Tag Archives: conference

NCTE 2016 Reflections

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My feelings about going to NCTE’s annual conference this year were mixed. I had recently lost my grandmother, and I wasn’t sure I was up the socializing that usually happens at the conference. On the other hand, I thought perhaps seeing friends and learning would be a good respite. As it turned out, I am glad I went. I was so happy to see my friends, and the sessions I attended were really good.

The most exciting thing about NCTE for me was that it was in Atlanta, which meant visiting one of my former homes. I lived in Atlanta for eight years before moving to Worcester in 2012. It’s strange to me that I visited two places that I used to call home in the space of a single week. I was able to visit my former school, the Weber School, where I discovered my goodbye message is still posted on the dry-erase board in the tech office. I can’t say how much it humbled and moved me that after four years, it was still there.

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I discovered some really cool projects are happening at the school and connected with former colleagues, both at the school and at NCTE, where they presented at session D.27: Creative Public Works: Research-Based Art as Social Justice Advocacy.

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They did a great job, and of course I had to get a selfie (above) with those members of the English department with whom I worked while I was at Weber. Weber is also doing a “minimester” experience for students, which looks really engaging. The minimester is called “Haskalah Term” and includes classes that are interdisciplinary, team-taught courses on a variety of subjects. Both the Creative Public Works project and the minimester idea are things I hope to bring to the attention of my colleagues at Worcester Academy.

Other standout sessions for me included F.03: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait: Advocating for Access, Autonomy, and Authenticity, presented by Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, Sara Kadjer, and Kristen Turner. I was able to get a picture with Bud, whom I haven’t seen in a long time.

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Troy, Sara, Bud, and Kristen shared their slidedeck online (always appreciated). Sara also took a picture of the two of us, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I also enjoyed G.16: A Tale of Two Cities: Multicultural Literature as Advocacy by Nicole Amato and Teresa Strait. These two teachers are doing some cool things with literature and independent reading in their classes this year.

I headed to I.01: Arguing in the Real World: Giving Students a Voice in Digital Spaces by Troy Hicks, Alex Corbitt, Lauren King, Valerie Mattesich, and Betsy Reid thinking I might pick up some cool things to share with my AP Lang teachers and that I could use in my own classroom as well, and it was one of the best sessions I attended. The group has a wikispace with a lot of information and lessons.

My friend Glenda Funk’s presentation with her colleagues from Highland High School in Pocatello, ID, was another standout (J.11: Corners on Our Curving Classrooms: Restoring Voice to Students and Staff). I had never thought of using restorative justice techniques to analyze literature and character before.

I didn’t go to any sessions that were awful. Unfortunately, last year, it was the case that some of the sessions were just not good. However, once again, I do have some criticism, mostly around organizational issues.

Just like last year, in most cases, materials are either not posted online or are hard to find. I really think presenters need to take it upon themselves to share their materials somewhere online and not rely on NCTE to coordinate it for them. As a participant, I appreciate having immediate access to materials, right there in the session. Kudos to the Weber School folks and the folks in the F, I, and J sessions I mentioned above for sharing their materials online in an immediate way. The Weber School English teachers passed out the flyer below with links to everything I needed.

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I went to a fairly interesting B session that didn’t share materials anywhere I could find, and because I came in late, I was already behind in following along. Their ideas seemed good, but ask me what I remember now. We were doing an interactive activity for much of the session, so I couldn’t take notes, and I can’t tell you the instructions for the activities now. Presenters, teachers want to take what you share right into the classroom when they return. Don’t make it hard for them. If you want to make it hard, don’t present. Ostensibly, you are presenting because you have good ideas you are willing to share. I get trying to make money from the ideas. I try to do that, too. But I have never understood teachers who don’t share. It benefits more students. I always put my slidedeck and any handouts online when I present. It’s a courtesy to participants. That’s why I have to give props to Glenda and her colleagues at Highland. Even though they had trouble with the NCTE folder for materials, they tweeted out their materials so that participants could find them. A few other presenters shared links to their materials in the course of the presentation. I reiterate, it is 2016 and there is no longer any good excuse for not sharing your slidedeck and materials. Make use of URL shorteners, QR codes, or even handouts, but share your presentation and materials. NCTE: you have the power make sharing materials non-negotiable. It can be a part of the requirements for presenting a session. Give it some thought.

It seems like NCTE didn’t want a repeat of the protest from last year.

I felt last year’s protest was not exactly directed at the folks who needed to hear it (the folks working the exhibit are not the bigwigs at Pearson), but I thought the appearance of this policy in the convention book was interesting, especially given the conference theme of advocacy. Given the theme, I was much more troubled by the appearance of this sponsor’s handout taped up in the bathroom stalls.

