#NCTE15: Disney for English Teachers (Part 1)

I love NCTE.

There is nothing more exhilarating than being surrounded by thousands of English teachers, who are just as eager to learn and connect as I am. This is my second year attending the National Council for Teachers of English Annual conference #NCTE15. It is currently 27 degrees here in Minneapolis, which is tough to stomach since my husband is in cargo shorts and flipflops since it is 80 degrees back home in Los Angeles. However, due to the sprawling skyway system, I haven’t had to go outside. . . yet.

For those unfamiliar, NCTE is a 3-day conference where you can learn about all things English. I want to share with you my experience, so you can virtually be here with me. I attended three incredible sessions today, ranging from grammar to the Holocaust.

Of the three, this was my favorite.

Writing Outside the Essay: Rethinking Writing Forms in Secondary Classrooms

Christopher LehmanDana StachowiakMeenoo Rami, and Brian Sweeney

5-word takeaway: Give your students authentic audience

Meenoo talks about what we do v. what kids need

This was my favorite session, but I might be biased — I am a big fan of both Chris and Meenoo. I loved how Meeno pointed out that there is a gap between what we ask students to do in the classroom and what real life writing looks like. Her point was not to completely throw out the essay, but to use it in tandem with other media. For example, she had students write formal book reviews, but then also create short videos to go along with them as an extension of their learning. She shared a student example that was a video homage to “The Stranger.” She also noted that students should not be writing alone, and teachers should find ways to incorporate group writing. Finally, that teachers must always keep in mind the inquiry your students are trying to uncover.

I want to try: 60 second films that summarize a book or address major themes.

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Brian shared examples of his success as a journalism teacher. My favorite was “The Hungry Games: May the odds be ever in your flavor,” in which students pitted local restaurants against each other. Other examples included:

  • “Five Dollar Buys” where students went around town to see what was the best meal they could get for $5. (In case you couldn’t tell, his kids eat off campus for lunch!)
  • The most impressive example: a student who was able to break a news story about sex ed in New York that made it from the school newspaper to the AP and was credited nationwide.

Brian’s advice to teachers is simple: Ask yourself two questions: 1) Is there a need in your community that student writing can address? and 2) Is there something you can do that online professionals would be interested in? This will help you move from being the “assigner in chief ‘ to the advisor.

This got me thinking . . .

I want to try: having students write about our school’s construction from their perspective, since much of the news in our district about this topic has been heated and full of misinformation.

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Dana virtually shared her success with social justice, which included a campaign to stop rape culture on college campuses, “if you could, move your hood” to keep walkways accessible to all, and an interactive booth discussing racism in America today. I really liked her process. Her students are still writing — they write argument essays exposing the issue, formal proposals for action projects, and a reflective piece at the end. I thought the key to the reflective piece was asking students how they are going to continue the work now that the assignment is over.

I want to try: an extension of the investigative journalism unit I use for Writer’s Workshop where students actually put together and execute an action project tied in to their topic.

Chris wrapped up by reminding us that, for our students, writing is about learning how to get likes, shares, clicks and links. In their world, this is what matters to them. As teachers, we need to build on that.

Excited to party tonight at the cultural celebration and return tomorrow for more incredible learning.