If you have read my last post here on the Joyous Life of Jess, then you know that my first foray into the world of NCTE small sessions was not… what I hoped it would be. I ended that post by saying that redemption was right around the corner. Little did I know I was about to see, in real life, the woman I just finished fangirling over in my recent professional development book blog. That’s right, at my second NCTE small session I got to hear PENNY KITTLE speak in the flesh. If that isn’t enough, NANCIE ATWELL and KELLY GALAGHER were there too! And get this, I was in the fifth row up in the bottom left section of the auditorium which immediately faced the side of the stage that the podium was on. Eeeep! Not to be creepy, but it was incredible. Yet, even more incredible was what I learned.
The first to speak was Nancie Atwell, who I was first introduced to in The Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing course. However, looking back I find my initial experience with her to be insufficient and I cannot wait to read her professional development books. The story she told was incredible. A male student, I believe an eighth grader, entered Atwell’s classroom as an adamant opponent against reading. Through book talks, it did not take Atwell long to hook (the Penny Kittle metaphor lives on) this student by giving a book talk over works that covered topics this student enjoyed. As she stated, “Any achievement, child or adult, is driven by interest.” This boy ended up becoming what one could easily consider a voracious reader, all within the span of a single year.
But this tale is not one with a happy ending. After devouring one book after another in Atwell’s class, he moved onto high school where his reading habits regressed to fake reading the two or three assigned books in English class in order to receive a passing grade. The passion was squelched in this child, arguably as a means of standardization. How sad is that? Yet it is important information. We can work hard to encourage students to develop identities as readers and writers, but without a strong foundation and firm support that lasts the identities may crumble. Luckily, there is a secret weapon. My favorite quote from Atwell’s speech was as follows: “Human beings are built to love stories.” So, what do you say? Let’s give our students these stories.
Next up were Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher who presented on a learning experiment they had been pioneering over the last three years. Essentially, it has turned into a cross country book club between Gallagher’s students in California, Kittle’s students in New Hampshire, and a collegiate English class from the school that Tom Romano teaches at in Ohio, Miami University. What they do is extraordinary. The greatest testament to this is the actual videos they showed of their students corresponding with their long-distance peers. To see the collaboration, insight, and respect these students shared with one another was a neat experience. Here are some of my favorite snippets:
“This year is different than last year; this year’s students are different than last year’s students. So how can one assume what they need from you?” Penny Kittle
“I’m not a literature teacher, I’m a literacy teacher.” Kelly Gallagher
“We write every day.” Penny Kittle
“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell
“We create a live circuit between books, kids, and culture.” Kelly Gallagher
I still get goosebumps just thinking about hearing these words. What Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher did was leave me with a yearning to connect students to reading and writing like they did… To make these activities not only worthwhile, but meaningful. That is the word that describes the work each of these three distinguished educators have done, are doing, and will do—meaningful. Every assignment that is completed within our classrooms should be saturated with intention that strives to make the most of student education. Simple as that.
P.S. Thanks to Kelly Gallagher, I also will most definitely have a crappy prize box in my classroom and I can’t wait to stock it. 😊