Archives For National Council of Teachers of English

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Every November the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) gathers for an annual conference.

Last November (2016), emotions were tense…raw. Distressed elementary and intermediate grade teachers muttered about the language and actions of candidates, and how leaders were setting a bad example by engaging in behaviors that would not be tolerated in a classroom.

Frustrated middle and high school teachers grumbled about the inability of their students to judge facts for accuracy, completeness, timeliness, and relevance given the barrage of information coming from social media. College educators were stymied on what adjustments needed to be made to teacher preparation programs.

The 2016 conference was one of collective incredulity.  In response to the brutal political season that polarized the school year, what guidance would this national organization offer?

Sadly, the response from NCTE Conference was inaudible. Hushed.

In representing the profession, one that centers on the ability to confront all forms of text, the leadership provided few words. To be fair, the timing was perhaps too soon, and few in leadership could have anticipated the depth of polarization that had created the divides in schools and classrooms across the nation.

And so, at this year’s (2017) conference the leadership of NCTE needed to make some critical choices.

The name of the conference, “The First Chapter”, was one choice that promised a new beginning.

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Another choice was the location of this conference in St. Louis, Missouri, the city of Michael Brown and the 2014 riots. A city already dealing with large equity gaps in education. According to a study by Washington University in St. Louis, there has been a continued “disparity in St. Louis schools caused by an allocation of resources.”

An article in the WUPR newsletter by Victoria Johnson in March 2016 detailed the ratio of students attending unaccredited schools as 44% black students to 4% percent of white students. Her observation was that:

“Five miles is the difference between receiving one of the best educations in Missouri and attending one of the worst schools in the entire country.”

So far, this latest 2017 NCTE Conference had a promising title, “The First Chapter”.
So far, the conference had a significant setting, St. Louis.

So who would be the characters to move the plot?
Who would address the central conflict?

The writers.
Writers drove the plot of the 2017 conference.
Writers did what writers do best in responding to the rawness, the hurt, the confusion, the rifts, and the arrogance of the past…the past 12 months…still reverbing from the past 12 decades.

The writers speaking at NCTE confronted all conflicts head-on. They did not mince words. They used their outsider lenses that get to the inside of minds.

If they wrote books for students, they spoke about themselves as students.

“We don’t want to lose the boys. Don’t call them reluctant readers.”
Jon Scieszka (Knucklehead, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs)

“The cornerstone of culture is language. Don’t tell me my culture is wrong.”
AND “Our fear of discomfort makes us less safe. We need to be less faithful to our fears and more faithful to our future.”

-Jason Reynolds (YA author Ghost, Long Way Down)

If they wrote books for teachers,  the writers spoke about themselves as teachers.

 “When you read fiction, you go into the author’s world. When you read nonfiction, it comes into your world, and you have to decide if you stand with it or stand against it.” AND  “The world is tough. No one taught you how to teach after a gunman has killed people in a church, school, concert…. but the kids are looking at you.”
Kylene Beers (Notice and Note, Reading Nonfiction)

“We aren’t here to raise a score, we are here to raise a human.”
~Lester Laminack (Writers are Readers)

“Community is about diversity. Let’s make listening instruction something that brings people together.”
Lucy Calkins (Reading Units of Study, Writing Units of Study, Pathways to the Common Core)

“We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?”
Pernille Ripp (Passionate Readers)

 

And as storytellers, they chastised teachers into action:

“Now more than ever we live in a time when resistance matters….Teaching to resist. Writing to resist.”
-Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming, Locomotion, Another Brooklyn)

“In my book, I don’t shy away from racism and language because that’s what our young people are dealing with. And teachers, I need you not to shy away from it either.”
Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give)

The writers came to the NCTE to share with educators their  process, their craft, and their message that stories teach students to:

Read. Write. Think.*

The writers whispered, they cajoled, they teased, they argued, they humored, and they demanded. They sounded their “barbaric yawp”:

In separate and in panel sessions, the writers inspired…their words both provoked and soothed.

Then we all went back home…to our schools and classrooms…to our students.

So now what?
The NCTE 2017 in St. Louis was “The First Chapter,” and as readers, we already know that a first chapter can deceive. We may not have gotten to the page (as in page 17) when the real reason for the story is revealed.  Moreover, a happy ending is not yet in sight; education is complicated and messy with plot twists.

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For the next chapter (2018), NCTE leadership has selected the title “Raising Student Voice”  and placed the setting in Houston, Texas. Given the havoc created by Hurricane Harvey, this may prove a significant choice as well.
The writers have spoken. Now, let us see what that first chapter really began.
Get ready for the students!

Continue Reading…

Dear National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE):

The 2016 NCTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, just concluded. This year the theme was “Faces of Advocacy”.

I would like to take this opportunity to do a little advocacy of my own.

The #NCTE Atlanta 2016 conference gave the nation’s English teachers an opportunity to exchange “words”….
have a word with…
get a word in edgewise…
hang on some one’s words…
or have the last word.

