Looks like The Paper Graders will be at NCTE in Atlanta, and we are so happy.
And we’re bringing friends (two colleagues who haven’t experienced NCTE yet).
Looks like The Paper Graders will be at NCTE in Atlanta, and we are so happy.
And we’re bringing friends (two colleagues who haven’t experienced NCTE yet).
The last post here was November, a post I’m sure was buoyed by the energy of attending NCTE in Minneapolis.
That’s a long time ago in blogville, though, if you want to cultivate readers. Readers seem to like regular content.
I’ve been working on a bigger writing project–a book about not grading. So that writing was sucking up the spaces I had to write in between the time I spent in my classroom and responding to my students’ writing in the time I have outside of school. I was making good progress.
But all that came to a screeching halt about three and a half weeks ago when my father passed away very suddenly. One moment everything was fine and the very next my husband was driving me (quickly) down US36 to meet my mom and brother at the ER, me sobbing in the passenger seat.
And now I’m in totally new territory.
I lost a student in December, and as horrible as that was and is still (my students’ grief surfaces in their writing so we keep working on it together), it’s a place I’ve been before. Too many times to be certain. So at least I had a few ideas about the landscape.
This loss though? Totally new.
I have guides. My dear friends and colleagues who have walked this path before have been so wonderful.
I’ve learned that the sadness comes in waves. That wearing his sweatshirt helps. That people in my life are exceedingly kind and patient. That one day I’m pretty okay and the next I’m not. That my mom is the strongest person on this planet. That it’s important to drink water (this came to me in a critical text I got from fellow PaperGrader, Jay, that first day after).
I tweeted today for the first time since–a silly tweet about torturing my freshmen during 5th hour with “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” by Poison. I responded to a thread in the NCTE Teaching and Learning forum. I’m writing this post. All of these are signs that I’m slowly increasing my bandwith for things beyond sleep, yoga, walks, getting to school on time and staying there all day, regular applications of food, hanging out with my mom and brother and with my kid and husband, and collecting all the pictures I have of my dad.
And the eulogy. It’s slowly dripping out of me. My brother and I will deliver it together at the service in mid-April. My head writes when I’m in the shower or walking around the lake by our school. I collect details and moments in the conversations I’m having with Mom and brother and cousins and friends and aunts and uncles. My fingers type in bursts of sentences. All of it pretty jagged right now. But I have time, and I’ll get there.
We’re humans. This is all part of the experience. One of my guides on this road said to me as we walked into school together one morning last week, “It never goes away, but it does get easier.”
Yes, grief, I know you and I are companions now.
And I’m okay. I’m sad, and confused, and exhausted, and grateful, but I’ll be okay.
I recently went through the books on my shelves in my office at school. There on the shelf, back behind a stack of assorted novels, was Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It was not just any copy of this book. It was MY copy of the book–my copy from the African American Literature course I took in college in the spring of 1994, my copy that I took on my airplane with me when I flew to New York that spring break to visit my best childhood friend at Columbia University, my copy with margins full of my notations–evidence of the most engaged reading I had had with a text since many, many years earlier in my life.
I read the prologue on the east bound airplane. The narrator was high on reefer, he said. He was listening to Louis Armstrong sing about why he was so black and blue. I read the words, and I actually heard the music–something I didn’t realize was even possible with words. I read, consumed, lingered over, considered, lived every single word in that book.
It was miraculous.
How was it possible that I was several semesters into my declared English major, yet this was the first book I had actually read in a meaningful way since I was a young child sitting on my front porch, reading until the twilight was strong enough I could no longer see the words on the page?
I devoured books as a child. I still have many of MY books from then, tucked away on my daughter’s bookcase. It’s unlikely that she’ll read them, but I know they are there. They are evidence of my relationship with books, with characters and stories and far-away places and obstacles to overcome. I worked through the Choose Your Own Adventure books backward so I could figure out which choices to make to get to the endings I wanted.
Despite this childhood love of books, I completely lost it by high school. I cannot pinpoint the moment in my memory when it happened. All I know is that by the time I walked into my AP Literature class as a 12th grader, my world was devoid of books. I looked at the list of the classics on the syllabus and promised myself I would read them.
