NCTE Experience #2: Real-life & Reading in the Classroom

Here is the second installment of my ideas from NCTE! I attended a variety of sessions in the spirit of professional development.

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The first session I walked into was called “Public Education in Troubled Times”. I was expecting a serious, slightly-political presentation about how corruption in society impacts our public classrooms. I wasn’t wrong, but the conversation was more focused than I intended. The subject? Black lives matter. The big question was “How has Brown v Board of Education failed America?” We took a look as white as a thought process, how no one is born with a racist or secular mind; it is molded by its surroundings. The tension in the room was high, as a result of the topic at hand, but ideas were flowing, and questions were asked left and right. I wrote down my own question, but never spoke it. I don’t know if I was scared, if it was because I was surrounded by strangers or not knowing the reaction or answers frightened me. “How do I teach oppression, racism and the reality of racism in a classroom that has never experienced it? To these kids, crimes of humanity are just images on the news, so how do I make these struggles and injustices real?” These are not questions I can leave unanswered.

My next session was absolutely fabulous. On Tuesday when we get back to class, I will be sharing with my Special Methods class the highlights from “Turning Writing about Reading into More than Writing for School”, but I will give you all a sneak peek right now. The more realistic description would be ‘how to ensure the writing your students do about their reading is useful to both their writing and reading lives’. There were three speakers for this presentation, one of them being Lucy Calkins!

I related to this presentation a lot as a student. In school, I hated reading a book for class because I would have to stop and write forced connections, predictions or explain why I thought a passage was important. I just wanted to holler, “ LET ME READ THE DARN BOOK IN PEACE!”. Now that I think about it, these practices are what started my dislike for writing. Here are some of the ideas Lucy (first name basis right there) gave us to avoid created experiences like mine:

  • “Readers in the real world don’t write about their reading the way classrooms expect readers to”
  • Useless writing takes away from reading time!
  • Consider what you already know about teaching writing and implement it into their reading lives
  • If a student cannot respond to their reading, it isn’t the right book for them
  • You cannot control kids mind as they read. Let them think.
  • When writing about reading choice matters. It should be real and original.
  • Use reading to teach the qualities of good writing.
  • Don’t give them anything but a goal to strive for.
  • Revision –> consistently remind them what they are reading is a finished, polished product

I now that was a ton of bullet points, but I was gripping to every word that came of that woman’s mouth. Just like in her books, she used sticky notes to demonstrate her thinking during her talk. The following speakers, Katie Clements and Carl Anderson, followed thoughtfully with topics related to writing about your reading life. The key points I picked up here were:

  • Read with a writerly awareness
  • Pay attention to when character face their trouble
  • Boxes and bullets > outline
  • Sequence is powerful when writing about your reading (and every other time)
  • Vision, Envision, Revision
  • Be present in the text and make meaning by referring to the text
  • Use your personal experiences and knowledge

I cannot even explain how disappointed I was when I walked out of this session. I just learned all this marvelous information and have no classroom to go teach it to. This was a common feeling I had throughout the entire conference. I’ll just consider it another few reasons to look forward to a doorplate that reads “Miss Johnson”!


NCTE Experience #1: Words of Wisdom from Writers

I have spent the last two and a half days surrounded by thousands of English teachers from around the country at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention and I don’t even have words. I have learned so much from all the teachers around me, through conversation, unsolicited eavesdropping, presentations and just by simply watching what goes on around me.

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I have attended quite a few sessions, too many to blog about all at once. This post will follow the beginning of my experience.

The first evening I went to a section specifically for secondary educators. In just the introduction alone, I pulled out three important pieces that can help form a respectful classroom atmosphere.

  1. There are no ‘sensitive issues’ in a classroom if the teacher handles them well.
  2. Depth + Respect = Ideal Conversations
  3. Teach your students “self-censorship” awareness.