Every year, the NCTE conference brings together the nations’s (pre-school, primary, secondary, college) English teachers who traffic in words (vocabulary, root words, parts of speech, synonyms, figurative language, suffixes, etc.),

This conference began eleven days after the 2016 presidential election.

In several state, local and national campaigns, there were many words used by candidates on both sides of the aisle that were hurtful, that were fallacious, that were offensive. These words were highly visible on social media platforms and in the media; these words were highly visible to our students.

The multiple challenges to the use of hurtful, fallacious, or offensive words during the election was often met with derision by candidates, by candidate surrogates, or by media pundits on both sides of the aisle. Challengers were often told that candidates were “only joking” or just being “sarcastic.” There were publicized non-apologies :”I’m sorry if…” or “I’m sorry, but…”.

On occasion, words were retracted. “That meaning is not what I meant.”
Such retractions are linguistically precarious;  a challenge to word’s “meaning” does not negate what was expressed.

The “not what I meant” response conflicts with the definition of what a word means as “a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

words

In the 2016 election, many words were separated from their meanings.

Unfortunately, at this conference, NCTE, you did not offer any specific post-election guidance on this separation of word from meaning. At this conference you did not advocate for words and word meaning.

In all fairness, your conference theme (The Many Faces of Advocacy) was set years ago; its was months ago when the presenters were selected for sessions and the rooms assigned. In making these decisions, your organizing committee could not possibly have anticipated the current climate where the real political loser in this election would be words.

How then could NCTE support teachers as they proceed to teach words and their meanings to their students after this election?
How might NCTE prepare teachers in secondary schools to discuss understanding words that are spoken without meaning?
For example, how should NCTE guide teachers to help primary students understand the word meaning of a mean word?

Like the standard in Domain 3 of the Danielson Teacher Evaluation Rubric, NCTE, you could have exercised “Flexibility and Responsiveness” and “made an adjustment to respond to changing conditions.”

There could have been formal or informal opportunities for teachers to discuss their concerns about  hurtful words that were tossed about so publicly.
There could have been formal or informal opportunities for teachers to share strategies to deal with offensive words at multiple grade levels.
Finally, there could have been formal or informal opportunities for teachers to help their students in the future determine when, why, or how words are used to support fallacies.

NCTE, your oversight in not providing these opportunities is particularly ironic given the nation’s push for standards based curricula, where teachers of English are required to place emphasis at every grade level for evidence-based reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Students are expected to produce evidence-based responses that demonstrate precision in word choice (“Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.”)  Word choice is explicit; students must comprehend and apply word meaning.

Instead, the campaigns of the 2016 election would have failed on any rubric that used evidence requirements for most state standards-based performance assessments.

In November 2017, when the conference moves to the City of St. Louis, NCTE, you could reaffirm your commitment to the mission statement which states:

“The Council promotes the development of literacy, the use of language to construct personal and public worlds and to achieve full participation in society, through the learning and teaching of English and the related arts and sciences of language.“

The phrase “use of language” in this mission statement refers to the use of words in a structured and conventional way. You should be prepared to defend the use of words in structured and conventional ways.

In summary,dear NCTE, when words are divorced from their meaning, they lose their power to communicate.
In 2017, we need to advocate for words.
Without word meaning, there is no reason to teach English.

Why should students be the only ones who have the opportunity to play games in class?

Game application programs are just as powerful an instructional  tool for teachers as they are for their students because game apps can deliver content to educators in an engaging and challenging way. Instead of sitting in professional development sessions, teachers can be like their students ….out of their seats trying to “beat the buzzer” with their response! 

Teams of teachers can challenge other teams of teachers on everything from best practices to trivia hidden in the student handbook, (just how well does everyone know the school dress code?) to organizing performance based assessments ( Choose: debate or poetry smack-down for Shakespeare?)

There are now multiple game applications that can easily deliver different kinds of content to teachers in grades K-12 and make professional development sessions memorable.

kahoot Kahoot! is just one of the game applications that can motivate teachers to participate. Teachers, like their students, can be highly motivated by the immediate competition these game apps create. Like their students, educators at all grade levels  do respond well to the points/rewards that game apps provide. And like their students, they can enjoy the immediate feedback the apps provided. This free, interactive platform records the results to the presenters, which can be used  to design the next level of professional development.

The Kahoot! website explains that their software allows educators the opportunity to:

“Create a fun learning game in minutes (called ‘kahoots’), made from a series of multiple choice questions.”

Once a game is made, it can be individualized with videos and images. Then, “Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen.”

Another game application that can be used is Quizizz, another quiz, poll, or survey program that uses game graphics with feedback to promote learning. Like Kahoot!, this game app can be individualized for content with videos and images. The promotional material for Quizizz explains that, “Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen to unite the lesson encouraging players to look up.”quizziz

I have used both the Kahoot! and Quizizz apps with teachers for professional development sessions.

Before using the game apps there were more than a few teachers who, exhausted from a day of teaching, would unenthusiastically go through the scheduled activity. 

