February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

NCTE ’16 | The Faces of Advocacy

Southern hospitality and sunny skies reigned in Atlanta as the city welcomed more than 7,000 teachers and librarians, as well as authors and publishers, to the annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference, from November 17–20. More than eight hundred sessions highlighting “The Faces of Advocacy,” including keynotes, workshops, author panels, programs, roundtables, and cultural celebrations, awaited attendees at the Georgia World Conference Center as they streamed into the city.

Pre-conference kick-off

Crowds streaming into  the Georgia World Conference Center

Crowds streaming into the Georgia World Conference Center at the NCTE Conference in Atlanta

Half-day pre-conference workshops kicked off the event covering a range of topics from advocating for and teaching culturally diverse literature to creating spaces for learning diversity. In the workshop “Moving Beyond the What to the How,” presenters from Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame led a thoughtful discussion and distributed readings on the meaning of “multiculturalism,” and asked participants to come up with their own definitions. They then shared the work of David E. Kirkland, a scholar of “language, literacy, and urban education,” and a blogger, who challenges the use of the word.

Engaging conversations ensued on reading, teaching, and analyzing diverse literature in the classroom with suggestions of authors and titles to share. Across the hall, author Jason Reynolds opened “Diversity 2.0,” speaking about the many who feel “hyper visible, but not visible” and implored the audience to be active listeners, to allow others to be ‘human, without always trying to fix” them or their situations. “Sometimes people just need to be heard,” he said. Other pre-conference workshops focused on fueling the creative juices through yoga, using primary sources in the classroom, and text analysis through debate.

Changing lives
In the days that followed, sessions on diversity and inclusiveness continued with discussions on advocacy, including Friday’s general session panel moderated by Joan Kaywell from the University of South Florida. The audience heard from authors Ibtisam Barakat, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Sharon M. Draper, Meg Medina, G. Neri, and Jason Reynolds, who offered their views on promoting change through literature. Especially poignant were the reader’s responses to their work that they shared, and the meaning of books in their lives. Barakat commented that after her Palestinian family lost everything when she was three years old, books, and later writing, literally became her “lifeline.”

Other programs throughout the weekend advocated for grassroots activism, social justice and social change, at-risk African American teens, LQBTQ youth, Latinx students, immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized students. Sessions explored empowering diverse voices in the classroom through writing and new literacies, along with models of encouraging children and teens to make a difference. During “Kids Can Change the World Through Voice and Choice,” listeners heard how a group of second graders in Durham, N.C,—after looking around their classroom and determining they needed to weed their classroom materials—were motivated to begin a months-long research, fund-raising, and action project to benefit the locally based nonprofit “Book Harvest” that distributes books to children in need.

More presentations addressed literature circles and new media, English language learners, close reading, collaboration, speculative fiction, arts education, assessment, as well as using all forms of technology with readers and writers.  In “The Power of Inquiry, Investigation, & Play,” presenters encouraged educators to consider “the environment as the second teacher,” a concept that librarian proponents of maker spaces and learning commons eagerly embrace.

    Jason Reynolds signing at the Disney Book Group booth

Jason Reynolds signing at the Disney Book Group booth

Sightings and signings
Authors and illustrators who presented and signed throughout the weekend included Margarita Engle, Neal Shusterman, Tim Federle, Kevin Henkes, Sharon Creech, Kekla Magoon, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kwame Alexander, Duncan Tonatiuh, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Mitali Perkins, Nikki Grimes, Janet Wong, Joseph Bruchac, Tonya Bolden, and Barbara O’Connor, among others.

Conversations and panels addressed writing for middle grade readers, picture books for older students, the appeal and use of graphic novels, banned books, as well as the authors’ and illustrators’ personal paths to writing and or illustrating books for children and teens, their processes, challenges, and hopes for their works.

S.E. Hinton, author of early young adult The Outsiders (1967), That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975) and other titles set in Oklahoma, was the highly anticipated guest speaker at the ALAN breakfast on Saturday.  Elsewhere, groups considered, debated, announced and presented book awards over meals. Participants gathered to discuss the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, while at the Children’s Literature Luncheon, the 2015 winners of the prestigious Charlotte Huck Award (Sharon M. Draper for Stella at Starlight, Atheneum/ S & S) and the Orbis Pictus Award (Don Brown for Drowned City, HMH) each spoke and received their awards. The 2016 winners and honor selections of both prizes were also announced: Jason Reynolds for Ghost (Atheneum/S. & S.) and Melissa Sweet for Some Writer! (HMH). Reynolds and Sweet will receive their awards at the 2017 Children’s Literature Luncheon in St. Louis, MO.


Conference goers stopped for a little entertainment as they bustled from session to session.

Hurrying from session to session, attendees were entertained by musicians and recharged by the energy buzzing through the  conference center–and, of course, ubiquitous coffee bars and carts. Those who needed a quiet spot to recharge slipped into the film showings, where back-to-back movies played throughout the weekend.

Throngs of Hamlets and Queens with scripts in hand volleyed lines back and forth during Saturday’s late afternoon Shakespeare flash mob, catapulting conference goers into the host of evening events, including the capstone keynote by Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015).

Brad Meltzer, author of many best-selling thrillers, several children’s books, and comics, opened the final day of the conference as the 122 exhibitors began packing up. By 2:45 on Sunday, the conference halls had thinned out and those who weren’t heading to the airport were hunkering down for the dozens of additional speakers and panels that continued at the sold-out ALAN (Assembly for Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE) Workshop that followed at the conference center on November 21–22. The ALAN theme this year was “Innovators, Visionaries, and Rebels: Celebrating Risk Takers in Young Adult Literature,” and the event opened with a keynote by the always thoughtful, often provocative, YA and middle grade author, A.S. King.

Also see: “Hanging Out at NCTE.”

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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