And so I began.
The first book was Gulliver’s Travels. My teacher told us it was pretty much the first novel ever. I of course knew some things about it–mostly tidbits from Gulliver’s travels in Lilliput–huge visitor strapped down to the ground by tiny Lilliputians. And this was where it all came from? I was curious. I started reading.
I was intrigued–had no idea Gulliver went to many lands, including Brobdingnag, where Gulliver was the little one among giants. I only bring this part of the text up because it was a conversation about that place in class that is seered so violently in my memory. It went something like this:
Teacher: “So the Brobdingnagians are rationale beings…”
Me: “They’re not rationale.”
Teacher: “They are rationale…”
Me: “But they think Gulliver is a rodent. They can’t rationalize that he’s a tiny human.”
Teacher walks over to my desk, hulking over me, looking down as I cowered behind my book.
Teacher: “Sarah, you’re wrong.”
Me: “How can I be wrong if I can support my interpretation with evidence from the text?”
Teacher turns from me and walks away.
Teacher: “You’re wrong.” (dismissively)
Full disclosure: It was not possible for my AP Lit teacher to hulk over anything–she was the kindest, sweetest, most lovely person. The hulking (and my cowering) are how the memory lives in my mind, both physical manifestations of the way I was feeling in that moment. But the words, the conversation–I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened. And I see the ways I may have been a bit of a butthead in the situation. Looks like I maybe interrupted her a few times there. And maybe my friends and I were somewhat rambunctious that day. It happened on occasion–behavior that warranted the teacher to enter our general proximity to redirect our energy. In my memory I was the perfect student in that moment, trying to participate earnestly in class, with my hands clasped before me on my desk, perfectly polite, but I know that was likely not the case.
But I do know that after that moment, I did not read more of Gulliver’s Travels. Nor did I read any other book on the syllabus that year. I tried each one, but I just didn’t make it. The books remain on my too-long list of books yet unread, these on a special section of the list reserved for my guilt and regret for not reading them in that class when I had the opportunity.
After that short interaction with my teacher, the promise I made to myself didn’t matter. The class that initially engaged me as a reader became school as usual, yet another place where the teacher controlled what we read and what we were supposed to think about it. I reverted back into passive student role, listening carefully to the teacher’s interpretation and returning that to her on exams and in essays. I attended every single one of her review sessions, but I didn’t read a single book in that class. I got a B in the class (which was okay in my mind; due to the weighted grade in the class, the B would not dip my GPA below a 4.0).
I did learn some things in the class about the process of literary analysis. I watched my teacher do it. I saw the conclusions she made about the texts she asked us to read and figured out what she did to get there. I got a five on the AP exam. And the skills I gained continued to be useful–useful in terms of succeeding in college literature classes without actually reading the books assigned to me. My first college English class, American Literature, was the second time I wrote about Huckleberry Finn without ever having read it. When I got my paper back, the professor wrote across the top, “A! Best in the bunch!”
But all of that was about grades, not about being a reader.
All these years later, I’m working on that part, being a reader. If I ask my students to become this, I need to show them my process too. A link to my goodreads page is in my email signature. I talk about the books I’m reading. I talk about what I cut out (random internetting) to make space for reading. I talk about my goals as a reader and my struggles to get there.
I started to become a reader again during those first few pages of Invisible Man. I was astounded at what Ellison was able to do with words. I didn’t know it was possible. I started to play with words myself–poetry, journaling, even my papers for my classes began to reflect more focus on craft. I don’t attribute this to the class I was taking at the time or the professor (though it WAS the professor’s syllabus that put the book in front of me). The class was a typical college literature class where students competed with each other to say the most interesting thing during discussion.
I give Ellison the credit for pulling me back into the world of reading and Invisible Man for grabbing me and not letting me go.
I want my classroom to be a place that doesn’t shut down my students as readers. I do not blame my AP Literature teacher for my failures as a reader. I remember her fondly. In fact, I got in contact with her when I became an AP Literature teacher myself to ask her for resources. She’s a favorite teacher of my past. I used to love running into her on my college campus–she worked through a PhD in literature in the last years of her teaching career.
