It was the last day of school, at the end of June, when I got the good news that I would be receiving an Educator of Excellence (Elementary) Award from the New York State English Council (NYSEC). A workshop proposal I submitted on blogging as a way to develop writer’s identity was accepted, too! The summer heat was on and summer vacation spread out before me, with all its infinite possibilities. I felt excited about attending the NYSEC Conference, yet October seemed so far away!
I blinked and somehow the summer flew, school started, and then it was time to attend the conference, entitled “Literacy: At the Intersection of Story and Information.”
Wednesday, October 19th
Let the adventure begin! Suitcase and bags packed, I got to experience the morning commute on the Long Island Rail Road with my husband who makes the trek everyday. Next, I met my friend and the Director of the Long Island Writing Project, Darshna Katwala, by Amtrak and we took the train together to Albany. An interesting cab ride later, we were checked into our hotel and ready for pre-registration.
The first event of the conference was the opportunity to listen to the New York State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, speak about the latest news from the department as well as answer questions from educators. Many of the questions related to the state assessments and the new learning standards that are looking to be adopted. After that session, Darshna and I met up with Mary Sawyer from the Hudson Valley Writing Project and enjoyed sharing stories of our different writing project sites over delicious Thai food.
Thursday, October 20th
Darshna and I were up early and ready to start the day! We were looking forward to listening to Lester Laminack’s keynote address to kick-off the conference.
Lester Laminack is one of my “eduheroes” but this was the first time I had the opportunity to hear him speak. His first move was to push the podium aside and take a seat in the center of the stage, as if he were about to have a conversation with a friend. He began, in a storyteller’s voice, repeating, “I grew up in a time…” before saying each statement, describing life before remote controls and touch screens. He said, “Stories are a way we make sense of our past. Story is one way we navigate our present…Story is how we move through this day.” Lester described how any topic you want to teach your students can begin with a story in a picture book. Pictures help students visualize content they might not be able to envision yet. One great suggestion, after reading a book aloud, is to invite students to think of their three best questions that they would ask the author, the characters, or the teacher. One of my favorite lines from Lester, which he spoke to the room full of educators was, “Most of you keep a writer’s notebook- I’m making an assumption here- because I wish it to be true.” Lester read his book, Saturdays and Teacakes, which was about a beautiful memory he had with his grandmother. I could easily see this book becoming a mentor text for my students with many craft moves to try. Of course, I had to buy it and Lester signed it for me!
After Lester’s inspiring keynote address, I attended a workshop called “Taking the Growth Mindset to the Writing Conference: Questions That Promote Revision”, facilitated by Janine Garrison of the Hudson Valley Writing Project and Pawling Central School District. The essential question we were asked was, “How can young writers take more ownership of their revision?” The workshop offered many opportunities for thinking, writing, and sharing our ideas collaboratively. We had the opportunity to look at student work and role play a writing conference and what we might say to encourage the student to take more ownership over the revision process. I was left with many ideas to keep pondering!
Next up was another keynote address, this time from Kylene Beers, another one of my “eduheroes” who I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time in person! Kylene was engaging, funny, and real. She shared letters students wrote to her, giving her public speaking advice! Kylene spoke about the need to get students to be readers who think deeply about what they are reading. She shared some writing about reading strategies. Instead of having students answer comprehension questions, students could write about what surprised them and what changed, challenged or confirmed what they knew.
After Kylene’s keynote address, there was time to get books signed by both Lester and Kylene and then a luncheon. After the lunch, we were treated to another keynote speaker, author Alice Hoffman. Alice spoke about the importance of mentors, saying, “When you have a mentor, it can change your life.” She read a brilliant piece, advice from her grandmother, which sparked emotion in many of us listening (thinking of our own Grandmas!).
Next was another chance to attend a workshop. I attended Darshna and Christine Dawson’s session, which focused on using shared reading as a way for students to write in a low-stakes way and build community. They shared a piece by Amy Tan called “Memory”, read aloud by Darshna. Then, the room full of educators were invited to take time to write whatever comes to mind. I began my piece by pulling a quote from the article, “Together, we knew in our hearts what we should remember, what we can forget.” After writing, participants were invited to share some or all of what they wrote. There was a discussion of how this would work in the classroom and the importance of building a safe community as well as writing identity.
Writing identity brings me to my presentation. My workshop was called “Building a Writer’s Identity Through Blogging.” Part of my presentation included reading aloud the book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and inviting participants to write afterwards, either on paper or on a padlet. I also invited participants to “Cross the Room” as they responded to statements I read. If the statement was true for them, they would cross the room. If not, they would stay put! The statements included phrases like “I am a writer”, “Being a writer would help me as a teacher of writing” and “My students see themselves as writers.” I shared how blogging had given me a voice as a teacher and has helped my students to believe they are writers and live more writerly lives.
Presenting was exciting…but tiring! Dinner, great conversation, and a good night’s sleep were the perfect end to a full day!
Friday, October 21
The day began with breakfast and then a keynote address from Ernest Morrell. His address focused on the engagement crisis and the need for kids to be excited about learning each day. He asked, “How do we develop literate identities?” The research on failure was fascinating- many times due to a lack of confidence, lack of relevance, lack of engagement with a community of learners, and lack of engagement with the social world.
Near the end of the address, Ernest Morrell spoke about his parents, who were both life-long educators. He shared the lessons about teaching that he learned from his parents.
The last slide in his presentation was this quote:
Each keynote speaker brought such passion and conviction, giving me much to go back to and reflect upon in the coming days. There were two more workshops to attend on Friday. The first one of the day was “Revision & Editing- Going Beyond I’m Done!” by Deanna Catapano and Ryan Aliperti, administrators in the Massapequa School District. They used Peardeck in their presentation, which was a fabulous tool I want to investigate. One strategy they showed us was creating a noticings chart for conventions. While I’ve tried a noticings chart for craft moves, I never thought to try one for conventions! So smart.
The final workshop I attended, entitled, “Have You Heard? Podcasts as Innovative 21st Century Texts for the CCSS English Classroom” was presented by Caitlin Colwell and Heather Flood. I’ve been listening to podcasts more and more and was interested in how these high school teachers use podcasts. Caitlin spoke about the podcast Serial and how she used it to engage her students in close reading, critical thinking and argument writing. Heather described using the podcast Limetown with her students, who then created their own podcasts using Limetown as a mentor. The presentation was dynamic and full of enthusiasm. It made me think of the keynote address that morning and student engagement- I could imagine students in both Colwell and Flood’s classes being really hooked into learning. I am still thinking about connections I can make to my third grade readers and writers, but one idea is bringing in some type of audio for students to use for discussion.
The conference concluded with the Awards Luncheon. Many educators were recognized for their hard work, passion and dedication to teaching. I think you can tell by my picture how honored and happy I was to receive an Educator of Excellence Award. I am very appreciative to my friends in the Long Island Writing Project for nominating me and my assistant principal, Jessica Santarpia, who wrote a letter of recommendation for me. I left the NYSEC Conference feeling reinvigorated and recommitted to being a teacher who brings literacy to life for my students. As the t-shirt I purchased from the Hudson Valley Writing Project says, “Highly Effective means always Developing” and I know I have much work ahead, as I continue to strive to do more and be better for my students.