Archives For NCTE

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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…

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.

Not sure how November became so loaded with conventions, but Thanksgiving holiday plans have taken a side seat to presentations. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to present at International Conference ICT for Language Learning in Florence, Italy, (11/9-14) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) section (11/23-25) of the National Conference of English Teachers in Washington, D.C.

These opportunities to present nationally and internationally have come as a result of this blog and connections I have made with other educators who use social media to connect and to collaborate. So, it is not surprising that the first session I will be presenting in Florence with world languages teacher Amy Nocton is titled “Blogging to Share, Exchange and Collaborate”. I met Amy through her husband, Jason Courtmanche Director of Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut. She is a world language teacher (Spanish and Italian) at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut, and she needed help setting up her classroom blog, Perdidos en sus pensamientos. Her success with this technology in offering students an opportunity to choose topics as part of  is best summed up by the sentiments of one of her students who began posting more than a year ago. Her student Annie Maclachlan noted:

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Presenting on 11/13/14 “Blogging to Share, Exchange, and Collaborate”; student quote from the  on the right

“Instead of writing to a rubric, I wrote what I wanted, how I wanted. I wrote about what interested me, because I firmly believed that whoever took the time to go on the blog would love hearing what I had to say. And this was a good feeling. It was a feeling of complete intellectual freedom, a feeling that I believe everyone should experience at least once.”

Like Amy’s student, my students also enjoyed the freedom to explore a topic and publish for a world audience. Sharing how our students can connect with readers from all over the globe at a conference with teachers from all over the globe has an internal reverberation. We have the chance to see how others are guiding students so we can better prepare them to share their ideas and understandings with local and global audiences.

This opportunity has also given me the chance to visit the city of Florence with its amazing architecture and even more wonderful art collections.  To say that my jaw has dropped on more than one occasion is an understatement.

After this cultural saturation, I return home only to head out to the National Conference of English Teachers Conference in D.C. There I will be presenting “It’s Not the Math in the Literacy Standards; It’s the Literacy in the Math Standards” at the Council for English Leadership section of the program. I will be presenting with my former colleague Stephanie Pixley, from Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut.

I have already written about the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards (English/Language Arts Can Persevere with Math Practice Standard #1and Author’s Craft Revealed Through Mathematical Practice Standard #7 ) on this blog, and this presentation will feature many of the ideas I outlined in these posts.

Screenshot 2014-11-13 01.57.03The NCTE Conference is usually so jammed packed full of sessions that my heads spins. I do not think I will be afforded any museum time there as I want to see many of the sessions. I especially want to see sessions offered by other bloggers who I have met socially and virtually, including one offered by Fran McVeigh, Vicki Vinton, and Mary Lee Hahn“It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiosity, Openness, Creativity and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading.”

Needless to say, I have not thought about turkey, stuffing, or any other side dish, but I am confident after these next two weeks that I will have plenty of photos to share and things to talk about and add to the conversation at the holiday table.

January weather forecast? Frigid.
Blogger forecast? Sunshine.
Specifically, “Sunshine Awards.”
Nominating or receiving a Sunshine Award is a way for bloggers to get to know each other. There are unlimited winners to this award because this operates much like the chain letters of old. Get an award from a fellow blogger, and then nominate 11 other bloggers to participate. I suspect that sooner or later, every blogger in the world will be nominated proving the blogging universe has no degrees of separation blogger to blogger.
That said, I was delighted to get a mention….really!!
The Sunshine award does give other bloggers an opportunity to learn about each other, although I am not sure any of the following random facts on me will be useful.
There are five “official” rules (in green):

RULE #1 Acknowledge the nominating blogger:

For me, that was Vicki Vinton of To Make a Prairie “A blog about reading, writing, teaching and the joys of a literate life.” Her blog is an amazing combination of education application and literature tie-ins. Her blog looks so organized and engaging. I know if I am thinking that something might be possible, Vicki proves that what I am thinking is doable. I will reread her posts before I write on a topic (ex: Cautionary Tale Close Reading).You owe it to yourself to visit her blog.