But her classroom did not engage me as a reader. I needed space to make choices about what I read. I needed space to form my own ideas about the texts. I needed space that wasn’t dominated by a teacher’s interpretation. Sure, I learned a lot from watching my teachers form and support their interpretations of our texts. But I didn’t learn to be a reader. In my high school and college English classrooms, literature was a thing to conquer, to parse apart, to make an argument about, to be able to say the most interesting thing in the room about–not a thing I needed because I am a human being.
I’m sitting in my living room in Colorado, the first day of Thanksgiving break coming to a close. I got home from Minneapolis last evening and opted for checking in my with my family over finishing this blog post (that I started at gate F5 at MSP, writing until my 45 minutes of free wifi ran out). (Click here to see my daily posts from NCTE this year.)
What will really help me now is to attempt to reach into the swirling mass of ideas in my head, newly invited in through the conversations and presentations of the last few days, and identify the nuggets that I will carry with me as I walk back into my classroom next week.
In no particular order:
And with that, I feel like I can close my notebook (for now), the most important strands in my thinking downloaded here to this blog post. I’ll work to get through the school work that followed me on break in the next two days–then enjoy Thanksgiving, then get to some writing I want to accomplish this week.
I’ll close with gratitude. Thank you, NCTE15. I’ve also decided to do less Facebook and more Twitter (even removed Facebook from my phone toward this goal) so I can keep in better touch with all of you in the months ahead.
I’m so glad I made the trip to Minneapolis–and I’ll see you next year.
(On the way to dinner tonight–in my first ever Uber car–Tracy and Julia and I discussed the formatting of this blog post. Today (day 2, day 1) I wanted to focus on things tweetable because I knew that my schedule included some people who say lots of things that are tweetable. So should I compile actual Tweets for this, mine and others? Or should I just write in the style of tweeting? I opted for the actual tweets because it’s their location in the midst of the Twittersphere that makes them so powerful. I began by collecting tweets from people I knew were tweeting in the same sessions I went to and then tweeting out more tidbits from my notes. Jay might mark me partially proficient in tweeting today because I did not tweet live in the sessions themselves, but I know that interacting with my phone distracts my attention more than taking notes in my writer’s notebook. Hence the tweets came all at once at the end of the day rather than while the sessions were actually going on. My apologies if I ended up bombing your Twitter feed.)
— Sarah M. Zerwin (@SarahMZerwin) November 22, 2015
(Me too, Kelly Gallagher. Me too. First year in 10 years that I have 9th grade. And though they pulled off whole-class productions of Romeo and Juliet last week, I’m just not yet seeing the community that I want to see in both of my freshman classes. They aren’t yet in the mindset that they are all in it together as readers, as writers, as human beings.)
(The day’s first session was G.01, “Becoming Critical Educators: Responsibly Navigating Creativity and Critical Commitments in Early Career Praxis.” Four of my former methods students–Chelsea Hernandez, Kaela Lind, Greg Payne, and Hannah Tegt presented with their former instructor/now professor, Michael Dominguez. The young teachers told powerful stories about their first years teaching. And they showed us “In Lak’ech.”)
(Then it was off to H.15, “Expert to Expert on the Joy and Power of Reading: A Panel Discussion” with Kwame Alexander, Pam Allyn, and Ernest Morrell and moderated by Kylene Beers.)
— Sarah M. Zerwin (@SarahMZerwin) November 22, 2015
(Penny Kittle was sitting a few rows in front of us, and we noticed her tweeting out the things that struck her from the panelists’ responses to Kylene.)
— Sarah M. Zerwin (@SarahMZerwin) November 22, 2015
(It seemed like just about every sentence uttered in this session was tweetable.)
— Sarah M. Zerwin (@SarahMZerwin) November 22, 2015
(Next was L.19, “Drop That Red Pen and Enjoy Teaching Writing: How Doing Less Work Will Make Your Students Better Writers” with Christine Pacyk and Laura Wagner from Wheeling High School outside of Chicago).
