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Day 1 NCTE 2014

K and I are in frigid Washington, D.C. for the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) annual convention. For the past five years this has been a tradition for us, and it has become a cornerstone of my teaching career. Kat’s mom asked both of us a few days ago what we get out of attending this conference ever year, aside from getting to see one another, of course. I dare not speak completely for Kat (she can be scary), but I know for me, my first NCTE was career-changing.

There is a camaraderie and inclusion within the organization that can only be likened to family. The passion that we all feel for our profession is palpable as one walks through the labyrinthine halls of the convention center. There is a sense, in almost every session, that it’s not about showing off what you can do, but sharing ideas with other teachers so that they too can experience the success you have experienced with that particular lesson or strategy. While Thursday is technically the first day of the convention, today was our first full day of attending sessions. Again this year, NCTE has not disappointed.

The first session I attended discussed using text and image together. As our students are more and more true digital natives, it’s important to remember that their lives have been full of constant text/image pairing. Most of them have never been alive during a time that a home computer and cell phone were not a integral part of their lives. My own son doesn’t recognize a camera with no view screen or a phone that doesn’t have a touch screen. If we don’t keep up with the technology students have at home and use it as part of their learning, we are truly failing them. The idea of blending the visual with the text makes perfect sense. They must be able to read written text, but written text alone may soon be a thing of the past.

The second session I attended was about teaching urban, or perhaps in my case “marginalized”, students to express themselves in writing. The most powerful thing I took away from this session was the idea that these students have so much to say, but don’t have the tools with which to say it. They have very little faith in themselves as learners and communicators. The ability to communicate one’s needs and desires should be a fundamental human skill. After all, one can’t succeed ORA fail if one doesn’t have the ability to comprehend and communicate the difference between the two. To quote my friend Erika, we have to teach them that the most important thing we do as humans is words.

My third session was on changing the way we question students in Language Arts classrooms. Students should be driving the inquiry in our classrooms. We need to make students think and really express what it is they want to know. Through books and writing, we can make the learning more meaningful and much more permanent if what they’re studying is what THEY are curious to know. Teacher as director of learning means that the students are learning what the teacher wants them to know. In my experience, students rarely want to know the same things as the adults in their lives. Changing the focus puts them in control and makes the teacher a resource rather than a regulator of knowledge.

Lunch and a stroll through the exhibit hall (holy crow Scholastic is MAJOR this year) led me to my final session. This one dovetailed nicely with the image session from this morning. The focus was using the selfie as a teaching tool and, while the presenters were all elementary teachers, the applications for any classroom are endless. I am already percolating ideas about selfies replacing traditional book reviews and traditional reading conferences. The possibilities are endless.

All in all, a marvelous first day here at D.C’s NCTE. My brain is full and my stomach is empty. Time to eat and recharge (me AND my electronics) for tomorrow’s infusion of awesome.

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