Sweet Serendipity – “We are on the brink of a Creative Revolution!”

Even though I RAN through the Convention Center hallways, almost tripping down the escalators with my giant English teacher bag bouncing behind me (if you’re an English teacher, don’t even try to pretend like you’re able to pack light…), I was not one of the lucky hundred or so folks that the fire marshal allowed into session F.30 Igniting Instruction, Round 2. Who knows how many minutes or seconds I missed that cut-off by, but the doors were closed.  Of course, as a hard-core Annual Convention Veteran, I had my trusty #NCTE15 back-up plan.  There were two other sessions that caught my eye.  I would wander in to one of them.

Well, the room for my second choice had been switched to accommodate an awards ceremony and the very pleasant NCTE staff could not find it’s new location so there went that option.

Luckily, the third time was the charm.  I wandered into session F.14 in time to have missed the introductory notes and be completely unaware of what was about to happen.  I was tossed into what was undoubtedly one of the best sessions that I attended that weekend: Learning the Art of Writing from the Writers: Authors’ Best Lessons to Help Students Find their Voice through their Writing   Five powerhouse authors talked about the craft of writing, how to generate ideas, and how to get the words flow.

Sonia ManzanoMargarita EngleMatt De LaPeñaC. Alexander London, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo absolutely wowed participants with their energy and techniques.  

Sonia Manzano urged us to have students experiment with voice by putting well-known or famous characters in very different circumstances.  Say, for instance, if Nicki Minaj sat next to Santa Claus at Thanksgiving Dinner.  What would that conversation look like? She also offered ideas for broadening point of view by finding or creating an event and writing about it as if you were a bystander who was your age, older, younger, or not even human.

Margarita Engle was beautifully soft-spoken as she lead us through an exercise about writing poetry on the theme of hope, encouraging us each step of the way.

Matt De LaPeña offered an exercise in using microfiction as a springboard for writing.  He read us “The Man From Bogota” as asked us to start an entry that began with “I imagine I am the one who has to talk the woman down.  I see it and it goes something like this…”

C. Alexander London offered great advice for creating characters and for helping draw details out of students by getting them to speak it before they write it down.  He offered instruction on how to “break down the barrier to telling a story – to break the mystique of the blank page – and give [students] permission to suck.” The idea of being allowed to fail was quite liberating and it removed the pressure of finding “the right” or “the best” idea.

Finally, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo brought down the house. She opened by telling us that we were all on the verge of a creative revolution. You can’t be anything other than inspired by someone who begins with those lines.  She then told the story of how Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” inspired the writing of Fat Angie. She argued that music can take you to a place of authenticity and  get you to see new connections.  For instance, pairing Kendric Lamar with The Outsiders gives students the chance to broaden horizons and when she mixes classics with modern works, it is to tell students: “You get to break all the rules; but you have to know them first.” BOOM.  Mic drop. What power she just gave to education AND to voicing creativity!


Next, in an attempt to expand my nonfiction repertoire, I attended G.04 – Critical Encounters with Non-fiction: A Literature Lover’s Approach, Carol Jago offered even more book recommendations, saying “These are not books that you want to teach: these are books that you want kids to read so that they see that they have agency in the world.”

Two presenters – Deborah Appleman of Carleton College and Rachel Lloyd of Augsburg College – asked us to consider these guiding questions as we navigated the potentials of nonfiction texts in the classroom:

  1. How might our inclusion of nonfiction texts make our teaching of fiction and poetry more robust?
  2. What are the reasons why we teach texts?

Then they offered a TON of information that made my mind swim with possibilities.  Here are my notes from the session:

They showed that the CCSS nonfiction reading objectives (recognize level of bias and value both subjective and objective information, synthesize the main idea from the information in a text, use evidence to back up claims, analyse various forms of nonfiction, and use critical literacy as a tool to navigate understanding) offered what they called Prisms of possibilities: to look at things from multiple perspectives is possible in nonfiction and very important  and cited Bertolt Brecht who said “A man with one theory is lost. He needs several of them, or lots! He should stuff them in his pockets like newspapers.” 

They then reiterated the use of Literary Theory Perspectives (historical/biographical , reader response, gender constructs, social class, and postcolonial) to talk about:

  • Intertextuality and Absent Narratives – “Until lions tell their stories, the tales of hunting will glorify the hunter.” – African Proverb 
  • Reading Visual Texts – introducing a nonfiction text with a visual-a painting, photograph, comic, etc.

Here is pairing #1:

Here is pairing #2:

  • Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens”
  • Slave quilt from the Smithsonian done like a storyboard – have the students look at it through different lenses
  • “How it Feels to be Colored Me” – Zora Neale Hurston

Here is pairing #3:

  • Lenses and the Letter –
    • “Letters From a Birmingham Jail” 
    • image of Rosa Parks going up the steps to the courthouse – December 1955
    • Claudette Colvin –Twice Toward Justice
      • she took same stance as Rosa Parks 9 months earlier but her story is missing from the American mythos – this brings up the idea that history is constructed -it’s something that gets decides
      • showing the two sides – Claudette and the officers – allows you to dig in to the concept of bias
      • trailer to Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” paired with Colvin saying, “We seemed to hate ourselves. We put down our hair texture and skin color all the time” (22).

There are even more suggestion pairings on the URL – http://bit.ly/1x3mgdq

“For knowledge isn’t just something we acquire; its’ something we are or hope to become. Knowledge is what constitutes our relationship to ourselves and to our world, for it is the lens through which we view ourselves and our world.” – Lois Tyson


The last session that I attended before my colleagues and I presented (check us out here!) was H.15- Expert-to-Expert on the Joy and Power of Reading: A Panel discussion.  I was so inspired by the following individuals that I am going to list the quotes from each of them that resonated with me:

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  • Kylene Beers – @KyleneBeers
    • “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
  • Kwame Alexander – @kwamealexander
    • When asked what he would change in Education, Alexander responded: “Language [that marginalizes] has got to go – if a child hears that their entire student life, you cannot be surprised and shocked when they exhibit behaviors that you consider to be marginalized.”
    • “If you do not expect greatness from your students, you will not get any.”
  • Pam Allyn – @pamallyn
    • “We need to make what children love more visible and more profound in the classroom.”
      • When a student said that he received tons of attention on his birthday, that’s when Allyn knew she had to make a party for the Read-Aloud, something that children love and that is every disappearing from our classrooms.
    • “Being read to lifts us up above the text and allows us to be part of a community.  It says you are welcome here.”
    • “Reading aloud is the best way to teach grammar…oral language is marinating kids in grammar and vocabulary…it is serious joy.”
  • Ernest Morrell – @ernestmorrell
    • He spoke about the media, stating that “We are at war with America over the lives and souls of our babies.”
      • “The purpose of the media is to create an insecurity because that creates a buyer.  English brings a rigorous approach to reading text – we need to embrace the media as a set of texts to read.”
        • Reading behind the text – historical context, author bias – let’s look at this story from various viewpoints – how can you take any one of these as true?
        • Reading within the text – text are multimodal (images, words, shadowing – who is put in the light and the darkness) how are terrorists portrayed visually and do we agree with it?
        • Reading out in front of the text – you do not have to accept text as dogma – “the text is the beginning of a conversation and you might want to speak back to it.”

As I ended that session, I was uplifted, inspired and ready to roll.  I knew for sure that I was on the verge of a creative revolution.

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