I had to be on a conference call in the morning, and I missed the first two sessions of the day–but my pre-service teachers took amazing notes for me to learn from later. AND I had the treat at the Slicer dinner of seeing LeeAnn Spillane’s absolutely gorgeous sketchnotes. (Read more about her beautiful notebooks at Sharing Our Notebooks.)
The first session I attended was a #WhyMiddleMatters session where middle-school students led round-table discussions about books they had read in their ELA classes. I loved hearing the students’ insights and thoughts about their books. Noor noted that A Long Walk to Water “is not just a book. People are still going through this” and now she believes that “it takes one person to make a difference and change people’s lives.”
The sixth-graders presenting on Ghost had the treat of meeting Jason Reynolds in person before the session began, and their response was so perfect. They loved that he showed up–but they also didn’t seem in the least starstruck. It was more an attitude of “yeah, of course this super awesome author wants to come meet US because we’re super awesome too.” Yes you are! Torre’s insights about race and empathy were so compelling, and his words about the personal connection he made with Ghost were so moving. At the end of the session, I asked the two boys in the group what their favorite books were. And they KNEW: for Torre, it’s Bud Not Buddy, and for Alex, it’s One for the Murphys. Another teacher at the table said, “Oh, I just met the author!” and Alex said, “Lucky!”
My favorite group was the four girls from a public all girls charter school who led a discussion about Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together. When they discovered that none of us at the table had read the book yet, they shifted gears and changed their presentation to make sure we would have something to discuss with them. I was fascinated by how they kept pushing us to make a connection with the character and themes they were describing. What they wanted us to know about themselves was that they want “to make a mark on this world.” What they learned from the book was that they need to have a voice and “know how to speak up.”
The Bridging Mindfulness session was a welcome change of pace at the conference. We did a breathing exercise; we got out of our chairs and moved a bit. My reading list exploded in this session as I learned about mindfulness as a pedagogy and was invited to think about ways I might be more intentional about teaching and incorporating mindfulness into my classes. I am still thinking about Donna Strickland’s words: “A mindful writing practice is also a sustainable writing practice.” And I’m thinking about ways to help my students avoid the cycle of binge writing and to help them grow healthier writing (and living) practices.
Next, I attended a wonderful session on Learning from Poems. Poets talked about their work and teachers shared how they use poetry across the year to grow writers. Irene Latham’s talk was one of my favorites. So many beautiful lines:
- “Poetry is a way of life.”
- Quoting Jacqueline Woodson, “The white space around the poem is a place to listen.”
- Look for “the beauty of sticky language.”
- “In the poem we are always in the present tense.”
- Quoting Rogue Dalton: “I believe the world is beautiful, and poetry, like bread, is for everyone.”
- Poetry as “a way to love the world”
The final session I attended was on #noDAPL, although only two of the four speakers really addressed the protests. I really enjoyed hearing about Jesse Bien’s and Thien Ho’s work at Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota (Flandreau is hours and hours away from where I live, but it still felt like old home week. “You’re from South Dakota! ME TOO!”) and how they engage their students in debate and discussion and use social media to help students craft powerful visual narratives to understand what’s at stake and why they should care about #noDAPL.
Your social media feed may not be as full of #noDAPL and #waterislife right now, but please know that this is still a vitally important story. Just two days ago, the Keystone Pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil into Marshall County in South Dakota. I want to end with the words of one of Jesse Bien’s students, who pushed back when some of her classmates were apathetic: “You don’t understand. This is my home.”
This is our home.