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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Teach More, Test Less, Empower Teachers and Students: Nov. 2015


Teach More, Test Less, Empower Teachers (and Students!): Musings of a Retired Reading Specialist

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

For the past several years I’ve contributed articles to the St. Louis Suburban IRA newsletter designed to give teachers good ideas and resources to try out during the school year. Now that I have just retired, I am continuing that tradition, using slightly different formats (op-ed/memoir) to talk about a volunteer reading project I am currently carrying out at a private suburban school. I am doing a weekly meeting with selected students in grades 3, 4, and 5 and supporting the learning specialist in that building with her students in grades 1 and 2. My group size is 6.  All the students have been identified as needing extra support in reading. As I describe what I am doing for them I will also tell you about my methods and resources. I hope you will find that some of those methods and resources might prove useful to you and your students. More information about the methods and resources mentioned in this article can be found in a Goggle Drive folder accessible at https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B5yrrnpuy5mjWHlnRTRxbzdVNWs&usp=sharing

Teach More:

How you spend your class time determines what kind of student performance results you get. Time is your most valuable commodity. Over my career I’ve found that following a Reading/Writing workshop format helps me to maximize my use of teaching time. Key components of workshop organization include whole group, small groups, sharing, ad hoc strategy groups and conferencing. Mini-lessons can done within these frameworks. The key to successful mini-lessons is that they are based on effective “kidwatching” (instruction the students really need!) and that they are short and focused. In my project I plan to make use of three teaching resources for strategy lessons. The first is The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. This book includes one-page lessons for 300 different reading strategies, both word recognition and comprehension. The lessons are inspired by e-mails, tweets and requests from readers of her other Heinemann books. The next resource is the second edition of Lori Oczkus’s Reciprocal Teaching at Work: K-12. My final resource is the strategy lesson book found in the companion program to Raz Kids called Reading A-Z. These lessons have one key advantage–each lesson is tied directly to the Raz Kids Leveled Library (e.g. a Level E book around which the “main idea” lesson is built). Strategies are best learned if the student uses them in appropriate text immediately after instruction. The organization of this Raz-Kid resource makes that very easy and there are multiple leveled texts for each strategy. (links in folder for all resources, including a link where Serravallo gives an overview on how to use her new strategies book).

Test Less:

A common complaint that is heard in virtually every teacher’s lounge in the nation is that so much time is required for test practice that very little time is left for teaching. Just today, the New York Times reported that the White House “declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.” (link in folder). My solution to that is to limit test practice to that which is needed to get students used to the question formats they will face. The remainder of my teaching time is spent teaching. In addition to using strategy lessons I also plan to do weekly workshop conferences with each child. My mentor text for conferencing is How is It Going by Carl Anderson. This highly recommended book carefully explains the teacher’s role in conferencing (Chapter 2, p. 25 ) and conferencing basics (Afterward p. 185). Conferencing can and should be an important form of teaching. Many times teachers I’ve worked with have said “Dr. B., I don’t have time to conference.” My retort is you don’t have time not to. You don’t have to start with your whole class. I suggest picking one or two of your very highest performing students and one or two of your very lowest performing students and to conference with them every 2-3 weeks. I think you will like the results of that experiment enough to expand your conferencing. This can be done whether you use a workshop format or not.   Anderson’s book gives you what you need to get off to a good start in conferencing. I would mention that Carl is coming to a conference in Columbia Missouri next year. (link in the folder!)

One way to test less is to build ongoing assessment into your teaching, therefore expanding the time between summative assessments. I am using Learning A-Z’s Raz-Kids program.   The leveled books in the on line library include well-written fiction and non-fiction books. Each book comes with questions based on common core standards. These are automatically scored and the teacher can access both individual and group results. The bulk of the student’s time is spent reading the books, not answering the questions.   I will let the students pick their own books at their levels. The program allows me to control what levels they can access. So the students will be doing self-selected wide reading and I will be getting detailed information that allows me to discern student performance patterns in comprehension.

