NCSS 2012 Wrap Up

Well, NCSS2012 turned out to be a bit different than I expected. Primarily because I got food poisoning and was only able to attend one day of the conference 😦 Thankfully, I had a great AirBnB rental. If I had to be sick and stuck by myself in a city I don’t very well, this was a great place to be.

I started off with a session presented by Jenny Betz, who works for GLSEN, on crafting LGBT-inclusive lessons. She shared a couple resources, including Unheard Voices, an oral history project created in conjunction with StoryCorps and the ADL. I’m looking forward to using some of their materials in the protests and rights movements unit I do in my Upper School US History class.

I dipped into a session by StreetLaw on the upcoming Supreme Court term and got a nice one page summary of the case we’re using for our Supreme Court simulation.

Charles Hayes, who works at the Newseum as part of the First Amendment Center, shared Tony Blair’s (yes, that Tony Blair) Faith Foundation, which seeks to create inter-religious dialogue, especially among young people. The Face to Faith initiative includes resources on facilitating respectful dialogue. I imagine that these could be useful whether discussing faith or other potentially polarizing topics.

I presented a poster session on my US History blended learning class. It’s fun to talk about that class and I love sharing students’ experiences of it. While part of me was a little bummed I was accepted for a poster, rather than a presentation session, I liked the idea of the poster sessions. While I would have designed my display differently, having seen the setup, I thought it provided folks an opportunity to interact in a way that I enjoyed. Of course, the big drawbacks are that it’s hard to have a conversation with more than a couple people at once, and some folks are uncomfortable approaching people to talk to them.

I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more online energy, especially since the conference venue provided free wi-fi and plentiful wall outlets. There were a few people tweeting and using the #NCSS12 hashtag, but I wished for more, especially after I got sick.

The conference I wasn’t at….

For the past three years, this weekend I’ve been at NCTE 2012. I knew I would miss being there this year, and indeed that was the case. When Teresa tweeted a pic of Natalie Merchant, one of my top 5 favorite artists hanging out with people, it nearly killed me. The great thing about NCTE, though, is that there’s an increasingly large group of people who tweet almost non-stop during the conference, so in-between being sick, I could follow along 🙂 Always impressed by the way folks like Bud and Andrea engage people using online spaces.


One of my favorite parts of NCTE so far wasn’t a scheduled session. It was an ad-hoc National Writing Project sponsored hackjam (not to be confused with Spacejam). Organized by the incomparable Andrea Zellner, the hackjam gave 20 or so folks the opportunity to muck around on the web. Using Mozilla’s FireFox browser and a toolbar button from the hackasaurus site to modify websites by changing the HTML code for the site.

I think Paul and Andrea were pretending to type

I took the opportunity to “hack” the NY Times webpage to date it a day forward in tribute to my favorite 90’s TV show, Early Edition, and to replace some of the ads with Buy Nothing Day logos. With so many people on the Corner Bakery wi-fi we were draining it, so instead of tweeting out a pic from my page, I took a pic and tweeted it out.

On one level, it was a futile activity. Other than a screenshots we took, there was no evidence of our work. Using hackasaurus doesn’t actually modify the website, but just the way it displays in your browser. It’d be easy to say, “That sounds fun, but what’s the point?” For me, mucking around in the HTML was like making bread from scratch or changing a tire. They’re activities in which I want to engage as an act of understanding and joy, not necessarily of utility or efficiency. I think for ourselves and our students understanding the means of production are important, so that we can be responsible and thoughtful teachers, students, and humans.

Honoring the Writing Journey- NCTE 2011

Looking forward to our presentation tomorrow at NCTE. Below is the info for the session and my slides. Click on the title of other panelists presentations for more info.

Handout with presenter contact info and links

Session: I.22 – 1:15 pm to 2:30 pm 11/19/2011 Format: Panel
Room: Chicago Hilton/Waldorf Room, Third Floor Topic: Writing

It’s easy to affirm that students should receive feedback during the writing process in addition to a final grade. But how do busy teachers make this a reality? We’ll explore ways to offer feedback and engaging opportunities for student revision and reflection throughout the writing process while still keeping your sanity.

Presenter: Jennifer Ansbach, Manchester Township High School, Manchester, New Jersey , ‘We’re Going to Do What?!: Novel-Writing in the Secondary Classroom

Russ Goerend, Waukee Middle School, Iowa , ‘Write Strong: Strengthening Composition through Practice

MaryBeth Short, Cary Academy, North Carolina , ‘Are We Going to Be Graded on This?: Assessing the Process

Meredith Stewart, Cary Academy, North Carolina , ‘A Home on the Web: Creating E-Portfolios’
See below for slides and click link for article about portfolios

This Is the Middle

This is the middle.
Things have had tome to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.

From “Aristotle” by Billy Collins

NCTE this year has been an interesting experience for me so far. Because I’m not teaching any English classes this year, so on one level, it might seem strange that I’m here at all. But I’m grateful for the chance to present with a Language Arts colleague from last year and to connect with old and new (at least in-person) friends.

