Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NCTE Conference 2010

ncte01 Just back from the National Conference of Teachers of English conference which was held in Orlando at Disneyworld’s Coronado Convention Center. Several thousand teachers, librarians, reading specialists, authors and publishers descended upon the house that Mickey built for a week of keynotes, break out sessions, cocktail parties and side trips to the magic Kingdom.

Sara and I were there to attend sessions and to speak about our new book HIGH DEFINITION. We were good citizens – trying to travel self contained so as not to cost our publisher extra dough for projector and sound equipment rental by bringing our own equipment. We were set for the fifty or so folks we expected in our session. Lucky thing we decided to scope out our room the night before our presentation – seems NCTE had put us into a ballroom that seated over 300 folks!

ncte03 We quickly became friends with Dave – the grand king daddy of all things audio visual for the conference and lucky for us, a friend of our publisher’s school secretary equivalent (you know, the person who is really in charge of everything) Lori. So the next day ignoring a minor hiccup by an uncooperative word document we gave a pretty good session to a packed ballroom!

ncte02 We did manage to sneak off one of the days and visit the Magic Kingdom – my first trip back to this particular park in over 35 years where we did the roller coaster Space Mountain, the Splash Mountain ride, some inscrutable thing featuring the cartoon character Stitch which we still don’t really know what it was supposed to be about and the Haunted mansion. I remember how high tech and impressive the mansion was those many years ago and now – sadly it seemed a bit dated. Special effects that were uncanny when i was 12 years old were now, rather humdrum.

Blasingamephoto Finally, we stayed after the official conference to attend ALAN The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. Which is like speed dating for authors and educators – two to three authors sit up on a dais for half hour long panels where they talk about their latest books and teachers listen and then cue up in lines in the back of the ballroom to have these books signed by the attending authors. Sara and I along with our poetry pal, Alan Wolfe popped up a couple times in between these panel sessions and performed some of our poems thanks to an invitation from Dr. Jim Blasingame – Pooh-Bah of the organization and a performing cowboy poet himself.

ncte04 We also got to hang out with a bunch of really cool teachers who we have got to know over the years – mostly friends Sara made during the years she worked and learned with literacy expert Janet Allen. Christine, Kelli, Anne, Beth, LeeAnn, our poetry slam compatriot Elizabeth, our new buddy Jack Gantos, Orlando native Charles Waters, Boyds Mills Press, Heinemann and a whole slew of folks far too many to mention made this one of our best NCTEs ever.

ncte05 So to paraphrase an animated insect, “Sometimes wishes really do come true.”


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Windermere Prep

In the shadow of Disney World is a wonderful school that Sara and I have had the privilege to visit the last two years in a row (Sara’s been coming a lot longer than me – she let me in on this gem last year) Windermere Prep where Middle School Pooh-Bah Mary Beth Davis has created one of the most inviting learning environments I have ever seen.


We were on our way down to the kingdom of the mouse to present and attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference anyway so we called Mary Beth and asked if she’d like us to work with her students and she said certainly! Hooray!


We wrote memoirs, we wrote poems, and we wrote infomercials. The 7th graders even blocked out a desk that squeaked and groaned like the cargo hold of an over laden pirate ship under the weight of their busy pens. Here’s a couple pics and a vid taken in one of the eighth grade classrooms.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kutztown Middle School

Every now and then I get to visit a school that makes me extra glad for what I do. Kutztown Middle was one of these schools. All the kids were prepared for my visit – which means they actually knew I was coming, they even rearranged the school day schedule in order to make sure i had ample time to work with the kids.

Special kudos to Miss Mancini for all her hard work to bring me to this little town outside of Allentown, PA.  Sara and I always say – we can tell what kind of visit it is going to be three minutes after stepping into a school. Outside I could smell the cow pastures nearby – but inside I found a fresh and bright learning environment – no doubt fostered by the principle James Brown – I felt good!

So here’s a short video from the visit and good luck to all the eighth graders participating in the anti-bullying poetry slam whether as participants or audience.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Halloween Weekend in Oak Park

Sara and I spent Halloween with our friends Henry and Maria in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. Here’s a dozen pics.





































Friday, November 5, 2010

Measure twice – cut once…

Just back from Chicago where Sara and I spent three days visiting and working with the students at Deerpath Middle School. Our first day was the day after Halloween so I think there was a bit of a blood sugar spike that we were contending with during our assembly and subsequent workshops – but we still got some great work done and I think the kids came away with some ideas to improve their public speaking and to make their writing more concise and precise.

deerpath02 The teachers had our book Outspoken (which we learned upon arriving home has gone into its fourth printing) and we worked from this and our new one High Definition. Sara and I took the divide and conquer approach – here seeing students in a lecture hall and me seeing the other half for workshops in the library where we wrote definition poems.

Between sessions the technology teacher grabbed me and asked if I had any ideas on how he could incorporate poetry into his classes. How cool is that? Coming from a manufacturing and engineering background myself I was happy to talk to him about how to do just that, writing vocabulary poems, infomercials, obituaries and other text types to teach the terms behind the physics of making a two liter bottle powered rocket or a gravity powered Lego car.


While chatting with this teacher I learned that he once had taught woodshop. Now the community of Lake Forest is a more than fairly upscale suburb north of Chicago proper. It seems that the woodshop class was discontinued because as one parent had explained to this teacher, “We hire people to do work like this.”

This teacher wasn’t complaining to me – we were just shooting the breeze but I’m afraid that perhaps this parent had missed the point and coming from a family that has never been afraid to get their hands dirty, bends or cut metal, dig a ditch, or do their own brake jobs I was a bit worried by the inference.

Would this parent ever walk into a board, court-room or onto the trading floor without a plan, a blueprint perhaps? Would he or she not make sure she had all the tools necessary to complete whatever project they were working on readily at hand? Would they not measure twice and cut once? It seems one of alums of this school, a Mr. Dave Eggers, understands the lessons he learned back in the day when woodworking class was still offered. Returning recently for a classmate’s 40th birthday party also attended by the tech teacher – he let said teacher know that the lessons of working from an outline, understanding the need to sequence steps to conserve materials and to work toward a finished project even when the end was still far off in the distance all lessons learned or made practical by the now defunct woodworking class had helped construct the writer/person into which Eggers had grown up .


Now I know there are no ovals on the standardized tests that ask the difference between a crosscut saw and a bastard file, just as there are no essay questions about how to make a reed for a bassoon. But aren’t these talents transferrable into the “real world” of finance and law? I’ve heard parents defend their schools athletic departments because of the life lessons learned by the participants – don’t hands on trade classes offer at least as many experience points as a lacrosse field?

By the way – one of the best woodworkers I have ever met, a hobbyist who made beautiful grandfather clocks, tables, chairs, and china hutches was a guy I used to house sit for. Of course his day job did require him to work with his hands so maybe he already had a proclivity for manual labor – he was the chief surgeon and head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic.