Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Connecting and Reflecting - NCTE Convention 2011

For the first time in my 17 year teaching career, I attended the annual NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) convention. This year's convention was held in Chicago, so when I first heard about it, I knew I had to go. Chicago is only about 65 miles away from me. It was a no-brainer. I also heard lots of my Twitter friends chatting about the convention (starting way back in June!) which made it sound even more exciting.

Now that I've had some time to think about my experience, I can sum up my thoughts in two words. Connecting. Reflecting. But of course, I'll elaborate...

For me, the most powerful parts of the convention came in the way of connecting. Connecting with Twitter friends that I'd never met before. Connecting with Ohio friends and making plans for the Dublin Literacy Conference. Connecting with literacy leaders whose books have transformed my teaching and thinking. Connecting with new picture books and new professional reads. Connecting with sessions that affirmed my beliefs, as well as sessions that expanded my thinking. Sitting down at a table and connecting with Ken Goodman (the "father" of the whole language movement.)

Reflecting has become so much a part of me lately. NCTE 11 provided another time for listening, learning, and reflecting. Reflecting on how inspiring it was to have people recognize me because of Twitter. Reflecting on how fortunate I am to have connected with Joan and Gail. Reflecting on how I must, MUST continue to fight the good fight in the name of what is right and what is best for my students. Reflecting on Ellin Keene's thoughts on how it's always the best teachers who are in the most trouble. Reflecting on what the sessions I attended had taught me and what they had affirmed for me. Reflecting on how this experience would change me.

My NCTE "connections" wordle! :)

I sincerely apologize if I left anyone off of this! I wrote down everyone I could remember meeting and hope I didn't accidentally leave someone out!

Here are a few of the quotes from the convention that moved me.

"Scientifically proven instruction translates into prescriptive programs in which teachers have no decision-making power." Whole Language Umbrella session

"So much of what we're hearing now are just new words for old ideas that didn't work!" Whole Language Umbrella session

"There's power in teaching with real books." Kathy Short

"Schools have become so frantic. It is hard to 'be there.' Slow reading means having a sustained, attentive relationship with text. Pay attention." Thomas Newkirk

"Term 'research-based' has become de-based." Thomas Newkirk

"Nothing is more helpful than thinking aloud for kids." Ellin Keene

"Inspirational teaching in this time of core standards is vital." Anne Ruggles Gerr

"We need to make things simple so kids can do big things." Ann Marie Corgill

"We have to acknowledge who kids are as readers and help them grow." Cathy Mere

"Our students deserve same depth, variety, and richness that we want for our own reading lives." Stephanie Parsons

"A 'just right book' is so much more than being a 'level M.'" Stephanie Parsons

"Fluency is all about how to read a piece beautifully." Kathy Collins

"Reading and writing float on a sea of talk." James Britton

I left the convention feeling exhausted and exhilarated. Being surrounded by so many people who share my passion and beliefs on teaching, learning, and books was astounding. I can hardly wait to do it again!

~Komos :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's the BIG idea?

I had the pleasure of attending a Day at Judson University with Debbie Miller a couple of weeks ago! I have to say that I am already hoping to be able to attend another workshop there. What a warm, welcoming community! Not only did we get to hear Debbie speak, Dr. Steven Layne is also a professor there. His enthusiasm is contagious! I'm adding his book to my TBR pile. :) I'm so happy I was able to finally see Debbie in person and have a conversation with her. I'm hoping she'll take my advice and join Twitter!

The day was filled with so many "Aha" and "Amen" moments for me! I've read two of Debbie's books and have always been impressed with her knowledge and ideas. What struck me most over the course of the day was how she kept coming back to the "big idea." As we work with our readers and writers, we must always keep in mind the "big idea" of why we're teaching these skills and strategies. I think it's essential to share the "why" with children. We're working on contractions; why? How is that going to impact their reading and writing life? As we learn to visualize while we read, what purpose does it serve? Especially now, as I hear more and more about interventions and more programs to help us teach our readers, I think we must remain focused on the big picture here which is influencing the reading/writing lives of our students. Without a knowledgeable, mindful teacher, these programs, skills and interventions do nothing more than make reading a choppy, meaningless process.

This year, I have a few struggling readers in my first grade class. We're working on learning our letters and sounds and basic sight words... but we also have great books in our hands! Anchoring this knowledge to books has remained at the forefront of our work. I am also careful as to how much I work with my emerging readers. They are being pulled for reading support, interventions, and more. Often, I think the best thing I can do for them is to let them enjoy reading! That may come in the way of rereading favorite read alouds, singing from our poetry binders, or discovering the new books they've put in their individual book tubs.

A few of my favorite quotes from the day...

*Fidelity: Are we pledging allegiance to a program or pledging allegiance to children?
*From what Debbie is saying, her teaching is very intentional... but is also very responsive to children's needs.

*Making learning WHOLE. This drives instruction
*Independent practice: Is it just "stuff'"? Is it more important than just having a book in their hands? Is it to keep them busy?
*Ask kids, "How is that helping you become a better reader today?
*When kids are struggling, they are the ones who need to have their hands on books more than anyone else!*Conferring is the only way to individualize and differentiate instruction for kids & work from where they are.
*When thinking aloud in front of students, be authentic, be in the moment... and it's ok!

*Important to ask ourselves, "What did I learn about myself as a teacher today?"
*Be clear about what you're doing and why you're doing it. It can make a big difference.

 You can find the archive of all of the tweets related to A Day at Judson with Debbie Miller right HERE. (In case you aren't familiar with reading an archive or Twitter feed, you'll need to start reading from the bottom up!)

As I continue to reflect on what I learned that day, Katie Keier and Pat Johnson's posts on Catching Readers (part 1 and part 2) on fostering independence remind me that our ultimate goal really is to create those independent readers, writers, and thinkers! A great (quick) read! I've also gone back and have started rereading their book, Catching Readers Before They Fall.

How do you keep the "big picture" in mind?
~Komos :)