In addition, Raz Kids allows me to send my student messages and allows my students to send me recordings of their book reading. These features greatly enhance my ability to conference with students based on effective “ kidwatching.” Because of this program, my conferencing is not limited to my once a week face to face work with them. I can send timely advice at any time I wish.   Messages can be written or oral. The ability to send oral messages helps me give very specific feedback to them about how words work (e.g. pronouncing a word family for them, or pronouncing a digraph for them or demonstrating prosody to them). Messages can be sent to the whole group, selected members (ad hoc strategy group) or just an individual student. My hope is by the end of the project all my readers will be reading more like storytellers and will be comprehending and remembering the books they read.

Empower Teachers (and Students!):

My belief that teachers should be empowered is research based. Readers are invited to read the ILA book about the first grade studies (link in folder). That classic research found that no one method of teaching beginning reading works best, that every method benefited from a phonics supplement and that teachers accounted for more of the variance in reading performance than methods. That is why I shy away from “teacher proof” methods and materials and look for methods and materials that serve as tools for teachers. Such resources give teachers choice in how to use the resources in the most effective way. For the project I’ve looked for materials that empower me as a teacher to help my students become better readers.

Another thing I am doing in this project is promoting “reading like a storyteller”. I know our local ILA members are familiar with Tim Rasinski. I’ll be using his rubric for oral reading and providing the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students with copies of that rubric. Rasinski maintains that fluency is not a matter of speed, rather it is a result of the 4 components of prosody. His notion that fluency is the gateway to comprehension is a powerful one.   I will be using his materials , especially his rubric (link in the folder). As students read within the project, one of the things I’ll do is to ask them to do, is to pick a favorite book from the on-line library. They will record and re-record their reading of that book (or selected pages from that book) until they are satisfied that they are reading like a storyteller. Only then will they send the recording to me.

Read more, test less, empower yourself and your students. I hope this article has provided you some ideas about how to do that and some links to things that will help. I hope you are visiting (will visit) our St. Louis Suburban IRA website.   If you aren’t already a member please join! We meet three to four times a year and our planning committee always lines up great speakers. Over the years our speakers have included the likes of Tim Rasinki and Lori Oczkus. As a result of St. Louis being the site of the national ILA conference, our council is doing a read and feed literacy project which will result in thousands of books be distributed to children in selected Title one schools. Expect posting on our website about that!

I hope you will take time to comment on-line about this article. You will be able to do that on our website, (link provided). Most importantly, I hope you will include in your comments links to things that have helped your students with their reading. In that way we can empower each other as teachers. Have a good school year. Remember that research shows you know your students the best and that at the end of the day you are the one who will make the most difference in how your student’s learn.







President’s Message: St. Louis Suburban IRA Council: November 2015


President’s Message

Tamara Rhomberg

As the holidays approach, my mind naturally turns to one thing – CANDY! And because St. Louis Suburban Council is always on my mind, I began thinking about how two of my favorite things are so much alike. So here is what I am thinking-

When I look at a Baby Ruth bar (one of my personal favorites) I first look at the wrapping to learn a little bit about what is inside. I learn the name, the ingredients, some basic facts, and the company contact information. If I check out St. Louis Suburban Council (https://stlsuburbanreading.org/) I learn the Mission and Vision of the organization, I learn about some of the organizational events (past and present), and I benefit from the many professional articles and information sharing.

Taking off the wrapper of my Baby Ruth, I get to experience the joy of peanuts, caramel, nougat and of course, chocolate. So it is with St. Louis Suburban Council, once you get involved you begin to experience the rich flavor of professional networking, the excitement of professional development experiences, and savor the literacy service opportunities all wrapped up in one great organization. I invite all of you to take a big bite of St. Louis Suburban Reading Council and get involved and best of all – there are NO CALORIES just lots of fun!



