NCTE Reflections

First of all, if you have never been to NCTE, it is overwhelming. An abundance of choices, voices, options, all of which push you to decide where you will spend your time. My first few choices were teacher-led sessions.

Session 1 was Empowering Student Voice, which fits in with my 2017 One Word Resolution.  I love writing workshop-style classes, but I don’t love a focus on grammar and punctuation. I liked some of the ideas, however, and can see incorporating some of their ideas into my Introduction to Literature course that starts in a few days.

Session 2 was Folger’s Macbeth. After some language play, we broke up into acting companies and tried out 15 minute Macbeth.  I can definitely use this strategy with my sophomores this spring. It sounds like a great start to reading the play. I also heard about Forsooth, a member only group that supports teachers. Needless to say, I joined. I’m not sure it’s worth it, yet.

Session 3 was the Global Kindness Project. I loved it. I definitely want to sign my sophomores up for 2018, beginning on January 15 and ending on Feb. 15. It should fit right into our research project. The steps of the project are:

  1. Kindness
  2. Gratitude
  3. Empathy
  4. Action

Session 4 was supposed to be gamification, mixed with #breakoutedu. The ideas were sound, but sound like you’d need professional actors to pull it off.  My big takeaway? To gamify deeply, you must have a storyline, to provide purpose.

Next, we had our presentation: Using Digital Tools to Level Up the 21st Century Writer. I joined three other teachers to talk about digital tools and how we use them to improve student writing. I use Goobric to track data and Screencastify to provide individual explanations as to their Goobric score on rough drafts, rather than “grading” those first drafts. When students wrote their final reflections, my feedback videos were the number 1 thing students mentioned as most helpful to them.

The last session I attended was Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Penny Kittle. I loved the rainstorm metaphor Kylene shared to parallel Notice and Note: as readers, we first see the clouds, then we use prior knowledge to determine it will rain, and then we act on that information by getting an umbrella. Notice, note, and so what? Perfect! And Bob’s slide, that explains why we might get pushback from society by teaching students to defend their ideas with evidence, was perfectly timed. I also loved Penny Kittle’s question, “So how are you getting started today?” I think this was the first time I understood what writing conferences are supposed to look like.

The biggest takeaway I have from NCTE 17-the people. Connecting with educators, with authors, with folks excited about teaching, really made my week. Every day, I ate with different people, dug into the teaching profession with others, wandered the vendor hall with more, and networked. I came back refreshed and ready to take on the world.

I highly recommend attending NCTE. I hope I get the chance to go again!

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Generation Z Comes to KR

No, Generation Z does not mean Generation Zombie, although to the misinformed, watching students zone out with phones in hand might give that impression. But these students are not passively consuming media or mindlessly texting their friends. They are creators, innovators, entrepreneurs who see digital media as their way to share their thoughts with the world.

Recently, I attended a district provided professional development. The keynote speaker, Dr. Corey Seemiller, shared her research with what she sees as the latest generational shift. It seems that this generation, which she calls Generation Z, is just now entering colleges across the nation. According to Dr. Seemiller, this generation encompasses not only my own children, ages 8 and 11, but also the students that I am currently teaching in high school.

After hearing her talk, which confirmed many of my own beliefs about the young people with which I interact every day, I knew some general truths. Here are my revelations:

  1. Student agency is key. This generation craves the power to make their own choices, including how and when they learn.
  2. Be the guide, not the sage. Students still desire support from their instructors and enjoy meeting with them face to face. They want teachers to support their interests, not require them to be in lockstep with their peers.
  3. Connect learning to reality Learning should not be solely because “it prepares you for next year,” but have real world connections to adult life.

To implement these ideas, I am moving from a whole class approach, where everyone does everything at the same time and sits in an assigned desk chair, to flexible seating and flexible planning.

Flexible seating, lite

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How we like to ACT

I wish all of my seats allowed for student agency, but this corner is where I keep my flexible seating. Pillows, a carpet, some plastic chairs, and letting my students be the ones to choose: will they read or practice online for the ACT? In addition to 16 traditional desks, I have a standing desk (created by adding bed risers to a table), a round table, and a trapezoid table.

Digital Badges & Microcredentials

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LRNG is a nonprofit company that focuses on student engagement and learning. Learning is organized by playlists, which are made up of XPs, or experiences, that students must complete in order to earn badges. These badges, along with the evidence to which they are attached, are visible evidence of their learning.

In my classes, I have created several playlists in lieu of direct instruction. In this way, I hope to allow my students some flexibility in when and how they learn. In addition, I am adding some real world connections. For example, students are interviewing a professional in the field they wish to pursue, instead of interviewing a family member. LRNG has helped by connecting my students with mentors in the professional world.


As the year progresses, I hope to share more of my adventures in connecting with Generation Z.

“Gen Z” by  Abhijit Bhaduri is shared under CC by 2.0 license.

#OneWord Focus

To be focused, to converge a wave of light into heat, to have a center of heat or intensity, these would be a major change in how I live my life. I have always been diffuse, spread out like a thin film of water vapor, like a planner with its first commitment in that five year plan somewhere in year 3.

You see, in a typical year, I am planning about tomorrow. No, the day after tomorrow. No, two months from now. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, nor is there anything wrong with having many avenues to pursue joy. There is a problem, however, in rushing through life, unable to see the delicate bluebell before smashing it under heel on the way to the future. I need to be able to stop, to focus, to feel the earth holding me up, the air filling my lungs. To be in the  moment, this moment, with a purring cat heavy on my lap and my family asleep.

As 2017 moves forward, I will use this focus to remind me to be mindful of the now, to know that it’s okay to say no to that which does not further my purpose. Even as I plan for November’s NCTE conference, so much must I realize that today is a gift, and I cannot waste it.

Focus” by Mark Hunter is free to share or adapt under a CC 2.0 license.

Mosaic of Broken Pieces

Pathways to Social Justice: it sounds inspiring, right? A six day journey into identity, into connecting my broken piece of soul with those who were once strangers. Since I often find writing to be a way to gather my thoughts and hold them close, to make the intangible visible, this blog post is dedicated to some of the wisdom I learned.

Rather than a long post, where I might trivialize the power of what I learned, here are my takeaways:

  1. We must make connections to show the complexity of the story that everyone has, and without a deeper understanding of self, no connections can be accomplished.
  2. A mosaic is made up of broken pieces that must be carefully fit together, much like a learning environment.
  3. The edges of each mosaic piece holds its own jagged pain, which cannot be compared the pain of others. Pain is pain; you cannot compare it to say which is worse.
  4. Empathy is taking steps to alleviate the pain of others, to imagine yourself in their skin, and be moved to action. Sympathy is merely pity for others.
  5. A story is transformed when begun at different points. Better to acknowledge that Jews are more than victims, Africans more than slaves, and Native Americans more than casinos.
  6. Vast numbers are incomprehensible; we must put a face on tragedy to make it tangible, and wherever possible, meet face to face to learn the stories of others.
  7. Focus on life, on story, on connecting to others, rather than tragedy and sorrow. When we feel connected, we are moved to make a difference.
  8. We are not merely good or evil; we are a cloudy mixture of both.
  9.   Humanity is flawed, and we must deal with it the best way we can.

I found this week exhausting, invigorating, inspiring, and life affirming. My thanks to Sue Fletcher and Rose Sansalone, who led this amazing week, and to the Memorial Library for making it possible. If you’d like to spend a week that will echo in your life for a long time afterwards, see this site: The Memorial Library.