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What message are we sending about assessment if we think outsourcing grading is okay? NCTE has taken a stand against computer-graded writing. It seems to me that asking “teaching assistants” known as “Graiders” is antithetical to NCTE’s philosophy of assessment. I guess the sponsors and exhibitors are not chosen because they adhere to philosophy, though. I’m probably going to get in trouble for what some folks, particularly this organization, will see as unfair criticism of their product, which I admit I have no experience with. However, I strongly believe that teachers are the best assessors of their students’ work, just as Kevin English said to me when he replied to my tweet about this flyer.

If we need to outsource our grading, then we need to take a hard look at what we are asking our students to do. If it’s not valuable enough for us to assess it ourselves, it’s not valuable enough for students to do.

I avoided going to sessions I thought might be crowded. I think we do have some of the “rock star” syndrome beginning to happen at NCTE, just as it did with ISTE, and I avoided sessions presented by the “rock stars.” It’s not that what they say isn’t valuable or important or else so many people wouldn’t be listening to them. However, I worry that we are an echo chamber and that these “famous” voices are drowning out other important voices. I shared this concern directly with Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE’s Executive Director, and she was quite receptive, so it is my hope that NCTE is thinking about this issue and the challenges of providing the members with what they want as well as honoring all voices.

I didn’t hit the exhibit hall at all. I admit seeing the flyer above put me off. Perhaps it shouldn’t have. I usually go and spend a lot of time in the exhibits. It’s great that NCTE brings so many authors to the convention so that we can connect with our favorite writers. I wasn’t going to be at the convention on Sunday, which is traditionally the best day, as exhibitors slash prices and give away many of their materials to avoid shipping them back home. I might have spent some time in the exhibits if I had stayed through Sunday.

I enjoyed the conference theme, which was a welcome balm after the upheaval in politics this year and was great for thinking of ways to advocate both for myself and my students.  I also think I like the new branding, which was unveiled at the conference. It is bold and innovative. I think I even like that lime green color. It definitely looks more modern than NCTE’s former branding, and the font in particular communicates the organization is dynamic.

Jim Burke led a roundtable discussion in H.24: Reading and Writing: Pathways for Students to Creative Thinking, Innovation, and Problem-Solving on Design Thinking. He is either writing or about to publish a book on the topic and challenged us to think of our students as “users” in designing our curriculum, learning experiences, and assignments. I challenge NCTE to continue to improve with regards to the learning experiences of its members. Make accessing materials the easiest thing in the world, because it totally can be, and it wouldn’t be that hard to do. Continue to think about spaces. The gender-neutral bathrooms were great. It really helped with the long lines in the women’s room this year. I went to one session, ironically the one I mentioned earlier in this paragraph, that used only half the room for the roundtables, and we were cramped and sitting practically on top of each other. We could have used the whole space better by spreading the roundtables out.

In all, it was another great learning experience, and once again, I’m glad I went. I remain grateful to my undergraduate English Education program, in particular Sally Hudson-Ross and Mark Faust, for inculcating the importance of NCTE membership and conference attendance in their students. Many English teachers in the country remain unaware of the excellent resource that is NCTE.

We have work to do. I went to a session at the end of the day on Saturday, K.18: Poet Advocates: Using Poetry to Advocate for Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century. I immediately thought of this quote by Toni Morrison.

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It was tweeted by @KarenAndAndrew, but I’m not sure who created the image, so if you find out who it was, please let me know. Reverse image searching didn’t do much to help.

What Morrison said about artists going to work goes for teachers, too.

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NCTE 2015 Reflections

I had a great time at NCTE this year. I have, as usual, a lot to process. I walked away with some great ideas, too.

I really liked the High School Matters session, which I typically miss. I have a lot of great ideas for books to read, especially after also going to Carol Jago’s “share what you are reading” session right before High School Matters.

I went to the CEL roundtable last year and found it to be just as good this year. The Carnivals of Truth: Rainbow Perspectives on Critical Issues in ELA Roundtable was also excellent but poorly attended (more on that in a moment). I got some great stuff I can take into my class next week. Because there were few attendees, I was able to talk one-on-one at length with the presenters and ask them some questions about their work with students.

I love this photo with Kwame Alexander, Gary Anderson, Russ Anderson, and Jaclyn Han (I’m photobombing in the back).

I also enjoyed the session presented by friends Glenda Funk, Paul Hankins, and Lee Ann Spillane with Melissa Sweet, Word by Word: The Art of Crafting Responsibility and Creativity. I pulled some ideas for how I might use art and picture books with my own students.

