About St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA

a professional organization of educators and individuals actively engaged
in the development of literacy throughout the Greater St. Louis Area.

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Membership Update: September 2013


Membership News for St. Louis Suburban IRA

 Jody Rozbicki, Membership Co-Chair

 Marji Schneider, Membership Co-chair

St. Louis Suburban Council of International Reading Association is a true professional learning community with 267 members in 2012-2013.  We are off to a great start this year with 32 members, even before mailing out our first newsletter of the year.   Congratulations to each of you who rushed to send your renewal membership forms this summer, recognizing the benefits of our collegial and professional organization. Diane Sanderson, representative from Triumph Learning, was the first member to renew her membership.

 The Executive Board decided to open the 2013-2014 St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA year with the October 5th, Literacy Conference at Harris Stowe University, followed by a Council reception. We hope you are able to attend the conference, which our Council is co-sponsoring with Harris Stowe University and eight additional co-sponsors. We will enjoy the company of fellow members at our reception and toast an event that is expected to be one of our Council’s best.  Registration information for the October 5th Conference and the reception are in the newsletter and on the website.  Membership forms may be sent with the conference registration forms.

Reading Poster Contest: 2013-2014



Kathleen McDonnell


The St. Louis Suburban IRA will sponsor a reading poster contest again this year. Please encourage your students to participate. The final judging will take place during our February 6, 2014 general meeting. All members will be asked to participate in the judging. The winners in the four categories will be sent to the MSC/IRA meeting to be judged. This year the MSC/IRA judging did not take place.  Here is the website for further information:


The theme for this year is: “Reading and Technology.”  I hope to return the winning posters from last year at the next general meeting.  Our first general council meeting will be held in coordination with the conference at Harris Stowe State University on Saturday, October 5, 2013. The rules for the St. Louis Suburban IRA Poster Contest will be available immediately after the conference. If you are not able to attend the conference, look for information on the St.Louis Suburban IRA website. The information can also be obtained on the MSC/IRA website.

A Tale of Effective Literacy Partnerships, September 2013


Write to Read: A Tale of Effective Literacy Partnerships

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Assistant Adjunct Professor- UMSL

Reading Specialist- SLPS

When I embarked on my newest career move two years ago to become a reading specialist and an adjunct reading professor I had no idea the good fortune that would await me in the form of effective literacy partnerships.  I will share some highlights from those partnerships, and hope that they will provide you with examples of effective literacy practices to consider as you begin the 2013-14 school year.

The first of the partnerships came from StudioSTL; Beth Ketcher is the founder and director.  This summer Beth provided a site for my UMSL practicum students to learn about differentiation.  The location was the Clay elementary school in the city.  The students were urban high school sophomores enrolled in a summer program for Kingdom House.  The StudioSTL piece was part of the larger Kingdom house summer project.  The students created their own newspaper over a six-week period.  The project used a workshop model.  Beth’s staff provided mini- lessons, while my practicum students provided writing conferences.  The newspaper motif allowed for a natural differentiation.  Some students wrote about sports, some about entertainment, some did hard news and political commentary.   Most of the students had little or no experience with newspapers. We brought in copies of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  They learned what was going on in their area of interest.  They also searched the Internet.  A Post reporter came to talk to them about writing, she was inspired enough by what she saw, to do a feature story on the project. Some of their articles appeared on the link to that story. Beth printed 1000 copies of the newspaper they created.  At the Kingdom House summer graduation those became hot commodities for both students and their parents.  My practicum students got the autographs of the students they supported in the writing process, the autographs going right next to each student’s story.  This project was classic workshop teaching.  An authentic writing task, immersion in genre (the newspapers), teaching through mini lessons, teaching through conferencing, bringing the writers through all the steps in the writing process and finally a celebration that included both students and parents.  For more ideas about workshop teaching and a link to the Post Dispatch story, see the resources/ annotated bibliography section at the end of the on line version of this article.

