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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Call for Member Participation! February 2015


Calling all Members!

A great chapter such as the St. Louis Council becomes so much stronger when all of our members are involved in its growth and success. The board of directors of our council is asking all of our members to consider stepping up and volunteering your time and effort in one of the following ways:

Consider being a building representative. All that is required is that you talk up the council’s upcoming meetings and events to your colleagues.

If someone is interested in becoming a member,

  • Provide them with Jody Rozbicki’s contact information (jrozbicki@ladueschools.net), or print a membership application off of our web site.
  • Serve on one of our committees. We have openings on many of our committees, and would welcome your help in some way. Our committees include: awards, nominating, community and family literacy (service projects), membership, communications (newsletter and web-based), poster contest and spring banquet. Each committee is headed by one of our board members, so leadership and guidance will be provided to new committee members.

If you would like to become more actively involved in the St. Louis Suburban Council, please contact Mary Eileen Rufkahr at Merufkahr@aol.com or talk to one of our board members at our next meeting.

President’s Message: Nov. 2014


Recipient of the Honor Council & Show Me Awards
Message from the President


I recently ran across a quote from a Spanish author by the name of Carlos Ruiz Zafon which said, “I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.” As often happens, sometimes words of wisdom seem to speak directly to you and about your own life.

Literally every book I have ever read in my life, whether one of the “great novels,” a homey cookbook, an instructional manual or a “beach read” has left some type of impression on me that I still carry to this day.

And that’s what good books are supposed to do!

One of the parents at my school and I are both huge fans of author Beverly Cleary. Even though her sons are no longer in my classroom, we still pass each other at dismissal time and various school events. Somehow in the course of our conversation, we always seem to bring up some type of Beverly Cleary reference. I remember the mom saying once, she never eats French fries that she doesn’t think of the passage from Ramona and Her Father that says “Maybe Daddy will take us to the Whopperburger for supper for payday,” she (Ramona) said. A soft, juicy hamburger spiced with relish, French fries crisp on the outside and mealy inside, a little paper cup of cole slaw at the Whopperburger Restaurant were Ramona’s favorite payday treat.” Every fast food restaurant this parent eats at has to pass the “Ramona test” for French fries.

While I am a reader for all seasons, I especially enjoy the fall and winter months. My gardening and outdoor chores are pretty much completed until spring, the days are getting shorter and colder temperatures make staying at home much more preferable. What a perfect opportunity to really make a dent in that stack of new and old, favorite books I have stacked here and there!

With that being said, I do encourage you to put down that great book for one evening in order to join the St. Louis Council for our November meeting featuring Dr. Melia Franklin, Director of English Language Arts at MO DESE. Dr. Franklin is an engaging speaker who interacts with her audience, providing pertinent information for educators teaching at all grade levels. I promise that all those in attendance will come away with new ideas and a feeling of being recharged after hearing Dr. Franklin speak. This meeting would also be the perfect opportunity to bring along a colleague who has yet to attend one of our events.

Until I see you on November 18th at our upcoming meeting, happy reading!

Mary Eileen Rufkahr


Remaining Calendar for St. Louis Suburban IRA: 2014-2015



November 18, 2014: Tuesday:       General Meeting

Where: Ladue Middle School           When: 5:00-7:30             Presenter: Melia Franklin

November 20-21, 2014   Missouri Early Learning Conference  Tan-Tar-A Resort, Osage, Beach, MO

February 18, 2015, Wednesday           General Meeting         Annual Poster Contest

Where: Ladue Middle School               Presenters: Members “Show Case of Mini Workshops”

February 26-28, 2015, Thursday-Saturday

 Write to Learn Conference:               Tan-Tar-A Resort                                Osage Beach, Missouri

April 2015                      General Meeting: Spring Banquet          Presenter: Dr. Karen Burke (Scholastic)

July 17-20, 2015, Friday-Monday

International Reading Association: 60th Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri

From the Words of Snoopy: “Good Writing is Hard Work”


 From the Words of Snoopy:

“Good Writing is Hard Work!”

by Beth Knoedelseder,

Silver Strong & Associates Thoughtful Classroom Trainer/UMSL Adjunct Instructor

 There is a Peanuts comic where Snoopy is sitting on top of his doghouse with a typewriter. He types one word, stops, and paces back and forth on top of his doghouse. He types one more word, repeats the sequence until he has typed: “It was a dark and stormy night.” In the last frame, Snoopy stops typing and thinks to himself Good writing is hard work! Snoopy makes a good point about “good writing,” and most students and teachers would strongly agree with this thought. Writing is not only important to have in lessons-it is a necessity. But teachers often wonder how it all can be completed and graded along with all the other requirements they have to get through in a day’s work. What would you think if I told you that you can move your students’ thinking from “Good writing is hard work,” to “Good writing is what I do?”

