A Few Reflections and Shares From NCTE 2019

Over the last few days, I had the privilege of attending the National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. While there were many colleagues and friends who shared the experience, I know many others couldn’t attend. I’m sure there are others who will share in the upcoming weeks, but for now, in somewhat of a post-convention haze, I’m scrolling through my notes and pulling out some of my favorite quotes and ideas from my experiences.

In the spirit of the power of three, as well as the understanding that we can only absorb so much in a single post, I’m limiting this post to three sessions, and my hope is that everyone can take a little NCTE away from here– some ideas, activities, and challenges to our beliefs and practices.

Most of the sessions are a little over an hour, but on Thursday, I committed to a four-hour workshop centered on joy from some of my favorite educators on social media. (How could I not attend given the fact that my One Little Word for 2019 is joy?) While there were so many, many ideas from this workshop, I especially loved Katie Cunningham‘s challenge to stop and draw joy. Go ahead– take a few minutes and do it. It doesn’t take long. Or even better yet, ask your students to draw joy or create some sort of artistic rendering of joy, and do it with them. What an amazingly wonderful experience this could lead to.

In the same workshop, Renee Houser shared a video of herself working with a student in a writing workshop. She had us observe the conference with different lenses, and also emphasized the idea of learning from a student as opposed to about a student. When we reflected, most of us in the room could only talk about the student, and it’s an incredibly empowering idea for kids to try to change our approach to, at times, learning from instead of about.

I met up with Lanny Ball and Katelynn Giordano late on Friday afternoon, and we debated whether to sit and reflect or head to another session, even though we’d be late. Lucky for us, we went to a session given by Mary Dibinga and Pamela Doiley titled From Argument to Inquiry: Building
Discourse Communities in the Writing Classroom
. The presenters offered several activities to promote discourse and debate in classrooms, and I especially liked the idea of “Pass the Paper.” Here are the steps, as I interpret them, but you can adjust, tweak, or interpret however it works for you:

  1. Provide students a text or a topic. Depending on the level, it could be a swatch of text, an essay, a picture book– something that lends itself to a claim.
  2. Have students write a claim, then pass their paper to another person. You could have students in groups of three or four, or whatever works for you.
  3. The next person to get the paper has to write reasons to go with the first person’s claim. Then pass the paper.
  4. The next person gets to explain the second person’s reasons.
  5. The paper returns to the original claim-writer and everyone can decide what to do with it from there.

This process does not have to start with the claim– it could also start with an “important part” of the text, and then the next person could write a claim– there are so many variations, but I love the element of play, as well as the critical thinking this work involves.

On Saturday, I attended a session titled Dismantling White Supremacy, and it’s critical to me that I share some of the questions and challenged the presenters posed.

  • Would I have been a good teacher to Freddie Gray, Jr.?” Dr. Stephanie Jones asked herself, as well as the rest of us.
  • “What do the teaching inquiries suggest about what we value and prioritize in teaching? How do we normalize whiteness?” Dr. Rossina Zamara Liu asked.
  • “Whose language skills are privileged by White academic language?” and “How do we legitimize White language and not Black?” are some of the questions Dr. April Baker-Bell asked.

These questions were provocative and important, and I share them because we all need to contemplate the answers and our own complicity in ways we allow and reinforce systems of inequity. The better we reflect, push our understandings, and increase our knowledge, the better we can do.

My experiences at the annual NCTE conventions have shaped my beliefs over the years. The call for proposals is already out for 2020, and I’m already looking forward to Denver next November.