My first session of the final day of NCTE was Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose: Helping Students Craft a Clear and Heartfelt Vision for Their Learning with Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. It was hard to say no to a presentation titled after Friday Night Lights (Coach Taylor!), but the real inspiration to attend came from listening to Maggie on the Heinemann podcast last week. It’s a great podcast, so take some time to listen.
Kate talked about how to teach for independence. It can’t be by teaching everything but the kitchen sink in every unit, and I know that I have been guilty of this. We try to teach every single skill for a unit, and the result is that our students don’t improve very much at anything because they never go deep enough or have enough opportunities to practice and repeat. She advised teachers to consider the key skills needed in a unit and focus on teaching one deeply. We can find the time and space to teach deeply if we take a hard look at our units and carve out the space we need. She then focused on how teachers can develop their toolbox of strategies to teach skills: they can “consult sidekicks” and rely on “the power of Pinterest”; they can “study up” by attending the workshop or reading the PD book; and they can do it themselves to see how they did it and how they could “translate it for kids.”
Maggie then shared some of her work with an 8th-grade teacher and her students to craft Independent Reading Journeys with 10 of their independent reading books over the year. Maggie shared her slides at their website, so you can take a look at the work these 8th-graders produced. I’m especially taken by the art and visual narratives they created. There were a lot of interesting components to these Independent Reading Journeys–thinking; thinking about their thinking; making connections; creating visuals to express their thinking; ultimately producing some kind of formal writing–and many ways for students to become more independent in their thinking and learning.
I took a lot of notes in this session because their approach to workshop is really different than mine and I was fascinated by all the lists and protocols and ways to chunk stuff that I tend to see holistically. While I don’t think I would ever feel fully comfortable focusing so much on skills and strategies, I do think that some of my students would benefit from some of the extra scaffoldings and supports they include.
Next, I heard Sara Kajder talk about podcasting. Her energy is so infectious: I always leave her sessions wanting to go straight home and implement whatever she is talking about in my classroom–like tomorrow. So there was this moment in the session where I seriously considered whether I could spend the last two weeks of the semester podcasting with my students in every single class. But then I came to my senses. Still, Kajder did make podcasting seem totally doable. She shared a few programs and apps (Audacity, Casts, Podomatic, Anchor, and Just Record) and then went over a general process that teachers can use to start their students with podcasting.
At the end of the session, the teachers who contribute to the Voices in the Middle podcast gathered to share their takeaways from NCTE and record the podcast live. The title of my post comes convention first-timer Amy Fleming. Also, I didn’t know there WAS a Voices in the Middle podcast until this session. I binge listened on my long drive home from NCTE, and I highly recommend the conversations with Nancie Atwell, Pernille Ripp, and Kylene Beers.
The final session I attended featured Vicki Vinton, whose message is always so powerful. She spoke on a subject that’s very dear to my heart: the alignment of our beliefs and practices. She pressed the audience to consider our beliefs about learning and children and to begin to interrogate the ways that our practices reflect those beliefs. She shared examples from the Reggio Emilia school she visited in Italy (the subject of a wonderful essay she wrote for a PD book called The Teacher You Want to Be) and argued that when children are “irresistibly engaged” in learning, they don’t need grit or stamina. In fact, they don’t need us very much at all when they are engaged in their learning. All of our scaffolding and gradual release of responsibility may only get in their way. I especially loved the quotation she included from an essay by David Pearson: “When asked how much explicit instruction a teacher should provide, he answered ‘As little as possible.'”
That’s a message that’s also very dear to my heart. Our students are their own (and our!) best teachers. They know what they need. They can discover what and how to learn. If we will only get out of the way and let them.