RULE #2 Share 11 random facts about yourself.
Okay…..11 random facts about me:

a. I have 31 nieces and nephews (no twins) from my eight younger brothers and sisters.

b. I made my prom dress in high school; I thought pink calico was adorable!

c. The famous clown Emmett Kelly, Jr. patted me on the head when I was a toddler; I am terrified of clowns.

d. I learned to drive a stick shift on my family’s white 68 VW bus that we called “Moby Dick”; consequently, I also know how to jump start a car with a stick shift.

e. I have one “attached” ear lobe and one “unattached” earlobe which is not the genetic abnormality  you might think.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten narrator

f. I was the “lead”narrator in my kindergarten play which surprised my mother and father. NOTE: I am still comfortable onstage.

g. I can recite Marc Anthony’s speech from Julius Caesar III.i.253-275(“O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth…”) because my high school teacher made me memorize a soliloquy.

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Lock on the Pont L’Archevêché in Paris

h. My husband and I (married 32 years) left a lock on a bridge fence in Paris near Notre Dame in 2011.

i. I tear up at at flash-mob videos. Example? (USAirForce Band at Air & Space Museum)

j. I buy white cars because I want to be seen at night. Paradoxically, these cars always look cleaner than black cars.

Haunted House

My Halloween Haunted House

k. For many years,I had a haunted house for Halloween in my barn while my two sons were young. Now, I shut off all the lights on October 31st and pretend I am not home.

RULE #3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

(Yikes….11 more facts? Aren’t you tired of all this?)

1. What book would you want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
How to Build a Ship and Navigate if You Are Ever Stuck on a Desert Island. The more romantic answer, however, would be James Joyce’s Ulysses or Ulysses S. Grant’s letters. Both are on a “to do” list that would require hours of uninterrupted reading time (the connection to Ulysses trying to get back home should not overlooked either…)

2. What did you learn from your mother?
I learned how to cook for a family of eleven; food was plentiful at our dinner table. Cooking is a great skill, but this early training resulted proportion miscalculations and substantial weight gain for my husband. I just cannot get used to cooking for two.

3. Where do you write?
There is a small table in my kitchen where I do much of my writing, but when the weather is nice, I will write on my back patio table. I imagine if I was driving by, I would think, “Oh! I would like to be writing there!”

4. Where do I find joy in my classroom or my work?
When I hear a student correct another student by saying, “a lot is two words.”

5. What do I do to recharge?
I watch movies. I am a movie addict which is not surprising given my addiction to stories.

6. What was my favorite book as a child and why did I love it?
Without question, my favorite book as a child was Little Women. I am the first born, the practical Meg, but in my heart, I am the second born Jo March.

7. If you could have dinner (or coffee or drinks) with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you want to ask him or her?
Sister Ella, my first grade school teacher who taught me to read. I want to know if she predicted my interest in reading. She was incredibly -almost frighteningly- tall, and I could never tell if she was smiling or not.

8. Do you have a quote that you keep (in your mind, a notebook, a pocket, your desk, etc.) that captures something that seems important to you? If so, what is it?
The most recent is by Carl Sagan, “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.” That’s impressive.

9. How do you feel about the age you are currently in?
Emotionally, I am fine with being 57. I have come to terms with things I will never accomplish (play piano, hike the Appalachian Trail) and still hopeful on other things I want to accomplish (PhD in English, speak French). Physically, I am surprised at how often I need to get up from reading or writing so I don’t get stiff and cramp up. Mentally, I am surprised that 57 sounds old, but 58 sounds wise.

10. What are you afraid of?
I do not like turning off the lights downstairs. To this day, I will race up the stairs as if something is chasing me.

11. If you could go back to one moment in time, when & where would that be & why?
In Our Town Thornton Wilder cautions against revisiting the past; the character Emily finds it too painful. Therefore, I would choose to relieve something I did as a child but not go as myself. I would go back to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in NYC and spend the day with all the exhibits that “predicted” our future.

Now for the fun part:

RULE #4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!

