NCTE 2015

I was more than ready to head to Minneapolis to NCTE’s convention this year. Although I’ve been to the last two conventions, this year was the first year I got to go as a “real” teacher. Finally, during the wonderful sessions I got to reflect on my own classroom, not a classroom I dreamed up in my head. It was awesome.



The Power of Passion-Driven Research

One year ago, I did my own passion-driven research. I was asked, “What do you want to learn about?” I took it from there and had a wonderful learning experience. Now as a teacher I want to recreate that experience for my students with passion-driven research.

Jen Vincent started the session by addressing research. She said that it’s okay to party like it’s 1999, but realize it’s not actually 1999. Technology has become integral in any research we do. And yes, it’s okay to Google things! With passion-driven research, students follow their own interests. There is a power in questioning, but teachers need to be willing to say “Sure!” even if we don’t think video games can be connected to Shakespeare.

Laurel Snyder reminded us that research begins with all of the things around us. And yes, research is exciting! After all of the research that Laurel did for her book, she felt overwhelmed by the information. When students start feeling this way, we need to help them bring it back to their own story.


Kate Messner does a lot of passion-driven research for her novels, especially her historical fiction series. For her, research is not only coming up with a list of the coolest facts. It’s also taking it one step further and asking, “Where can we take this?” It’s digging deeper and questioning.


LeVyen Pham, illustrator of Princess in Black, spoke about her lack of passion about math when given the assignment to illustrate The Boy Who Loves Math. However, when she started researching, she found that she became very passionate about mathematics. Hearing her talk about math, I could feel the passion this woman has for numbers! She showed some of her illustrations and talked about the story behind everything in the scene. Each story comes with a LOT of research. And sometimes we don’t know we’re passionate about something until we start the research.


The issue that most of us are left with at these conferences is how can this apply to my classroom? Jen gave a simple example of passion-driven research that I could use in my class tomorrow.

Start with an essential question:

What does it mean to be a writer?

Have students brainstorm on their own and with their classmates. Take it a step deeper and have students interview others – principals, teachers, students, writers, etc.

Here’s an example of how to use passion-driven research in a social studies unit on the Northeast region:

Student-driven Research:

1.        Broad Topic: Use heart map


2.      Possible connections to the Northeast region


3.       My specific topic



Passion-Driven Research is all about handing the control over to your students so they can make connections to their own lives and take ownership of the learning. But we as educators must have a willingness to try and to grow. I left the session wondering how my students are being curious and how I can create a learning environment that better suits curiosity.

Here are a few resources for passion-driven research:

  • Four C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking, Creativity)
  • Drive by Daniel Pink
  • Learn Like a Pirate
  • Joy Kirr for Genius Hour

Global Read Aloud

Pernille Ripp is one of my favorite teachers to learn from. She has new content on her blog regularly and what she says and believes about the classroom has inspired me time and time again. Needless to say, I was rather excited to hear about the Global Read Aloud (GRA) from the one who started it.

Katherine Applegate – The One and Only Ivan

Katherine showed a few ways teachers and classrooms can respond to GRA books. The One and Only Ivan got readers to stage protests against animal cruelty, make word collages, and use technology to raise awareness.


Sharon Draper – Stella by Starlight and Out of my Mind

Sharon’s focus was the global aspect of GRA. Choosing diverse books and collaborating with classrooms different from ours will change the world. We have to use love, peace, and connection. Words are power.

out of

Kate Messner – How to Read a Story

Kate talked about how GRA breaks down author/reader roles. She said, “I want to have a sticker that says draft #14 on the finished copy.” When she participates in GRA, she allows students insight into the process to publish a book and lets students see her as a real person, not mythical genius.

how to

Jennifer Holm – The Fourteenth Goldfish

Jenni told the story of how her dad inspired her book and explained how science got involved in the GRA. Yay for cross-curricular!

 fourteenth goldfish

Lynda Hunt – Fish in a Tree

Lynda was very open about her poor experiences in school. She is Allie Nickerson in Fish in a Tree. Reading was extremely difficult for her. She said that her fifth grade teacher had very low expectations for her and didn’t ask for a single assignment all year. The teacher who made the difference for her did and told her to do the work “because I think you can.”

Lynda reminded us that the students drawing you pictures aren’t the ones who need you. The ones who need you are the ones most resistant to you.