(This session was very interesting to me. The room was PACKED–clearly people are wanting to find alternatives to business as usual with grading. It seemed that in this session, the term grading referred both to the act of getting through a stack–or mountain–of student writing AND affixing a grade on each piece of writing. These are not the same thing. One is just the act of doing the work, as in, “UGH! I have too many papers to grade!” and the other is evaluating said work, as in, “This one gets an A-.” There seemed to be an assumption that the end game for all the suggestions they were giving was to end up with a letter on each piece of writing, whether that happened through a grading competition of through student self-grading. I’d like to shift that conversation to whether or not we need put a letter grade–or points or whatever–on anything at all. I don’t think we have to or should.)
(Anticipating that we might encounter standing room only in the next session we wanted to see, we left a few minutes early to head back to Auditorium 1 for “The Art of Teaching: Crafting Classrooms that Inspire” with Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Donna Santman.)
— Sarah M. Zerwin (@SarahMZerwin) November 22, 2015
(Who else noticed that while Donna was talking, both Penny and Kelly were madly taking notes in their writer’s notebooks? That tells me I need to seek out more of Donna’s work!)
(Dinner break at Travail Kitchen and Amusements. We were one vegetarian, one person allergic to shellfish, and one person who avoids dairy, gluten, and soy. This kind of thing is normal where we come from–and the restaurant did an amazing job accommodating our food issues. The meal was AMAZING! And we made it back to the convention center in time to see Dave Eggers.)
Let’s give it up for #daveeggers @mcsweenys and the insanely talented sign language interpreter! #ncte15 A photo posted by Julia Torres (@msjuliat) on
A heartfelt thanks to Dave Eggers for speaking to our hearts tonight: thought provoking, inspiring, funny, and heartbreaking. #NCTE15
— Erica J Rewey (@ejrewey) November 22, 2015
(Eggers left us with some thoughts about writing that I sorely need right now. I’ve got a big writing project in the works. And as excited as I am about it, I’m also nervous and worried and wondering how I’ll pull it off. There are days the writing feels like slogging. And there are days I’m plagued with feelings of inadequacy and a nagging fear that I’m just an imposter at all of this. Eggers’s bits here about writing will keep me going through that). (and full disclosure–that blog link I just put in goes to my husband’s blog)
Tomorrow afternoon we go back to Colorado. But before I get on the plane (if I can), I’ll write my last post: my top 10 (or maybe more or less) takeaways from NCTE 2015. Maybe it will be interesting for you to read. But more importantly, it will help me to write it. The things swirling, swirling, swirling in my thinking due to the conversations and presentations over the last few days–I hope to settle them and focus them with some writing.
I took 16 pages of notes today. Four sessions. Four awesome sessions. But first, a bit of a flashback to yesterday:
So Jay and I have attended this conference together for four years in a row, bringing various colleagues with us each year. It’s odd not having him here with us this year, but due to the wonders of Twitter, he’s participating in his natural way, which is giving us a hard time whenever he can. When I tweeted back at him that there are things he misses (like selfies with Taylor Mali) when he chooses not to attend NCTE, his response was “Whatever. Bet I can still out tweet you w/out being there.” He’s probably right. I’ve always been only partially proficient in Twitter (according to Jay at least).
So we’re missing the other Paper Graders, but Jay’s student teacher is here, as well as a few of my former methods students from CU, and we’re surrounded by Colorado colleagues. In fact, this afternoon we sat at the tables outside of the UPS office and collected them as they walked by.
We started the day at the fitness center.
It was mighty difficult to get up in time to do this today. I was up late last night blogging. But I’m so glad that we made it to the fitness center. Forty minutes of fast walking with the treadmill on incline (trying to simulate the hills Tracy and I hike on back home) and a few minutes of yoga stretching and we were ready to go.
I had about five sessions identified for each time slot today that I wanted to go to, so over oatmeal at Starbucks this morning, we each narrowed it down.
