Sunday, November 30, 2014

NCTE14 Reflections: It's Not Just for the Kids: Stories of what can happen when teachers embrace curiosity, openness, creativity, and wonder in the teaching of reading

Another one of my favorite sessions from NCTE14 was a panel presentation of Vicki Vinton, Fran McVeigh, Steve Peterson, Mary Lee Hahn, and Julieanne Harmatz.

All of these presenters keep incredible blogs and I recommend following them. They are reflective, inspiring teachers, worthy of great admiration!

Vicki started the group off, introducing them. These people had not met before in person. Their connections are testimony to the power of of on-line PLN's. (We are all so lucky to live and teach during a time when we can connect with so many like-minded people.) Two comments from Vicki that resonated with me are:
"If we are not constantly asking ourselves what are the kids learning, then we're not being teachers."
And, from Donald Graves:
"The teacher is the chief learner in the classroom."

Fran's portion of the presentation challenged us to think about how much we support wondering in our classrooms. In a powerful pair of slides, she showed what teachers had "known" and "wondered" when studying two pages from the picture book, Boom, Snot, Twitty by Doreen Cronin, and then what third-grade students had "known" and "wondered" from the same pages. Her message was a strong one about supporting, allowing, fostering, and celebrating wondering in classrooms, asking the powerful and important questions:
"Is reading about listing facts or creating understanding? What is our goal in reading?"
If you ever are passing through Iowa, try to make a PD session from Fran. You won't be disappointed. Hopefully, we will get her to present again next year in Minneapolis!

When Julieanne took over, she focused on the importance of read alouds, even (no, especially!) in upper elementary classrooms. Julianne has done a lot of reflective work with her students, asking them not only whether they enjoy read aloud, but also about why they enjoy it.  Most kids reported that their understanding was higher in read aloud because of the:
  • envisionment that they are able to do
  • building of word knowledge
  • opportunities to write about reading
  • sound of their teacher's voice bringing the story to life
  • opportunities to think together when you don't understand
Some of the students complained about taking too long to read a book and spending too much time talking about parts. I can definitely understand these feelings, as I am one who is known to inhale great books. However, those students can read ahead and then listen to the book a second time with no harm done. Read aloud is truly an incredible time to not only teach important reading skills, but also bond as a community that shares a literary journey. 

I loved listening to Steve Peterson talk about nonfiction reading and his quest to engage his fifth-grade students in their learning. One of his slides was the answers that he got from students when he asked them why they don't like informational text:
Kids tell such truths!
One of my favorite stories that Steve shared about the connections that kids make in his classrooms came out of a recent informational article about invasive beetles that destroy trees. Through questions and conversations, the students connected the beetles to people who invade communities and destroy other people. Wow! Steve's teaching emphasizes the fact that all information articles come from and create stories. Another important aha!!!

I would love to have any of my daughters in Steve's classroom because he is so committed to letting his students lead the learning. To experience a unit in his classroom, check out a recent post he has written about his class's weather unit. Love the concept of leading with questions, a concept that relates so beautifully to Fran's presentation about the capacity for wondering.

Mary Lee Hahn was the final presenter in this panel session, and she shared about how she has been using blogging with her students. Listening to several teachers talk about their experiences with students blogging, I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't try it out. Even the most resistant writers in her class have developed stories with voice and humor during the fifteen minutes of time she gives them every Friday. As she stated, "It's an opportunity to celebrate writing for what it is and not what it isn't!" Mary Lee had students who created series for their classmates, as well as students who explored telling stories from different perspectives and in different genres. So many, many writing possibilities! I think that the funniest (and truest) quote of the weekend was from Mary Lee when she said:
"I could write some great retroactive lesson plans!"

That being said, I'm sure that the lessons that Mary Lee writes ahead of time are great, as well!

The message from all of these presenters was so loud and clear that our classrooms should be full of inquiry and children leading the learning with questions and wonder. They have all written incredible posts refelcting on this session. You can start with Mary Lee's reflection here.  Also, continue conversations about this session with the hashtag #teacherswonder. I'm sure that they would love to see you there!


  1. Oh, Melanie. Thank you so much for this reflection. As a newbie, the whole NCTE experience was eye-(and soul-) opening for me. Also, it was such fun to meet you and have a chance to talk. Thank you so much for opening up your classroom on these blog pages and sharing your ideas so generously. Many thanks!
    --steve peterson

  2. A world of teachers leaves a world in chains. And who are the sorcerers that so gladly deceive us, that we all believe death is real. That is a mistake that can be corrected thankfully.