Saturday. I’d be lying if I said this day wasn’t busy and exhausting.
Saturday was the day I found myself running around like a mad woman, trying to catch every single session I possibly could. From Jacqueline Woodson’s General Session to a session designated to why YA literature is complex, there were so many new and interesting ideas that I walked away with. My notebook (and my heart) was filled afterwards.
Saturday General Session — Jacqueline Woodson
If you have never heard Jacqueline Woodson speak, I highly encourage you to find an interview or podcast. She is amazing! The way she speaks to crowds can both encourage and soothe; I felt myself relating to her words and stories more than I had originally anticipated.
Woodson, the author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn, presented a riveting session to sit through. She spoke on resistance, story craft, and best practices by teachers. Woodson reminded the audience that she came to Missouri despite the NAACP’s travel advisory against doing so; change, she said, comes from making statements and resisting. Here are some of my favorite pieces of her speech:
- “When students are begging to read? That’s powerful.”
- How do we each one teach one?
- You create your own world and that’s the journey; the journey is not the negative.
- “You not only have a right to be here, you have a right to be here fabulously.”
- Picture books: Teachers gave Woodson the gift of picture books, which served to legitimize the reader and learner she was at the time.
- Teachers are gatekeepers; we can choose how to create the climate and tolerance levels. We can enact change.
- Encourage students to write
- “Everybody has a story, and everybody deserves to tell that story.”
Reclaiming Our Voices: The Joy of the Thing — Laurie Halse Anderson, Jason Reynolds, etc.
People don’t have to question whether or not I’m a reader because I make it pretty obvious. I travel with numerous books and can be seen pulling one out no matter where I am. However, I know this is not true for everyone. Many of my future students will not be readers. This panel of superstars worked to uncover how we should pass our love and passion onto our students.
“Reclaiming Our Voices” spoke a lot on the idea of self-led readers. Educators need to understand where each reader is at on their journey and try to understand the context of their lives before giving assignments or constructing “on-ramps” to reading. Just like an on-ramp to an interstate, these allow students to access the road to life-long reading and writing. This session was packed with amazing insight and ideas, but there is no way I can cover it all in a blog post. Here are some of the recommendations/thoughts shared:
- Consistently buy new books by favorite authors
- Model that you, the teacher, read things (book talk)
- Give/get recommendations to/from others; create communities in classrooms where books are recommended.
- Throw out the boring; remember the right’s of readers.
- Present books that show different perspectives because our students don’t all have the same background and experiences.
- Have a classroom library containing multiple genres and formats (graphic novels, novels, poetry, etc.)
- Don’t hide the secret subtext
- Break students from their comfort zone.
The session closed on a question from the audience. An educator asked the panel their thoughts on presenting certain books to students suffering through personal trauma. The answer was important for all to hear. Since some students will want to read through trauma and others will strike to read around it, it isn’t our job to push books onto students:
- LHA – If my book (Speak) was around, I wouldn’t have read it. It would have furthered trauma.
- Solution? Leave works about everything everywhere for students to discover
- Read diversely to learn and grow and push boundaries.
- Trauma doesn’t make all of life traumatic. We must be careful about turning kids into traumatic fortresses; you are not the trauma.
Finally, don’t judge what a student is reading. This is the ugliest thing we can do as professionals and educators. If we want to create lifelong readers, telling them they are reading the wrong thing is the best way to not do that.
Attending an Ignite session was one of the most interesting experiences of the conferences. During the session, there are numerous speakers who each get 5 minutes to present whatever they want to. This makes the session jam packed with lots of ideas that are presented in short bursts of time. Due to this, my notebook looks a little crazy. Ideas are written haphazardly, and, to be honest, I’m having a hard time following each train of thought.
So, here are some of my (slightly) crazy notes:
- Be kind and nice to your students ALWAYS.
- It can’t be once; it has to be constant, and you have to be hard to ignore.
- Every kid has value.
- “It’s easy to be a nothing student if you have a nothing teacher.”
- Reading levels do not support whole-child learning structures.
- Restricting reading choices to only those “on that level” destroys reading identity
- These tools were not created to label students and make them static.
- Reading is a transaction between the reader and the text.
- We don’t access the same text in the same way.
- Know your kids & know your books -> This is how we make recommendations and create a community of readers
Stop Grading, Start Reflecting — The Paper Graders
Wow. This session has stuck with me since I walked out. The Paper Graders are teachers from Boulder, CO who have completely reworked their classroom structure around grades. They argue the need to emphasize the process, not the final product because the learning is the work. If we preach student-centered learning, we need to really look at our practices and see if they are living up.
The 3 teachers presenting walked us through their 8 steps/thoughts they work through to create a climate of no “grading” in the traditional sense. They outlined what their semester looked like from top to bottom, even presenting us with a weekly lesson plan and walking us through it. Though I won’t include all of the steps, I encourage you to check out their site and be reflective on your own practices; what is working? What isn’t?
Perhaps the most impactful part of the session came from a student’s reflection on a piece of writing:
I had to take risks to do this. If I had been worried about a grade, I probably would’ve chosen a different topic, because that would have been the safer choice.
Do we want the safe, easier options to fill our classroom, or do we prefer to have students invest in their writing and challenge themselves?
YA Lit is Complex! — Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Julie Murphy, Laurie Halse Anderson, etc.
Ah. YA Literature. My home, my heart, and my soul.
Dramatic maybe, but I do really love YA literature. It helps us connect to each other, our world, and ourselves. YA lit is important, so why do some say that it is “simple?”
Authors attempted to tackle this question during the mixed round table/panel session. I stood in the back of the room trying to soak up every single thing these amazingly talented authors were sharing, completely engrossed in the talk and forgetting the fact that I was tired and dying from a heat stroke.
Top thoughts from the panel:
- Stereotypes are simple – kids are not, therefore they are not stereotypes.
- We live in a teen-bashing culture.
- Linguistically simple does not equal contextually simple.
- “There’s this thought that since a teen can see themselves reflect in a piece of literature it’s not good enough to be in the classroom. How does that make sense?” -JM
- Most don’t know/understand what complexity is
- Complexity = multiple parts
- Complexity is present by default, but it’s the lack of realization of complexity that is missing
- “Complexity is code word for academically elite ideas, for the books they had to read in HS, for the books that literally no one understands so we have to walk them through it line by line and the point is never actually found.” – LHA
- “The people of 200 years ago wouldn’t even read their own books today.” – LHA
Round Table – Angie Thomas
So, I may not have had a seat the entire time I was there, but you better believe I swarmed to the Angie Thomas table and butted in on her round table session. This woman is magnificent. I recently read The Hate U Give, her first novel, and was amazed and the layers and thematic concerns presented within it. She is a YA powerhouse, and her round table was nothing short of that:
- Her mission: to show the complexity of people and places
- How do we approach stereotypes and racism with students who are already entrenched in them?
- Make marginalization real to students via exercises and discussions
- Make a conscious effort to show more windows
- Blackness should never bee seen in a negative light, yet it is. This is a complex issue in itself.
- Challenges us to think about our actions – both conscious and unconscious – and why we do these things (ex. – woman pulling purse closer while walking)
- “Empathy if more powerful than sympathy.” -AT
- It’s important for students to see more than themselves reflected in literature.
… And day 2 is wrapped! What a day full of thinking and learning. I can honestly say that I am still sorting through my thoughts and emotions weeks later. This conference taught me a lot, and some of my favorite sessions occurred on this day. English teachers, as the title says, truly do walk through the fire. We confront issues of systemic racism, censorship, marginalization, grading, and so much more through our work. Day two reminded me why I chose this profession in the first place; for this, I am thankful.