My favorite artifact of that session is noticing that Glenda, Lee Ann, and I have matching haircuts and part our hair on the same side.

Now for the part that’s going to get me in trouble. But I’m trying to be a bit braver about discussing things that make me uncomfortable. I tend to be a kind of positive person, and I avoid conflict if I can. But I feel I should speak up.

I am really concerned about NCTE. I’m concerned that we have a few very popular voices and that those voices dominate the discussion. I am concerned that a handful of folks who have written some popular books have been elevated to rock stars and that we are not listening to others. More people should have been at that Rainbow Perspectives roundtable. But they weren’t because that session was up against some popular voices. Let me be clear: I don’t necessarily blame the popular folks for being popular.  I don’t know that these few folks necessarily cultivate a cult of personality, but what if they didn’t present every year? Just a thought I’m putting out there. I know full well I’ve presented several times, too, and perhaps it’s not fair of me to criticize, especially because the voices about which I speak are strong educators and advocates for what is best in English classrooms. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps they deserve to direct the conversation.

My own session proposal was relegated to a poster session. Now, it is true that I have presented before, but so have the folks I’m talking about here, and from my point of view, they presented the same thing they have done in the past. It’s an important message that they have, and it should go out. I declined my invitation to present writing workshop and Socratic seminar as a poster session because it would not have worked. I cannot understand how NCTE thought it would. And I also cannot understand why we hear from the same voices every time. I cannot understand why proposals that involve people reading their papers are accepted. If I want to read a paper, I can read a paper. I go to sessions to learn about others’ ideas with the hope of adapting them for my own practice. I cannot understand why such presentations were given a room while my voice was effectively silenced in this conversation. I don’t mean to sound bitter because I’m not. I had a good conference, and I listened to some very good presenters. But I had some pretty good work to share, too, and it doesn’t fit on a poster.

It’s pretty easy to put slidedecks online or share links via URL shorteners. I don’t understand not putting your materials online, especially if you’re going through a slidedeck too fast for me to take notes. In 2015, this shouldn’t be a problem. I have to be firm on this one and take a stand. Participants will enjoy your sessions better if they are not scrambling to capture everything you say because you have not posted your slidedeck or materials online. NCTE makes this one easy, folks. You don’t even need to have a website or storage space. Having said that, if you don’t intend to share it, is there anything wrong with telling the audience and explaining your reasoning?

I have to admit I wasn’t happy about the protest. First of all, I fully support a boycott of Pearson. I support protesting their intrusion into education. I don’t agree with the things that company is doing. That said, the folks in the booth are not the people we are angry with. They are not the people we really need to listen to us. They are just some folks selling books and materials. Putting myself in their place, I would have felt mortified. True, they could work for someone else. But sometimes we don’t have a lot of choices about work. The people NCTE members need to mount a protest against are the Department of Education, the state governors, the legislators, and the administrators. By all means boycott Pearson by refusing to purchase their products. The protest was not aimed at the people that should have heard it. If we really want to be brave and reclaim education,  we could try directing that protest to the right people. Perhaps it’s not my place to say anything because I’m not a public school educator. I work in private school, and Pearson does not test my students nor does it/will it test me. Maybe I don’t have a right to speak out on this issue at all, as a result. But you know what? Some of the folks in the protest are also not K-12 public school teachers. If we care about education, we should be able to speak about issues that concern us, even if they don’t touch us in the same ways.

The Minneapolis Convention Center was a great venue. It was easy to navigate (that was refreshing for a change), and the rooms were a good size, so plenty of people could fit in the various sessions offered. Also, there were plenty of amenities such as snack bars, bathrooms, easy recycling. It was close to the hotels and restaurants as well as public transportation. NCTE is doing a much better job at least determining rooms for sessions. I didn’t go into a single session that was too full for me to find a seat. There were some issues with the coat check station, but those were the only inconveniences I experienced with the venue.

I realize some of the points I’ve made here are not popular ones, but I do hope we can have a civil dialogue about these issues. NCTE is important to me. I have been a member since I was in college preparing to be an English teacher. NCTE has been critical in my evolution as a reflective teacher of English language arts. I have actually left another organization because it is plagued with problems related to, for lack of a better way to put it, a sort of rock star faction that took over the organization and turned it into something cliquish and deeply uncomfortable to experience. I can’t foresee attending that other organization’s conference again. Ultimately, I could let it go because it wasn’t important for me to involve myself in that organization. But NCTE is too important for me to lose to that mentality, too.

