Sunday, November 30, 2014

NCTE 2014 Annual Convention: Experiencing the Conference and Making Memories My Way

Last week I traveled to Washington D.C. for the 2004 NCTE Annual Convention at the Gaylord Resort. I have now attended the NCTE Annual Convention six times and participated as a program participant five times. My first opportunity to present was with the Folger Shakespeare Library in a session titled "Teaching Teachers to Teach Shakespeare." Since my first convention experience and first time presenting, I've learned much about making the convention valuable to my professional growth and nurturing. 

Last year my time in Boston felt out of sync with my needs. I worried about networking and spending time with people  whom, in retrospect, I'm not sure had the same goals. I left Boston sad and a little depressed. Things just had not gone as I'd envisioned. My experience and expectations took different paths.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead and wrote a proposal for the 2014 convention, an overview of which I wrote about here. 

This year I traveled to Washington D.C. determined not to worry about whether or not I networked, determined not to feel hurt if I wasn't included on others' lists of people to hang out with, determined not to worry about whether or not those whose sessions I have attended in the past reciprocated by attending mine, intent on not allowing the cliques inherent in most organizational structures to define my experience. 

In short, I decided to experience the convention my way with only my professional and social expectations in mind. That meant I didn't worry about whether or not I had arranged to sit with people I know at the ALAN breakfast and the Secondary Section Luncheon. I had not. I didn't worry about being alone or having someone to hang out w/ during sessions and events. Consequently, I had a very organic and gratifying convention experience, and I was rarely alone. I was never lonely. 

I captured many of my favorite convention experiences in photos. 

Attending NCTE is about meeting and hearing authors. I kicked off the convention in a session featuring Jacqueline Woodson speaking about and reading from Brown Girl Dreaming, and I scored a free copy of the book! 
Jacqueline Woodson, NBA Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming

Two of my professional heroes dropped by our session. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst push us to think about the ways we teach fiction and nonfiction. Kylene is quite the selfie-taker and inspired me to embrace the selfie throughout the convention.
Bob, me, Cherylanne, Kylene, Debbie.

I met David Levithan at the ALAN breakfast and shared the story of my student who asked me to take her copy of Two Boys Kissing to NCTE and get it signed. I did not. But I did get a selfie!
Selfie w/ David Levithan at the ALAN breakfast.

Later in the exhibit hall, I was awaiting a signature from Chris Crutcher and shared the story about my student with a teacher in line with me. She had a copy of Two Boys Kissing and gave it to me to give to my student. 
Rebecca from Louisville, Kentucky
I also snagged a photo with Andrew Smith. I would love to be in his class! 
Andrew Smith indulging my giddiness resulting from meeting fabulous authors.
Chris Crutcher signed a copy of Period 8 to my students. I asked him to sign it to teens in Pocatello, Idaho, where he gets all his best ideas, which references a comment he made on Facebook a while back. 
Chris Crutcher signing Period 8.
I am a huge fan of Cory Doctorow and had a chance to chat with him twice. He makes me rethink my use of social networking and other issues relating to privacy.
Cory Doctorow during his signing of Little Brother.
English teachers know how to have fun, regardless of what others may say, and the exhibit hall is a fabulous place to meet people one does not expect to meet!

Shakespeare and me!
A highlight of the convention was attending a TSI reunion at the Folger Shakespeare Library and seeing a production of Julius Caesar. We had a follow-up Q & A with the cast; they made me love Julius Caesar, and that's saying something as the play has never been my favorite. 
A selfie w/ Dana Huff in the Folger Shakespeare Library Reading Room!
Reunited in the Reading Room w/ Mari O'Meara, my friend from TSI 2008!
My friend Michael Klein, also a TSI 2008 alum.
The cast of Julius Caesar during the Q &A
I attended some fabulous and inspiring sessions that stretch my imagination about collaboration, about technology, about student choice in reading, and about teaching as art and the relationship of artifacts to reading and writing and speaking. 

Additionally, I met some wonderful people in my session, at events, and in others' sessions. 

Of course, the NCTE Annual Convention wouldn't be complete without the books. I purchased some from many genres, including professional, picture, MG, and YA. I also snagged some ARCs to share with students, and acquired a pile of books for my granddaughter. I managed to arrive home needing to purchase two new suitcases that finally went to that big baggage claim in the great beyond. 
Books for my students.
Books for my granddaughter, Kayla
In the mayhem and excitement of the convention, I still managed to greet and briefly chat with fabulous virtual colleagues from around the country and meet some whom I'd previously only met online. Their warmth and kindnesses embrace me, and I look forward to keeping up with them throughout the next year until we converge in Minneapolis and do it all again! 