NOTE: Should any of the following bloggers want to accept this award WITHOUT the chain letter-like activities, they have my permission. I have no demands for their participation in what could be a Ponzi-scheme of blogging. These bloggers represent a cross-section of  Bloggers and Tweeters that I read regularly.

 HOWEVER, readers who visit these blogs will benefit. I learn so much from all of these writer/educators…I feel their “love”:

1. First and foremost, my dear friend Catherine Flynn blogged so often in 2013 on Reading to the Core that I could not keep up. I walk with Catherine on the weekends (and I can hardly keep up!), so I am always interested in how our conversations show up in a post. She is a literacy specialist…and a specialist in keeping me focused on the real issues in literacy.

2. I love Bryan Crandall, Connecticut Writing Project (CWP) Director at Fairfield University. He supervised my CWP experience in 2012. His blog this year is Creative Crandall and his entry for January 1st, 2014, reads: “I will spend the next 365 pontificating what creativity means to my world, the people I love, the students I work with, and the teachers that need desperate rejuvenation. The goal is to counter the dreary, maddening, and absolutely criminal doings of governmental leaders and corporate partners who are undoing public schools.” Love that.

3.  Another amazing Connecticut Writing Project Director is Jason Courtmanche at the University of Connecticut. His blog is The Write Space. His posts on Facebook/Twitter alert me to any gem I might overlook in the news that is tied to literature/education. He has worked very hard to outline the transitions of Common Core State Standards to the Early College Experience at UCONN for hundreds of high school teachers.

4.  I met Kate Baker of Baker’s B.Y.O.D.– Bring Your Own Device, Dog, & Deconstruction of Literature in person at the Council of English Leadership (#CEL13) this fall. I had seen many of her posts/tweets. The meeting was kismet…in minutes we had covered The Odyssey, Moby Dick, and other classics. She gave a dynamite presentation of Stop Bleeding Red Ink! at the conference. (FYI: Kate already has posted 11 random facts about herself on her blog!)

5. My mom is in Idaho…and so is Glenda Funk at Evolving English Teacher. I first read her entries on the English Companion Ning; then, I stalked her at the National Conference of English Teachers in 2011.  I LOVED her post about the impact of high school sports on academics: “What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Ed Reform in the U.S.A.” In that post she discusses the everyday impact of sports from practice schedules to concussions. Very informative.

6. I read Judy Artz at her blog  Intergrating Learning and Technology-“Here you will find ideas for promoting literacy through the use of technology.” I met her in person also at Council of English Leadership (#CEL13) where I greeted her as an old friend. That is because she tweets (@JudyArtz) at a rapid fire pace, and sometimes mentions me!

7. I also met Daniel Weinstein of The Creativity Core at the National Conference of Teachers of English (@NCTE13) this November. I have used his ideas in my classroom, especially the semantic mapping, with enormous success. The blog is gorgeous with student work as exemplars.

8. Guilty pleasure? The observations of the Anonymous Blogger @ English Teacher Confessions. Entry “This book made me vomit” about Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God is an intriguing homage to McCarthy’s genius as well as a warning. Reading this post will give you an appreciation for this blog writer’s style…who is no slouch herself!

9. Buffy Hamilton, former high school English Teacher and current school librarian, writes at The Unquiet Librarian. She provides interesting and very practical ways to engage students in literacy (Writing Around Texts) through this dual lens. I am more appreciative of advice from educators who have actually been in a classroom.

10. I have participated in the “Slice of Life” challenge series originated by Ruth & Stacey:Two Writing Teachers this year. I admit, I do not always follow the rules (responding to others?!?), but I appreciate their tireless support of teacher writing. I have found that writing my blog (and slices) are the most educational experience I can have. They are to be congratulated for pushing teachers to engage in writing regularly.

11. Not sure where to start? Try The Reading Zone, Sarah Mulhern Gross who writes, “My blog focuses on reading, with a lot of writing and writing workshop thrown in. I also talk about my classroom and classroom projects.” What makes her blog even more legit? She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Learning Network Blog, my “go-to” spot for literacy in content area classrooms. (See how I snuck in two blogs on one entry?)

