It was 8:30am on Sunday, the last day of sessions for the 2008 NCTE Conference in San Antonio. Despite the fact that many English teachers had either slept-in, took the day to sight-see, or left the city to begin the trek home, a sizable crowd still materialized at Conference Center room 006A to hear Harvey Daniels and his panel of colleagues present “25 Years of Literature Circles.” So many came, in fact, that sitting space on the floor even ran out, and latecomers participated in the session from the doorway.
Nancy Stieneke started off the session with an overview of why it is so important to create what she called a “positive academic community” in order for Literature Circles to work. At first I was thinking, “Why is this even an issue for discussion?” but it makes perfect sense. I’ve often placed students in cooperative groups that didn’t work well together simply because they didn’t have the social skills needed to work as a team. Furthermore, just because students are friends does not mean that they would naturally be able to work well together. I liked Nancy’s idea of “Home Court” and think it is important to devote some class time to build a community of trust and respect among the students. I can think of at least two of my classes where I have students that don’t really socialize with each other, even when I give them some free time to do so. These are the kids that are going to need to work on some team-building activities to get them talking to one another and, more importantly, trusting each other.
Another panel speaker that I really liked was Stephanie Harvey, and I look forward to reading more about her and her work as I become a little more fluent in the Best Practice titles out there for English teachers. Stephanie Harvey was definitely one of my favorite presenters at the conference, and I am drawing inspiration from her presentation on Inquiry Circles to design this year’s research paper unit for my 10th graders. Basically, Inquiry Circles rely on cooperative group work among students to focus on a common topic or question for research. They develop a line of thinking through their questioning, and this come up with a topic that is worth researching (rather than being forced to choose from a list of topics, which can sometimes be overwhelming). I’d like to have my students write a research paper in a small group, which is something I have never done before. Even as I write this blog, my head is spinning with ideas of other things I can incorporate into this unit (specifically things I learned from Prensky, Wilhelm, and the presenters at session G.36: The Power of Persuasion) I suppose I’ll have to develop those thoughts later… ONE THING AT A TIME!!
At various points during the day today, colleagues have been approaching me and asking what I thought about the conference. I keep saying that I loved it because I learned so much from the sessions, and it’s true. I have immense respect for these men and women for devoting their careers to sharing their knowledge and experiences with the rest of us. I suppose the reason that the room was so packed on Sunday morning had something to do with Harvey Daniels’s English teacher-y celebrity status, but he is a celebrity in his on right based on what he has done for our profession. I think every English teacher should know who Harvey Daniels is and read at least one of his published works. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that English teachers who are looking to read a trade book to improve their pedagogy should start with him and then move on to the many others. I myself have generated an expanded reading list based on some of the sessions I participated in at the conference. I can’t wait to get started!
Isn’t learning fun?