But when they learned they could pull out their phones as a part of the presentation, they immediately became more engaged.  The teachers enrolled by using their phone for the quiz and began entering responses on their cell phones or tablets. In less than 20 minutes, I had covered the material that I wanted teachers to know and they remained highly engaged the entire time. They also learned how effective this tool could be if it was used in class on laptops or mobile devices.

When a quiz or survey or poll is created on the game platform, a PIN code is assigned so that everyone can join the activity. Then, the quiz is projected (LCD, Smartboard, Eno board, etc) at the front of the classroom where it can be seen by the whole class so the audience can play together in real-time. The game applications can be used on laptops or personal devices. Depending on which game application is used, devices can display color and symbol choices; the actual answer is viewed on the classroom screen.

A presenter can control the pace of the activity by setting a time limit for each question, which also allows time for information to process or for discussions to take place. As teachers answer questions, they are awarded points for correct answers and the timeliness of their responses. A scoreboard is displayed on the teacher’s screen. Watching that scoreboard with highly engaged teachers proves that nothing is better to incentivize others than a competition with inconsequential rewards!

Game applications can be used for all levels of ability, and the multiple choice option can be set for more than one correct answer. There are options to create discussion questions (“Which of these texts are best used for close reading ?”) or to create surveys (“What percentage of the midterm should contain objective-type questions?”)

I have used the game apps in particular to begin presentations on literacy by taking information from a research study such as Data from Kids Wireless Use Facts:

  • % of teenagers,13 -17, who “occasionally” access the Internet with tablets & mobile devices? (91%)
  • Over ___ % of parents said schools should make more use of mobile devices for education? (50%)

The data available in research studies can better inform teachers about the growing impact of technology on their students and the academic environment.

Digital apps like Kahoot! and Quizizz game platforms are the kind of technology that David Lassner, President of the University of Hawaii and informational technology expert, meant when he said,

“The real power of interactive technologies is that they let us learn in ways that aren’t otherwise possible or practical.”

The “us” in Lassner’s statement should not limited to the students. Teacher professional development with interactive technologies can be a critical part of a successful education program. It can be engaging. It can be challenging. It is practical, and it is certainly possible.

I will be presenting both of these game apps at the National Council of Teachers of English this coming Saturday, November 19th in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be basing the Kahoot! and Quizziz using information on teenagers and literacy. If you are down at NCTE, stop in at Table 7!screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-10-14-22-pm

 

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F Sessions / 8:00–9:15 a.m. TABLE 7: “Get Your Phone App On!”

Hey, Minnesota:

Warn those comma splicers….Alert those passive voice abusers….Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 9.48.19 PMThis third weekend in November is the traditional weekend for the annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference, and thousands of red-pen toting grammarians are descending on the city of Minneapolis!

My first time attending the NCTE Conference was in 2003 in New York City. I came back with new lesson suggestions, helpful tips on grading papers, and the names of fellow educators that have since grown into my own network of professional educators.

I came back inspired.

Since then, I have been fortunate to attend several other NCTE conferences as it moved annually to different cities across the country.  I even got the opportunity to present at conferences in 2010, 2011, and 2014.

This year I will be attending the NCTE conference with a young teacher from my district. Back in January, I submitted an engaging lesson that was created by English Language Arts teacher Caitlin Pinto, a 7th grade teacher from West Haven’s Harry Bailey Middle School.  That lesson was accepted as part of a session titled “Digital Pedagogies and Approaches to Media.”

In her session, Caitlin will be demonstrating how she has has been using social media templates in a literature circles to discuss historical fiction. In our middle school, the designed mashup of Facebook social networking with the format of the literature circle promotes literacy for students as social beings making connections. The inclusion of social media platforms in literature circles allows Caitlin’s students the chance to explore literature through multiple lenses as diverse as the platforms themselves. In addition, in giving her students the choice of different social media as tools to reimagine and evaluate literature shows that Caitlin values the ways that her students communicate.

In Caitlin’s lesson, the social media platforms that are familiar to students are incorporated as the traditional roles in literature circles: the Summarizer is reinvented when a student uses a Twitter template; the Connector is reconfigured when a student uses a Facebook template, the Researcher is expanded when the Pinterest template is followed, and the Illustrator is reimagined with the Instagram template

She will be bringing examples of how this approach has increased the amount that students write about the texts they read.
She will also be demonstrating how she works with students to improve the writing skills and processes that go into creating text.

Her students are excited that their “Ms. Pinto” will be a presenter at this conference. Her fellow teachers are cheering her accomplishment. Her administration is supportive, and her vice-principal even helped arrange for her conference expenses to be covered by the local Rotary Club.

I hope she will return with new ideas for lesson plans, perhaps with new tips on grading papers, and maybe even with her own list of fellow educators as she builds her own professional network.

I have experienced firsthand the power of the NCTE conference.

I know that Caitlin Pinto will come back to West Haven Bailey Middle School inspired.