I started my day with A.19, “Connecting, Constructing, and Disrupting Digital Writing and Literacies Across the Content Areas” with Liz Homan, Kellyanne Mahoney, and Catherine O;Flaherty. Liz is my former high school student, and she was on the program to present with two teachers she’s worked with in Boston. But Liz is 38 weeks pregnant and can’t travel, so she was there on Google Chat–which was working at first but eventually the internet just didn’t cooperate and her voice disappeared.
Even though I didn’t get the chance to put my face in the camera so she could see I was there before the internet failed, it was great to see the work she’s doing with technology and to hear from the two talented teachers there. Liz’s work reminds us that we should work beyond facilitative digital technologies in the classroom toward integrative uses of digital technologies. Yes, technology can help us to more efficiently facilitate our classrooms–efficiencies in organizing and delivering content to students. Think Schoology. Think using PowerPoint to organize lecture materials. These things are powerful and can help us to work smarter. But if we only stop there, the bright wall where the projector brings up our computer screens for all of our students to see is merely a high-tech chalkboard. Integrative digital technologies ask us for more. They transform the curriculum. They support inquiry-based learning. They put tech tools in the hands of students, so they have the content in their hands, on their devices, and the projector and the big screen bring THEIR work to the center of the classroom. I couldn’t teach without a projector. But how often do I use it to bring student work front and center? Not frequently enough. I need to work on this.
Innovation in this area, according to Liz’s slides that the teachers walked us through after the Google Chat died and we didn’t have Liz in the room anymore, requires:
You should check out the website that Liz and the teachers put together for this session.
My next session was B.18, “Embracing Trouble: Problem Solving and Responsive Teaching in the Reading and Writing Classroom” with Colleen Cruz, Barbara Golub, and Jennifer Serravallo.
It quickly became clear that I had entered the realm of a few elementary rock stars. The only space left was a square of floor space near the front, and I heard people around me saying things like, “can you believe they scheduled these presenters in such a small room?” This happens at NCTE.
But seriously, we high school teachers have a lot to learn from our elementary colleagues. I’m so glad I went to this session. Cruz offered her “writing workshop problem solving protocol” and took us through a think/talk exercise that really helped me to tease out some issues surrounding one of my biggest “problems” in my classroom right now–I want to find a way to spend less time somehow working outside of the school day. I don’t have one of those jobs where I can just leave at the end of the day and go home and not work. I have to do some work beyond the school day and I don’t mind, but what I don’t want to do anymore is give over most of every weekend and most of every week night. I know that some clever thinking about this can help me find ways to work more efficiently and to get students doing more in ways that are really meaningful to them as writers and as members of our classroom community.
Barb Golub challenged us to recast apparent problems in our classroom as opportunities, as goals, as different questions that challenge us to see things differently. She asked us to think about how the things we see as problems just don’t have to be problems. Yes, so much of how we perceive problems in our classroom is all about how we choose to look at it. I can work on this more. And Jennifer Serravallo was so smart about how to establish goals for readers. She showed how she collects meaningful data on her students as readers from her daily classroom practices. The data then help her to really know her students as readers so she can establish appropriate goals for them and tie all feedback to those individualized goals. I loved this. I don’t know that it would be manageable for me to use her approach to establish goals myself for the 150 students I have BUT I’m already having them choose their own goals from the CCSS. Serravallo’s presentation made me wonder if I could do more to help them choose those goals. How do they know which goals they need to work on? I could help them figure that out with some clever data collection and analysis that they could do on themselves as readers and writers. I really want to work on this. And I realized I really need to work on my record keeping of the instructional conversations I have with students in conferences. I’m usually moving so fast as I conference that I don’t pause to take notes as often as I should, but I really need to do more of this.
