NCTE15: A Necessity

I’m coming off the high of NCTE15.

Before making the commitment to attend this year, I questioned whether I deserved to go. Was this an indulgence? Was I worthy of this trip?

But today, I know this conference is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.  It’s not just professional development. It’s professional sustenance.

I learned in sessions led by teachers who enter the classroom every day, just like me and do extraordinary things to teach learners the value and importance of the written word. Teachers like Pernille Ripp, who reach out to authors and enrich the lives of students around the world with the Global Read Aloud.

I learned in sessions led by writers of the books I bring to my students. Writers like Katherine Applegate, Cynthia Lord, Sharon Draper, Linda Urban, Georgia Heard, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Writers who humbly share their process, their strategies, their struggles and their hearts for the benefit of teachers and students.

I learned in sessions led by educational leaders and researchers. Those who have provided me intellectual and professional support; whose words I’ve underlined and try to live in my classroom. The likes of Tom Newkirk, Ellin Keene, and Lucy Calkins shared their research and best practices.

I sat with and talked to educators whom I am privileged to call my dear friends. Social media and conferences like NCTE have made these connections possible. We come together for these events that build our relationships and our practice.

Now home, these teachers, wordsmiths, and researchers are beside me, Supporting my students and me. As we read, as we open our writer’s notebooks, as we try on strategies, we engage with this community of literacy.

Teaching children to become thought filled decision makers is a challenge and an honor. The annual NCTE convention supports the passionate community of educator-learners who choose this vocation. It brings together the best in the work to inspire more.

Thank you, Erica.

 

 

 

#SOL15: Day 31, Community is a Non-Negotiable

I sit at gate 38 waiting for my flight back to Los Angeles.

Coming here, I felt guilty.

In my mind, I tried to justify it by adding up the learning I’d attain and see if it balanced out with the money I’d spend.

I knew my desire to go was as much about being with the educators sitting beside me as learning from the educators who stood in front of me.

And I did gain knowledge, tangible strategies I can use tomorrow with students. But, I got something else which has changed my construct as to what professional development is.

The presenters were the focal point and clearly inspirational. They were the reason we came. 

But — 

This weekend I realized the importance of community. A community that is passionate and committed, that rallies around core beliefs, that shares struggles and a strong faith in humanity may matter more than any presenter’s research, idea, strategy, or book.

While  professional development with specific learning goals in mind is clearly necessary, our learning opportunities must include the development of and participation in a community of shared purpose and belief.

No matter what the standards, no matter the mandates, no matter the strategies and practices your school has in place, no matter the technology, no matter the environment, no matter the financial support. What matters most are the core beliefs built and sustained within a community of learners. Without this, nothing else matters.

There was something very powerful about meeting in Riverside Church. We came to listen and commune in our shared beliefs in literacy and humanity. We came because we believe that literacy is a necessity for our continued existence. That literacy is non-negotiable. And that no matter what, what we do is essential.

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This is why I came to Riverside Church to be with my community that sustains me in a job that is difficult and often defeating but essential.

Without the TCRWP community, the community of bloggers and tweeters, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this, ready to go back to a classroom of learners with a renewed sense of purpose. Profession development needs to be seen as more than just learning how to do something. It also has to be about becoming a part of something.

Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey, and Tara for building and sustaining the powerful blogging community of Two Writing Teachers. Read more slices here.

#SOL15: Day 30, Notes from TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend TCRWP’s 88th Saturday Reunion. The beauty of TCRWP is their belief in teachers and the need to build and bolster the community as learners. The reunion was open to all; a gift to anyone who makes their way to New York City.

There was so much to be gained from the sessions. The only problem was choosing which one to go to!

Carl Anderson’s session lifted my understanding of how to use mentor texts, particularly in narrative writing.

2015-03-28 10.08.49Some key points:

  • Students should be immersed in the sound of a genre and to see the way a genre is written.  To be able to write well, students must understand how it goes. Perhaps we don’t put enough emphasis on this because it doesn’t look like writing.
  • Collect texts that are examples of the genre you are working in, that will work best for your students and that you love.
  • A writer’s ability to envision a text is dependent on their knowledge of texts. Therefore, we must surround our children with mentor texts. This means read texts as readers first and read a lot of them before we start to read them as writers.
  • Choose a few of to use as mentor texts for writing. Know these well, examine them through a lens of writing by asking, “how did the writer do _____?” 
  • Identify parts of the text to show how it’s put together. Carl did this with Ralph Fletcher’s memoir “The Last Kiss.” He blocked out  and named parts of the text. I’ve done this with informational and argument, but not with narrative writing. What a huge aha.2015-03-28 10.38.14

Cornelius Minor’s session helped us make some sense of the common core demands to find that “main idea,” “theme,” and “evidence” to support their thinking.

  • First know this: one can’t find evidence without an idea. Hallelujah! 
  • Cornelius shared video clips to show us how to formulate an idea:
    • first find a topic,
    • second say what do you think about it and
    • three say it in a sentence that seems true and that
    • equals an idea!
  • By going through this process multiple times, we had the opportunity to try, try, and try again. Which brings to an essential tenant: students must be able to try, fail and try again and again. This “how-to” broken down into a one-two-three sequence with accessible text (think video) allows students to reach toward finding that idea, so they can then go back and find evidence.
  • Lastly, Cornelius shared a way to support students in finding thematic concepts. He shared five “universal” themes presented in middle school kid language. By giving students the possible ideas up front, students can consider these possibilities and see what fits.

Kylene Beers’ closing was beautiful. Her recent post outlines much of her keynote’s high pointsMany have blogged about it. Check out Fran, Tara and Catherine’s posts.

Kylene knows how to bring home what matters in a clear and concise way as these points show:

  • The reading of literature is necessary to develop our human qualities.
  • When we become a part of the character’s life we learn the most about ourselves.
  • A book’s “want-ability” is much more important than readability.
  • For books to be relevant to kids they must have choices.
  • Deep thinking always begins with questions, not the answers.

Attending the reunion was a teacher fantasy come true. Spending time with colleagues and Slicers made New York like home.

Just one more day left in the month of March! I can’t believe it’s almost over. Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara for hosting the challenge. Read more Slicers here.