RULE #5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.

Here are Vicki’s 11 questions to me, and they are as good as anything I could design. I am plagiarizing them:

  1. What book would you want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
  2. What did you learn from your mother?
  3. Where do you write?
  4. Where do you find joy in your classroom or work?
  5. What do you do to recharge?
  6. What was your favorite book as a child and why did you love it?
  7. If you could have dinner (or coffee or drinks) with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you want to ask him or her?
  8. Do you have a quote that you keep (in your mind, a notebook, a pocket, your desk, etc.) that captures something that seems important to you? If so, what is it?
  9. What are you afraid of?
  10. How do you feel about being the age you currently are?
  11. If you could go back to one moment in time, when & where would that be & why?

So, dear selected Sunshine Award recipient, here is YOUR choice. You can answer any or all of the 11 questions listed above OR (and I am breaking the rules here) answer this ONE important question….

1. Why write on a blog?

Thanks again, Vicki of To Make a Prairie….this was fun to do on a bitterly cold winter afternoon!

In the classroom, the authors of children’s books are celebrities; the authors of young adult literature are rock stars. So when the National Conference of English Teachers (NCTE) and associated independent organizations the Council of English Leadership (CEL) and the The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) converged on Las Vegas last week, publishers made sure their authors were front and center, delivering keynote addresses and personally meeting and signing books for some of their greatest fans-teachers.

Highlights of the convention included Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) delivering a keynote address to an enthusiastic audience of readers who know how he can reach their reluctant readers. Scott Westerfield (Uglies, Pretties) was there representing the oh-so-popular dystopian fiction. Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) was there for the older readers, including the teachers themselves, with new educational materials for high school classrooms. Newbery Award winning Lois Lowery (The Giver, Number the Stars) spoke to an enthralled crowd of middle school teachers at ALAN.

The convention had invited many authors; book publishers arranged to bring even more to the exhibition hall. There were over 200 “signing” stations in exhibitor booths advertised in the conference program to alert teachers where to purchase and get books autographed.

Most booths were mobbed, but on Sunday morning, I came upon a table where a solitary Jon Scieszka sat with a exhibitor. I could not believe my luck. For those who do not know, Scieszka is the author of  Math Curse,  The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,and the series The Time Warp Trio, which was made into a TV series. His retelling of the The Three Little Pigs is told from the point of view of A.Wolf. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs was my first Scieszka book experience.In the book, A. Wolf explains how his requests for a cup of sugar from each of the pigs eventually led to his “sneezing” not “huffing and puffing” which sets off the unfortunate demise of the pigs. Illustrated by Lane Smith, this book was one of the “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal. I concur, and I use the book to explain literary point of view to all grade levels. In 2008, Scieszka was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Librarian of Congress.

There Jon Scieszka sat, and there was no teacher in sight!

“Jon Scieszka!” I exclaimed, ” I can’t believe you are alone!”
“Neither can I,” he grinned.
“Me either,” said the exhibitor with him, much more uncomfortably..
“Well, now that I have you all to myself,” I was ready with a question I had asked so many times in my head, “Can I ask how you know so much about my brothers?” I was referring to his hilarious YA memoir Knuckleheads in which Scieszka relates his

experiences growing up. The publisher’s review:

“Growing up as one of six brothers was a good start, but that was just the beginning. Throw in Catholic school, lots of comic books, lazy summers at the lake with time to kill, babysitting misadventures, TV shows, jokes told at family dinner, and the result is Knucklehead. Part memoir, part scrapbook, this hilarious trip down memory lane provides a unique glimpse into the formation of a creative mind and a free spirit.”

The book is almost a mirror reflection of watching my younger siblings compete with each other, set fire to things, and survive Catholic school (with fewer nuns). “I swear you must have been watching my three brothers grow up!” I babbled on.
“You’d be surprised how many people say that,” he chuckled.
“And your short stories in Guy’s Read?” By this time, I was positively gushing, “they are exactly what I need for my 9th grade boys who only want a short read.”
“That’s why we wrote them,” he nodded appreciatively, “for short reads. Now, what name do you want in this book?”
Yes, I got a signed book Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka! For free. A conversation and a book.