I encourage others to join me for NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis and to consider writing a proposal for the convention program, which I'm planning to blog about later.  I was more than 20 years into my career before attending the NCTE annual convention. I wish I had known what I was missing years ago.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks and Telling Stories

This Thanksgiving my heart is full. I returned from NCTE 2014 brimming with stories, but I'll be sharing about that experience in a separate post in a few days. 

For now, I'm thinking about my grandmother, Phoebe Cowen, and giving thanks for the stories I inherited from her, one of which I shared over on Facebook Wednesday, along with this photo of a Cranberry Orange Mold I've been making since 1982. I always put the salad in the green bowl, which belonged to my grandmother and which my grandfather gave to me when grandma died during my freshman year of college.
My grandmother and I often had a rocky relationship. She wanted me to quit school when I was in seventh grade and take care of my father, who had lost his sight the previous year from complications from juvenile diabetes. 

I kept grandma's request from my father for a year. 

Having just read Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming empowers me to see the poetry in the stories from my own childhood. They, too, are best expressed as free verse. Such is the rhythm of life; it has no set meter, no constant form. 

One of my favorite pastimes when visiting grandma was dusting the furniture. As I sprayed Pledge onto the coffee table or buffet, I pledged to myself that I would one day own matching furniture, that I would have a comfy couch to sit on. I dusted away my childhood poverty as I polished grandma's furniture and dreamed of a more prosperous future for myself. 

After I learned to drive, I hauled grandma around town. She never acquired a driver's license but freely dispensed advice about driving. Her nagging made me nervous, and one time I pulled to the side of the road and scolded her: "Grandma, you have to stop nagging me about my driving. You make me nervous, and if you don't stop, I'm taking you home." She crossed her arms, scowled, and closed her mouth. 

When my niece saw the Facebook post featuring grandma's bowl, she, too, began reminiscing. "Loved grandma Cowen and her purple bathroom." I shared that I hadn't thought about that bathroom in a long time. It had a purple tub, a purple, toilet with a padded purple seat, and a purple sink. I reminded my niece that the wallpaper was actually contact paper grandma had stuck on the wall. I didn't remind her that grandma died in that bathroom. 

This Thanksgiving we'll tell stories and create new memories with family. We may not realize the significance of these stories to ourselves and to our relationships with others for many years. Jacqueline Woodson wrote Brown Girl Dreaming after turning 50, even though it's the story of her early life. 

I turned 56 last week and am only now beginning to understand the complicated relationship I had with my paternal grandmother. Only now am I beginning to understand her role in a poor white girl's dreaming and in the symbolism of a green bowl filled with those dreams. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NCTE 2014 "Story as the Landscape of Knowing" [Preview] Session A:09 "Blurred Lines: Landscapes of Truth and Fiction in Imaginary and Informational Texts"

For an English teacher, what excites more than a good story? We know ourselves and our world through stories. As Carol Jago says, "Literature is a mirror of ourselves and a window into other worlds." 

I'll be teaming up, once again, with my convention colleagues Ami Szerence, who teaches at Schurr H.S. in Montebello, CA; Cherylann Schmidt, who teaches at J. P. Case M.S. in Flemington, N.J.; and Debbie Greco, my colleague at Highland H.S. in Pocatello, ID to explore the ways narrative lines cross boundaries in texts of various genres. 

To start our session, I'll present a Pecha Kucha that focuses on how we define, and construct our ideas about imaginary and informational texts. I'll challenge the privilege granted informational texts and argue that truth resides in imaginary texts, too, often in ways inadequate to informational texts. 

The second part of my presentation will showcase the journey my seniors have taken this past trimester as we've examined narrative forms and frames on our way to creating digital stories that seniors may use as the starting point for their senior projects. I'll showcase at least one of the digital stories. We laughed and cried together last week as we celebrated one another's lives in story. This was a rewarding community-building experience. 

Included in my part of our session is a twelve page document w/ many of the activities students completed as part of our emphasis on telling our stories and reading the stories of others, both classic and contemporary, including YA. I've uploaded the materials to the NCTE portal but it's available on Google Drive: "Contributing a Verse: Digital Storytelling for Research-Based Writing"

My Co-Presenters' Plans:

Over on Google Drive, my co-presenters have shared their plans. Here's what those attending our session can look forward to hearing in Ami's, Cherylann's, and Debbie's own words:

I am focusing on how I create text sets that blend fiction and imaginative literature around a central question or idea.  I plan to share my Racial Profiling unit and either my Brave New World or 1984 unit.  I will focus on how I use imaginative literature to gather evidence to support argumentative writing.  I hope to have time to have one or two participants share a novel or story they teach and create a text set on the spot.  I will upload my handouts soon.  