Next was C.44, “Feeling the Burn(out): How Non-traditional Writing Response Leads to Healthy Teachers and Students” with Jill Dahlman, Patricia Eagan, Tia Macklin, and Stacy Wittstock. They’re all college composition instructors, but the room was packed with what seemed to be middle and high school teachers. We’re all in this together, people. I was VERY interested in this session as I’m doing a lot of work in my own classroom to focus on feedback rather than traditional response involving rubrics, grades, and points. There was lots to think about in this session. Stacy Wittstock talked about how she uses collaborative peer review to help manage the task of giving feedback. She asked us to think about peer review not because it might lessen our load for responding and conferencing but rather that it can cast students in more active roles with their writing, to give them more agency as writers. As they work with each other on their writing and have conversations with each other, they get better at talking about writing, better at identifying what help they need, and better at then talking with the instructor when the time comes. I learned there’s an acronym for the pedagogy she builds toward in her classroom: CPRR (collaborative peer review and revision). She gave some concrete suggestions for how to make it successful: you must teach students how to do this with clear guidelines and modeling. There needs to be some form of accountability for them to do a great job providing feedback. The approach requires patience from teachers and students. The teacher must show genuine investment in the process. And the work they do in peer feedback must be tied clearly to the overall course goals. Ultimately she argued that pedagogy anchored on CPRR is more sustainable because it frees up the teacher to focus on teaching writers rather than on fixing individual pieces of writing. I like this stance–it makes sense. She also indicated a goal of making the feedback dialogic. I like this stance too, and I’m heading in that direction in my classroom but could get more focused on it.
Most of the panelists in this session use screencast software to record verbal feedback for students. I’ve done this before, for summative evaluation of student portfolios in my secondary English methods course a couple of years ago. Tia Macklin had some interesting survey data about this practice–that students prefer this kind of feedback generally over all others and that they often would review the feedback videos on their work again and again as they worked on revision. She also asked them to write her a summary of her screencast feedback so she could see what they understood from it. Great idea too.
Perhaps most intriguing was Jill Dahlman’s approach: grading conferences. When students are finished with a piece of writing and ready for a grade, she has a 30-minute conference with each one. In the conference, she reads the piece of writing to the student, pausing frequently to provide verbal feedback. At the end of this, the student goes through the rubric and determines a grade for the piece of writing in the presence of the instructor who can then engage the student in conversation about this if the student seems to be missing something or not paying careful enough attention to what the paper really shows s/he knows and can do. This is intriguing. No papers to take home and read outside of school. No prior work before the grade meeting. Great opportunity for conversation and instruction, one-on-one. Puts the student in the driver’s seat in evaluating their own writing. I love all of this. But HOW might I draw on this for my case load of students? Having these kinds of grade conferences with all of my students isn’t even possible in the time I have with them unless we pretty much did nothing but these kinds of conferences in class.
That’s something to think about. I can’t of course do nothing but grade conferences every day, but this does take me back to what fellow Paper Grader Paul has asked countless times: why again do we do anything else besides workshop? I’m still trying to jettison everything that doesn’t serve the ultimate goals of students as engaged readers and writers, in control of their own work/thinking. Dahlman ended her talk with “go meet with your students. Put down that pen!!!” I love this. And it challenges me to think about how I can do more of this. I DO have individual conversations with my students, but lately it’s been mostly with students who are behind and we focus our conversation on how to get them caught up. That’s important. But I need to make more space for those conversations that move writers.
And that was a lot for me to think about. I wanted to sit and process and write and get started on this blog post (and eat some lunch), so we found a place to set up shop for a bit. But that’s when we started collecting Colorado colleagues as they walked by where we were sitting. Before long we had amassed seven Colorado teachers altogether. One was Julia, whom we rescued from the daze she was in due to the hunting/gathering expedition she had just braved in the exhibit hall. She set up a photo of her finds and of course we had to help make sure the background of the photo wasn’t boring.
And I didn’t get any writing done. But the conversation we shared about the sessions we had been to and what we learned from them helped me to zero in on my takeaways for the day.