Another partnership is based on a project carried out by Susan Grigsby, a local author who has published several books.  My building, Mason Elementary, has a large ESL population. She came to the 5th grade classroom in my building once a week for the full school year. She worked with all the students, but the nature of her work was designed to especially support our ESL students.   Her work was underwritten by Interchange, a branch of COCA (Center of Contemporary Arts).   The project was inspired by the program Poetry Inside Out (or PIO) from the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. Like that project, Susan had our students translate poems from their native language into English.  Interpretive translation requires more than just taking words and providing their literal meaning.  It also involves interpreting the words in their context and finding words in English that best convey the author’s intended meaning for the words.  Susan used materials from the Center for Art of Translation to help the class carry out both the literal and interpretive translations.  Like the Center’s work, our students translated selected poems from their native language into English. Unlike the Center, Susan had our students write poems in English rather than their native language. The project was a complete success.  One of our students even won an award at the River of Words contest, an international poetry contest. She flew to San Francisco to collect her award.  This year our building was one of the St. Louis Public schools to make full accreditation.  Our language arts scores in 5th grade were the best in the building.  It seems likely that this project had an influence on both those results.

Interchange also supported our building with a project that was done with our primary level ESL students.  Rudy Zapf, an artist employed by Interchange, worked with Jennifer Fandel, a writer from Interchange, to do a project focused on the arts.  First our students were asked to imagine their own flower.  Rudy supported each student as they turned their imaginings into an actual drawing.  I’ve watched Rudy at work and she is quite gifted in getting ordinary folks (myself included) to draw in extraordinary ways.  When the drawings were completed the students then wrote about their flowers using poetry and other writing genres.  Interchange arranged for members of two different garden clubs from Ladue to look over our students’ work.  Those members took each student’s drawing and made an actual floral display inspired by those drawings.  Interchange then arranged a celebration at COCA’s headquarters in University City.  The artwork was professionally mounted.  The writing appeared next to the artwork.  The floral arrangements were placed on pedestals next to their corresponding drawings to complete the display.  The students came to COCA and met with the garden club members who created their particular display.  It was an amazing moment.  Speaking to one of the members, one student said “You brought my flower to life”.

The common thread of all these projects is solid constructivist based teaching.  The literacy tasks were authentic and geared to the child’s interest.  Care was taken to go through all the steps of workshop, including whole group work, mini lessons, conferencing, sharing and celebration.  Thanks to our partners we were able to do those things in a way that really helped our teaching.  As you begin your school year I hope you will consider using workshop methods and will find authentic literacy tasks for your students.  To help you in that endeavor an annotated bibliography and websites page can be found in the on line version of this article.


COCA (Center of Contemporary Arts) http://www.cocastl.org/

Studio STL: Write and Shine   http://studiostl.org/

Center for the Art of Translation: Poetry Inside Out   http://www.catranslation.org/poetry-inside-out

Post Dispatch Article


 Annotated Bibliography

Anderson, C. (2000). How’s it going: A practical guide to conferring with student

            writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.

This is the mentor text for all teachers on how to carry conferences in reading/writing workshop.  It delineates kinds of conferences and how to carry them out.

 Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, L. (2001). The art of teaching reading.New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc.

These two books taken together form an excellent resource on how to carry out workshop teaching.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1996a). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children.

                  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1996b). Matching books to readers: Using leveled books in

                  guided reading, K-3. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1999). Word Matters: Teaching phonics and spelling in the

                  reading/writing classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2002). Phonics lessons: Letters, words and how they work

These books taken together provide an excellent set of resources for teachers wishing to carry out a Guided Reading Program in conjunction with an interactive writing program.

Pearson, P. (1985). Changing the face of reading comprehension instruction. The Reading

          Teacher, 38 (2), 724-738.

This is a landmark piece in the history of the teaching of reading.  In it Pearson outlines the principle of gradual release, which is foundational to scaffolding.  He also proposes a strategic based approach to the teaching of reading, i.e. teaching students how to interact with text, and all the strategies one can employ to interact with text.



Literacy for All Conference October 5, 2013


2013 Literacy for All Conference

      Saturday, October 5, 2013

           Betty Porter Walls


Mark your calendars for the next “Literacy for All

Conference” at Harris-Stowe State University. All

conferees will attend the keynote addresses and have an

opportunity to select from a variety of breakout sessions.

From interactive technology to research-based

information for differentiated instruction, there are many

benefits of attending. For a full day of professional

development, breakfast and lunch, the cost is $25.00 per

person. The registration form can be found on page 7 of

this newsletter.

Results of 2013 St. Louis Suburban Poster Contest by Kathleen McDonnell



The St. Louis Suburban I.R. A. reading poster contest was held on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at Ladue Middle School. The judging took place from 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. Many posters were submitted again this year. The posters were of very high quality and judging was difficult. The committee members participating in planning, receiving, and hanging the posters were: Mary Eileen Rufkahr, Jill Laumann, Molly Bolton, Margy Schneider and Kathleen McDonnell.

