What Happens at NCTE Doesn’t Stay at NCTE

This weekend Rebekah and I travelled to Minneapolis for the NCTE Annual Convention. For the past 96 hours we have been immersed in the world of language arts, and while we’re exhausted and our backpacks are overstuffed, our brains and hearts are full and we just can’t shut up about NCTE.

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Rebekah and me at our first book signing!

We can’t stop processing and thinking and imagining and reading and cracking open everything we learned this weekend. As I draft this post on our flight home, Rebekah sits next to me reading Colleen Cruz’s (@colleen_cruz) Independent Writing (we feel so lucky to have met this rock star this weekend!) and making lists in her notebook.  When we get home later, we will hug our children tight and linger in mommyhood as long as we can – and when our babies are in bed we’ll most likely subject our poor husbands to a rehashing of everything NCTE. When we see our department members in the morning, everything we learned over the weekend will bubble up again. The joy and energy and brilliance and collaboration and creativity and thinking that occurs over a 96 hour period will continue to feed our planners, our notebooks, and our teaching souls for hours and days and weeks and months until we head to Atlanta next year. What happens at NCTE doesn’t stay at NCTE, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Whenever I leave a professional development experience I take a few minutes to describe the things that really stood out to me over the course of the conference. There’s so much good stuff that you don’t want to fall through the mental sieve. I find the following three categories helpful—things I can do in my classroom tomorrow; ideas I want to write about; ideas I want to let marinate—in making the most of what I learned at the conference.

NCTE Feeds My Planner, or Five Things I Can Do In My Classroom Tomorrow

  1. Kelly Gallagher (@kellygtogo) begins each writing unit with a several days of low-stakes writing to help students generate ideas. He uses infographics to inspire and motivate his students.
    Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.28.55 PM.png
    An infographic to inspire writing during Notebook Time!

    Here are a few infographics he shared with us that I plan to use during notebook time over the next few weeks.

  1. Georgia Heard (@georgiaheard1) knows how to get her students to revise so their writing sounds more like them. One phrase she uses to help students add detail to their writing is, “What’s the picture you have in your mind? Just say it to me, as you would say it to a friend.” I am definitely using this strategy in conferences tomorrow!
  2. Donna Santman (@dsantman) helps her readers talk about what they are reading by offering them different ways of thinking and questions for each part of the plot. Once students understand the basic narrative arc, and can describe where they are in a book, they can ask various questions to help raise the sophistication of their reading. For example, in the exposition, students might ask “Who’s here, how are they connected, and what are they like?” But during the rising action, students might ask, “What’s the trouble? What are the obstacles? How do the characters deal with them?”
  1. Dan Feigelson (@danfeigelson) leads his students to deeper thinking about what they are reading with revision lessons. After a read aloud of a few pages, Dan asks his students to jot down what they are thinking at this point in the book. Then he reads a few more pages, asks them to draw a line under that initial thinking, and invites them to jot down more: Has your idea changed at all? Do you want to add anything to your idea? Do you want to delete any part of your idea? This simple activity reminds readers that revision isn’t just for writers – it can be a powerful tool for comprehending what we read and developing increasingly more complex understandings about characters, plot, and theme. Below is another way of visualizing this activity:
My 1st idea How my idea changed and why

NCTE Feeds My Writer’s Notebook, Or Things I Want to Do Some Writing About in the Near Future

  •      Ralph Fletcher (@fletcherralph) talked about the revision dynamic between editors/writers and teachers/writers. He suggested that teachers should be more like editors in that teachers make suggestions, but students have the ultimate ownership over the writing and should not be penalized for leaving something the teacher advised he take out, for example. On the contrary, a writer must be willing to let go of a narrow interpretation of his own story to make room for others’. This realization may pull the writer away from his original draft.
  •      When planning for lessons, Penny Kittle (pennykittle) asks herself these three questions to help her prioritize her teaching. What are my answers to these questions?
    • What is essential?
    • What is important?
    • What is nice to know?

NCTE Feeds my Teaching Soul: Big Ideas I Want to Let Marinate

  •      Brian Sweeney (@mrsweeneynyc) admitted that he does his best teaching after school, in his school’s elective journalism class. Here he truly guides students through the writing process and they write for authentic audiences. He wondered how we can bring the journalism culture into our English classrooms—how can we all do this?
  •      Georgia Heard suggested that all writing is revision. How can we reframe writing as revision for students? How might this change the shape and sequence of our minilessons?
  •      Kelly Gallagher reminded us that the best teacher in the world (Nancie Atwell!) doesn’t grade individual papers. She grades portfolios and looks at the students’ learning over a period of time. How can I bring this practice into my school? How can I convince my administrators of the power of feedback over grades? How can I communicate to the parents of my students with written progress reports rather than letter grades and numbers?

These are just a few of the big and small ideas that are spinning around in my head. I promised my husband I’d take a little break from teaching on Thanksgiving, and I will—but there’s always Black Friday for this work! 🙂

Were you at NCTE? If so, what were your big takeaways? Or if you attended another PD conference this year, what are those ideas still swimming around in your head? Leave a comment on the blog, on Facebook, or say hi on Twitter (@allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1 ).

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.56.21 PMWRITING WITH MENTORS, HEINEMANN

September 2015

Available on Amazon or Heinemann!

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