Speaking of my takeaways for the day, the last session I attended was E.42, “The Rhetoric of Responsibility: Teaching Human Rights as the Embodiment of Personal Responsibility” with Christine Kuster and Katie Miles. Bill McGinley–my PhD adviser–was also on the schedule to present with them but was unable to make the trip. But they did a great job. Christine presented some of the theory that Katie’s pedagogy works to enact and Katie told us about a couple of different projects from her classroom. Christine reminded us why we need the humanities–we need to teach empathy (more important now than ever based on all the debate I’m seeing in Facebook about the Syrian refugee crisis) and we need to remember why we need story. Story prioritizes human feeling as a way of knowing each other, ourselves, and the world. It is in the realm of the qualitative, the experimental, the emotional, the historical, the empathetic, and the imaginative. We need story to help us see beyond the given, to avoid portraying reality as just one possibility, to avoid the tyranny of the single story. These concepts underpinned my dissertation work in so many ways, and it was great to be immersed in them again, reminded of why we need literature and art anyway.
Katie also presented a framework for enacting applied humanities in the classroom, a way to think about the kind of inquiry-based, social justice work my colleagues and I have been imagining for our seniors next semester. I’m excited to share this framework with them to see how it colors our planning and thinking about next semester:
Working within classroom experiences structured on these tenets, Katie’s students were able to articulate some powerful learning:
Yes! This is the work I want my students to be doing, and this framework for applied humanities may be a really powerful lens to help me get them there.
After four sessions and sixteen pages of notes, these are my main takeaways from today:
A great second day at NCTE 2015, even if we’re still not sure what to think of the Skyway.
(inspired by Taylor Mali’s poem, “I Teach for the Fire”)
It seems only fitting to reflect on day one of NCTE with poetry inspired by Taylor Mali.
I come to NCTE for the moments.
For sitting down on the light rail at the airport and
realizing that Ralph Fletcher is sitting across the aisle from us, and
that the woman sitting behind me is Ruth Ayers (and
I’ve been reading the blog she started for a while now and
she lives in the small Indiana town where my husband grew up and
we have at least one common acquaintance).
For exploring another city (I had only ever before
been in the airport here), even in the bitter upper midwest wind,
navigating from light rail stop to hotel,
five newly acquainted English teachers and two iPhones mapping directions for us,
because the two of us from Colorado can’t find west without our trusty mountains.
For actually experiencing the Skyway–
it is everything I thought it would be, though
I did not realize how grateful I would be to have it.
For sharing a table with Jeff Scheur,
who started No Red Ink and
conversation about his software and the ways he’s working to
help students and teachers in the business of learning/teaching writing.
For finally getting a chance to meet Katie Wood Ray (and
telling her that I keep her book for K-2 writing workshop on
my desk–we high school teachers
can learn some things about teaching our older students to do workshop
by seeing the youngest ones navigate it).
For running into Colorado colleagues in the conference center hallways.
For hors d’oeuvres at the exact moment I needed a little something to eat.
For Taylor Mali, thrilled to be among his people. We
laughed in all the right places for him today, and he thanked us for that, and
when we asked to take a selfie with him, he looked the camera in the eye exactly perfectly.
For meeting new people who let us join them in long lines.
For hearing a teacher ask Chelsea Clinton
to get certain people she knows in Washington
to take on the problems their policy has caused in our public schools.
For running into Ernest Morrell on the escalator, whose fierce kindness
always inspires me. Remember last year he told us,
“What does love have to do with it?
Everything. Children deserve it 24/7.
It doesn’t work without love.”
For stumbling upon just the right restaurant at just the right moment,
for a great meal of blackened salmon, garlic mashed potatoes,
and roasted cauliflower.
For three full days yet ahead,
people yet to catch up with, a full list of sessions I want to attend,
plans to explore more of the city.
“I teach for the moment when everything catches fire and finally starts to burn,” says Mali.
I come to NCTE because things catch fire here:
ideas, connections, inspiration.
See you tomorrow.
It’s the week before Thanksgiving break, and that must mean that it’s almost time for NCTE.
The weather report for Minneapolis shows the daytime temperatures are dropping by about 20 degrees just in time for us to all be there for a few days. I guess that means I’ll need my heavy winter coat and that I’ll be grateful for the Skyway since our hotel is about seven blocks from the convention center (is it kind of like a human hamster track? I’m oddly excited about the Skyway). We’re still heavy into sunshiny fall days (crisp air, warm sun) here in Boulder. The blizzard that hit Denver and areas south and east this week completely ignored us. So I’m bracing myself for the midwest cold I’ll see tomorrow.