As always, I appreciate the work that NCTE does to bring authors to the conference. I was able to meet and have books signed by Alison Bechdel, Deborah Wiles, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Alison Bechdel

Deborah Wiles

Laurie Halse AndersonI plan to go next year in Atlanta. Despite some of the issues I raised, I still value NCTE as the best conference for professional development.

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NCTE Bound

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I’m starting to get excited about the annual NCTE convention this year. I will be presenting Writing Workshop with two colleagues who are sharing their experiences with student blogging and online discussion forums. Here are our session details:

NCTE SessionI’m also looking forward to visiting all the Folger folks and seeing Julius Caesar at the Folger theater with my friend, Glenda.

Are you going to NCTE?

NCTE image made with Spell with Flickr

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Reflections on ISTE 2013

Dynamic SerenityI am still gathering my notes on the ISTE conference last week. You can see them in this public Evernote notebook I’ve shared. Sometimes it’s not the most helpful thing to try to parse someone else’s cryptic notes, but for what it’s worth, feel free to have a look.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, but I have two pieces of advice for anyone who is using a slidedeck to present at a large conference like ISTE.

  1. Don’t put text on the bottom of the slide. If the room is really crowded, some of the people in the room will not see the text. They will stand up a little to see better, which only makes the view worse for people behind them. I know lots of templates have text on the bottom, and it looks pretty. I have done it, too. You just never know what the room will look like, however, and text on the top is more accessible.
  2. Why not share your presentation via Google Presentation or SlideShare? If you do that, seeing it in the front is a moot point, and you can put text wherever you want. The presentation is now in the hands of your audience, and they can more easily annotate it, download it, and (dare I suggest it?) remix it.

Invent to LearnI came away from the conference excited about the possibilities of maker spaces, and after an energizing presentation by Sylvia Martinez, I downloaded her new book, co-written with Gary Stager,  Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. I can’t wait to learn more about making and engineering. One statement she made, which I will share here, is that we wouldn’t be talking about how to integrate the arts into schools and turning STEM into STEAM if schools hadn’t artificially removed art. She said you cannot stop kids from being artists. She shared the example of her daughter going through art school and how she learned that artists are on the cutting edge of technology.

One focus of the conference was gamification, and I am interested in exploring that topic further, as well. You have probably heard of the Mozilla Open Badges project (if not, check it out). I am excited to see how this project develops, particularly after Bill Clinton endorsed the idea. To be dead honest, my instructional technology masters was almost completely useless in terms of preparing me for what I do. And don’t get me started again on the test I had to take to add technology instruction to my certificate. It helps to have the degree on your résumé, I guess, but I hope, in light of how expensive education is (and it’s getting more expensive) that we can consider alternative credentials. Put together with endorsements, similar to LinkedIn, and I think badges could be more valuable than wasting money on classes with content you never use again. I’m just thinking out loud, and I don’t have the answer. Certainly some attention to personalized learning is in order.

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NCTE Session G.41 Teaching the Hero’s Journey: Understanding Our Past, Creating Our Future

On Saturday, I presented with Glenda Funk and Ami Szerencse on teaching the Hero’s Journey. Here you will find my slide deck and handouts. You can find the handouts Glenda and Ami shared here at Glenda’s blog.

View more presentations from Dana Huff

Heroic Journey and Archetypes Note-taking Sheet

Star Wars Levels of Reading (MS Word document)

Star Wars Essay

Hobbit Essay Assignment

Please feel free to share feedback about the presentation and/or add to our list of hero’s journey texts. The Google Doc Glenda shared is not editable, but feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Also, if you have questions or need additional resources, feel free to ask in the comments.

I wanted to add this video for folks interested in The Matrix as a hero’s journey text:

Thank you Glenda and Ami for being awesome co-presenters.

I will share my own reflections and thoughts about the conference at a later time, but it was wonderful to see you all, and Chicago is a beautiful city.

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GCTE Conference 2010

I had a great time and went to so many great sessions at this year’s GCTE Conference at Callaway Gardens.

This first session I attended explored the use of Plasq’s Comic Life software in school projects (Kristen Kallaher, Stone Mountain High School). I have Comic Life on my Mac, and I use it to make cool handouts for my classroom, but I hadn’t thought about getting it installed in our computer lab so students could create projects. I find there is a bit of a learning curve with Comic Life. Still, it’s an idea worth exploring.