20 minutes later, I passed by the table again, but I caught only a glimpse of him. He was surrounded by a throng of teachers,the serpentine line of fans waiting to talk to him went down the long aisle. My brief and personal moment was obviously a fluke. That’s because he’s Jon Scieszka, children’s book author. Jon Scieszka, Rock Star.

The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention and the Council on English Leadership Convention begin this weekend (11/15-21) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and I am so delighted to have the opportunity to present with my fellow faculty member, Stephanie Pixley, at three separate sessions. We are able to present to other teachers because of the great support and training our Regional School District #6 (Administration and Board of Education) has given its teachers in the use of technology in classrooms to improve student learning and develop 21st Century skills.

Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut, is a 1:1 Bring Your Own Digital Device (BYOD) school for grades 9-12, and we are learning everyday how our students’ use of technology has helped us differentiate our instruction, increase our students’ independence, and allow us to provide authentic tasks for our students. Last year, we used netbooks in our English and Social Studies classes and found how successfully technology could be used in reading and writing workshops at every grade level. This year, those netbooks have been moved to grades 7 and 8 for their use, and the high school students either provide their own devices or rent one from the school’s technology department..

The first session we will be offering is devoted to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. We will feature work that the students have completed in using Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as a way to analyze characters in this post-apocalyptic novel. We will be demonstrating how our students, “Explore the poetic language of survival in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the potential of 21st century connectivity and collaboration, and the use of mysteries to enhance students’ critical thinking abilities as presenters share literature experiences in three high school classrooms.”

Navigating the Mind: The Road Meets Maslow’s Hierarchy
Time:  Saturday 11/17 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM
Level:  Secondary (9-12)
Topic of Interest: Literature
Location:  Studio Room 6, Grand Arena, Main Floor by Grand Garden Arena, MGM Grand

The other two sessions will be offered to the Council on English Leadership:

You Ain’t Nothing but a Blog Hound
Monday 11/19 4-5:00 PM
D.3 Room 106

Description: You may already know that a blog platform offers students at all grade levels an opportunity to engage in an authentic writing experience in or outside the classroom. This workshop demonstrates the use of a blog platform for students to engage in thoughtful discussion on whole class or independent reading. This workshop will also feature how to organize, moderate, and assess both blog posts and comments on a variety of blog platforms. There will also be a focus on improving a student’s awareness of audience and purpose in a written response, and strategies will be provided so student comments are more sophisticated than a standard “I liked what you wrote.”

Writer’s Workshop Graduates to High Tech Literature Circles
Tuesday  11/20 10-11:00 AM
F.2  Room 106

Description: This session will feature strategies used in the teaching of writing at the middle and high school levels using a variety of 2.0 technologies, including blogs, wikis, and document sharing software. The emphasis will be on providing examples of differentiated student-centered activities that will develop independence in the writer’s transition from middle school to high school. High-tech writing provides opportunities for student accountability, group collaboration, and whole class communication

(NOTE: This session was presented this at Literacy for All Convention, 11/5 & 11/6 in Providence, RI)

We are looking forward to presenting and attending the wonderful selection of sessions over the next few days. This is certainly a wonderful opportunity for our own professional development and a chance for us to showcase our small but very forward thinking school district-Regional School District #6 !

One of my favorite cartoons features a young woman, obviously nervous, seated next to a white-suited, white-haired caricature of Samuel Clemens. Above her head floats a thought bubble,“‘I want to be a writer,’ she thought, mused, considered, said aloud, to no one, to herself, giving voice to the idea passion she had always had in her heart but had only recently discovered in her hand head.”

I also always wanted to be a writer, but the responsibility of writing stopped me. Writing was a task that I took very seriously. I had to write papers for courses I took. I had to write letters-personal and professional- and I had to write memos for work. Writing was a product that needed to be perfect. As a result, my writing duties had stifled my writing passion.

