Amid the sparkle of bling and sounds of cha-ching, visitors to Las Vegas, NV, last week caught sight of thousands of educators from around the country wending their way through Metro Golden Mayer Grand complex toward its conference center for the 102nd annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention November 15-18.
While some (including author Sherman Alexie) confessed to playing “spot the English teacher,” and others admitted to (briefly) straying from the well-marked paths to try their hand with Lady Luck, most attendees stayed on track to reach the 700-plus sessions, Tech-on-the-Go tips and demonstrations, a floor show hosting 160 exhibitors, and hourly author signings.
Robust programming addressed a wide range of topics including the Common Core, technology, reading and writing, diversity, and notable books.
Among the many highlights was a packed presentation led by Orbis Pictus Award winner Melissa Sweet, and honorees Candace Fleming, Monica Brown, and Julie Paschkis. Attendees flocked to hear authors Libba Bray, Rita Williams-Garcia, James Deem, and Sharon Flake, and shared meals while they listened to speakers Jonathan Kozol, Scott Westerfeld, Blue Balliett, David Shannon, and Jon Scieszka, among others. Sam Houston State University’s Teri Lesesne chaired a conversation on “Inspiring Readers with the Newest Young Adult Literature Winners.”
The Common Core State Standards was central to several panels, including one led by educators Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Chris Lehman, co-authors of Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and faculty at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. These and other speakers addressed issues from teaching the skills that align with the standards and integrating them into the classroom, to identifying classic and contemporary literature that will support students as they identify universal themes.
Sessions on apps, Twitter in the classroom, and e-reading, and “Reports from Cyberspace” also drew interest. In one interactive program, facilitators demonstrated how to incorporate technology in each stage of the writing process, while in another, presenters discussed shifting lessons to podcasts and video, among other approaches to the “Flipped Classroom.”
Closing the conference were full-day workshops addressing writing instruction, arts, literacy, civic engagement, “Books That Make a Difference: Kids Taking Action for Social Justice,” and NCTE’s Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) two-day gathering.
This year, the ALAN workshop focused on “Reaching Them All” and delivered with panels and break-out sessions discussing humor, LGBTQ literature, children of the world, war, graphic novels, sci-fi, and romance.
Throughout, authors provided insight into their work. Considering his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (S & S, 2012), Benjamin Alire Sáenz commented that having come to terms with his sexuality at age 54, “I think these characters have been living inside me for years.”
Poet Lesléa Newman spoke about October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (Candlewick, 2012), a novel in verse about the 1998 murder of that University of Wyoming student. Donna Cooner, author of Skinny (Scholastic, 2012), discussed her own gastric-bypass surgery. Gabrielle Zevin (All These Things I’ve Done, FSG, 2011) suggested “it’s almost irresponsible not to have a message. I want my characters to be strong, but ‘strong’ has lots of meanings.”
Eric Walters (When Elephants Fight, with Adrian Bradbury, Orca, 2008), Deborah Ellis (My Name is Parvana, Groundwood Books, 2012), and Patricia McCormick (Never Fall Down, HarperCollins, 2012) commented on their imperative to provide contemporary readers with an understanding of life in other countries, particularly the lives of children in war-torn regions.
Conference materials, handouts, and more information about the event can be found on the NCTE Convention website.
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