The NCTE annual conference is such an amazing, invigorating experience. I also found that when teachers really pushed to attend, we were able to get not only approval but also some funding to help cover the costs of the trip. Go ahead and start planning NOW for the conference next year! It's well worth the time it takes, and you might be surprised to find more financial and professional support than you might have anticipated.
Here are some tips for first-timers at NCTE:
- Plan out your schedule in advance, especially for the first day of the conference.
- The program is your best friend. It's much easier to plan once you have the program, so if you were one of the people who chose not to get it ahead of time (I remember thinking: WHY would people PAY to get the program?!? Now I know...), you'll benefit from finding a quiet corner in which to study the program a bit to solidify your action plan for the day. It's good to plan ahead before you actually get the program, but a bit of study with the hard copy will help you ground yourself a bit more.
- Make sure when making your schedule that you choose back up options that are CLOSE in physical proximity to your number one choice. In 2013, we planned lots of backup options, but the top options were often full WELL in advance (especially on Friday), and we found that we had to walk too far to get to the backup options. We wound up in a couple of random sessions--still good, but not necessarily the best fit for us.
- Use the app if possible (this link might change for next year's conference). Locations change often, and the App has the most reliable information about where to go.
- Bring extra bags for books! There are many opportunities to get free books and buy cheap copies of other books. Just remember that you have to tote around whatever you receive. In 2013, I did get several signed copies (during one of the sessions that was too packed to join), and the students LOVE those.
- All of the sessions are great, but it's true that the people who have big names are renowned for a reason. (Translation: While all sessions have the potential to be amazing, you're likely to be really inspired by the sessions jam-packed with people who are the leading experts in the field.)
- Beware the book fair area: it can suck you in! Our first year attending, we did make time to visit there when one of our sessions fell through (see the note above about planning close alternatives!), and we quickly found that we could have gotten sucked into the endless opportunities for free books, advance copies, and chances to meet authors (and get them to sign copies for your classroom!). This past November, I did not spend much time in there (I was typically busy feeding my daughter instead during those breaks), but I still made it through to pick up a few copies.
Here are some of the ideas I took away from NCTE in 2013 and from the conference this past November:
Exploration of identity issues:
o Give kids a way to explore their “brand”
o Kids need space to figure out their identities through reading and writing
o Kids have the power to take things that could be negatives and to make them into positives
o Romance novels sometimes let kids explore their own identities (Ex: Elizabeth Eulberg)
o Students MUST have a reflection of themselves (Something that really resonated with me: Matt de la Peña quoted Junot Diaz, who said, “The quickest way to create monsters in our cities is to never give them a reflection of themselves in the mirror.”)
o Students need to read to imagine and practice for issues that might come up in their lives (ex: romance novels, horror novels)
o The power of story is that students can imagine worlds and people who are different; they can begin to relate and empathize with situations different their own
o This issue came up as part of the defense of story (why we can’t just teach informational texts)
So what? Question:
o de la Peña: Genre books are not just about that genre or subject; they are books that include those subjects to draw readers who can then explore the larger issues in the text (and in the world)
o Gallagher: You’re not just teaching the topic; you’re teaching about larger issues and connections to the world today
o Revision must be built into the writing process
o Feedback needs to be meaningful and needs to go both ways (student to teacher as well as teacher to student)
o Feedback must be TIMELY or it is ineffective.
o Students must have choice in their writing, and they must have an audience bigger than the teacher.
- Beers: Literacy is about POWER and PRIVILEGE ("The people who are most literate in this country are the most privileged.")
- Beers: "Volume of reading matters. It matters a lot."/ "The best way to find the words is to read more."
- Gallagher: Students must read with a purpose.
- Gallagher: 50% of reading should be recreational. It’s okay if the purpose is to enjoy the story.
- Students have to practice reading independently.
- The only activity that counts as reading is READING (not popcorn reading, reading aloud, etc.).
- Students MUST have CHOICE.
- Every text that we choose to teach whole class is making a statement.
- The only way to get better is to practice. Students must be creating the content and meaning themselves; they cannot rely on the teacher to be the provider of knowledge.
- Gallagher: Students who read the most write the most. We are not teachers of literature, but of literacy.
- Gallagher: It doesn't matter what the standards say if they're not reading. (AMEN! How can we get more people to see this?!?)
- Gallagher: We MUST consider the whole child and his/ her whole life. All socioeconomic factors affect student performance in the classroom.
- Chris Crutcher commenting on getting students to read Period 8: "I did put enough fucks in there to get the boys to read it...When they try to censor it, fuck 'em."
- Donalyn Miller had TONS of great ideas about how to create an environment that encourages literacy ("shelfies," QR codes with links to book trailers, reading graffiti... so many more!). So inspiring!
o Lower level readers/ students do NOT need lower level questions. They just need a text that they can read.
o Use dialogic questions to make discussion meaningful and to keep conversation going.
o Texts that are too difficult (ex: giving someone a 200 pound weight to lift) are NOT rigorous. They are impossible to reach.
o Bob Probst: “Rigor doesn’t reside in the text but in the quality of our attention to it and the way we engage to it.”
The MAIN thing that I took away from NCTE these past two years was the simple affirmation that I'm doing what matters most to help kids: I'm helping them become better readers, writers and critical thinkers. Rather than talking about test scores, percentages, and AYPs, all discussions focused on how to best reach students and how to make them better readers and writers. That is, after all, why I went into this business, and it was inspiring to get ideas about how to do that more effectively.
May we be the teachers who make this statement by Laurie Halse Anderson (I MUST write a book review for her soon--love her works!) true: "English class is not the study of literature. English class is where you get the tools you need to survive."