Long-time readers of this blog know about my struggles with grading as a form of assessment. If I have to use grades, I want them to reflect what students have truly learned. Sisters Laura Cook (South Effingham High School) and Elizabeth Self presented a session on Grading What Matters that I found intriguing. One thing Laura Cook does is she doesn’t penalize students’ points for late work. Instead, she assigns them lunch detention until the work is completed. In her words, it’s a behavior issue and should therefore be addressed with consequences for the behavior. I like that idea and would like to talk about it further with my department and other faculty at my school. Update: I forgot to include a link to Laura and Liz’s blog, where you can find materials shared at their session.

Lawrence Scanlon presented Integrating Nonfiction into the Curriculum: An Introduction to Rhetoric. My department chair and I have been discussing changes in the curriculum along these lines. What is funny is that she e-mailed me prior to the conference and asked me to go to this session if I could, but if there was something else I preferred, she said that was OK. Well, I went through the descriptions, settled on this session, and went. Then I realized it was the one she wanted me to go to. We are so in tune with each other that it’s spooky. This session was great. One thing I took away from it was solid tools to help students to craft an argument that I can use immediately.

I am interested in multigenre research papers and attended a session last year presented by Buffy Hamilton (who has since become an online friend). This year, Robert Montgomery and his students at Kennesaw State University presented their multigenre research papers, and I learned some new ways to incorporate this valuable writing experience into my classroom. I also really need to finish Tom Romano’s book.

My last session on Friday was presented by a teacher candidate from UGA (Eric Slauson) on incorporating science fiction into the classroom. I chose to go to this session because of my Joseph Campbell class. Slauson did a particularly good job pairing science fiction offerings with canon books.

The final session of the conference took place on Saturday, and I chose to attend Ike Thompson’s (Houston County High School) presentation of Literature Circles. I am very interested in doing more with literature circles, and Thompson’s presentation gave me lots of good ideas. He applied for a mini-grant from GCTE in order to populate his classroom library. I have been researching grant opportunities aside from this mini-grant, and I find that many grant opportunities are limited to public school teachers. I understand why. It makes complete sense to me. But I need to find a way to get a solid classroom library, too. I guess my department chair and I will just need to put our heads together and think.

Saturday night I had dinner and excellent conversations with colleagues from across the state. We moved on to trivia after dinner, and our team won. I absolutely love trivia. My favorite board game is Trivial Pursuit. I need to get in on some local trivia deal so I can keep sharp.

The best part of the conference for me, at least personally, was this:

Dana Huff GCTE High School Teacher of the Year

Nothing beats being recognized by your own colleagues.

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GISA Conference

I went to the annual Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) Annual Conference today.  I ate lunch with Megan; it’s cool to see connections I made through this blog become “real-life” connections as well.  Incidentally, Megan presented a session on using social bookmarking (such as del.icio.us).  The two sessions I went to were very interesting (which hasn’t always been the case at GISA — the session I presented last year included): Fantasy Literature (teaching The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter along with Campbell’s ideas about the journey of the hero) and Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom.  Frankly, I confess I went to the latter to see if a) it would be better than the session I presented last year (it was), b) what the presenters would say.  I did not expect to learn about anything new.  Of course, I did learn about some things that were new to me, at any rate.

One thing that interested me in particular about the Fantasy Literature session was that so many other schools already have this class as an elective.  A teacher from Pace Academy shared his successes teaching the course to 8th graders, and a teacher from Griffin Christian High School shared that he teaches The Lord of the Rings for the first semester of 9th grade, teaching all the literary terms, etc., through the context of that work.  I taught The Hobbit one year — when I was a student teacher, in fact — and I found that students in general didn’t like it much, but I think as part of an elective, it would be a different crowd.  Frankly, I could see myself really enjoying such a class.

The blogs and wikis session introduced me to Voice Thread, which Megan mentioned also at lunch.  I imagine if you hear about something twice in such a short span of time, someone’s trying to send a message.  For the uninitiated, Voice Thread is online software that allows users to create documentaries using images and creating narration to accompany the images.  Check out this sample of its use: Slavery in America (by Jeff Morrison’s middle school students at the Lovett School).  Jeff (one of the presenters) also introduced us to TrackStar, which somehow went under my radar, even though I’ve used 4Teachers‘ other service RubiStar to create rubrics.

I am thinking about ways I might integrate some of these resources with my current projects — The Canterbury Tales and The Odyssey.  You can view Jeff’s wiki, which has links to a bunch of sources he shared with us.

One of my favorite parts of Jeff’s presentation was a video he shared:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/1SmgLtg1Izw" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

As Jeff said, that is what it is like to teach.  Especially middle school.

By the way, I am now receiving e-mails when comments are posted.  I kept my eyes on the WordPress Support forums’ thread related to my problem, and eventually, someone posted a solution that worked for me.  I uploaded a plugin created to work around the problem.

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