St. Louis Suburban IRA Council: Officers and Board of Directors for 2015-2016




 President:Tamara Rhomberg, Zaner-Bloser Representative & MSC President

President-Elect: Leslie McKinstray, Hazelwood Schools, Reading Specialist/ Literacy Coach

Vice President: Dr. Betty Porter Walls, Harris-StoweUniversity, Professor & MSC Treasurer

Past President: Mary Eileen Rufkahr, St. Louis Archdiocese

Treasurer: Jill Lauman, SEMO Field Ed. Supervisor

Recording & Corresponding Secretary: Mollie Bolton, Special School District

Historian & Publicity: Steve Baybo, St. Louis Public Schools, Humboldt School

Membership:   Jody Rozbicki, Ladue School District, Reading and ESOL Specialist

Communications/ Website: Dr. Dan Rocchio, Maryville University, Professor Emeritus

Newsletter: Marjy Schneider, Bayles Schools, Reading Specialist


Dr. Sam Bommarito, St. Louis Public Schools, Retired Reading Specialist

Sandi Coleman, Affton School District, Retired Reading Specialist

Sandy Kettlekamp, Affton School District, Gifted Teacher & Reading Specialist

Kathleen McDonnell, NESI, Retired Reading Specialist



Social Media in the Classroom: November 2015


Social Media in the Classroom, Part 2

Mary-Eileen Rufkahr

Twitter is one of the social media outlets that you either “get” or “don’t get;” use or see no reason why it exists. Co-founded by St. Louisan Jack Dorsey, Twitter is not for the verbose among us. Say what you need to say in 140 characters (not words) or less and move on.

Yet those little tweets may be just what your curriculum needs to engage your students more fully in their lessons.

Some easy ways to get started with Twitter include:

  • As a class, follow a trending hashtag;
  • Connect with other classrooms – both near and far;
  • By-pass parents’ e-mail filtering and spam boxes and use Twitter’s direct messaging feature;
  • Live tweet parents (with text and photos) throughout the day when you are on a field trip, have a guest speaker or students are doing some type of demonstration/project;
  • Tweet about upcoming due dates or assignments;
  • Follow #educhat (https://twitter.com/hashtag/educhat) to connect with other teachers and keep up with the latest trends and philosophies regarding education.

Ready to learn more?

Here’s a great place to start. Educator James Gates has created a You Tube video called Twitter in 60 Seconds. In one short minute, Gates can convince you why Twitter is a plus for teachers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYz9M70KVR0&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1&safe=active.

Twitter has a quick start guide for those wanting to take the plunge. Go to https://support.twitter.com/ to learn more.

Once you have set up your account, check out these links for ways to make the most of your Twitter experience as a teacher:

Twitter for Teachers: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N0pSimJhevM6KEzE1ys4VhCzkSfcGoNW3jdq479A1Ng/edit.

Kathy Schrock’s guide for teachers: https://www.schrockguide.net/twitter-for-teachers.html.

Tom Whitby, adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York, has a guide for creating a personal learning plan utilizing Twitter: https://smartblogs.com/education/2013/01/11/twitter-strategy-101/.






 The International Literacy Association’s Local Arrangement Committee and Missouri State Council will be continuing their work on the ILA’s Legacy Project, Read & Feed.  St. Louis Suburban Council has joined this effort to put literacy materials in local Title 1 elementary schools in St. Louis County and St. Louis City.

We hope that you will consider being a participant in this Legacy Project that has now extended to three states (Louisiana, Illinois & now Missouri).  St. Louis Suburban Council members will be actively spreading the joy of reading by introducing reading strategies and giving away books to students from selected St. Louis area Title 1 elementary schools.

Our literacy materials for the project were provided by the ILA Conference exhibitors.  They have donated 6 pallets (each measuring 4ft. x 4ft. x 4 ft.) of new books, videos, teacher strategy books, and literacy kits.  In addition, Conway Elementary School ( Ladue District) and Ladue Middle School generously donated a total of 100 boxes of books.

Larry Winkler, Vice President of Operations at Color Art (1325 N. Warson Road, St. Louis 63132,) has donated their warehouse facility for storing these literacy materials, besides permitting our Council members to use the warehouse for taking inventory, and separating the materials by levels, genres, and themes. Color Art also provided the transportation of the materials from America’s Center Convention Complex and Conway Elementary to the warehouse facility.  Color Art has also offered to transport the materials to the elementary schools selected for the Read & Feed Project.