"Blending Imaginative and Informative Texts in Argumentative Writing" (Ami's presentation doc).

Multiple Genres, Multiple Voices - How do different genres (informational text, poetry, autobiography, and photographs) tell the story of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. I will walk participants through an abbreviated version of a lesson I do with my students when we study the Holocaust. My piece of the session will explore how each genre impacts readers differently and shapes their overall understanding of a historical event. (I’m doing an extended version of this talk at the Philadelphia Writing Project’s Fall Conference in October, so I’ll have worksheets uploaded within the next few weeks.)

My main focus will be the Heroic journey using a Document Based Inquiry approach connecting to The Odyssey and A Tale of Two Cities. I will upload the documents I will be using as well as the DBI Note catcher form. Depending on time availability (which is unlikely) I will do a side note on the use of census reports for A Tale of Two Cities pre-reading activity.  
1. Stage 1 - images and video… observations and wonders
2. Stage 2 - primary documents
3. Stage 3 - secondary synthesis documents
4. Stage 4 - Thesis statement with evidence based on observations and wonders from
stages 1-3
5. How much Odyssey & Tale of Two Cities fits fact versus fiction discussion
6. a side-by-side comparison of census reports - one from a wealthy neighborhood in
New York and one from a poor neighborhood in New York. What’s the narrative these

census records tell us?

*As Ami, Cherylann, and Debbie complete and share their materials w/ me, I'll update this post to link to their resources.

**Update: 1:14 MST.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers" [Review] w/ Teaching Ideas

Maps tell stories. Sometimes those stories pretend to present objective ideas; sometimes those stories are strictly imaginative, as in maps created for novels such as "We Were Liars." 

A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers conflates the worlds of traditional cartographers with imaginative storytellers and sellers of ideas to offer a collection of unique maps that help us understand and construct myriad worlds.  

Maps help us understand and navigate the world...Contemporary maps have evolved into platforms for cutting-edge illustration, experimental data visualization, and personal visual storytelling. 

It's this idea of "personal visual storytelling" that interests me most as a teacher. I first taught students to create neighborhood maps back in the 1990s, but these were generally literal rather than symbolic representations of their neighborhoods. 

Although the book is a beautiful collection, including maps created for ad campaigns, maps that guide tourists, and maps that present histories, as well as many other types of maps, it is also a subjective collection of visual interpretations. For example, on p 104 one finds maps from the Cosmographies, described as mapping "locations using personal experiences as a way to contribute to the understanding of place." The New Littles map on p 141 maps New York City's boroughs based on ethnicity. 

The landscapes cartographers create have me thinking about how mapping can promote creativity and knowledge acquisition among my students. Many of he maps offer inspiration for students mapping their school, their town, their activities, their vision for their future, their fears for their futures, their concerns about current issues that touch their lives. 

Maps function in a dimension beyond infographics. A map presents more than images and information, maps depict geography, and that geography is open to interpretation and shrouded in narrative. 

The map below depicts the ways Germans view countries from around the world. Note the dominant Facebook logo that defines the U.S.A. What meaning should we or our students construct from this image? What story about the U.S.A. does the map tell? How would our students map the world if they were to replicate the map envisioned in Germany?
"We the Bavarian and the Rest of the Earth" (132-133)
Judith Schalansky creates "atlases as works of poetry, interpretations of reality, and attempts to see the world as a whole." Schalansky's book of maps "is a book for the armchair explorer, describing places that exist in reality but only come to life in the imagination" (89) The map below is one such poetic cartographic creation: 
Isn't this true for stories as well? The reader experiences stories, and maps, and informational texts primarily through the imagination rather than in "real life." We explore our world through our senses, and, thus, map our world in our imagination.

I'm still thinking about its many implications for discussion, argument, and reading texts and plan to share more ideas as I find inspiration in the landscapes in A Map of the World.

This is a stunning collection that offers another way to bring visual literacy into the classroom. 

*Are you attending NCTE? If so, please add session A:09 to your program. I'll have more to say and share about A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers as part of my panel.  In my next post, I'll preview session A:09, including my co-presenters' offerings.