From November 18th-21st I was in Chicago for the NCTE/ALAN Annual Convention. I ended up going by myself again this year, but unlike last year, I stayed longer and had friends to hang out with the entire time. It was an exhausting weekend because we were constantly busy going here, there, and everywhere, but it was completely worth it. And did you know that lugging around 20 lbs of books really wears you out? Who knew?!
Jillian (@heisereads) and I met in real life (!) for breakfast Friday morning and went to most of the same sessions. My first session was about using graphic novels in the classroom. It was a fantastic way to start the day because all of the presenters brought great information to the table. One of the presenters told us about how she uses Post-it Note Diaries by Arthur Jones as an introduction to teaching the personal essay. You can find their handouts and presentation information on the NCTE Annual Convention website. Actually, all of the presenters were encouraged to upload their materials to the website for those who couldn’t attend certain sessions and those who couldn’t attend the conference. Anyway, I’ve been interested in reading more graphic novels and after this session I can’t wait to find ways to use them in my classroom.
Jillian and I went to the second session together, but we ended up disappointed and left. It was about bullying but the presenter came off as arrogant and most of what she said I disagreed with. Jillian and I decided to head down to the exhibit hall, aka the dungeon, to get in line for the John Green signing. Unfortunately he wasn’t signing ARCs of his newest book, but we did get a chapter sample. The exhibits were crazy when they first opened! I have to admit that I was embarrassed for some of the teachers there. While we waited to be let in, there was a group of teachers standing in front of us with suitcases on wheels and game planning over how to get the most books. I completely understand being excited about free/cheaper books, but these teachers ran into the exhibit hall and bombarded the booths. I heard teachers walking up to people working the booths and asking them what they had for free. Really?! Jillian and I took our time talking with the editors, publicists, marketing team, etc to find out which books were their favorites and which books they recommend for our students. It was an excellent way to find out about new books and we formed some relationships in the process. And you know what? The people we spoke with were more likely to offer us books after talking with us. So yes, some of the teachers surprised me, but most of them were doing exactly the same thing as we did.
After lunch and taking some time to rest our shoulders after lugging around 15+ books each, we went to a session on teaching grammar better. I was exhausted by this point and couldn’t retain that much information anymore. I was happy to attend the session, though, because they had a PowerPoint prepared that we can use with out students and they also had some good ideas on making grammar more relevant for our students. I even sent my department head a text letting her know about the session because so many of the teachers in my department are concerned with teaching grammar.
Friday night ended on a high note when Jillian and I went out to dinner with HarperCollins editor Molly O’Neill and upcoming debut author S.J. (Shelley) Kincaid. Shelley’s debut novel, Insignia, releases in July, but we were fortunate enough to get an ARC before the conference. If you work with teenage boys, make sure you get this book. I know some girls will enjoy it, but I can’t wait to hand this novel to my reluctant boys and my sci-fi fans. It’s full of action and humor and just a fun read (my review will be posted soon). Molly also invited Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops and Becky’s daughter. I’ve only heard great things about Becky’s stores, so it was really cool getting to meet and connect with her. Shelley is wonderful and really intelligent. After spending some time with her at dinner, I’m really looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.
I attended my first ALAN breakfast on Saturday morning. I met more of my Twitter friends like Jen (@mentortexts), Kellee (@kellemoye), Mindi (@mindi_r) and so many more. It was really cool meeting everyone for the first time! The breakfast itself was a cool experience and I really enjoyed listening to Sharon Draper speak. The best part of her speech was talking about how our life is our dash and we need to fill it with great stories. What a wonderful way of looking at life. Jilllian and I were constant buddies during the convention, so we perused the exhibits and met some authors during signings. I met Laurie Halse Anderson and now have a signed copy of Speak (squee!). My favorite session of the day was on writing and revision. Four teachers presented their teaching writing and revising strategies. One of the teachers uses NaNoWriMo in her classroom. The way she does this is so cool and something I’d love to try. Another teacher is using writing mini-lessons for different paper assignments and has stopped using letter grades. She has a rubric for her students and grades them on Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, and Needs Improvement. The students have pieces to work on according to different rubrics and are graded on their improvement during the trimester. This way of teaching sounds like something I could adapt in my classroom, so I’m excited to check out her resources. For information on using NaNoWriMo in your classroom check out her website: msansbach.wikispaces.com If you want to learn more about eliminating letter grades and refocusing on writing as a process, check out her website: msshortlearnstwice.blogspot.com
Saturday night was tons of fun because we had a Twitter friends dinner at Carnivale. The food and drinks were delicious and the restaurant is bright and vibrant. I was sitting at the end of the table with Katherine (@katsok), Cindy (@CBethM), Lea (@leakelley) and Chris (@ckervina). At the other end of the table was Jillian, Aly (@alybee930), Cathy (@Cathy_Blackler), Mindi (@mindi_r) and Jillian. The conversations were great and so was the experience in general. I really miss my Twitter friends.
Sunday and Monday were simply awesome. There weren’t that many sessions on Sunday, but I did go to a good one about using YA in a traditional curriculum. Some of the titles were outdated, but the ideas on discussing themes were very cool. One of the presenters discussed the idea of using theory and heuristics. They also said their handouts would be on the convention website. The best part of Sunday was the ALAN cocktail party. I geeked out over so many authors! I met Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, M.T. Anderson (because after meeting John Green & telling him a story of how his books and M.T. Anderson’s books hooked one of my boys John took me to meet him and tell him the story), and so many others! I had a chance to talk with A.S. King which was awesome after how she and I have connected since I read and reviewed Everybody Sees the Ants. The Twitter group met up with Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Teresa (@rdngteach) there as well. Donalyn has no fear and helped us get the courage to approach some of the authors. Heidi (@hmz1505), a librarian and blogger, spent a lot of time hanging out with us as well. All of us had fangirly moments over different authors
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire ALAN portion of the convention. I was there most of the day on Monday, but I had to head home since we had finals going on for the end of the trimester. Listening to Matt de la Pena, Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, and so many other authors speak was inspiring. Our entire Twitter row was tweeting what the authors said like crazy. Matt de la Pena was probably my favorite speaker of the day. Besides the fact that he’s eloquent and thoughtful, he represents so many of our reluctant readers. I’m really bummed that I missed Laurie Halse Anderson’s presentation. I will admit that I was happy to return home because I missed Keith, my small cats, and I was exhausted.
Overall, I can’t encourage teachers enough to attend this conference in the future. Next year it’s going to be in Las Vegas, so I’ll start saving after Christmas. It’s the perfect way to connect with authors and other teachers. It’s also an excellent way to learn from other teachers. What I liked most about the sessions is how excited the teachers were to share with us; so many told us to email them with any questions. I loved meeting my Twitter friends and I can’t wait to meet up again!