Like anything that is “hard work,” the more one does it, the easier and better it becomes. I am a trainer for Silver Strong & Associates The Thoughtful Classroom. We train teachers how to use a variety of tools and strategies to enhance learning and create deep thinkers. One of the most effective strategies the Thoughtful Classroom teaches is called Write to Learn. Making writing a daily event in your classroom will not only improve the thinking of your students considerably; it will help deepen their comprehension and help them to organize their thoughts in a productive and efficient way. By using this research-based strategy, you can help your students in more ways than you could ever imagine.

Picture this classroom: The teacher poses a question. After a little bit of wait time, the teacher scans the room for raised hands and calls on the students who are always the first to answer the question. For those students who tend to be on the shy side or just need a little more time for processing their thoughts, they are left out of an important part of the lesson. Some might even think to themselves, Why should I think of an answer when the kids who sits next to me always comes up with one first? What tends to happen is the same students are the ones participating in the discussions. Only their thoughts, opinions, and comments are being heard.

Now, go next door to this classroom: The teacher poses the same question. She then asks the students to write their responses/thoughts in their learning logs. After an orchestrated amount of time, she instructs the students to turn to their neighbor and share their thoughts they wrote. Then there is an opportunity for the students to share with the entire class either what they wrote or someone else’s ideas. Let’s think about the differences between these two scenarios.

In the first classroom, not everyone had the opportunity to share, nor were they held accountable for his or her thinking. When the same students are answering, and participating in the discussion, then there is little variety of thoughts to expand upon. Students who are shy might have a unique thought or idea that takes the discussion to a new level. This opportunity will be missed when the teacher calls on the same students who are the first to raise their hands. In the second classroom, the pace of the lesson has slowed down, therefore giving all the students time to think and process the question. Time was given to think more thoroughly and then shared in a small setting. The children who are shy, are more likely to share in a small group rather than to the whole class. Also, everyone was held accountable for his or her thinking. Often times, a student will have a great thought, but by the time he or she is called upon to answer, the thoughts are gone. When writing down their thinking, they now have it in front of them to respond thoroughly.

There is a video I show in my UMSL class of Suli, a spoken word artist, who performs, “I Hate School, but Love Education.” It is a thought-provoking piece about education. In the past, I would show the video, and then pose a couple of questions for a discussion. The discussions were satisfactory. This year, I had the students write their answers, share them in small groups, and then share with the whole class. The difference between the quality of the discussion from years past to this year was amazing. My students’ thoughts were deeper which caused the discussion to be richer, and more students were willing participants. The major difference was this- I took time to stop, have the students write their thoughts and opinions, share with each other and then share with the whole group. Allowing time for the students to thoroughly process the questions and formulate their opinions on paper, made all of the difference.

Every teacher understands the importance of establishing procedures and routines starting on the first day of school. Just as determining these daily habits at the beginning of the year so too should writing be part of a daily routine. In doing so, students will develop higher order thinking skills, and as a result, test scores will rise. (NASSP Bulletin, Dec. 2000)

Writing is a highly complex act that demands the analysis and synthesis of many levels of thinking. (Center for Performance Assessment, 2006). Harvey Silver (The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core) breaks the Write to Learn Strategy into three different levels. The first being provisional. This is a quick, impromptu writing designed by the teacher that can be completed throughout a lesson. It helps students to think through key concepts and ideas. Students are given the opportunity to write for two to five minutes. The teacher does not grade these spontaneous writing tasks. The focus is on the students’ thoughts and opinions rather than grammar or spelling. This does not mean that the teacher does not collect them to read. It would be his or her prerogative to collect these when he or she feels it is necessary.

For many students, writing can be overwhelming and cumbersome. It’s a challenge that can create panic and cause a student to shut down before even attempting to write the first word. However, if students are required to write short, impromptu informal writing tasks stating their thoughts, opinions, questions, and interpretations on a regular basis, writing becomes more natural and not so overwhelming. When they are not required to complete this type of writing on a regular basis, but then are assigned writing assignment encompassing all the writing skills necessary to formulate a strong writing piece, students become lost and don’t know where to start. It is like expecting a football team to skip practice on a regular basis, but be expected to win the championship game. It is well known that the more students work on a task and practice it in small chunks, not only will results be stronger, but they will be more comfortable in completing the task. I found this to be true when I taught poetry in grade levels from first through six. Instead of just assigning various poems to write, we spent a great deal of time reading poetry for pure enjoyment. During this reading time, students were exposed to rich vocabulary, rhythms and rhymes that made listening to poetry fun. When my students went to write their own poetry, they were not intimidated by this genre of writing. They experienced the poems through listening, acting out, and through a relaxed time of the day. Results were amazing. I found students diving right in with brainstorming, using visual organizers, and reworking their pieces of writing with positive attitudes. This can be the same for all writing in the classroom. The more writing is required in small, impromptu chunks, the more the teacher will be able to move students to the next level of writing.

