What #NCTE17 Offered This Teacher

Last weekend I met up with thousands of educators from across the country (and beyond) in St. Louis for the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference with the goal of growing and improving their teaching craft. I met up with dozens of authors who wanted to share their stories and their love for writing and books with the world. Though I paid every penny of my expenses, I realize what a privilege it was for me to be in attendance and I make it my mission to share what I’ve learned and experienced with others. I’ll share a few of those takeaways here in my blog.



For the past several years I have used Sketchnotes to capture the ideas, quotes, and wonderings I find important during the sessions I attend.  You can see these visual notes by clicking on the link above. Here are some of the big ideas I left NCTE17 with…

  • We need to expand the definition of reading and writing.  There is a canon of writing that is too formulaic- and too often we judge texts as “not real reading”. We will invite more readers and writers into the fold if we redefine what reading and writing is.
  • Being a human being in the world is more important than being a reader or writer. If literacy doesn’t help us to explore what it means to be human then it is just an assigned task and not an act of engagement and purpose.
  • Reading and writing is a personal art. Everyone deserves to figure out what process works best for them. Our job is to help them discover this, not just follow our directions.
  • We all have defaults in our reading and writing-that comfort zone we tend to dwell in. When we are aware of them we can more easily break free and expand our repertoire and approaches.
  • Teach with humility. We don’t have all the answers, we cannot be experts in everything. There is so much we can learn from our colleagues and our students if we approach our teaching with an open mind and an open heart.
  • Ask ourselves, “What masks have my students had to wear to exist in the spaces we’ve created?”
  • “The DNA we are walking through this world with is complicated. How do we teach people we consider as ‘others’ when we are the gatekeepers?” –Jacqueline Woodson
  • Before we speak our truth…consider the truth of others. Remember, our identity always comes into the conversation.
  • Consider soft starts to the school day to welcome our students into learning spaces that are inviting, stimulating, and creative.
  • Readers who progress, learn to read by reading.”-Marie Clay  Too often our most struggling readers do the least amount of actual reading. Skill work and interventions replace the reading of continuous texts.  Think about this.
  • Continually ask ourselves: Am I teaching my students or am I covering my material? If we (including students) aren’t clear on expected learning outcomes they’ll just be doing tasks.
  • Books are not diverse if what we mean is they are non-white. That sets up white as the default. What may be a window to one is a mirror to another. Authentic voices are the key to sharing books that promote empathy and understanding.

There were so many more nuggets that I will hold onto (and you can see them in the sketchnotes or photos) but these were what resonated a week out from the conference and so I believe they will stay with me. You can see photos of sessions here:


What’s On My Book Radar?

SMART COOKIE by Elly Swartz

My review is from the ARC of this book that will be released January 30th.

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 8.34.00 AM.pngFamily secrets and recipes make this one sweet story! Frankie’s mom died when she was 4 and she decides she wants her dad to meet someone who would make them a family of 3 again. She sets up an online dating profile and compiles a list of Possibles who never seem to fit the bill. Meanwhile her dad is busy running a B&B that is losing business because there are rumors it is haunted. This has Frankie wondering if her mom could be a ghost, so she begins writing her letters for advice. And then we have Gram who seems to have secrets of her own and behavior that is becoming more curious for Frankie. There are so many amazing subplots going on in this book, it kept me captivated. (and the descriptions of the daily cookies at the B&B kept me salivating!) Elly Swartz knows how to write complex characters in compassionate and compelling ways. On the heels of Finding Perfect, I think Swartz has found another perfect story!






1 thought on “What #NCTE17 Offered This Teacher

  1. Paula, I love your sketch notes and can’t wait to study them more. I think your first big idea is the most important one . . .

    “We need to expand the definition of reading and writing.” And when we do so we must include our students in the conversation. It’s not okay to continue to require all students to read class novels, month after month, year after year, that are so old. There has to be room for contemporary reading and writing for every student!

    Great to see you!

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