The winners were announced at the end of the evening program. The following winning posters will be submitted to MSC/IRA for judging at the state level:

Kindergarten-2nd grade

  1st place – Emarie Birdsong –1st grade Northwest R-1 School, Brennan Woods Elementary

  2nd place – Michaela Kay-Lee O’Brien-1st grade, Northwest R-1, House Springs Elementary

  3rd place – Reagan Leigh Shelton – Kindergarten, Northwest R-1, House Springs Elementary

3rd – 5th grade:

  1st place- Katie Roberts – 5th grade, Northwest R-1, High Ridge, Brennan Woods Elementary

   2nd place–Marissa Liberman-3rd grade, Northwest R-1, High Ridge, Brennan Woods Elementary

   3rd place- Keeley Farmer – 4th grade, Northwest R-1, High Ridge, Brennan Woods Elementary

6th – 8th grade:

   1st place – Michael P. McDonnell – 6th grade, Affton, Rogers Middle School

    2nd place – Abby Lahr – 8th grade, Affton, Rogers Middle School

    3rd place – Malikahan Butaboeva – 8th grade Ladue, Ladue Middle School

Many thanks to all the members of St. Louis Suburban I.R.A. for your participation in the poster contest again this year. Congratulations to all the student participants and winners.

February 2013 Meeting Highlights


Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D.

The February general council meeting was a different spin on the regular meeting format. For this meeting, attendees were asked to bring their laptops, Smartphones, iPads, and other devices. After a short business meeting, attendees had the pleasure of hearing guest presenter, Don Goble, a teacher at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis and Broadcast
Technology, Film & Multimedia Instructor, and Co- Director of LHS-TV. Mr. Goble discussed the importance of media literacy. Attendees left with great ideas for instruction using digital literacies, ideas for apps, and different websites that focus on digital literacy.

Additionally, the annual poster contest was held. Attendees were able to vote on their favorite posters and winners were announced. Check out the poster contest article for the winners’ names. Several attendees also brought many books to donate to Habitat for Humanity.

Membership News for April 2013


Jody Rozbicki
Congratulations to all our members for their commitment to St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA. Your dedication and outreach to bring new members to our organization has resulted in a 2012-2013 membership of 269 as of March 1, 2013. This membership number includes 19 student members. Our council represents reading specialists, literacy coaches, classroom teachers, special educators, teachers of English Language Learners, gifted students, librarians, counselors, administrators, university faculty, individuals working with adult literacy programs, and representatives of publishers. Our members are professionals from St. Louis County school districts, St. Louis Public Schools, St. Louis Archdiocese, Independent & Charter schools, Special School District, and seven universities. St. Louis Suburban Council of International Reading Association is a true professional learning community with 269 members and 47 literacy teams.
One of the ways our Council brings in new memberships is through our newsletter and website. Deb Dickerson has been our St. Louis Suburban Council newsletter editor for 14 years (1999-2013). Deb’s dedication to excellence is seen through the recognition our Council has received from International Reading Association for our publication. The newsletter reaches 1200 members and nonmembers each time it is printed. It has become our major source of communication, along with the website. Thank you, Deb, for a decade and four years of outstanding work that you graciously gave to our council’s publication.
At the Spring Gala, Beth Knoedelseder will be installed as our new newsletter editor. Beth will be newsletter editor starting August 2013.
Our new membership year will begin August 2013. Membership forms for 2013-2014 are in the April newsletter and on the website. Membership dues are the same as 2011-2012 & 2012-2013. The April 2013 newsletter will be our last newsletter for this year. You will not receive another membership form by mail until August 2013 newsletters arrive at your door. Membership forms can be printed from the council‘s website, (www.STLSuburbanReading.org) or contact Jody Rozbicki. For the 2013-2014, membership drive, the council encourages all our St. Louis Council Literacy Teams to welcome student teachers by encouraging them to apply for membership with your literacy teams at the student rate. If you have questions or need to contact Jody Rozbicki about membership, please email at (jrozbicki@ladueschools.net) or phone (home 636-458- 0004) or (school 314-983-5520)

