Random Reflections Resolved Part One

I came back from NCTE14 with so many thoughts flooding my head that I couldn’t begin to process any of it. I didn’t know how to start. I read other attendees blogs with very concise reflections, tight commentary, key ideas neatly lined up. People asked me how it was, and I felt trapped by the cacophony in my head – no idea how to answer without sounding like a crazy person.

I have wrestled with this feeling all week. Thanksgiving was a distraction by I was distracted already! And then I thought… write about it silly. Just write.

Here goes…

The Nerdy Book Club became more clear to me. I am stlll a little fuzzy about how to access it and get the most out of it, but I came away with the big idea that many of the “members” are kindred spirits, and like to talk about books just as much as I do. I got some great ideas for read-alouds: The Fourteenth Goldfish (read it, love it, quirky and sweet), El Deafo (met the author, heard about her process, bought two copies- signed!) It was lovely to be in the company of people who see authors as rock stars. The other big idea in this session was how important it is for students to connect with authors because it helps shape their reader and writer identities. I know this is true for me, of course I should try and facilitate that for my students. Goal #1.

Throughout the sessions I heard about the importance of allowing for authentic reading responses. A class Twitter account, blogs, padlet (not sure what that is, yet), book recommendations that are posted/published, book talks, letters to authors, lists of favorites…anything that is purposeful; academic opportunities not assignments!  The more students feel a purpose for their work, they will pursue this work, and that equals ENGAGEMENT! I have been tap dancing around this idea since August… time to jump in. Goal #2!

There was a lot of discussion of social justice and how to foster classroom environments that encourage students (and teachers) to take stands around issues they care deeply about. Harvey Daniels, Sara Ahmed and Steve Zemelman took us through their processes of helping students learn how to converse, ask questions, and grow ideas together. What results is purpose and authenticity– which also showed up in a session in which Brendan McGrath and Tom McKenna shared their students’ online discussions about articles and books. From Massachusetts to Alaska, students communicated and created places for reflection beyond the walls of their classrooms. I am definitely doing that! Goal #3.

I couldn’t get enough of Lester Laminack. A teacher’s stand up comic for sure. He started the conversation in my head about the intersection of story and information. While the Common Core Standards divide writing into three chunks, opinion/argument, narrative, and information, in reality they cross all over each other. As we travel through a story we have reactions that can lead to a need to respond, which entails having an opinion and making an argument. We will often have questions that we will want to answer… It is hard for me to see exactly what this will look like in my classroom, but I know it is where I am headed. Lester stressed that the three writing areas were not meant to split the academic year into three equal parts of writing. Rather, naturally, readers and writers weave in and out of genre, they pursue one thing only to end up in another place. I heard this from numerous authors all weekend. Let’s honor and provide for that jouney for our students. Preach it brother. Goal #4.

My brilliant colleague Julieanne Harmatz presented along with Vicki Vinton and three other teachers. They all asked WHAT IF questions about their practice. Julieanne reminded  me that the interactive read-aloud is some of the most effective instructional time in our day. Steve asked what if the goal is not to extract the main idea but rather to attune ourselves to the story- the conflict, the question, the tension, the oddity… in fiction or information, these questions lead to more reading and deeper understanding. Their journeys remind me to take my own– ask what if, and discover the answers in the students I serve. Goal #5.

That is part one…I still have to talk about Ellin Keene, Seymor Simon, Linda Hoyt, Jacqueline Woodson, Vicki Vinton, Mary Ehrenworth and Katherine Bomer. Wow.

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