NCTE 2008 – thinking about “shifts”…

In many ways, I’m adding to a conversation post-NCTE 2008 (see Bud, Troy, Brendan and others) — but my thoughts are still fresh and new as I wanted to take some of the “break” to move from saturation/incubation to having something coherent to say and explore.

From the inception, I think that the theme to this year’s convention was risky — moving from the gentle “nudges” present in previous years to a full-fledged shove into a vision of what the 21st century English classroom could/should/might offer.  Like many first “shots,” there were some new ideas/features to the overall convention that worked – but require some revision before a second attempt.  The tech-to-go kiosks were certainly in this category.  They were an experiment – and one that carried some risk despite the really talented line-up of folks who were facilitating dialogues and “manning” the stations.  It would be significantly less than honest for me to say that I was happy with the space we were given, the set-up, etc. – but I am completely honest in saying that I sincerely hope that what we proved/established was the absolute need for a playground of sorts where teachers come to explore new ideas, ask questions in a “safe” environment, follow-up on an idea heard in a session that tripped their thinking about their teaching – and which necessitated real-time professional development, etc.   And, we need smart, smart people pushing our thinking…

I’m still a little unsure about where NCTE takes this next.  Two years of conventions have paid close attention to new literacies, new pedagogies, etc. – and we’ve seen position statements and research briefs result out of the agendas/platforms anchoring each year.  And, despite this, I’m still hesitant.  There is an “us and them” thinking that seems to emerge from a close read of next year’s proposal that gives me a little pause…  Others will likely have more insights on this – and I look forward to seeing that conversation emerge as we all make meaning out of the convention…

Two big ideas that I’m mulling over right now…

1.  There were two teachers who returned to the tech-to-go sessions for all but two of the sessions – Gale and Cathy, both 10th grade English teachers from Florida.  I overheard their conversation in the hall as they left on Sunday morning, both wanting to stay longer but recognizing that this was ultimately the final “installment” of new topics in the kiosks.  I smiled at the idea – but was seized by where their conversation turned — hinging around the question “but do our students know enough about the technology to do this?”

As much as I wanted to pounce, I pulled back and listened (close proximity provided by a crowded escalator, and long, narrow hallways) as two teachers (who were neither born digital nor living particularly digital lives) came to a big realization — that they had stopped listening to their students’ talk about the literacies that they were bringing into the classroom because the language used about those practices was foreign, unfamiliar, and not “academic.”  And, as teachers, their first goal when they got back to school after the holiday was to listen differently – and to use what they learned from that to drive their teaching in the upcoming term.   (Wow.)

2. Two speakers “riffing” a bit during a presentation on 21st century skills and the young “digital native teachers” who had just been hired into their high school English department… As they described the young teachers’ skills, interests and early teaching, one of the two speakers paused, thought, smiled and shared (clearly thinking this for the first time) – “I think that there is as much difference within this generation of millenial or digital teachers as their is between their generation and mine.”  The room was quiet with nodding – nodding that was marked by thinking as opposed to nodding out of habit or kindness.  (It was infectious to witness a “shifting” in perspective — and to participate in the resulting dialogue of the implications for teachers and students in that school.  Made me REALLY wish we were ustreaming that session…)

3.  An outburst during the middle mosaic – “I’d never imagined that!” (when we too-quickly discussed ways of pulling together the best of our pedagogy and the unique literacies our students bring into the classroom).  Sounded a bit like a “eureka” mixed with the fatigue of Saturday afternoon at a convention – and the bit of “drag” and questioning that comes when we try to fit ideas into the box of the school year as it has already been defined.   (I’ve written that out onto a sticky-note and afixed it to my monitor to make sure I keep hearing – and voicing it.  To me, that comment wasn’t about the technology or learning about new literacies.  It was about what pulls us to spaces like conferences where we work together to make meaning from what happens in our classrooms – and from which we draw new energies for what might come next.)

As always seems to be the case for me, I’m at a place where I have much more thinking to do about what I saw, heard, experienced, and learned this year.   I have a collection of notes scrawled on corners of pages, tattered napkins with ideas that made sense at the time but require some decoding at this point, and bookmarks galore ripe for exploration and thinking. Regardless of where the dialogue in NCTE “shifts” next, I think that the conversation starts on a new age.  I’m impatient for that… (And, different from where I might have been in other years, I don’t think I’m alone.)

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