We hope you are excited about our Read & Feed Project.  We invite you to participate in this exciting service project.   It will provide new opportunities for our area students to enjoy and love reading.

We invite you to volunteer for this service project?

Please send an email to Jody Rozbicki and include times when you are available


Or call her: School: 314-983-5520       Home: 636-458-0004

 I would like to participate

(1) ______ Sorting materials and books at Color Art warehouse facility. Color Art is available between 7:00 am and 3:00 pm. Check available days.  We realize that this opportunity is only available to our retired teachers.

____ Mon. ___Tues. ____Wed. ____Thurs.

(2) _____ Delivering books to the children during times when St. Louis Suburban Council members are scheduled to work with students from the designated Title I elementary school. These times will be scheduled during winter, spring and summer breaks so all our teachers can participate in this rewarding opportunity.




Web Wonders September 2015


Web Wonders

Mary-Eileen Rufkahr,

2014-2015 President of St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA

Social Media in the classroom

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and many more similar sites are as much a part of young people’s daily lives as TV and FM radio were (and are) to those of us from earlier generations.

To connect with students, you need to reach them on levels they understand and are comfortable with. Social media, when used judiciously, can provide a fresh, interactive aspect to lessons.

Some school districts have already developed guidelines for using social media or prohibiting it altogether. However, if your district allows you to use online media, take a look at some of these links for guidance on how to best implement it in the classroom.

Writers from the online site, Eduemic, provide guidelines for utilizing social media including how to create a class Facebook group, starting a topical Twitter feed, requiring students to blog, posting student videos to YouTube and showcase student work on Instagram. Check out the full article at: https://www.edudemic.com/how-to-use-social-media-as-a-learning-tool-in-the-classroom/.

Vicki Davis, Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator, posts A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom, on the site Edutopia. In her article, she examines the relevance of utilizing social media in a classroom setting. Her full article can be found at: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/guidebook-social-media-in-classroom-vicki-davis.

On the NEA site, Emma Chadband, provides simple ways social media can enhance lesson plans. From incorporating Google Docs to productively using cell phones in the classroom, Chadband shows it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or time consuming for the teacher. Emma Chadband’s article is at: https://www.nea.org/tools/53459.htm. For a great info-graphic on social media use in schools, go to: https://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/schools-social-media-stats/488104.

Can elementary-aged students also be effectively exposed to social media in their lessons? Computer Teacher and Tech Coordinator, Chris Casal, thinks they can, even at that younger age. Look over her ideas for using social media in the lower grades at: https://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2014/01/practical-examples-of-social-media-in.html.

We’ve talked a great deal on the plus side of using social media in the classroom, but what are the disadvantages? On the School Is Easy site, Victoria Cumberland offers some aspects to consider on the downside of this technology.




President’s Message: April 2015



Recipient of the Honor Council & Show Me Awards

Message from the President

 The poet Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

Over this past school year, it is my hope that the St. Louis Council has been an awakener to you in some way. Perhaps you came to one of our meetings or the “Literacy for All Conference” and heard an inspiring speaker, discovered some fresh ideas for the classroom, or made a new professional contact.

Maybe you found something pertinent in our newsletter: one of the finely written professional articles, news from the library, the legislative report or the web wonders column.  Teachers understand that learning never ends, and every teacher I’ve met is a life-long learner. So as the final weeks of the school year hurry by, I encourage you to take a break for yourself, and attend our upcoming spring banquet on April 30th. Dr. Karen Burke, Director of Academic Planning for Scholastic Publications, will be our guest speaker. Dr. Burke’s talk will provide you with a few more ideas to implement before the final school bell rings for this year.

As my final letter to you as president of the St. Louis Suburban Council, I want to thank the many people who work tirelessly for our organization: the officers and board of directors of our group, our retiring newsletter editor Beth Knoedelseder, and, of course, our members. Please join me in supporting Tammy Rhomberg, as she takes the helm of our Council for the coming year.