Highlights of the 2013 Write to Learn Conference


Betty Porter Walls, Ph.D.
Neither frigid temperatures nor picturesque frozen landscapes prevented several hundred educators from attending the Write-to-Learn Conference, February 27-March2, 2013, at Tan-Tan-A Resort in Osage Beach, MO… The theme for this year’s conference, “Challenging Conventions, Tweaking Traditions,” was addressed by an array of speakers –poets, songwriters, authors, screenwriters, teachers, consultants.  Topics included technology, Common Core State Standards, writing, interdisciplinary instruction, and creativity.  Publishers were present with their latest publications and vendors displayed instructional and personal wares. The St. Louis Suburban IRA was well represented by executive board members Sarah Valter and Betty Porter Walls, who conducted conference sessions.  In addition other board members Tom Cornell, Mitzi Brammer, and Mollie Bolton attended sessions and award ceremonies while board member Carla Nieman ‘manned’ an exhibit.
Keynote speakers included Emmy and Peabody Awards winner for The Simpsons, Mike Reiss; Matt de la Pena, whose novels Ball Don’t Lie and Mexican White Boy were named ALA-YALSA Best Books for Young Adults; Chris Tovani who authored I Read It, but I Don’t Get It and the videotape sets Thoughtful Reading and Comprehending Content; professional poets Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger; and others. These speakers and other featured speakers provided a plethora of sessions from which to select. In addition to a day and a half of breakout sessions, meal sessions, visits with vendors and autographing sessions, conferees had an opportunity to attend a full day pre-conference session focusing on a certain topic or an afternoon post-conference session. Our own Sarah Valter conducted a pre-conference session, “New Literacies for New Learning: Teaching Elementary Students to Become Thoughtful Readers and Writers in the 21st Century Classroom.”  Her session focused on incorporating technology into reading and writing workshops. “Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic: Traditions and Challenges for the 21stCentury Classroom” was the title of Betty Porter Walls’s session on integrating children’s literature and mathematics in a Common Core aligned classroom.  Many sessions had overflow audiences during the conference.
This year’s conference was sponsored by Educational Solutions International in cooperation with the Missouri Association of Teachers of English, the Missouri Writing Projects Network, the Missouri Reading Initiative, and the Missouri State Council of the International Reading Association (MSC-IRA). Previously noted for its attraction to secondary teachers, the Write to Learn Conference now provides meaningful topics and sessions for both elementary and secondary classrooms. Thanks partly to the collaboration with MSC-IRA, more conference sessions focus on literacy than in the past.
Willy Wood, Conference Coordinator, stated that preliminary comments evaluated this year’s conference as, “A winner.” I thought the sessions were informative and entertaining; the spirit of the conference was very positive, and the speakers were dynamic. It may have been very cold outside, but the conference was a warm comfortable place to be and to share learning experiences with other educators.
Mark your calendars for next year’s Write to Learn Conference, February 27 -March 1, 2014.

News From MSC-IRA


Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D.
State Coordinator, MSC-IRA
This spring has been a very busy one indeed for the Missouri State Council of the IRA. The state council once again co-hosted the Write to Learn Conference that was held February 28-March 1 at Lake of the Ozarks.   Seven hundred twenty teachers, librarians, reading specialists, coaches, administrators, and college/ university faculty from across the state attended this exciting event. This amount is an increase over last year’s conference attendance.  At its Dr. Seuss Reception, the MSC-IRA presented The Outstanding Pre-Service Reading Teacher Honors to the following pre-service teachers from Missouri colleges and universities who have demonstrated significant accomplishment or innovation in preparing to promote literacy achievement: Kelly Davis, University of Central Missouri; Ashley Krause, Maryville University; and Laurel Helm, Missouri Southern State University.  In addition, the Research in Reading Award was presented to two different recipients: Dr. Cathy Pearman for “Pre-Service Teachers’ Self-Efficacy” and Drs. Beth Hurst and Randy Wallace for “Social Interaction in Literacy.”
Fantastic Key Note speakers included Jeff Anderson, Mike Reiss, Matt de la Pena, Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook, and Cris Tovani.  Our own St. Louis Suburban IRA council was also represented by Sarah Valter and Dr. Betty Porter Walls who each presented sessions at the conference.
Mark your calendars now for the MSC-IRA Literacy Leadership summer institute. This two-day conference to be held on June 20 and 21, 2013, will be filled with fun, information, and food. Participants will be actively engaged by hearing informative presentations that are relevant to current literacy practice.
Finally, congratulations to St. Louis Suburban IRA Executive Board member Steve Baybo. He has taken on the voluntary position of State Poster Chair. Are you interested in becoming more active in literacy at the state level? Contact Mitzi Brammer at mbrammer@ssdmo.org.

