Friday, November 21, 2008

Further NCTE Reflections

Now that I am on my own laptop (and not hogging one in the NCTE store), I have time to think more about what I heard and did today.

First, I find it interesting that the fullest session BY FAR that I attended was on AP English. Their focus was how literature still matters and how the AP curriculum is one good way to keep literature at the forefront. The session was absolutely packed -- people sitting in every empty space on the floor when all of the chairs were full. It makes me wonder why. In a conference of so many new ideas, AP gets some of the biggest attention. I enjoyed the session overall, and the presenters were well-prepared and engaging. But I have to say that I did not learn strikingly new things. Instead, I enjoyed it because it confirmed the techniques I use with my AP students and younger. I wonder why others were drawn there and what they took away.

I did attend a session that was not well-prepared, and that is always frustrating. It can take a good 15 minutes to get from one end of the buildings to the other, so once I get there, I'd like to stay and gain something. I was really looking forward to the topic too, but the presenters mostly rambled and quoted a single teacher resource. This surprised me I guess because of my own personality. If I were giving a session at a national conferance, I would hyper-prepare (not a great thing either!), so I guess I expect each session to at least have a focus and forward motion.

I have the first thing that I am going to take right back to my students. This was said in a conversation about the decline of reading habits across the board in our nation. The stats are pretty sobering -- nearly half of all Americans 18-24 do not read for pleasure. The presenter then said this: "Something about growing up in America discourages cultural and literary growth." I plan to share this with my world lit students as a step in our quest to answer the essential question, "Why must we think?" I am curious if they agree with the statement, and if so, why. Or if they do not, I hope to help them come up with ways they can prove it wrong by how they live their own lives.

Finally, that session linked with another in my head about students' reading habits. I think I am fortunate that many of my school's students are active and engaged readers. Our teachers do a great job of offering choice and encouragement with personal reading, thus keeping that flame alive. I also think our students impressively give us the benefit of the doubt and are willing to try an assigned reading and actually like it. Yet, I don't want to be living in a dreamworld, so I would like to dig a little more deeply into our students' reading habits. Do they really read enough for pleasure, or are they in that other half of the statistics? The reason why I wonder this is what was shared in a session about reading stamina. First, they said the thing that prohibits most students from maintianing their reading fluency is maintaining their stamina as texts get harder. I think this might define a struggle we have been seeing from our 7th to 8th grade as we have realized that our 7th grade texts might not challenge the students as much as even the 6th grade texts do. Is their stamina back-sliding? And this leads me to their other finding -- the students in their research study, even in 6th grade, were overwhlemed by homework so they literally had no time to read well and for a duration of time. I think my school might be guilty of this too ...

Tomorrow I am facilitating a session on how high-stakes testing is affecting writing and writing instruction -- should be interesting. Then later in the day, I am really looking forward to finally having the time to stop by "Tech on the Go." I can get there when they are having a general sharing of ideas, so it will be great to hear what others have done and be able to share what I do. Oh, and of course, I am going to visit the Alamo -- I am two days behind Dana Huff as it is!

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