Fran McVeigh, Reading Specialist
The Gaylord Convention Center was the setting for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) from November 20-23 in Washington DC. Four days packed with keynotes, sessions, authors, exhibits, teachers, administrators, students, and learning! The convention theme was “Story as the Landscape of Knowing” and stories were abundant 24/7 anywhere and everywhere that participants were gathered.
As a first time NCTE participant, I had the distinct pleasure of being part of a panel presentation as shown in the descriptor above. Our presentation had been developed collaboratively online during several meetings because the five of us had not yet met in real life. Julieanne, Mary Lee and Steve are all fifth grade teachers from California, Ohio and Iowa. Other facts that are shared by all five of us include the fact that we are all five bloggers as well as frequent participants in Twitter chats.
Our presentation really answered the question “What If?” What if students were more involved as active participants in their learning? What if teachers truly used information from and about their students in their planning? What if students worked more on identifying their own metacognitive strategies? What if students shared their likes and dislikes of informational reading? What if students blogged and shared their own writing (including poetry) with real audiences? All of these questions were based on the premises of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse.
Vicki Vinton’s gracious introduction included this quote by Seth Godin: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another. . . and to an idea. . . A group only needs two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” ( From Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us) As an introduction of the panel, Vicki read selected quotes from our blogs that can be found here:
In my part of the presentation, I shared differences between student and teacher responses to Boom, Snot, Twitty by Doreen Cronin. The use of “Know/Wonder” charts captured differences between student and adult thinking. The depth of thinking was very evident when these questions were generated after reading four pages of the book.
Final questions for the audience included: “Is reading about listing facts, events, story plot? Or is reading ‘creating understanding’ by reading the text and the pictures carefully while the reader looks for patterns and answers for his/her own questions?”
Julieanne Harmatz had studied the impact of Read Alouds on her students’ comprehension of texts. She conducted 45 1:1 student interviews with “Flair” pens as incentives. Students were asked these three questions: 1) How does read aloud compare to reading on your own? 2. Why? 3. How could we/you improve read aloud/reading? The reasons for teacher read aloud being more helpful for 70% of the class included: “hearing” the text, envisionment, talk of peers, building word knowledge, writing about reading, and thinking work while students who preferred reading on their own did so because of focus and control.
Steve Peterson worked with the idea of informational text also telling a story. He asked his students, “ Why aren’t you reading very much informational text?” They answered with: “Informational books are harder to read than fiction.” “I can get lost in a fiction book. I can’t in an informational book.” “I like the feeling of losing track of where I am.” “I care about the characters in fiction books and I want to read to find out what happens to them.” Drawing on Tom Newkirk’s work Steve asked, “What if we attune ourselves to the story, conflict or question, the tension, the oddity; answers or connections; or the desire to know to increase our understanding of informational text?” Lessons learned from this inquiry included: Explored meaty topics (“themes”), Deepened curiosity, Gave us a language.
Mary Lee Hahn’s closing included technology, writing and poetry as she reported how her fifth graders writing grew last year with building community, authentic audience, risk-taking, a variety of writing models and reflection. Mary Lee shared examples of chapter books written by students and shared how they extended their learning with blog posts! What if students have a real audience?
Beyond our presentation, the “Stars” were aligned and very visible in sessions, hallways and the exhibit hall. Presenters that I saw included: Kelly Gallagher, Tom Newkirk, Vicki Vinton, Nancy Frey, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Stephanie Harvey, Harvey Daniels, Sara Ahmed, Nancy Steinke, Steve Zimelman, Justin Stygles, Kara DiBartolo, Melissa Guerrett, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Liesl Shurtliff, Lucy Calkins, Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, Kristi Mraz, Amanda Hartman, Mary Ehrenworth, Emily Smith, Anna Cockerille, Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, Colleen Cruz, Lester Laminack, James Howe, Jacqueline Woodson, Dorothy Barnhouse, Stacey Shubitz, Tara Smith, Betsy Hubbard, Dana Murphy, Georgia Heard, and Dave Stuart Jr.
Beyond the stars and the numerous presenters it was also fun to connect with the bloggers and twitter friends that also inform and expand our professional lives. Two Writing Teachers and “Slicers” sponsored a dinner with 22 fellow bloggers having the opportunity to meet face to face for the first time. Chris Lehman and the Educator Collaborative sponsored a “professional book swap” where everyone brought a book to trade. I have a Shelley Harwayne book to explore over the holiday break from my friend Tara Smith! Twitter meet ups and informal lunch and dinner groups also added to the collegiality of time and learning at #NCTE14. Blog posts from attendees at the conference can be found here.