However, sixteen months ago I started this blog to share the ways I had increased the number of books in school classrooms. During the first month of entries, I wondered if I would have enough materials to write about on a blog about used books in class.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that what I have discovered is that writing is less product and more thinking. Sadly, I was an English teacher who required writing and encouraged students to write regularly in class, but who did not cognitively understand that writing is really a recording of thinking. I was always interested developing (and assigning) the prompt and collecting (and correcting) the final product. I did not fully understand the necessity of thinking as the most critical part of the writing until I began to write myself.

Now, as a convert to writing as thinking, I am using this post to encourage others to write in order to think.

October 19-20th, 2012 will be the National Day of Writing. The National Writing Project (NWP) is encouraging people to contribute to “What I Write” on their website:

What do you write or compose? Blog posts? Poems? Videos? Grocery lists, computer code, or song lyrics? Whatever you write, on Friday, October 19, use the hashtag #whatiwrite to share your compositions with the world as part of this year’s National Day on Writing.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has  links on their blog for people to read what authors say about why they write. The NYTimes Learning Network also has a page on their blog asking, “Post what, you ask? Well, could be…

  • Thoughts about what you write, whether it’s poetry, short stories, school essays, computer code, love notes, song lyrics or Facebook updates.
  • A link to some writing you want to show others.
  • A photo or drawing that illustrates something about writing, or illustrates something you’ve written.
  • Thoughts about things you’d like to write someday.
  • Notes on your writing process.
  • Thoughts on the role of writing in your life in general.
  • Advice about writing.
  • Links to good pieces about writers or writing

So, on Friday, October 19th, I will have my students create lists of topics they want to “think” about, topics* they want to explore in writing over the course of the year. We will collaborate on a master list using a Google doc that we can revisit over the course of the school year. I want my students to learn how to write, but more importantly, I want my students to learn how to write so they can think. I want they to feel free to write without constant assessment. I want them to write and read what they write to understand what they think. Hopefully, in this process they will discover that writing is not an academic responsibility, and that good writing is really good thinking. And I will imagine  thought bubbles over their heads as they write.

Share the hashtag #whatIwrite.

*Topic list created 10/18/2012

One of my favorite units from the National Council of Teachers of English website (NCTE-http://www.readwritethink.org/) is the unit,“Id, Ego, and the Superego in Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat” by Junius Wright of Charleston, South Carolina. The lessons in this unit use The Cat in the Hat “as a primer to teach students how to analyze a literary work using the literary tools of plot, theme, characterization, and psychoanalytical criticism.” The unit is stretched over eight 50 minute sessions, complete with handouts and worksheets for grades 9-12. I have completed the unit with my Advanced Placement English Literature students, however, in a shorter period of time of two 80 minute sessions, since many of my seniors are taking psychology or took psychology as juniors, and they are already familiar with Freud’s seminal work The Interpretation of Dreams.

The premise is that students will read The Cat in the Hat and analyze the development of characters (Narrator, Cat in the Hat, Fish) from the picture book through the stages of id, ego, and superego or analyze the static nature of characters (Thing 1 & Thing 2) locked in one stage.

Wright provides student friendly definitions and commentary for each psychoanalytic stage in one of the handouts on the Read, Write, Think website:

Id
The id is the part of the personality that contains our primitive impulses—such as thirst, anger, hunger—and the desire for instant gratification or release. According to Freud, we are born with our id. The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. The id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the other circumstances of the situation. The id is sometimes represented by a devil sitting on someone’s shoulder. As this devil sits there, he tells the ego to base behavior on how the action will influence the self, specifically how it will bring the self pleasure.
Superego
The superego is the part of the personality that represents the conscience, the moral part of us. The superego develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers. It dictates our belief of right and wrong. The superego is sometimes represented by an angel sitting on someone’s shoulder, telling the ego to base behavior on how the action will influence society.
Ego
The ego is the part of the personality that maintains a balance between our impulses (our id) and our conscience (our superego). The ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the end. It is the ego’s jobto meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation. The ego works, in other words, to balance the id and superego. The ego is represented by a person, with a devil (the id) on one shoulder and an angel (the superego) on the other.