I look forward to seeing all of you for our April meeting, and again, at the 60th annual ILA convention, to be held in St.Louis in July. Until then, happy reading!

Mary Eileen Rufkahr


Differentiating Instructional Strategy vs. Learning Activity: April 2015


Instructional Strategy vs. Learning Activity

By: Mollie Bolton, Ed.D.

In the world of education we continue to seek research-based and evidence-based strategies for instruction. With new teaching standards and performance based evaluations, we are encouraged even more so to make sure the strategies we are using are research-based and effective. We must use our teaching time to focus on strategies that we know, through the research, work with our students. Many educators struggle with the difference between an instructional strategy vs. a learning activity. Both can be research-based and both serve a specific purpose.

Instructional strategies are “techniques teachers use to help students become independent, strategic learners” (Alberta Learning, 2002). These strategies often provide the “why” for the activity and can be transferred across subjects and grade levels. Examples may include linguistic and non-linguistic representations, summarizing, providing feedback, and similarities and differences (Marzano, 2001). We as educators must rely on our knowledge of our students, our subject matter and our situation to choose the most appropriate instructional strategy (Marzano, 2001). We must keep our goal in mind when choosing the instructional strategy and think about how the strategy will help our students through the learning process.

Learning Activities are what students “do” and usually have a very specific purpose of learning a skill or concept that may only be applicable to the specific subject or grade level. Examples may include vocabulary bingo, reading a passage and answering questions, completing a worksheet. These activities are important to learning concepts, building fluency and automaticity of skills. Learning activities may or may not be research based. As effective educators we must have knowledge of research-based and evidence-based instructional strategies and know how and when to use them. We must also be able to provide learning activities that utilize these strategies to support the content that we are teaching. A combination of effective instructional strategies with strong learning activities is the key to successful instruction.


Alberta Learning. (2002). Health and life skills guide to implementation (K-9). Edmonton, AB:           Alberta Learning.

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works:       Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Giving Back: Community Outreach 2015


Giving Back
Dr. Betty Porter Walls

The article “Giving Back – How a Read-in Activity Can Serve as a Community Outreach
Project,” written by Dr. Betty Porter Walls, a member of the board of directors of the St.
Louis Suburban Council of the International Reading Association (IRA) appears on pages
36-37 of the current issue, March/April 2015, of the “Reading Today” magazine. The
article describes Betty’s annual intergenerational read-in activity at Harris-Stowe State

Poster Contest Winners! 2015


Poster Contest

Kathleen McDonnell

 The St. Louis Suburban IRA poster contest was held on February18, 2015 at the Ladue Middle School. The event was a big success as a result of everyone who participated. Many posters were submitted for judging this year. Members in attendance had a chance to vote on the best poster in each category. The theme: “We Love Reading to the Core,” was seen throughout each poster. The winners in three categories were:

K-2nd Grades

First place: Raegan Leigh Shelton (2nd grade Northwest R-1 School District, House Springs Elementary School)

Second Place: Kennedy Stepp (2nd grade Northwest R-1 School District, House Springs Elementary School)

Third Place: Margaret Baumann (1st grade Northwest R-1 District, House Springs Elementary School)

3rd-5th Grades

First Place: Riley Jones (3rd grade Sacred Heart School, Ferguson/Florissant School District)

Second Place: Aria Gabrielle Jones (3rd grade Sacred Heart School, Ferguson/Florissant School District)

Third Place:  Jamie Jarzenbeck (3rd grade Sacred Heart School, Ferguson/Florissant School District)

6th-8th Grades

First Place: Alaina McAlister (7th grade Affton School District, Rogers Middle School)

Second Place: Maheen Gul (7th grade Ladue School District, Ladue Middle School)

Third Place:  Juliana Cole (8th grade Affton School District, Rogers Middle School)

Each winning poster will be sent to the MSC/IRA State Poster contest to be judged. These posters will bereturned to the winners after the state contest is judged.

Thanks to all.