The National Council for Teachers of English held their Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD with over 8,000 English teachers, librarians, reading specialists, authors and illustrators in attendance. The theme of “Spirited Inquiry” was about stopping to note, notice, wonder, question, and ponder pressing topics in the field. The range of workshops covered all aspects of literacy from reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking. The workshops that I attended focused on social justice, advocacy, diversity, and student voice. Here is a summary of the powerful topics covered throughout my time at the conference.
The Conference kicked off with a key note speech from actor, author, and activist, George Takei. Takei’s graphic novel, They Called Us the Enemy, is about his experience as a child during the Japanese incarceration after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He spoke of the parallel stories that he experienced during that time in comparison to the story his parents experienced. He addressed breaking stereotypes as the first Asian American Actor on Star Trek during the 1960s. He shared with the audience that ‘Star Trek’ was a metaphor for earth and the diversity that is required to successfully go beyond where no other person has gone before. ‘Star Trek’ is about acceptance, and the strength of the Starship Enterprise is that it embraces diversity in all its forms.” Civil responsibility was one of the themes of his speech and the speaking up when we see injustice.
Teaching Beyond Fear: Inquiry around Gun Violence in the English Language Arts Classroom was a round table session that included a dozen round table discussions on topics ranging from “empowering students to examine gun culture through rhetorical analysis,” “Teaching Beyond Fear,” and “Writing Through Pain.” This was one of the most powerful sessions that I attended hearing the ideas and research presented by researchers, professors and teachers about how they use mass shootings as a catalyst for student writing, research, and discussion.
Jonathan Bush shared a rhetorical analysis methodology used in his introductory composition course as “a means to empower students to gain an understanding of the purposes, ideologies, and ethics of the rhetor to make informed judgements about its value and place in cultural and political discussions.” He encourages students to do an ideological analysis and a logical fallacy watch to look for logical fallacies and then discuss them. He uses commercials from the NRA as an entry point to teach analysis. Consider the effectiveness of the following NRA advertisement.
I also attended the workshop Resisting Through Inquiry: Cultivating a Spirit of Resistance through YA Literature and Digital Media. Presented by 8th grade ELA teacher, Sarah Bonner and YA author, Samira Ahmed, this interactive sessions included a joint collaboration among teacher, students, and author to unpack the discoveries and learnings within a multimodal, inquiry-rich unit of student resulting in work that occurred within their communities. Students participated in a 3 week book study reading Ahmed’s Internment, a dystopian novel “set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.” Ahmed said that all of the events that take place in the novel are based on historical events including Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and Japanese Internment. The book challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today as the protagonist follows in the footsteps of young adult activists like Malala, The White Rose Organization, and even Greta Thunberg. After the students read the book they engaged in a research project to uncover injustice in their community.
The Middle Level Section Luncheon showcased YA author and speaker, Ibi Zoboi. Zoboi is the author of two novels for young adults including Pride and American Street, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her newest novel, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich is about a twelve year old girl who loves space and science fiction. The story is filled with graphic novel elements from the protagonist’s imagination. The novel celebrates Harlem in the 1980s with the music, dance, and hip hop culture that emerged from this time period and has shaped popular culture.
What I’ve heard a lot of people talk about at NCTE: getting the right books in the hands of students, engaging students in the learning process, and teaching writing as opposed to assigning and grading writing. Thinking weaves its thread through each session at NCTE. Authors, teachers, leaders are growing through conversations around inquiry. There is still more to come.