I usually read the story aloud, although there are several websites that have The Cat and the Hat with audio read-aloud for teachers who do not want to get swept up in Seuss iambic rhythms and rhymes. I have collected about 30 copies of The Cat in the Hat at used book sales over the past two years; each copy has cost between $.50-$2.00, so the total investment has been $25.00. Making sure each student has a copy of the text is tremendously important, because it is through the illustrations that the students can successfully analyze the characters.

“So we sat in the house. We did nothing at all. So all we could do was to Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! And we did not like it. Not one little bit.”

“Look how bland their faces are,” notes Alex, “I think this is really the ego stage.”

“I know some good games we could play,” Said the cat. “I know some new tricks,” Said the Cat in the Hat. “A lot of good tricks. I will show them to you. Your mother Will not mind at all if I do.”

“Now, that’s just creepy!” says Skye. “The Cat walks in and starts convincing them that their Mother won’t mind?”
“That Cat is in id,” replies Mike, “he’s going to do what ever he wants.”

 “No! Not in the house!” Said the fish in the pot. “They should not fly kites In a house! They should not. Oh, the things they will bump! Oh, the things they will hit! Oh, I do not like it! Not one little bit!”

“Look at the Fish,” laughs Nancy, “He is out of the water, risking his life for the kids.”
There is a chorus of “Superego.” Everyone agrees.

After the unit, and once the students have a clear sense of how to analyze the characters in this story, I ask them to take this idea and analyze a different piece of literature. My students have just completed a reading of Antigone, so I asked them to psychoanalyze the actions of one character. Not surprisingly, most of them chose to study Creon’s movement from ego on his first day on the job as the King of Thebes, through his dissolution into id when he fights with both Antigone and his son Haemon.

“But, isn’t he really in superego?” asks Tom, “I mean, Creon is trying to uphold the law as king; he is trying to do what is right, or at least what is politically smart.” Other students consider his point….and this is the reason I love teaching this lesson. The use of psychological criticism humanizes literary characters, and our discussions after this lesson are always more informed by our deepening understanding of human nature. Students will use their understanding of id, ego, and superego from this lesson and apply these understandings to Frankenstein, Paradise Lost, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Richard III, and other important works of literature.

So, thank you, Junius Wright, for a wonderful unit on psychological criticism, but more importantly, thank you, Dr. Seuss. Not only did you teach my students to read, but you continue to teach them to think. And what did they think of the ending of The Cat in the Hat?

Should we tell her The things that went on there that day? She we tell her about it? Now, what SHOULD we do? Well… what would YOU do If you mother asked YOU?

Not one would confess. Sadly, there is not one superego in the entire class.

A series of links took me to a lesson plan  on the Edsitement! The Best of the Humanities on the Web site that is associated with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) . The lesson “Vengeful Verbs in Shakespeare’s Hamlet”  is entirely too disturbing. The opening lines of the lesson plan begin, “Shakespeare’s Hamlet  is an excellent source of instruction for students at the middle school level.”

My thoughts? Sorry. Middle school students, grades 6-8, should not read Hamlet. Teachers, leave that play for high school. Middle schools students need to read. They need to read many, many books.  They need young adult literature. They need to read for pleasure to build up their literary skills.

The lesson plan continues:

It [Hamlet] is a tale full of mystery and suspense and peppered with elements of the supernatural. Everyone loves a good ghost story! The popularity of the ghosts in the Harry Potter series and in The Graveyard Book attests to the appeal of the paranormal for this age group. These ghosts manifest as translucent spirits, yet they impact the physical world and certainly add life to the story line. Figments such as Rowling’s histrionic Moaning Myrtle and Gaiman’s mysterious Silas provide guidance for the young adults in their time of need.

My thoughts? Yes, these are the books they SHOULD be reading! Add the ghost stories Hereafter and Anna Dressed In Blood to the list of well written young adult novels. And yes, Harry Potter and The Graveyard Book are stories that will guide young adults in their time of need. But Hamlet?

