So, Friday was a fairly light day for me.
I made it to two fascinating presentations that forced my jetlagged brain to consider what I hadn't before. Probably the most thought-provoking for me for both Friday and the entire conference was "Teaching Adolescents As If They Already Knew What They were Doing," a panel chaired by Randy Bomer that featured presentations by Katherine Bomer, Deb Kelt, and Allison Skerritt.
- Katherine Bomer brought up Stephen Colbert's interview technique, an improvisational rule called "Yes, and..." that posits the work of the classroom as building a scene together. To build a scene in improv, everyone has to accept what's going on, pay attention, (Yes) and build the scene together (and...).
This is the second time this year that the idea of using improvisation-based thinking as a way to build skills has come up. The first time was at the Journalism Education Association's Adviser's Institute last summer. Mark Newton led a session called "Yes, and..." which focused on using improv techniques to get student media leaders to establishing a community of trust and creativity.
- Allison Skerritt shared how much she learned by giving students cameras to document their literacy practices. By opening up literacy as something more inclusive than simply reading and writing in class, Skerritt invited students to share their interests and expertise. This became the foundation of class practice.
- Deb Kelt, a 9th and 10th grade teacher who works with the lowest achieving students in her building, also shared practices geared toward appreciative thinking. She used texting as a way to discuss inference skills with kids. Kids GET inference with texting, but panic with books. By using texting as a way in, she was able to let them know they already had the skills they needed to succeed as students.
And that was just the first session of the day...
Then I got to see the rock stars: Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and Tom Newkirk. As I expected, each challenged me and the session seemed to have been designed to build on the discussion I had just left.
- Kelly emphasized reflection as a writing territory that's vital to kids understanding of themselves and extending that understanding to the world; again, we start where kids are. Our classroom literacy becomes an imaginative rehearsal space for the world (with credit to Kenneth Burke). We, as the lead leaders, guide discussions where we read, analyze, and emulate writing. We do, I do, you do, you reflect. Really, how much more straightforward can that be? And why am I not doing it all of the time?
- Penny Kittle described a research writing elective where students used story as a springboard to in-depth research. Again, she started with student interests and allowed them to build text sets of fiction, non-fiction, journalism, informational writitng, charts, graphs, tables, infographics--a wide variety of media--to begin to write from data. I loved her idea that writing becomes a duet of you and your sources! Kids need to be able to tell the story of the data rather than just regurgitate it, and that story becomes the duet.
- Finally Tom Newkirk talked about the idea of narrative writing as being at the core of all other forms. Newkirk, who I'd read but never seen before, had us laughing at his stories and thinking as he discussed how we are hardwired to see the world in causal terms.Stories help us form the patterns we need to make the abstract concrete. To hold information and to expand our range of sympathies, we need stories. He specifically mentioned Kristoff's op-eds in the New York Times, which made the horror of the sex trade real for readers by bringing to light individual stories of girls sold into prostitution. Also, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address gave listeners a narrative on which to base the reconcilliation of a nation. But what really had us rolling with laughter was Newkirk's inclusion of an example of how narrative brings informational writing to life. He displayed at read the opening from "The Big Heat," a New Yorker commentary on the drought of 2012 by Elizabeth Kolbert. If Kolbert's description of corn sex doesn't make you see pollination in a more vivid way, I'm not sure anything I can say can impress upon you the power of story to help us make sense of our world.
And that was just day 1 before dinner...
Is there any question why I spend my own money and take personal time to travel half way across the country?