Perhaps it’s my new position description as a history teacher than led to my frustration with some of the “teachers in subjects other than English don’t like/aren’t good at teaching writing within their disciplines” vibe I got in one of the morning sessions. I’m certainly aware that is the case for some, maybe many, of non-English teachers, but it rubbed me a bit the wrong way. I’m also thinking more about the idea of discipline-specific teaching responsibilities. I wonder if sometimes keeping disciplines in their place is more about convenience and comfort for adults than benefit for students. I’m not ready to argue for the elimination of discipline-specific teaching, but I do think that the “real world” doesn’t divide neatly down discipline-specific lines. Why not help prepare our students for that world by modeling it better in schools?

I’ll admit I have a thing for the acerbically witty professor-type, so Billy Collins is just my cup of tea. Hearing him read at the Middle Level Luncheon and getting to meet him afterward was the highlight of the day so far. What I love about Collins is the way his poetry sneaks up on you, they way it turns on a dime from funny to pensive.

I was sad to miss Gary and LeeAnn’s session, which was totally packed out, but happy that I decided to wander down to the exhibit hall and ran into Alan Sitomer signing copies of his new book, The Downside of Being Up. Think Judy Blume but for the male set.

I expect there’s more good stuff to come in the next couple days. I’m super-excited about a session on Open Ed Resources that Paul and Antero et al are doing Saturday morning, and I’m looking forward to sharing about our sixth grade students’ ePortfolios. Jim Burke, Alan Sitomer, and Jeff Wilhelm’s session is always a riot, a thoughtful riot, of course, and I’m glad it’ll be capping off the conference for me. Seems a proper way to go out.

Looking Back: NCTE 2009

I had an incredible three and a half days at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Philadelphia last week. I wrote a kid-friendly summary of the experience on my class blog, but before too much time passed, I wanted to get down a quick list of things I might change next time around and things I wouldn’t.

Things I’d Do Differently

Worry Less
I was both attending and presenting for the first time at this year’s convention. About 10pm on the night before my presentation I went into full-court panic. That fear was a double-edged sword. Because of it, I went in search of poetry on my iPhone and stumbled upon a site containing Seamus Heaney’s poetry read by the author. I tweeted one out, which resulted in this exchange on the EC Ning. The fear also pushed me to tighten up my presentation and make sure I could do it with out notes, but it meant little sleep that night.

Sleep More
So this is only partly true. I got in late on Thursday night due to traveling snafus. I could have headed straight to bed, but instead went to have a quick drink with some folks from the EC Ning. It was one of the highlights of the convention for me, especially after such an awful day of travel. But I certainly could have gone to bed much earlier on Friday, see above.

Plan, But Be Flexible
For those of you who haven’t been to NCTE, the program guide is huge. For any given session slot, there were up to 50 presentation options. I’d spent a little time looking at these online but not enough. I wish I’d thought about my time at NCTE a bit more holistically instead of only thinking ahead to the next session.

Take More Pictures
Seriously! How did I end up with so few pictures?!


Things I Wouldn’t Change

Bring a Thermos
I calculated that I saved at least 15 cups + sleeves by bringing my own insulated mug. (I drink a lot of tea, ok? 🙂 )

Ask for Recommendations
In the absence of good planning on my part, I found it really useful to canvass other folks, especially those who are long-time attendees of NCTE. Their recommendations led me in good directions.

Focus on the Relationships
If you looked at my attendance record for the sessions at this year’s convention, it would be a bit sad. There were at least two or three times where I made a conscious decision not to attend a session in order to have a meal or continue a conversation. As a younger teacher, I feel how much need I have for information, for honing my craft. But I believe that it will be these relationships, rather than pedagogical theory, that will sustain me.

Go for the Speaker, Not Just the Information
There is a glut of information at NCTE. It’s like candyland for teachers. I found, though, that the sessions that impacted me most deeply were those presented either by people I knew or by those who were good speakers. Given the limited resource that is time at the convention, it seemed the best stewardship to seek out people who are able to convey their information in a way that adds value beyond what I would get if I just read their slides. Being able to present well is a gift. I saw and participated in really great presentations by Tom Liam Lynch, Jeff Wilhelm, Kelly Gallagher, Jim Burke, and Jeff Anderson.

Tweet Like a Maniac
I’m a steady twitter user generally, but I really spent a lot of time on it during the convention. It was a great way to make notes for myself and others, connect with people who were at the convention, and take care of logistical issues. Some examples:

For a couple sessions, I decided not to tweet, knowing that others were. It was nice during those times to be able to just soak things up and not try to simultaneously process and type. Tweeting requires a really high level of concentration which can be exhausting.

Tweeting before the conference (pre-tweeting?) was a great way to connect with others who were attending and eased some of the social awkwardness I usually feel in starting a conversation with someone I haven’t met before.


The Take Away

Information-> Good
Relationships->Even Better

I expect more writing will percolate from the experience, but that’s what I have for now. 358 days until Orlando….