Scaffolded Instruction in Light of CCSS


Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D.
The Common Core State Standards, or the Missouri Core Academic Standards, as they are referred to in the state of Missouri, will not only move students in their thinking about the texts they read, but they will also move teachers in the way they teach reading and writing. Released in June, 2010, these standards include rigorous content and require application of knowledge through high-order skills in order to prepare students effectively for a career or post-secondary education (MO DESE, 2012). Larkin (2012) states that inherent in these skills are students’ ability to (a) know how to learn, (b) access changing information, (c) apply what is learned, and (d) address complex real-world problems in order to be successful. Ultimately, educators want students to become independent learners. However, this independence may need to be facilitated with scaffolding. Blackburn (2012) adds that the rigorous educational environment involves each student being supported so he or she can learn at high levels. It is simply a myth that providing support means lessening rigor.
Dickson, Chard, and Simmons (1993) define scaffolding as the systematic sequencing of prompted content, materials, tasks, and teacher and peer support to optimize learning. Scaffolding, though, is not just about teachers helping their students to complete tasks. According to Beed, Hawkins, & Roller (1991),“when adults provide a scaffold…the child may internalize the essence of the thinking” (p. 649). Scaffolding can take many forms which may include but are not limited to:
    Breaking the task into smaller more, manageable parts
    Using “think alouds”
    Cooperative learning
    Cue cards
    Activating background knowledge
    Giving tips, strategies, cues and procedures
    Sequencing skills so that they build on each other
    Selecting examples and problems that progress in complexity
    Using graphic organizers
    Providing completed models of problems
    Providing checklists to help students remember the steps and processes used to solve
    problems and complete tasks (Archer & Hughes, 2011)
While scaffolded instruction is beneficial to struggling readers and writers, it can also be quite demanding on the teacher. Knowing when to fade support is critical. Often teachers will continue to scaffold when it really is no longer needed. Pressley, Hogan, Wharton-McDonald, Mistretta, and Ettenberger (1996) offer the following cautions to educators when deciding how and when to use scaffolding:
      Use scaffolding when appropriate. Not all students may need scaffolding for all tasks and materials. Provide scaffolding to those students who need it only when they need it.
      Be knowledgeable of the curriculum, particularly if it is re-aligned to the Missouri Core Academic Standards. This will allow you to determine the difficulty level of particular materials and tasks as well as the time and supports necessary to benefit your students.
      Practice generating possible prompts to help students. The first prompt you give to a student may fail, so you may have to give another prompt or think of a different wording to help the student give an appropriate response. Also, allow your students to provide prompts when applicable.
      Be positive, patient, and caring. You may become discouraged if students do not respond or are not successful as a result of your initial scaffolding efforts. Continue to convey a positive tone of voice in a caring manner along with continued scaffolding efforts and student success soon may be evident.
There is no such thing as an “average” classroom. With diverse needs, teachers need to be empowered now more than ever to begin planning for and implementing effective scaffolds to allow all students to be successful with the rigorous literacy expectations of the Common Core State Standards.
Archer, A., & Hughes, C. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching.  New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Beed, P. L., Hawkins, E. M., Roller, C. M. (1991). Moving learners toward independence: The power of scaffolded    instruction. The Reading Teacher, 44(9), 648-655. Blackburn, B. (2012). Rigor made easy: Getting started. Larchmont.  NY: Eye on Education.
Dickson, S. V., Chard, D. J., & Simmons, D. C. (1993). An integrated reading/writing curriculum: A focus on  scaffolding. LD Forum, 18(4), 12-16.
Larkin, M. (2012). Using scaffolding instruction to optimize learning. (ERIC Digest No.12). Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED474301)
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). (2012). Common core state standards. Retrieved from  http://dese.mo.gov/divimprove/curriculum/Common_Core.html
Pressley, M., Hogan, K., Wharton-McDonald, R., Mistretta, J., & Ettenberger, S. (1996).  The challenges of instructional scaffolding: The challenges of instruction that supports student thinking. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 11(3), 138- 146.