Almost Famous, NCTE Style and the Conjunction of Biology and Narrative

Saturday morning of NCTE. What to say?

It’s NCTE. Coming to a conference like this is important for a whole bunch of reasons. It creates community both through introducing us to new people and allowing us to spend time with people we know, it affirms the work we do and our beliefs about the work, we have a chance to hear and discuss new thoughts and ideas, and it is rejuvenating.

And in a geeky teacher way, we get to see famous people. Penny Kittle asked how our book project is going. I got to talk to Ralph Fletcher and Thomas Newkirk yesterday. This morning, through the most happy of accidents, I had coffee with Donalyn Miller, Smokey Daniels and Kristin Ziemke (and someone whose name didn’t stick in my inadequately coffeed brain, but should have, because she was really nice and probably someone I should know). Alfie Cohn and Joe Bower will be speaking in a few moments.

Of course, conferences also stir up lots of thinking. The session on story with Newkirk and Fletcher yesterday had me back to chewing on the place of story in how we deal with the world. It is in the middle, in case you were wondering. It was a raucous session, with lots of stories and laughter, but the central message was clear. In teaching narrative, or story, we are engaging our students at their core. At the most important mode of language. In a world that definitely wants to denigrate or relegate the role of narrative (see old post about the common Core, Narrative, and David Coleman) it was uplifting to have it placed back where it belongs, at the center of literacy.

In a fantastically serendipitous moment, Doc Z’s husband is at the big biology conference in Atlanta right now. The first night he posted following slide from the keynote speaker, Sean Carroll (the biologist, not the physicist) on Facebook:

Slide from Sean Carroll's presentation at the NABT conference 2013.
Slide from Sean Carroll’s presentation at the NABT conference 2013.

So this is what the the BIOLOGY teachers started with this year. Story. And how narrative is fundamental to how humans process the world. The interesting thing is not that I have said or read everything on that slide, which I have. It’s that what we claim about the centrality of story is not just intuition anymore. It’s biology.

The cross disciplinary synchronicity is staggering. It’s like matter and anti-matter meeting (just kidding). But now when I argue that narrative isn’t just useful pedagogically (which it is), but rather it is the fundamental language skill from which all others derive, I will do so knowing that even the biologists are going to back me up.

DocZ addressed our hiatus from the blog in her post yesterday. It’s been a really horrendous fall. If you feel like some disaster tourism, watch the video here. That’s my town. So I haven’t been writing much. Just trying to get to work and do my job and take care of my family and my town. But we’re glad to be at NCTE, and glad to be blogging. Hope to see you out there.

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