We’re not presenting this year. We wanted to talk about the obstacles to workshop teaching in high school and how we’re navigating them–same presentation basically that we ended up doing at our state conference this year. It’s really fine that our presentation proposal wasn’t accepted–can’t expect to end up on the program every year. And to be honest, I’m looking forward to just focusing on learning and connecting without the added stress of presenting. I’ve already got my conference schedule packed with presentations I want to attend–the hardest part will be deciding which presentation to go to for each session.
My lesson plans for my substitute teacher for the next two days are stacked neatly on my desk at school, safe under the lobster paperweight (one of my favorite student gifts ever, right up there with the Death Star shaped tea infuser). My bag is packed. I’ve got my writer’s notebook and my favorite pen ready to take notes. I pulled the warm winter coat out of the hall closet. I’ve figured out how to use the light rail to get from the airport to the hotel tomorrow. There are plans to dine this weekend with Colorado colleagues I don’t have enough time to see ever in the midst of the school year. My alarm is set for 5am so I can be ready at 6:15am for my ride to the bus to the airport. In my wallet–exact change for the bus here and the light rail there, my driver’s license, my credit card. Water bottle, a few snack bars, some Chocolove 65% dark, warm hat, favorite scarf, gloves. Various devices are charging on the kitchen counter, ready to be squirreled away in the morning. I think I’m ready.
I’m looking forward to being in the company of a few thousand colleagues.
See you in Minneapolis!
In my head I’ve started many blog posts over the last several weeks.
There was this blog post idea:
This article claims (based on research) that kids who use computers in school daily have lower test scores. But it doesn’t say anything about HOW kids were asked to use computers in these schools. And it doesn’t ask IF we want to hang all of our success on standardized test scores (we don’t). I know that the collaborative power of the google apps in general and the many aspects of google docs (collaboration, revision history, suggesting mode…) make for the most powerful tools I’ve ever had for teaching writing. I want my students to have access to them every single day. But we have three sets of computers to share among 17 teachers in our department. I can’t have computers in front of my students every day.
But I certainly spend a lot of time pushing carts of chromebooks around…
And there was this blog post idea:
Workshop has uncorked something in my classroom. I’ve dedicated myself to two things this year: the daily workshop time structure (focus lesson, significant work time, sharing/debrief) and using a portfolio to organize students’ work as they all take their individual paths to get meet general portfolio guidelines (three thoroughly revised pieces–narrative, informational, argumentative–one research based, one over five pages, and one based on a book). And these things have gotten me successfully out of my students’ way.
In the pile of first pieces (of 4 or 5) that my students are submitting this semester to me for feedback, I had:
I could not have provided a specific, directed writing assignment that would have yielded any of these awesome pieces of writing…
But neither of these got written.
And parent/teacher conferences two nights in a row until 8:30pm.
And a book proposal I’m working on.
And busy weekends (I’m a soccer mom and it’s soccer season, there was a funeral last weekend, there have been some family birthday parties, and nice people have had us over for dinner because we’re in the middle of a kitchen remodel).
And a field trip with my newspaper students.
And three talks/presentations in one week.
And yoga/hiking/walking/running to keep my energy up for all of this.
And the reading I do because I’m asking my students to read more too.
And the extra time I’m spending planning this year because of a new prep (yay freshmen! I love them!) and being more oriented on workshop.
And homecoming week.
And a 50th anniversary celebration at the high school where I went to school.
And sleep. (I’m not doing the best on that, but I’m trying.)
It’s just a lot and there are times where I feel like I can barely keep it all going–
so the blog posts exist only in my head where no one else can read them.
Until I find a few moments to utter something. Like this. (Thanks for sticking with me on this.)
(which is actually procrastination over the student writing I need to be reading and responding to. So I’ll go do that now.)
Two of us presented at the Colorado Language Arts Society Conference this weekend. We discussed our own struggles in trying to implement a workshop pedagogy in high school classrooms.
Here is the intro video we created:
And here is a link to our slides: