Unpacking NCTE 2013

Last week I spent four days at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Boston.  The convention was inspiring, informative, and a great opportunity to address current trends in English Language Arts today.  Throughout the convention I heard from resourceful teachers and engaging authors, brought back multiple bags of books for my classroom and professional development, and reflected on my teaching. Below are the top trends I took away from the conference and ideas worth sharing.


1. Close Reading

Students do not have to read closely all the texts that we give them, but depending on task and the passage, students need to be able to read critically and closely to comprehend, analyze, and discuss text. Part of the Common Core, close reading requires students to slow down their reading and be able to make inferences and synthesize their understanding of the text. There are so many valuable professional resources that address this topic: Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp, Note and Notice by Beers & Probst, and also Lehman and Robert’s Falling In Love with Close Reading.

2. Informational Text

The Common Core requires that on the secondary level young people read 70% informational text. That does not mean throw out the literature you are teaching, rather, supplement great informational texts that connect with what you’ve been doing in class or because the texts are topically interesting. There are great resources available on the web to help teachers find relevant informational texts. The New York Times Learning Network is one resource to check out, especially their new “Text to Text” feature that pairs timely informational text with novels currently being taught in schools. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s Montagues and Capulets as Shiite and Sunni is an interesting perspective to use as a lens for reading this classic conflict ridden love story.

Another new book soon to be released spring 2014, Using Informational Text by Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle offer nine informational articles to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird. The text includes the informational articles from a thematic perspective and scaffolds the reading of the text to support students’ reading and thinking. Sample chapters include speeches, interviews, newspaper articles, and medical documents.  Sample texts are available on their website.

3. Dystopia is Our Future

The hottest trend in publishing for young adults is dystopian fiction. With the success of The Hunger Games, there is a plethora of new novels, as well as renewed interest in older ones. I attended a session on dystopian literature and social theory (Derrida, Foucault, and critical race theories) in the English classroom. The presenters addressed how social theory offers an opportunity for students to think critically about the realistic and futuristic worlds presented in the fiction. The dystopian novels presented in the session included Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to address issues of  power, Chaos Walking series to address language, and Octavia Bultler’s Parable of the Sower to address race and ethnicity. As a 8th grade teacher who will be using dystopian novels for a literature circle unit this winter, this session gave me possible book titles and an idea to help my students critically engage with the text.

Neil Schusterman, author of the dystopian series Unwind and UnWholly, was  a key note speaker for middle school teachers. He spoke about where all the ideas for his recent book series emerged from, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together to create a larger picture.  I was mesmerized by the different stories in the news that Schusterman pieced together to create a gripping tale about a world that is pro life, but between the ages of 13 and 18 parents may choose to retroactively get rid of their child through a process called “unwinding” and transplanting their organs into various other recipients. I cannot wait to read this book.

4. Common Core: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

There were teachers and workshops who embraced the Common Core and a few that were in opposition to the CCLS.  The bottom line is that the Common Core is here now and teachers must effectively address the standards to help their students succeed.  All of the workshops made connections to the Common Core addressing reading, writing, literacy, vocabulary, and assessment. I do not think that teachers need to reinvent what they are doing in their classroom right now, we need to pay particular attention to what we are doing right  and include classroom experiences that teach skills necessary for reading complex texts and tasks that require higher order thinking.

5. Technology Integration in the English Language Arts Classroom

Whether we are talking about gaming or QR codes, technology is an amazing tools to support our students as readers, writers, and creators.  I presented a poster that included more than three dozen technology based projects that I have had my students complete. Projects like creating movies, wikis, blogs, glogs, and more.  It is not about the technology, but the skills that students are utilizing when accessing technology.  Technology just adds a more contemporary and digital component to the assignment.

NCTE Poster 2013

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