Friday, April 23, 2021, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm EST/GMT-5, Online Event

April Conference: “Reading the Word and the World”

IWT’s 2020 April Conference planned to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in English, exploring why Freire’s ideas are still important for us to consider today. We hoped to investigate ways for students to become “critical co-investigators,” empowered to think of their readerly and writerly pursuits beyond the walls of the classroom. Like many events across the nation and the world, last year’s IWT conference was cancelled in order to prioritize the health and safety of all participants.

We are excited to revisit our intended focus on Friere and his lasting impact on schooling in IWT’s 2021 April Conference, but our focus has shifted. The emergency move to remote instruction necessitated by COVID-19 brought to the forefront a number of questions and challenges related to how students approach reading and writing and to the habits of mind necessary for these literacy practices to generate student agency. In his foreword to the 2010 Carnegie Corporation Report Writing to Read, Vartan Gregorian suggests, “the ability to read, comprehend, and write—in other words, to organize information into knowledge—can be viewed as tantamount to a survival skill.” Almost thirty years earlier, in “The Importance of the Act of Reading” (1983), Freire placed similar weight on the critical link between reading, writing, and action beyond the walls of the classroom. Freire proposes that, “the word is not merely preceded by reading the world, but by a certain form of writing it or rewriting it, that is, of transforming it by means of conscious, practical work.” 

Freire’s crucial insight is that reading and writing are necessary avenues to student agency. However, sometimes the reality of the classroom is that at least a few students have not read, come to class unprepared, or are disengaged.  These challenges point to larger questions around access and engagement. How do we share with our students the idea that literacy is empowering? How do we inspire students to love reading and to seek out texts to respond to? How can we use writing to read strategies to generate student engagement with meaningful questions and problems? How do we nurture authentic learning communities—whether online or in person—by creating collaborative reading sequences, shared language, and shared practices? How can writing to read practices democratize the comprehension process, modeling for students how inclusive discussion happens?

These are large questions that get to the core of IWT’s mission: to transform classrooms across disciplines through writing-rich practices that help students discover and interpret meaning, engage in productive dialogue, and learn critical thinking skills that support academic learning. By focusing on reading and writing-to-read practices, this year’s conference provides an opportunity for faculty to think together about how we can approach texts as critical co-investigators alongside our students. As always, the day will involve experiential workshop sessions and a plenary. We will highlight a range of strategies that consider how students read and how writing supports the habits of mind necessary for deeper, critical reading.