When Your Thinking is at 85%: Getting the Final 15% or My “Duh” Moments from #NCTE17

I love attending NCTE’s Annual Convention. There is something about tens of thousands of English teachers going all “Hunger Games” over free books and swag that is as invogorating as it is frightening. What is more energizing than surviving the Exhibit Hall, however, is being part of the exchange of ideas and the larger community of educators who are there to hone our craft. I live for those moments when I am sitting in a session and it all just comes together, when what the presenter is saying “clicks,” and I find an immediate use for the materials or ideas in my classroom.

Many of those times, someone simply unites two ideas or materials that I had used separately. When this happens, I find myself thinking, “Well, duh. That makes so much sense! I should have seen this and done it earlier.” Then, I proceed to kick myself for not coming up with it first and being the one to present the idea.

So, here is a small sampling of three instances where this occurred over the course of #NCTE17, both for me, and for other presenters:

  1. The first “duh” moment that happened, surprisingly enough, is when I unknowingly pieced ideas together for someone else. I was listening to Sean Connors from the University of Arkansas talk about how he challenged his students in an assignment with dystopian literuate. His roundtable, entitled, “Becoming Mockingjays: Using Young Adult Literature to Foster Student Civic Engagement” was phenomenal. He explained how his students had studied YA dystopia novels, found a problem that existed within the books and society, unpacked the issue, explored and researched it, and then created a video on their findings. As an initial task, the students were encouraged to go into local bookstores or libraries and leave a notecard with the unpacked issue inside copies of the book. Then, they completed their research, analysis, and video. He said that students often wondered about the reactions of people who found their cards, and mused that it was something that they would never know. Considering what he had said, I asked if he had ever considered placing the cards into the books at the end of the project instead of at the start. This one simple change would allow students to print a QR code on their card that would link to the video they had created. That way, the students’ videos would gain a larger and more authentic audience, and would offer those indivuals who found and watched the videos an opportuntiy to provide feedback via commentary on YouTube if they felt so moved.
  2. Teaching rhetoric has been a big push in my district recently, as it has been written into our curricula for grades 9-11. So, I attended a morning round table session on Sunday (K.06: Public Rhetoric: Agency, Voice, and Mission in the Public Sphere) to gather ideas and materials to prepare to instruct on it. It was at my second round table where the “duh” moment struck: The College Essay as Rhetoric. Of course it’s rhetoric! How had I not seen this before! That essay is perhaps the most important writing teens will do in their lives up until that point – convincing a college or university to accept them for matriculation. Now, I can get them to see the importance of the rhetorical triangles of ethos-pathos-logos and speaker-audience-message in their writing and use it as a gateway for them to see the importance of those constructs in other writing as well.
  3. My last sesssion at NCTE was perhaps the most informative, althout I might be a bit biased. You see, I got to listen to some of my teaching heroes talk about best practices with writing in the #movingwriters panel. Each one of the speakers had fantastic ideas, but what stuck with me was what Hattie Maguire (@teacherhattie) had unpacked. We all have methods that we use to aid students with drafting. However, Maguire spoke of using physical movement in the writing process. Her idea was simply and spectacularly brilliant. Students are too often stuck in their desk or behind a screen while writing. Then, once they commit words onto the page, it’s hard to get them to change. Before students began to type, Maguire had students map out their argument on the floor and walk a partner through the progression of ideas. They took a stack of transition words and lay them on the floor along with their ideas to show the path of their argument. Once they had to move themselves and their partners through their ideas, they were able to troubleshoot imbalanced arguments, gaps in reasoning, and poorly ordered claims or evidence. This is absolutely perfect for everyone – it establishes that mind-body connection – but I couldn’t help but think of my “wiggly” students who would most likely be more focused on the task if it was framed this way. Again, simple brilliance. Macquire had given me the final 15% of the idea to make drafting fully engaging and productive.

When the convention hall empties, when I have recovered from drinking from the educational fire hydrant, when I have had a moment to process ideas and apply them to lessons, I walk away with this conclusion: teaching has and always will take a village.

Duh, right?


9 thoughts on “When Your Thinking is at 85%: Getting the Final 15% or My “Duh” Moments from #NCTE17

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