The keynote speaker was Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the popular novel Speak. I just finished Speak for the first time a couple weeks ago. To me, it was a novel of symbolism, grief and confrontation. I don’t know if I will teach in a classroom, that decision will depend on so many other factors. However, I will keep Anderson’s advice in mind, no matter what classroom.

  • Books challengers were never totally secure or confident in the area of concern they’re challenging.
  • Things that make kids think get challenged.
  • Whatever the reader discovers in a text or takes away from it > author intent

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    Image from goodreads


Another speaker I had the privilege of listening to was Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet, father, and writer of so many forms. I had never heard of Baca before this weekend, but I am glad I did because he is a beautiful inspiration for a variety of students. Here are some notable takeaways from his talk:

  • “The only thing that works is knowledge. The only thing that cures ignorance is knowledge.”
  • We need to write to keep the love of literature burning bright
  • “You can teach brains all day long, but the heart is where you need to reach.”
    • Words are good, but they are nothing without emotion behind them
  • The classroom is a battlefield for minds, for hearts, for souls.


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Lastly, Mr. Baca showed appreciation. Like me, he was in complete awe of the people clutching their overpriced coffee that filled the room. These are the ones who show kids how to create their own magic, their own words. These are the dream makers. I teared up thinking how I want to be a dream maker. I want to help my future students realize what they are capable of, that all they need is a voice and drive to get where they want to be.


Dream makers share stories of wonderful journeys and tragic heroes. Dream makers share love and a passion for humanity under the influence of language and craft. They are the lessons you remember with no face or ears or eyes, only a voice and a heart, like a dream.

           I am one step closer to becoming a dream maker.

If I Could Bottle up the Perfect Day

If I could bottle up the perfect day I would have too many bottles to store because so many days have felt like the perfect days.

I would have a collection of bottles weighted with a base of sand and then filled with ucky lake water. The water would be constantly rippling to represent the waves my grandpa’s boat made and the splashes my strokes caused and all the laughter my cousins and I hollered up to the tree tops.

The next shelf would hold the bottles of books. The right book can make a day perfect. Where a wrapper would be on a commercial bottle, a script of the text would run. Where the pop bubbles would bounce around, the images created in my mind would chase each other, powered by the voices in my head that narrated each part. These bottles would be arranged in the order I read them.


On another shelf would sit a series of bottles holding the voices and memories of my favorite experiences. One would have to echo with chants and tennis shoes. It would be decorated with the metallic tassels that fell from my pompoms and the bows my teammates pinned in my hair. It would smell of sweat and love and whatever the good old days smell like. A few special people in this world would have matching bottles. The bottle next to it would sound like Susa marches, bad jokes and all of it would be out of tune. This bottle would be full of reeds, ruined from overuse and marked-up sheet music. It would always be warm to the touch because of the constant air circulation and the hearts I learned in band.

Beside that bottle would be five small ones with blurry glass that becomes less blurry as you go down the line. I wasn’t even two when my first sibling was born and don’t really know what this day felt like. I know all five tasted like a hospital and someone’s cooking who was not my mom. Each bottle is a little clearer. The second one would feel like green fleece because that’s what I was wearing when Georgie was born and the third would be spotted with little yellow rabbits like the one I picked out at the drug store for my first sister. The fourth and fifth would rattle with joy because by eight I loved being an oldest sister.

There would be bottles half-filled with holding hands, clean classrooms, unworn graduation caps, unpicked flowers, open roads, uncut Christmas trees, an organ playing Canon in D, blank invitations, churches with stained glass windows, houses that aren’t homes yet, capped pens, cookie dough with unpopped popcorn  and strangers with similar souls, if I could bottle up the perfect day.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: October in Review

Today I realized it’s been almost a month since I blogged about my reading life so I am dedicating this blog to catching up! I am still working on my professional development book for the semester (whoops) but I have worked my way through a list of YA titles and I would like to tell you all about them!

bearI read two emotion-packed, crisis-based novels, “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E.K. Johnston and “This is How it Ends” by Marieke Nijkamp. The first one is about Hermione Winters, a cheerleader who is raped at coed cheer camp. We follow her through her school year of confusion, anxiety, and recovery as she overcomes triggers, accusing classmates and facing the fact she may never know who harmed her. I enjoyed this book because it was the first time I read a plot about rape that made me feel what the victim was going through and it explained cheerleading as more than a sport for girls with poor life views.

