Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lessons Learned at NCTE

     How can you add 43 books to your classroom library without draining your liquid assets? Go to the National Council of Teachers of English conference. Okay, so there are other reasons to go, but the free and reduced books are pretty tempting. Actually, there were three reasons I wanted to attend this conference. Not in any order, the reasons were Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Chris Crutcher. I'm still processing everything I experienced, going over my notes and my colleague's notes but one thing I don't need to review--the conference was amazing.
      The sessions, which were packed, featured speakers such as Kittle and Gallagher as well as Donalynn Miller of The Book Whisperer fame and Chris Crutcher, YA author. Kittle and Gallagher were the headliners, filling every session to capacity and beyond.
      One major takeaway from the conference? Choice matters. Offering reading choices helps move kids from reluctant to willing readers.
      Teachers need to get kids reading, a lot. Is content king when it comes to reading? A student new to me started my class recently. He's a bright guy who hates English. I spent some time talking to him about the class and what he could expect when he mentioned one thing he knew he could expect--to hate whatever it was I was going to "force" him to read. That's what he said he hated most, being "forced" to read stuff.
       "Force" him to read? Yeah, that's exactly what I've done in the past, but I'm resolved to give choice in the future. We discussed this a bit and I invited him to browse my bookshelves as I asked him book titles he enjoyed. After offering him six or seven different titles, he settled on one and began to read. I didn't tell him to do that, he just immersed himself in the book. An hour later, school was over. A student who'd normally be antsy to exit had to be reminded to pack up.
       More than anything this reinforced what Kittle, Miller, Gallagher and so many at the conference repeated--give students choice. Lesson learned.
       Another lesson learned was about engaging students in critical thinking activities. Kylene Beers encouraged attendees to ask students to think about what surprised them as they read and what did the author assume they knew as they read the story. I'm looking forward to reading her new book on nonfiction reading.
       It will take some time to fully assess what my takeaways from the conference were; however, one thing is for sure. I saw the value in taking advantage of opportunities like these, even at the state level. I'm more committed than ever to attending our state NDCTE conference whose officers work hard to bring high quality speakers to the event. The last three speakers? Jim Burke, Kelly Gallagher  and Penny Kittle.
       Who would want to miss out on speakers like those? Not me. Lesson learned.

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