NCTE 2008: Thursday

After breakfast and a quick chat with my husband and my mom, I went to the Alamo.  The tour interested me a great deal, and if you go, it’s worth it to rent the mp3 player for the audio tour.  The guy running the booth for the audio tour also said nice things about my hair, which is always a nice way to start the day.

I went to a preconference session on teaching tone, and it was very interesting and encouraging.  Carol Jago and John Golden presented.  Carol had some really snazzy boots, but aside from that, she is a warm and engaging speaker, and she shared some solid ideas about teaching tone.  John Golden is very funny.  I’m not sure I would have thought of using some of his techniques for teaching tone, which include use of images and creating multimedia projects, but they were really good ideas.

After that session, I went to the Secondary Level Get-Together.  I met Penny Kittle (who is very tall and very nice), and I saw Mike LoMonico again (who is always lovely to see).  The featured speaker was Francine Prose.  I had read her article “I Know Why the Caged Bird Can’t Read” not too long ago (Nancy sent it to me), and it challenged my thinking, but I also disagreed with parts of it.  Prose spoke about that article and some of the backlash it has received and mentioned that over time, she has come to change some of the views she expressed in that article.  She felt that many teachers saw the article as an attack, and she explained that she values what English teachers do and did not mean for anyone to take her criticism about how she saw some works of literature being taught as an indictment of teachers.  When I met her to get my books signed (we received copies of Reading Like a Writer and Goldengrove), I told her about how the article had challenged my thinking, but also that I found her comments about revisiting her views interesting in light of the fact that we readers tend to see writers’ viewpoints as fixed and unchanging because the print is always there.  It’s something I haven’t given much thought to, considering I’m an English teacher.  What Prose said in response really struck me, and I’ll paraphrase it here because I didn’t write her words down immediately after.  She said that if you really want to know what you think about something, try publishing it and revisiting it through the feedback you get from others.  That sounds like blogging to me, although I’m sure she wasn’t thinking of blogging when she said it.  I know blogging has certainly made me think more about everything I teach and read and think, and the feedback from others, whether agreeing with me or challenging me, has made me think about it even more.

I wish it were possible for me to attend this conference every year.  It’s got to be the most valuable interaction I can have with my peers outside of blogging (which has a smaller audience and can sometimes feel like an echo chamber).

I’m in San Antonio

If you are at NCTE, and you want to meet up, contact me at dana dot huff at gmail dot com, and either give me your contact information, or I’ll give you mine.

I want to go see Twilight Friday night, and I’m looking for folks to go with.  I’ll be at the Folger get-together Saturday evening.

NCTE Bound

Tomorrow evening I’ll be flying to San Antonio to the NCTE Annual Conference.  I haven’t been to an NCTE conference since 1998, which took place in Nashville.  I went then because Atlanta is within easy driving distance of Nashville.  While this is not true of San Antonio, I really wanted to go this year because the focus is on 21st century learning and technology.

I’ll be blogging from the conference, and possibly the hotel, but I think it’s a crime I will have to pay for wifi at the hotel.  Hope it’s free at the convention center.  At any rate, if you read this blog, feel free to say “hi.”  I’m meeting up with some Folger folks on Saturday night, and if you want to go see Twilight Friday night, let me know.

Overdue Update

I knew at some point during the semester, I would be too overwhelmed to blog much, and that point came at the junction of creating the English department budget for next year and keeping up with grad school.

Some things I’m thinking about: assessment and professional development, planning a curriculum map/scope and sequence for my department, and NCTE.  Will I see any of you at the conference?  I’m looking forward to going.

I am plugging away in my grad school program, but I’m immensely frustrated by one of my classes to the point that I feel I should warn anyone interested in the program about the class.  It’s required, and it’s a complete waste of time.  It’s outdated, it’s boring busy work, and it’s mostly irrelevant.  It’s also the one that I was most looking forward to when I registered.  It’s a course on using the Web in education.  We have learned nothing, and I mean nothing, about Web 2.0 tools.  Several of the assignments have been redundant collections of links on various subjects.  When I finally thought I’d learned something in the class — fair use — I quickly learned from my blog commenters that even that lesson was outdated.  I was encouraged by one classmate to look at the class as a means to an end, but I admit it bothers me that I paid tuition for it.  And I plan to share this information on my course evaluation, too.  They MUST get this class, and in some respects, the rest of the program into the 21st century.  Why am I reading a book about how we are entering an information age and we need to change how we teach kids that was written in 1993?  Nothing more recent has been written on a similar subject that we can use instead?  I don’t believe it.