Back to the lesson plan:

What better way to expose middle school students to a first taste of Shakespeare than from the angle of the ghost story? The first time Hamlet sees his father’s ghost (Hamlet, act 1, scene 5, lines 13–31) is one of the most dramatic moments in theatre and a prime opportunity to teach the often dry and boring subject of verbs.

My thoughts: Whaa…??? This lesson is turning a critical moment of drama into a lesson on verbs? This idea is dry and boring regardless of the content!

Finishing the description of the lesson plan:

Through the ghost of Hamlet’s father, students receive an introduction to the language of Shakespeare in a context they can understand. In this lesson, they will learn to distinguish generic verbs from vivid verbs by working with selected lines in Hamlet’s Ghost scene. Students will then test their knowledge of verbs through a crossword interactive puzzle.

My thoughts: A crossword puzzle. Yup. That will help them appreciate the play. I can hear the rattling from Stratford on Avon; Shakespeare’s bones are disturbed.

The objectives of the lesson are:

  • Students will be able to identify and define the verbs Shakespeare uses to convey the meaning of the scene
  • Students will exchange the verbs from the scene and replace with more vivid and more generic ones to see how that changes intention of the scene
  • Student will be assess their ability to define vivid and generic verbs used by Shakespeare by solving a crossword puzzle

Yes, readers, in this lesson students will replace Shakespeare’s language with bland or generic verbs using a worksheet.

WHY?

There is little consideration as to how all the language in this scene defines each character. No consideration of motive. No moral or ethical discussion about what the Ghost is asking Hamlet do.   The Harvard scholar Steven Greenblatt wrote an entire book, Hamlet in Purgatory,  wrestling with the central question offered in this scene, is the Ghost from Hell or Purgatory? But no, this lesson is on verbs.

Here are the lines: (Act I.V.13-31)

Father’s Ghost. I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love-
Hamlet. O God!
Father’s Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murther.
Hamlet. Murther?
Father’s Ghost. Murther most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

In this passage, the Ghost is very cagey about where he is coming from literally and figuratively. The Ghost plays the ultimate guilt card “If thou didst ever thy dear father love-” Hamlet anticipates the request and interjects a prayer “O God”. The Ghost then, you choose: a. asks, b. demands, c. commands the Prince, Hamlet, to revenge.

Another consideration as to the appropriateness of the use of Hamlet is the berating of Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude sixteen lines later:

Father’s Ghost. Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts-
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!- won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen.
O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there,
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!
But virtue, as it never will be mov’d,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel link’d,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed
And prey on garbage.

There are accusations of incest (a thought of Hamlet’s given voice by the Ghost), witchcraft, and adultery for Claudius. Gertrude acts with “lewdness” and “sates” herself in Claudius’s bed of figurative garbage. The Ghost cannot contain his fury at being replaced by Claudius; he has lost kingdom and queen and his fury spills over and exploits Hamlet’s depression. There is much here to discuss.

But for grades 6-8?  To replace the language of Shakespeare and make it “bland” to prove a distinction about verbs in Elizabethan English and today’s English? To measure the student understanding of the language with a crossword puzzle? Is it any wonder that with lessons like this one, many students come to a high school classroom “hating” Shakespeare? I have to work very hard to convince them otherwise.

There is something rotten on the Edsitement! site, and NCTE should be ashamed for endorsing this lesson. This lesson about verbs, not motivation or ethical dilemmas, disregards the dramatic tension of the scene and is wrong at any grade level!

What next? A lesson on the comma during Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger I see before me? /Come, let me clutch thee”?

There are  better lessons on heaven and earth for students in this age group then are dreamt of in this lesson plan!

NCTE must be aware that we have a nation of students who are not reading in part because many teachers kill the pleasure of a book. Hamlet is not the material that will bring middle school students a love of reading, and the literary analysis skills for these students in grades 6-8 are not sophisticated enough to bring them to an understanding of The Ghost’s manipulations. A grammar lesson plucked from a dramatic moment with a brilliant seduction by a spirit from beyond the grave is just so wrong.

This lesson is out of joint. O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!