Provisional writing can look many different ways in various grade levels. Any time students use journals, learning logs, entrance and exit slips, KWL charts and respond to questions, they are doing provisional writing. The main difference in using these formats is when the teacher uses them during a lesson and not just for homework. Stopping the instruction to have them write down their thoughts, and share them with one another, creates an environment of thinkers. More students have the opportunity to be part of the class discussion and share their thinking. This type of engagement will increase their understanding of the content and help them become stronger writers on the longer writing assignments.

In conclusion, Write to Learn is nothing new to education. Throughout the years, we have learned through research how important daily writing is for our instruction. Now with the Common Core State Standards, teachers are being required to rethink how writing can become more integrated into daily lessons. Give provisional writing a try. See how it impacts your discussions and the engagement of your students. Whether is a first grader using inventive spelling to write down his or her thoughts or a teenager writing short passages in response to a question, writing can look different depending on the grade level. The most important thing to remember is to make writing a daily habit. Snoopy reminds us that “good writing is hard work.” This goes without saying, but let’s help students work hard to create “good writing” and at the same time create deep thinkers. It’s a win-win situation.

Resources used:

Silver, Harvey R., Dewing, Thomas R., Perini, Mathew J. The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core. Alexandria: ASCD, 2012

Center for Performance Assessment. “Writing to Learn: Instructional Strategies for Nonfiction Writing”. Center for Performance Assessment. Static.dpsk12.org/gems/leadership/NFwritinghandouts103106.pdf

Michigan Department of Education. “Writing Across the Curriculum”. Michigan Department of Education. www.michigan.gov/document/mde/SSWAC_225020_7.pdf








Web Wonders for Nov. 2014



Climbing Back from the Summer Slide

Mary-Eileen Rufkahr

With a few months of school behind us, most of us are definitely feeling the “crunch” of time. So many things we want to do for our students, but often we lack the time to go out and search for the resources we need. The following sites provide a “one stop shopping experience” for teachers, as they allow multi-tasking with one click of the mouse.

Teacher Kristin Hokanson developed The Connected Classroom to assist teachers in creating a technology-friendly classroom for their students. The site has many features including collaboration tools, how to use i-pads for educational purposes, taking virtual field trips, utilizing digital media, social bookmarking, online graphic organizers and issues of copyright and fair use. Click onto: http://theconnectedclassroom.wikispaces.com/.

The Digital Public Library of America brings together the resources of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them available for free. Within the site, students can access the written word, works of art, historical records and scientific research. Over 8 million entries are catalogued, searchable by place, date or exhibition. A handy tool is a page for educational apps to search and download. Go to: http://dp.la/.

Edselect.com is an online resource for teachers, students and parents. The site has annotated websites, which have been sorted into curriculum areas for Kindergarten to grade 12. Reference sites include biographies, books on line, atlases, quotes, world agencies, newspapers and e-zines (to name a few). Another section highlights educational themes ranging from holidays to the Olympics to oceans to puppets! Other sections focus on curriculum topics, literacy sites and lesson plans. Check out http://edselect.com/.

Information on the many life-forms on Earth is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere.  The Encyclopedia of Life is an ongoing site bringing as many of these resources together, as possible, into one place. Search here for images to use in the classroom, allow students to explore museum collections and teachers can join on-line communities to share ideas and information with fellow educators. Educators can also download podcasts to listen to and search for educational apps to utilize in the classroom. The EOL can be found at: http://eol.org/

NBC Learn has digitized more than 12,000 stories from the NBC News archives, dating back to the 1920s. One of the standouts of the site is the video series Writers Speak to Kids. This series brings the insights and advice of award-winning authors directly to your students. The site is at: http://www.nbclearn.com/portal/site/learn.