On the plus side, I was able to get a student discount for Adobe Studio 8, which was later replaced by Creative Suite.  It comes with Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8, Fireworks 8, Contribute 3, and Flashpaper 2.  I haven’t worked with all of the programs, but I loved Dreamweaver and Fireworks.  I know Dreamweaver throws in a lot of code that isn’t necessary when you use it to create Web sites, but it’s so much easier than coding with HTML.  I used it to build the shell of the Web site that will be my ITMA portfolio.  Most of the pages are placeholders right now except for the home page and résumé, but feel free to watch it for developments!  A permanent link is in the sidebar to the left.

Megan Golding is a Class Act!

I hope I don’t embarrass Megan by announcing here that she was the recipient of the Class Act award.  Class Act is given by 11Alive (WXIA), a local NBC affiliate, based on a nomination by a student, parent, or colleague.  11Alive has not updated their Class Act blog to reflect Megan’s award, but that’s probably because the story just appeared on the news this morning.

If you get a chance, visit Megan’s blog and offer her congratulations.

Copyright and Fair Use

I just completed an assignment which required me to research copyright and fair use (first useful assignment in that course, sadly), and I thought I would share some of what I learned here in case it’s helpful to you:

  • Your students in grades K-6 may not necessarily be expected to understand how much material they can use before they infringe copyright, but if your students are older, be sure to educate them about portion limitations.
  • Even for educational use, fair use has time limitations.  Make sure you are aware how long you can use materials without infringing copyright.
  • Fair use is defined in a nebulous fashion: err on the side of caution and either 1) obtain proper permissions, 2) follow the letter of fair use guidelines with regards to all restrictions and limitations, or 3) don’t use the material.

I found these sites helpful with regards to learning more about fair use:

Remember: You can find music, images, video, and other materials licensed under a Creative Commons License (which often just requires attribution in the case of non-commercial use, but check the license for the individual work you want to use).  Make sure your students know about this valuable resource.

More Than Texts

As he was leaving today, a student paid a compliment to my Hero with a Thousand Faces class.  I’m not sure if I was meant to respond to the comment.  I didn’t.  We were chatting about our schedule on Thursday, which differs from a usual Thursday schedule for a lot of reasons that aren’t germane to this post.  The student said something about liking the usual Thursday schedule because he can come in late (he’s a senior and must not have a class before mine) and go to a class that’s about more than just the text.

I have not given a lot of assignments in this class, but we have engaged in some deep discussions about Joseph Campbell and his ideas, and we are delving into a serious discussion of Star Wars at the moment.  I really enjoy the class.  Even without the carrot (or the stick) of grades looming over the students, they do the work, are involved in class discussion, and are engaged in the material.  I conduct the class more like a college seminar than a standard required English class precisely because it is an elective.

The same student mentioned looking up information about Star Wars at home in his free time, completely unprompted by me, so he could learn more about it.  He was impressed by the sheer amount of information online.  Another student picked up the Harry Potter series for the first time because he was intrigued by some of the class discussion of how Rowling’s work displays Campbell’s influence.

A colleague of mine, a science teacher who often participates in the discussion and has really become a co-teacher in the class, has added so much to the class just by her enthusiasm and presence, often filling in gaps in information I have.  I am not sure how the class would have differed without her presence because she has added so much to our discussion and to our understanding of the subject matter.  She participates in the class during her planning time, which effectively causes her to lose time she could spend grading or planning lessons.  I think the students have really come to appreciate her presence a great deal, and they miss her when she is unable to come.

I’m not sure if the student realized what a compliment I considered his statement.  Some might interpret his words to mean we’re not doing enough “English” in the course, but I understood him to mean that we are engaged in larger discussions and conversations that involve the text, but also go beyond the text and are stimulating in some way he found it difficult to express in other words.

One of my goals in this class is to transform the way students read literature and watch movies, and I feel good about my progress toward reaching that goal.


One of the features that I admired in Penny Kittle’s classroom as shown on the DVD accompanying Write Beside Them is a regular book talk in which Kittle shares good books with her class and has them write down titles that sound interesting in their writer’s notebooks.  I tried it out, and realized my students weren’t getting the point.

