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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Message from the President: September 2013


                                                              Message from the President

Hello, St. Louis Suburban members and “guests” who may be reading this newsletter. It is my privilege as President to welcome you to a new and challenging school year. No doubt the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the realignment of curriculum, integration of technology in literacy instruction, development of curriculum maps, and increased rigor in both literacy instruction and student performance will continue to be hot topics for us this year.

The executive board met over the summer and discussed many of these issues. We are excited that the program committee has aligned our meetings and professional development offerings around many of these topics. The theme this year for our council is “Literacy for Life: Bringing Together Lifelong Learners.” The Common Core State Standards indicate that we should be preparing our students for life. We chose this theme because we felt that literacy and lifelong learning should not be something on which we focus only with our students. How are WE, as adult learners, also growing as learners?

I invite you to mark your calendars for October 5, 2013 for our first meeting. Our program is a bit different this year. Our first meeting is actually going to be an informational reception immediately following the Literacy for All Conference at Harris Stowe State University.  Have you registered yet for this exciting, information-filled day?  If not, there is information on our website or you can email Dr. Betty Porter Walls (drbpwalls@earthlink.net) or me (mbrammer@ssdmo.org) for registration information.  At this reception, we will be providing helpful information about our council, what it stands for, what it does, and most importantly, how you can get involved. We will also be serving light refreshments and there will be PRIZES for attendees. Who doesn’t like prizes? We encourage each of you to bring a friend or colleague with you to this reception—one who may not be a member. At this reception, you will also be able to renew your membership or rejoin if it has been awhile.

I look forward to seeing you at our reception in October and for the rest of our general meetings this year. I hope your year is productive and filled with reading and writing!

 Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D.


 St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA


Officers and Board of Directors of St. Louis Suburban IRA: 2013-2014




President: Mitzi Brammer, Special School District

President(s) Elect: Mary Eileen Rufkahr, St. Louis Archdiocese

Vice President: Tamara Rhomberg, Zaner-Bloser, National Literacy Consultant

Past President:  Tom Cornell, Webster University, Professor

Treasurer:  Jill Lauman, NESI, Reading Specialist

Recording & Corresponding Secretary:  Mollie Bolton, Special School District,  Administrator

Historian and Publicity: Steve Baybo, Harris-Stowe University, Graduate Student

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

Marjy Schneider:Bayless School District, Reading Specialist

Communications: Beth Knoedelseder, UMSL, Adjunct Instructor (Newsletter)

Mitzi Brammer, Special School District (Website)

Dan Rocchio, Maryville University, Professor Emeritus, Adjunct professor (Website)


Dr. Sam Bommarito, SLPS Reading & ESOL Program Coordinator, UMSL Adjunct Professor

Marcy Burkemper, Affton School District, Retired Administrator

Sandi Coleman, Affton School District, Retired Reading Specialist

Debra Dickerson, Hazelwood School District, Retired Reading Specialist

Sarah Johnson, Mehlville School District, Director of Remedial Reading

Sandy Kettlekamp, Affton School District, Reading Specialist

Kathleen McDonnell, NESI, Retired Reading Specialist

Leslie McKinstray, Hazelwood School District, Reading Specialist

Diane Sanderson, Triumph Learning Representative

Stephanie Steffan, Rockwood School District, Reading Specialist

Betty Porter Walls, Harris-Stowe State University, Professor




Web Wonders: September 2013



It’s All About Free

Mary-Eileen Rufkahr

We’re back to school, with more than a month behind us (not including the time taken to set up our classrooms, attend meetings, and host open houses). We’ve welcomed a new classroom of eager students and we’re ready to jump start their reading and share our enthusiasm for the printed word. To this generation of students, the printed word isn’t necessarily on paper for many, reading means using a computer, e-reader or smart phone. To utilize these electronic tools in the classroom (or to recommend their use at a student’s home), the following websites can connect you with free children’s books and reference materials with the simple click of your mouse.

The website http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/ features hundreds of classic children’s books that are now in the public domain. You can stream each title“live,” or download for use later. Each book is available in numerous languages and titles include Anne of GreenGables, Pinocchio, The Real Mother Goose and JustSo Stories. 

The University of Pennsylvania hosts an online catalog, similar to public library databases, where you can search for available free online books. Again, you can stream live or download onto an electronic device. Go to: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/.

Project Gutenberg offers over 42,000 free e-books, available either as a download or to read on line. Check out:http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Category:Children%27s_Bookshelf.

At Gobookee, not only can you find trade books, but manuals as well (cookbooks, parenting advice, career help). There are 13 main categories, with several subcategories in each area. Some of the books are only available for purchase, but Gobookee will find comparable, free alternatives as well. Find Gobookee at: http://www.gobookee.net/.

To not only give your students a chance to read quality literature, but offer needy schools a printed version as well, check out Wegivebooks.org.

This website has a great book collection; almost around 167 books at varying reading levels for ages 3-10, with more books keep being added.  Books read by children, their parents, or teachers can then be donated to schools that cannot afford books and supplies. If a child has read 10 books on this site, then Wegivebooks.org will donate ten books to a school in need on behalf of that child.

WeGiveBooks.org was created by the Penguin Group and the Pearson Foundation. All of the books available for online reading are children’s picture books appropriate for children through age ten. There is a mix of fiction and nonfiction, a range of authors, and an equal balance between read-alouds and books for independent readers.

Voices from the Library: September 2013



 Lucy Crown

Title: Each Kindness                                                                          

Author: Jaqueline Woodson

Illustrator: E.B. Lewis

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Copyright Date: 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-24652-4

Reading Level: K-3

Of all the Jacqueline Woodson books that I have read, Each Kindness is my absolute favorite. It is a touching story of the lost opportunity to share kindness with others. The story starts with a new girl, Maya, coming to school in old, ragged clothes and a broken shoe strap.  When she sits down in an empty seat next to Chloe, she smiles at Chloe, but her smile is not returned.  Throughout the story, the children in the class ignore Maya’s attempts at friendship and she is often made fun of and ignored by the other children. It isn’t until Maya doesn’t return to school and the teacher does a lesson on kindness, that Chloe realizes that she has lost the opportunity to share a kindness that would, as her teacher put it, “Make the world a little bit better.” It is an unforgettable story of regret and a lesson learned of the importance of kindness and its rippling effect on others.  E.B. Lewis’s illustrations are thoughtful and beautiful and express the feelings of the characters in a way that adds depth and meaning to the story.  I highly recommend this book as a read aloud for a classroom discussion on kindness and friendship.

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.