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”!

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