As a first-time attendee, I did not know quite what to expect as my department headed to the annual NCTE convention, but even if I had developed detailed expectations, I’m fairly sure they would have been exceeded. We only stayed for Friday and Saturday, but even in those two days, I absorbed so much, gained such inspiration, and sparked so many new ideas that I feel it was an incredible investment of my time and energy, even at a time of year when I am feeling even more depleted than usual.
Here’s some brief descriptions of the workshops I attended and found most useful; for each, I took pages of notes on the ideas and materials presented, but also found myself filling the margins with ways to adapt the topics for my own classes. Any teacher knows this is the sign of truly beneficial professional development, when you gain global insight into a theme, text, or instructional method, while also acquiring ways to immediately put the theory into practice in your own classroom.
Text and Image or Text as Image? New Approaches to Teaching Visual and Media Literacy: This was a great way to start off my NCTE experience: thought-provoking yet extremely practical, with plenty of examples and ideas to make me feel energized right away. These presenters focused on how we can synthesize texts and images in our classrooms, thinking about how visual elements enhance texts and helping students become “selective and active creators of content.” They gave examples of texts interpreted as images, texts remixed into images, image to text, and images inspiring text, inspiring me to think about new ideas as well as ways to deepen and better assess projects I already do.
Portfolios: Reflective Processes for Independence and Innovation: This presentation made me think globally about the value and possibilities inherent in “making thinking visible” for my students, and how that can deepen their learning, enhance our classroom community, and help them see themselves as scholars. Like many of the convention presentations, these Wisconsin teachers have thankfully made their slides available for post-convention viewing. Even though I teach in a very different environment from these presenters, I gained so much insight in to how to aid student in being more reflective about their work and about themselves as scholars-in-training.
Queering(ing)Literature in the Secondary English Classroom: I attended this one partly through my work as our school’s GSA sponsor, but also because I’ve made some tentative inroads into using critical theory in my senior elective and wanted to think more productively about how I might do so. The discussion and resources (like this set of inclusive frameworks), helped me push my thinking in directions such as wondering how I might lead my seniors in a discussion of “queering” One Hundred Years of Solitude .
Interactive Notebook Foldables: After getting shut out of a “featured session” that was jam-packed, I ended up in this one, which ended up answering some questions I’ve had about “foldables” since I read a pair of blog entries from a high school history teacher who used them with success in her classroom. Foldables are all over Pinterest as well, but without seeing concrete examples, I never quite understood how they would be used with my classes. This session focused specifically on their usage with poetry lessons and included Dinah Zike, who seems to be the queen of foldables and refers to them as “manipulatives for learning.” After this session, which involved us all making our own foldable book with instructions and examples, I can easily see how these could be useful in vocabulary work as well as a prewriting tool for my ninth graders when they write poetry explications in the spring. I even thought ahead to next summer and how I might use them with my CTY kids.
Methods of Teaching Writing: Power and Cohesion in a Writing Curriculum: This workshop started my Saturday off with a starstruck jolt, as Lucy Calkins was one of the presenters. While she is known primarily for her work at the elementary school level, I have found her work very helpful in thinking through how to incorporate elements of writing workshops in my classes. This session was no exception, as Calkins and the other presenters gave me structured and insightful ways to think about how I conference with my students as they are working on drafts, as well as ways to think about mini-lessons and whole-group instruction. One topic touched on a puzzle that’s been worrying me lately: how can I help my students see that in writing their successful personal essays, they’ve been working on skills that will help them with critical essays as well? Again, I felt I gained both insight on how to think globally about these dilemmas as well as some practical suggestions.
Letter-Essays: Engaging Kids in Social and Analytical Response to Stories: Another brush with someone I’ve long admired: Nancie Atwell, who writes primarily for 7th-8th grade teachers, but again, in whose work I’ve found much food for thought. One of my long-debated ideas is how to incorporate independent reading into my 9th grade course, and Atwell’s devoted scholarship on the subject is the main reason I keep returning to it, even though it is not customary in my division at my school as a year-long practice. This workshop focused on one aspect of how Atwell and her teachers use “letter-essays” to communicate with their students about what they’ve been reading, and I found the examples they shared fascinating and inspiring. I even brainstormed about a mini-choice-reading project I could do with my seniors over spring break and added The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers to my wishlist as soon as I got home.
Understanding the Middle East Through Literature: I chose this session because after truly enjoying teaching Persepolis, I realized that I felt confident about teaching graphic novels but not very much about placing the work in a greater context of literature from the region. This session included the work of two teachers who have been teaching semester-long senior electives on the topic for years, which was immediately inspiring to me because our senior English classes work on the same system. The materials presented were so comprehensive and engaging that I emailed my department chair this weekend to ask about proposing a similar elective in the 2015-2016 school year. Found myself a winter break project, clearly, and I think a course of this nature could be so enriching for our students. I am already looking forward to asking our Arabic teacher for assistance, as well as one of our history teachers who spent a few years living in Turkey.
When I got back, I saw I had missed workshops by some great teacher-bloggers, including Epiphany in Baltimore on John Steinbeck, Glenda Funk on Landscapes of Truth and Fiction, Dana Huff on online writing workshop techniques, Nerdy Book Club and more! As you can see, I covered a fair amount of intellectual ground in the hectic two days I was able to spend, though of course I feel like I missed out on some great sessions as well. I also got to hear an amazing address by Marian Wright Edelman and seeJacqueline Woodson appear on a panel, fresh off her National Book Award win. This doesn’t even include my trips through the jam-packed exhibition hall, where I managed to pick up an armload of free Poetry Out Loud materials, get a free copy of David Levithan’s Every Day, signed in person by the author himself, as well as a free Agatha Christie-themed totebag for my daughter, a nifty Scholastic shoulder bag (also free!), along with an assortment of catalogs, posters, and other giveaways. I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it back, but I’ve added a few goals to my professional dreams (attending, and then presenting), and re-experienced the joy of truly worthwhile professional development in a community of dedicated colleagues I’m proud to call my peers.