Monday, November 25, 2013

NCTE 2013

This is my favorite conference. It may not be in the exotic locations globally as some of the others Sara and I attend and speak at 0- but this one is where we get to see so many of our friends.Boston progressively got chillier while we were there – but the camaraderie and ideas just kept heating up.

We did a session with our dear friend Nancy Johnson, attended a couple other sessions, had coffee with Michael Clark from Singapore American School, had lunch with Jane Yolen and Heidi, signed our new book at the Corwin booth – I was going to sign books at Scholastic but since I don’t have anything published by them they got a bit snooty when I whipped out my Sharpie at their booth.

We attended cocktail parties at the top of the conference hotel with the Corwin team chatting with Smokey and Elaine Daniels and meeting our new favorite fledgling editor Francesca while watching Corwin publicist Maura almost vibrate into invisibility as her brain spun like a centrifuge with details and we laughed with Steph Harvey and Vicki the next evening at Heinemann's shmancy soiree at the Gardner Museum.

An amazing Moroccan dinner capped off our last night with a whole slew of teacher fiends from all over the globe and then it was time to come home.  I could name drop forever all the keen folks we ran into - some for a fleeting hug, some for a snippet of conversation, Georgia, Lester, Ellin, Steve, Nancy, Paul, Lee Ann, Christine, Lee, Beth, Larry, Jack, Lynn, Lisa, Ralph, and on and on - the list would forever be incomplete so I will just stop here.

Thanks to the teachers, the presenters and the vendors that gel into my favorite conference.

ADDENDUM: I am sad to report that the disk in my camera has somehow become corrupted and the pictures on it are inaccessible. This year’s conference will have to remain in my brain – a sketchy dwelling to say the least. So I leave you with the only pic I have from the conference – Sara, Heidi and Jane.  (What is it with authors and the color black?)


Monday, November 18, 2013

Mannheim Middle School–Chicago

“Well, now I can scratch you off my bucket list.”

This is what our hostess Barbara Underdown told Sara once we arrived at her school on the outskirts of Chicago. Seems Ms. Underwood had witnessed Sara in action a few years back and decided she wanted to get my partner in rhyme to pay a visit to her school before she (Barbara) retired.


Well Barb retires this year and Sara came to visit. (I came along too – sort of like the icing on the cake – being the sweetie papeetie that I am.)

On the drive to the city with big shoulders Sara and I listened to The Poisonwood Bible which has a family of characters named Underdown in the story. I took this to be a harbinger of something good about to happen. I was right.

Mannheim is in a working class neighborhood and has a population of around 85% ESL (English as a second language) students. The building is a little old – but impeccably maintained. As soon as you walk in and see the work on the walls you know you are in a place where learning is paramount.

We did a couple big assemblies – one with just the eighth graders and then a second with the six and sevens that left the auditorium packed standing room only to the balcony. 

We than tag teamed a couple writing workshops with some of the sixth and seventh graders. We spoke about personification and word choice along with defining some big concept abstract nouns.


What was not abstract was the dedication and enthusiasm that Barbara had for teaching it was unflaggingly apparent – and in her final year before retirement to boot! In this standards obsessed education environment, here is one standard – the engaged and confident instructor that is sorely needed in our schools.

Yet, it seems at times, that we don’t value these spirits. We keep looking for data gathering opportunities, to ideas promulgated by folks who haven't set a foot in a classroom as an instructor, toss in folks with a five week training program and expect them to teach our children. I hope that the powers that be aren’t testing and tracking the learning right out of the classroom.

I hope that as folks like Ms. Underdown graduate from the profession that we don’t simply plug in script followers putting in a two year stint to pad their resumes before moving on to “real” jobs.

From what I saw at Mannheim, I don’t think this is going to be a problem for this middle school. I was heartened to be in a US public school where deeper thinking was obviously the goal.

Thanks Barbara – thanks Mannheim.


this pic may be out of focus but the students were not!

Monday, November 11, 2013

New York - new book - new site

Upon returning from our month in Africa Sara and I had exactly one day to collect out thoughts and then we were off to New York State Reading and their annual conference.


Sara and I each did a poem to end the awards ceremony one evening and also presented on our Writing Clinics as well as public speaking. We met some hard working teachers and organizers plus we got the first look at our new teacher resource published by Corwin.

Holbrook_pb.inddAfter the conference we came home to a couple packages of High Impact Writing Clinics on our doorstep. I whipped up a new website under our DBA name – Outspoken Literacy Consultants.

We’re really enthused about this new resource (it’s really a whole lot more than a book.)  Every time,  often after we give a presentation at a conference we are asked for our PowerPoint  slides. Well the slides we use to present are not comprehensive enough to just be used as is. We use them as mnemonic devices to keep u on track while we speak.

So, what we have done is recreate 20 of our lessons in PowerPoint format along with a lesson outline so that teachers can use our slides as they teach the lessons to their classes.

We’re giving away three copies and an hour long Skype conference over at our Facebook page – check it out.

So, we’ve only been home for a couple weeks but we hit the ground running. Next stop Chicago and then at the end of the month – we return to Kazakhstan!

We’ll keep you updated.