The second title also takes place within the walls of a high school and throws the reader this is howright into the emotional turmoil of a school shooting. Each segment only covers a couple minutes at a time – the whole novel is only 54 minutes- and is told from multiple points of view. I got a little confused because there are a few sets of siblings and it took me a while to tell who was related to who. Every part of me wanted to throw this book at the wall but the story kept me turning each page.

spinningI also read a couple graphic novels in October. “Spinning” by Tillie Walden is an account of her personal experience in the competitive ice skating world. She was not happy with her life but performed on and off the ice as expected. In reality, she is a closet lesbian with social struggles and an unsatisfied home life. My favorite part was how each chapter is named after an ice skating move whose complexity reflects that section’s content.







relish“Relish” and “Something New” are both written by Lucy                  Knisley and both more than justsomethingnew a story. A good handful of my Special Methods class has blogged about “Relish” so I won’t bore you with yet another review of this food-filled autobiography. I am still working on “Something New”, the graphic document of her wedding planning and wedding. Knisley inserts humorous charts and facts between her chapters, like a review of all the wedding films she watched in preparation for her own.

In celebration of my high school reading habits, I attempted to read “Once and for All”, Sarah Dessen’s new novel. It sounded like a story I would enjoy; a wedding planning once and for allbusiness, a broken heart, a charming smart-alec and a summer of freedom. Turns out I’ve grown in more than one way since 2014. I only made it to about page 90 before I lost interest. There was nothing wrong with the book, I just couldn’t stay interested long enough to finish it. I also couldn’t take the name ‘Ambrose’ seriously.





But to end on an uplifting note, I will tell you all about “Unfiltered”. Lily Collins, goddess of everything eyebrows, composed this series of essays about life as a young woman. She unfilteredhas personally dealt with eating disorders, abusive relationships, and self-discovery. At a young age, Collins took an interest in journaling which is reflected in “Unfiltered”. Family photos are sprinkled throughout the pages to accompany the text, too. 😊 I would recommend this book to a classroom library because it would be a highlight for any growing girl, specifically with self-acceptance, a new interest in writing, traveling, reading full-length novels, or eating disorders.

So this is what I have been up to the past few weeks between classes, shifts, episodes of Boy Meets World and trips home to South Dakota. Happy reading, everyone!


All photos courtesy of

Sorry about the formatting, I had a lot of book covers to arrange and WordPress just really wanted me to have lotsa white space, despite my repetitive editing.


What Makes a Reader?

A reader is anyone who reads. A reader reads picture books, novels of words and graphics, magazines, cereal boxes, newspapers, social media posts and anything covered with words. A reader can read for information, entertainment and survival. Anyone can be a reader.

If a reader is reading they are not a bad reader. Only people who refuse to read are bad readers. Anyone who honestly dives into a catalog of words is a good reader. Real-life readers read to survive and operate in a modern world. Classroom readers often think they only read because they are being told to read or they need to for a grade. I want to demolish this mindset and teach students to read for themselves. Reading becomes enjoyable, even fun, when you are reading to please yourself and no one else.

If I want my students to be avid readers years after they leave my classroom, I need to plant the seed for the love of reading in them. I want to inspire students to read for themselves so they can use those reading skills to go out and learn what they want to learn. Then they can take what they learn to be happy and make the world a better place.


Readers don’t have to be fluent or intelligent or studious or know-it-alls or high-ability. Carrying around big books or talking about them all the time or rereading them does not make someone a good reader (but it doesn’t detract either). A reader reads.