Voices from the Library: Nov. 2014



Lucy Crown

Title: The Ugly Pumpkin

Author/Illustrator: Dave Horowitz

Publisher: Penguin Group: Copyright: 2005: ISBN: 978-0-14-241145-2

Reading Level: K-2

With fall in the air, recently I was searching for books about pumpkins so that I could order some new ones for my library. I came across this book called The Ugly Pumpkin and decided to take a look at it. I researched the reviews about it from other people and librarians. It sounded like a good purchase and it surely was. The cover will draw you in which features this sad looking character whom you think is a pumpkin. As you read along with the rhyming text, you find out that he is in distress because he doesn’t think he fits in with the other pumpkins because he is tall and skinny in the middle. Other pumpkins are being picked for Halloween but he is being overlooked. Then the month changes from October to November. In his continued sadness, he stumbles into a garden growing squash. He realizes that the reason he looks different from the other pumpkins is because he is really a squash! He finally finds his place where he fits in as the story ends with Happy Thanksgiving. This book is a fun twist on The Ugly Duckling and would lend itself well to a lesson comparing/contrasting the two stories and characters. The illustrations are interesting, fun and colorful and are done with cut paper, charcoal and colored pencils.

Missouri Early Learning Conference 2014


Missouri Early Learning Conference

November 20-21, 2014

Mollie Bolton

 Be sure to save the date for the Missouri Early Learning conference. Keynote speakers include: Greg Tang, author of Grapes of Math; Valerie Ellery, author of Creating Strategic Readers: Techniques for Supporting Rigorous Instruction; Susan Kempton, author of Let’s Find Out!: Building Content Knowledge with Young Children and more! Topics include teaching math, reading, writing, incorporating science and inquiry learning into the curriculum and behavior management techniques. Check out their website at http://muconf.missouri.edu/moearlylearning/ for more information. Hope to see you there!

Literacy for All Conference 2014


2014 Literacy for All Conference

Dr. Betty Porter Walls


It began with music and a big ball moving around the auditorium.  Author Lester Laminack was the star at our “2014 Literacy for All Conference: The Community Reads” on Saturday, October 11.  As the keynote speaker for the annual conference, sponsored by Harris-Stowe State University College of Education and the St. Louis Suburban Council of the International Reading Association, Mr. Laminack used a unique analogy to stress how when reading a book a book we can be tourists or residents.  As residents, we become the book; we own it; we understand it; it is a part of us.  While as tourists with a book, we pass through on a visit, not internalizing those facets and qualities which make it special, only seeing the highlights, the attractions.  As he spoke, I heard one young teacher say, “Wow, now I get it.  To be good readers, children have to love where they live, they have to own the book and see the full picture.  We have to teach them how to read for the deepest meaning that makes a book “special.”   This teacher was in an audience of more than a hundred educators, PK-12 and university level  who were treated to a day of professional development with sessions on a variety of topics , visits with local authors, introduction to and examination of the latest materials from numerous publishers/vendors, and literacy service providers in our community.

Thanks to the support of several co-sponsors, all conferees left with bags of literacy goodies to use in classrooms, books, a lanyard and flash drive with presentation material from speakers.  Local and national speakers shared information on such topics as interactive technology, mentor texts, literacy and personal finance, writing instruction, standards and assessment.  Melia Franklin from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shared the latest Common Core related news for our state.  Several of our IRA council members presented – Sam Bommarito on guided reading, Susan Heins on rigorous writing instruction, Tammy Rhomberg on differentiated nonfiction to build comprehension, and Betty Porter Walls on using mentor texts for writing.  The Missouri Reader newsletter was featured by the Missouri State Council IRA, as was literacy programming from National Geographic and the Federal Reserve Bank.  Scholastic and Classroom Library Company shared books written by Lester Laminack.  There was so much more; the evaluations for the event were extremely positive.  The conference was a professional development success. It ended on a positive note,  just as it began.

A video of the literacy conference can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDgw7-ZZbQ or on the Harris-Stowe State University‘s ‘hssu tv.’


Legislative Update: November 2014


Legislative Update

Mary Eileen Rufkahr

 The Missouri State Legislature is adjourned until January 2015. As in past years, education issues and the accompanying state funding promise to be topics of interest and debate for the upcoming session.  Mark your calendars for these future dates of interest: Legislative brunches and dinners provide the opportunity to meet with political leaders and discuss policy.

St. Louis Area Brunch: January 31, 2015

  • Contact: Grace Garland (314) 432-2425 or (888) 968-4820

St. Charles Area Dinner: March 26, 2015

  • Contact: Sharon Fortner (636) 970-3111 or (800) 404-9365


Community Service Projects 2014-2015




Sandy Kettlekamp

 Your involvement is needed! St. Louis Suburban Council participates in the following  global/community service projects:

  • Penny-A-Page
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Global Literacy
  • Can Tabs

For information about each of these projects, go to


Encourage your school to be involved in the Penny-A-Page Project.  Continue to save children and adult books and bring them to our meetings. You can even call and deliver to Sandy Kettelkamp (314.638.3214) directly.

Donate to the Philippines Project when the cup is passed. Every dollar counts. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, too.

Collect can tabs at your buildings, your friends, families and neighbors. Bring them to the meetings!