aesthetic elements from either theater or dance could be integrated into the subject matter at hand. Fifteen years and thousands of classroom workshops have likewise yielded a long list of possible topics that have been successfully explored in schools to introduce teachers to the elements of theater and dance and lead them to experience how movement and drama techniques can strengthen comprehension and deepen engagement.

The teacher workshops are a critical component of the work in changing the way a teacher approaches teaching in the classroom, but the in-class component reinforces and supports this learning. After planning sessions take place between the Flynn teaching artist and the teacher, the unit(s) planned are implemented in a co-teaching environment.

Early on in the partnership, the teaching artist models the arts integrated elements of the content for the teacher and her students. Built into this is time for the two to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work after each lesson is completed. As the partnership develops and the teacher gains more confidence, the responsibility for implementing the integrated curriculum shifts subtly, scaffolding the teacher’s role toward complete ownership. This is a model of praxis with an intentional focus on connecting learning with action, reflection, and transformation.

What is wonderful to see is that the transformation occurs concurrently with both the teacher and her students. In placing the teacher in the role of learner, the classroom becomes a dynamic center for experimentation, risk and—above all—play. By actively engaging students, they become ecosystems, they embody poems, and they take empathetic stances toward characters that they portray in stories that they encounter in their literacy instruction.

Always, the Flynn’s focus is on supporting and encouraging teachers to provide their students with opportunities to experience the content they are teaching in personal, embodied ways. John Dewey’s vision of art as experience is the primary frame for this model and focuses on helping teachers and students alike internalize artistic processes as a way to access understanding and create meaning relevant to the unique perspective of each individual.

References and Resources/Links

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000).  Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.



Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about PrintCambridge, MAThe MIT Press.


Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Penguin Books.


Ben Johnson Blog:


Words Come Alive Site:

Stacy Raphael is the Associate Director for School Programs at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts