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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

letter N letter C letter T letter E

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

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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