I understand I was a very weird kid, but I liked book recommendations from my teachers.  I got what we call in my family “a wild hair” [crazy idea] about getting ready for college by reading all the recommended books.  I craved book lists.  I wanted someone to tell me what to read so that I could be ready for college. I asked my eleventh grade teacher Mrs. Patsel for a reading list.  Now that I’ve been teaching about 11 years, I totally understand her reaction.  After she picked her jaw off the floor, she promised to bring me one the next day.  When I asked for the list, I was presented instead with a box of discarded books that used to be used in the school’s classrooms.  I didn’t know what to say.  I just wanted reading suggestions, but she gave me the actual books.  And you know, if a kid asked me for the same thing I asked Mrs. Patsel for, I’d probably do exactly what she did.

At any rate, my point, and I’m getting to it, is that I decided to create a podcast to share these books instead of using the class time.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea or bad idea, but my thinking was that if you decided it didn’t suck, maybe you might want to use in your classroom, so I decided to publish the first podcast here, too.  I will recommend that you subscribe to my podcast feed f you want the whole shebang I provide for my students, including links to Amazon so you can buy the books, links to information about the authors, and other interesting links, as well as a podcast transcript.  Through the feed, you can also subscribe via iTunes or another podcatcher.  I spent an hour or so trying to figure how to create a feed just for the podcasts.  I feel accomplished, but I am also nervous it wasn’t worthwhile.

Here’s my first ever podcast, warts and all:

Mrs. Huff’s BookCast: Episode 1

I probably won’t update this blog each time I post a podcast, so check out the feed if you decide you like it and might want to be notified when it’s updated.  If you want to download the podcast, try clicking through to the feed to make it easier.  I have downloading audio disabled here on this site.

Should We All Stop Blogging?

Wired has a new, somewhat controversial article about blogging:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.

Author Paul Boutin makes some valid points:

  • The blogosphere is dominated by online magazines, corporations, and paid bloggers.
  • Insult comments and trolls wreck personal blogging.
  • Text-based Web sites are sooo 2004; social networking and video/audio/image-heavy content is the thing.

It can be argued that it’s hard to compete with the likes of the Huffington Post, Engadget, Boing Boing, or the like.  This blog — and most likely your blog — will not be in Technorati’s list of the top 100 blogs.  But if that’s why you’re blogging, then no wonder it’s unsatisfying.  The first person you should be blogging for is you, which is what I intend to argue in my presentation at the Georgia Independent School Association conference the week after next.  If you are simply trying to get a big audience, I have to question why.  Sure, it’s nice to have regular readers and commenters, but if your main concern is being the most popular, most read, then I, for one, wish you wouldn’t blog or wouldn’t start a blog because I think you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Insult comments suck.  Trolls suck.  They’re part of the Web, and they’re one reason why despite how much I love Web 2.0, I don’t have my students establish their own blogs.  Maybe I will some day, but I know how furious it would make me if my student received a trollish comment I wasn’t able to delete first.  There are always folks who feel it’s OK to be rude jerks, and for some reason, the anonymity possible with the Web brings out the worst behavior in people in that regard.  However, what Boutin doesn’t mention is that all the blogging systems I can think of have comment moderation, and no one is beholden to publish comments at all.  A comments policy should cover anyone interested in allowing comments.

Many changes made to blogging allow for all kinds of media to be incorporated into blogs, and indeed, a lot of the posts I see (and some of my own, at that) incorporate this media effectively.  I don’t know why they should be considered mutually exclusive at all.

I have become a much more reflective person as a result of blogging, and I don’t think it’s an inherently bad idea to blog, provided one is doing so for the right reasons and has given some thought to direction, purpose, and policies with regard to blogging.  I like Twitter, but 140 characters will never be able to replace what I do with my blogs, and I enjoy Facebook, but I don’t use it for the same purposes of self-expression that I do here.  Maybe it’s because I don’t take many pictures, but even though I have a Flickr account, I am just not into it (aside from finding good Creative Commons licensed photos to use on my blog).

I guess my response to Boutin’s claims is that they’re legitimate, but that blogging doesn’t have to be defined in such narrow terms and for such narrow purposes as he proposes.  What are your thoughts?

[via Roger Darlington]


If it takes a while for your comment to appear, please be patient.  I am not receiving e-mails when I receive comments that are in moderation, and I haven’t seen them until I have logged in.  If your comment doesn’t appear after a few days, and you know you’ve followed the comment policies, you can contact me and see if I know what happened — most likely I missed it somehow.  I apologize for the inconvenience.