Over the next few issues of SLJTeen, I’ll be sharing some brief summaries of the sessions I attended at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual conference, November 15 to 18, in Las Vegas. Hand-outs for many of the sessions are available on NCTE’s website. The following presentations were among my favorites:
Literature Lover’s Lament: Learning to Love Nonfiction: Connecting Real-World Texts to the Common Core Standards
Even though it meant racing directly from the airport to the MGM Grand Conference Center, this session was not to be missed. Featuring the powerhouse trio of UCLA’s Carol Yago, UC-Irvine’s Carol Olson, and Carleton College’s Deborah Applebaum, the audience was treated to a terrific overview of what the Common Core standards really mean to English teachers and their classroom materials. While there was discussion of the use of cognitive toolkits and the Reading Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which librarians certainly need to be aware of, much of the talk focused on encouraging educators to go beyond the tried-and-true literature they currently use, and to try out some of the excellent nonfiction resources that are now available. For instance, if you’re teaching the classic Grapes of Wrath, why not add some outstanding nonfiction titles to your lessons, such as The Worst Hard Time (Mariner, 2006), The Dust Bowl Through the Lens (Walker, 2009), and the free verse Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 1999)? And if you’re looking for articles to spice up a literature unit, check out Lapham’s Quarterly, a magazine of history and ideas that’s overseen by Harper’s editor emeritus, Lewis Lapham. The theme of embracing nonfiction was certainly evident throughout the conference, and publishers in the exhibit hall evidently have heard the call as well.
English Teachers Igniting Literacy for Incarcerated Students: Inspiring Writing in the Inside to Connect to the Outside
This very compelling session, chaired by the University of San Francisco’s Peter Williamson, featured speakers Sean Neil and Constance Walker, who both teach at Woodside Learning Center, Juvenile Hall, in San Francisco, and Carleton’s Applebaum. Since we know that literacy can help end recidivism (which currently hovers at 86 percent for juveniles), reading and writing can be some of the most powerful tools that you can give incarcerated kids. Neil and Walker described the programs they’ve offered to their teens, with the full support of the Juvenile Hall Library, which is run by the San Francisco Public Library. A project that involved writing letters to ancestors on reflective mylar was mounted at the Alcatraz Prison Museum, and a blog created by students, Songs of the Caged Birds: Caged Bodies, Free Minds, provides an ongoing outlet for their writings. Key readings in class, offered so that teens can understand the prison system better, are The Real Costs of Prison (PM Press, 2008), Are Prisons Obsolete? (Open Media, 2003), and The Politics of Injustice (Sage, 2003).
Applebaum works with adults at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, a high security prison in Stillwater, MN. As a teaching volunteer, she has been able to introduce and nurture creative writing skills in her students, many of whom are serving life sentences. Using liberatory pedagogy, which is a pedagogy of liberation centered around the principles for social change and transformation through education based on consciousness raising and engagement with oppressive forces, Applebaum has seen her students’ intelligence and creativity surface in many ways. From the Inside Out: Letters to Young Men and Other Writing (Creative Space, 2009) is one result of the classes. This anthology features letters, short stories, and poems from incarcerated authors from her facility.
Watch for two articles to appear in the March 2013 issue of English Journal on writing and the incarcerated—“Traveling in the Dark: The Promise and Pedagogy of Writing in Prison” (Applebaum), and “Songs of the Caged Birds: Literacy and Learning with Incarcerated Youth” (Williamson, Mercurio, Walker).
Fae-Tal Attraction: The Timeless International Appeal of Faerie Folk in Young Adult Literature
Young adult fantasies about faerie folk are more popular than ever, and as this panel proved, no two faeries are exactly alike! Authors Janni Lee Simner, Aprilynne Pike, Janette Rallison, and R. J. Anderson captivated the audience with their discussion of the origin of their faerie mythos, the rabid fans that attend FaerieCon (“Do not go dressed up as Tinkerbell!” warned Pike), and the ongoing interest in faerie titles for teen readers. All of the panelists cited An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, & Other Supernatural Creatures (Pantheon, 1978) as the go-to reference for all things faerie. A sampling of contemporary faerie novels can be found in the NCTE 2012 program listings.
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