I had the awesome opportunity to attend NCTE for the second time this year. At the time of the conference in 2013, I was in the earliest stages of pregnancy, and the flight to Boston was both miserable and exhilarating. I had never been to the annual conference: it was awesome to see so many people in our field together, passionate and motivated to get new ideas and do their best for students around the nation. This year, I was fortunate that it was in DC, which is close enough for my family to drive up for the weekend as well. Balancing professional responsibilities with raising an infant can be quite the challenge; having her close by during the conference was a big relief.
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:
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.
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."
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.