Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to attend some of the best professional development I’ve been to in a while–and it was free!
At the end of the day, I left my 3TT friends a seven-minute WhatsApp message of out-of-breath enthusiasm, describing my day’s learning. That’s how you know it’s been a good day.
The conference I attended is held annually to celebrate our Masters’ students’ impending graduation and entry into the field of teaching. The all-day event features presentations by both preservice and practicing teachers, academic coaches, and principals.
Before the conference, speakers are invited to conduct an inquiry into one aspect of their practice, then present on their methods, findings, and insights. I attended four absolutely wonderful sessions, and filled up six pages in my notebook with ideas and quotes and just joy–and I’d love to share them with you all. Today I’ll share ideas gleaned from my morning session, and tomorrow I’ll share what I learned from the afternoon portion of events.
Session One: On Independent Reading
In my head, I called this session “What you do after you’ve read Book Love,” because it was full of amazing ideas that I’m certain would be Penny Kittle-approved. One presenter, Andy Patrick (@MrPatrickELA), absolutely blew my mind with the ways he’s clearly innovated independent reading.
Idea: Reverse Reading Rates–Andy explained that when students chose a challenge book, they took a new reading rate and then used their findings to determine how long it would take them to finish the book. The students could set a completion goal, Andy could touch on this goal in his conferences with them, and when the book was finished, students reflected on their reading process. Since I’ve struggled with reading rates and accountability, I just loved this idea.
Quote: “I never let them off the hook” when they tell me they don’t like reading. Andy followed this fantastic one-liner up with his philosophy that they just weren’t reading the right books, and it was his job to help his students find them.
Just Joy: I left this session absolutely impassioned thanks to Andy’s flurry of ideas. He tossed out strategies like using quotes about the joy of reading as quickwrite prompts, his determination to get colleagues on board with teaching reading across the curriculum, and how great teachers of reading cannot excel unless they are real readers themselves. YAAAAAAAASSSSSSS was the prevailing word in my notebook after that session!
Session Two: Strategies for Reading, Writing, and Grammar
After leaving the first session, I had no idea how any other speakers could top that. Luckily, I was just as inspired by three preservice teachers who’d done their internships in middle school ELA classrooms, and who shared their optimism for our profession in the form of their research.
Idea: Say Something Journals–Sierra shared that many of her seventh graders weren’t engaged in reading independently or as a whole class, and she wanted a way to spark their interest in their texts. She created journals, simply folded out of notebook paper, in which students could practice recording their internal reactions to something while reading during class. When they were reading shared texts, she had students trade journals and giggle about the similarities and differences in their reactions. The journals culminated in getting the reader to “say something” about the “something” they believed the writer was trying to “say.” I loved Sierra’s emphasis on the transactional nature of reading, rather than a linear interpretation of a book’s message.
Quote: “Why don’t they just capitalize their i’s?!” said Tori, who struggled with getting her 8th graders to use grammatical conventions in their writing, even after conferences and practice sessions in which students proved they knew what they were supposed to be doing. Tori’s presentation was characterized by her sheer love of grammar and her bewilderment about why the heck kids could study mentor texts, send flawless text messages, and yet still refuse to obey the conventions of standard English.
One student’s response? “Well, I just think capital I’s aren’t very cute.”
Just Joy: Charity brought sophistication and high expectations to her 8th graders by teaching them about what critical literacy is and then working with them to practice it when reading nonfiction texts. She focused on helping students develop discussion skills to practice thinking, reading, writing, and speaking within a critical literacy framework, all while reading place-based texts they helped her select.
I think my jaw was on the ground throughout the whole of this brilliant young teacher’s presentation–I want my daughter in her classroom someday, I kept thinking to myself. What a treat to end my morning by feeling so hopeful about the new talent entering our profession!
Stay tuned for Part II of this post tomorrow, and please share with us in the comments–what have you learned from strong PD sessions you’ve attended?
Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.