I needed to hear that.

fish in tree


The final member of the panel was a teacher who has participated in GRA for several years now. (I apologize I don’t know her name because the slide with it went so fast I didn’t have time to write it down). Her goal is to get students to love reading and then increase their skills. GRA supports both.

The first year she participated in the GRA was a watching year. The class mainly commented and only collaborated with one other classroom. Slowly building, the second year they produced more via Twitter and collaborated with more classrooms.

The authors and the teachers have seen what a profound impact GRA has made in students. I was impressed by how many times all of the authors acknowledged the hard work Pernille has done to make GRA truly global and impactful.

I didn’t participate in GRA this year, although I had great intentions to. When the GRA rolled around this fall, I was knee-deep into a crazy first quarter as a first year teacher, utterly overwhelmed. GRA was low on my list of priorities. However, I am inspired to commit to the GRA for next year because I have heard wonderful stories about what a difference connecting with other readers makes.

Responsive and Responsible Reading

Donalyn Miller

Students need to assume and IDENTITY as a reader and a writer.

How do readers respond to the books they read?

Authentic responses

  1. Quiet introspection
  2. Book recommendations

Much to my dismay, when I reflected I realized that I am giving no time to my students for either of these. That needs to change. How we see literacy is how we teach literacy. Books can make you feel something even after you close it.

Donalyn asked us, “What books and experiences form our reading autobiography?”

Dr. Seuss

  • Hop on Pop
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Are You My Mother?
  • Green Eggs and Ham
  • Go Dogs Go!
  • Wacky Wednesday

This is a wonderful activity for quiet introspection and to give other readers book recommendations. is a timeline app to create a visual representation of your reading autobiography.

Reading = inhale

Writing = exhale

Reading brings us together.

Bob Probst

I love fiction, but when I read nonfiction I get really excited and I want to tell everyone about the book. Bob pinpointed several reasons why I feel this way about nonfiction.

When reading fiction, you are responding to yourself. We can either accept fiction or we can not.

When reading nonfiction, you are responding to your world. Nonfiction tells us about this world we live in and we extract information. Traditionally, we go to nonfiction when we have the answers and we want validation. However, nonfiction can allow us to change our minds.

When do we stop accepting and start questioning? Is this nonfiction true? To be a responsible reader we need to understand that there are fictitious elements in nonfiction.

Kylene Beers

Nonfiction intrudes into our lives, and you must decide when what you’re reading is right and when you don’t know.

Prompts for thinking: Think about what surprises you. What did the author think I already knew? What changed, challenged, or confirmed what I knew?

Teri Lesesne

Teri is the book queen. Seriously, she wore a crown to the session. Well, she didn’t really do that, but she should have. Teri has read over 800 books THIS YEAR. With so many pages, you can bet she has one awesome stack of book recommendations.

She explored how readers develop a TBR (to-be-read) List or shelf:

  • Recommendations
  • Cover
  • Title
  • Author
  • Blurb
  • Review

And of course she helped me add about a dozen more books, too:

Books I’ve Read Books I’ve Heard Of New Recommendations
Roller Girl Drowned City Orbiting Jupiter
Sunny Side Up Crenshaw Wolf Wilder
Echo Dumplin’ Billy’s Booger
Circus Mirandus Earmuffs for Everyone Perdidos en NYC
March Book 2 George Inker’s Shadow
  The Skunk Fatal Fever
  Wolfie the Bunny The Trouble with Me
  The Nest Steve Jobs
  YOLO Juliet Bird and Diz
  Challenger Deep Death of a hat
    The Marvels



Unfortunately, I couldn’t be in every session at once. Thank goodness for Twitter. One of the best learning tools during the convention is the live tweets. Here’s some great learning I found in 140 characters:

Questions for authentic and meaningful reflection:

  • What’s the best thing you did as a learner today?
  • What is working and/or not working with your piece, book, etc.?
  • Think about [recent learning experience]. What was is like for you? What surprised you?

The Art of Teaching

This well-attended session was all about how to plan for learning. Of course, anything with Penny Kittle will have a line of people waiting to be inspired. While Penny tackled how to macro plan, Kelly talked about the micro.

Penny Kittle – Macro

We want students to be independent and empowered readers, writers, and speakers in the world.  To get them there, we must ask ourselves if this is the right lesson for the students right now.

Time is the currency of education.

Is this learning experience worth the time it costs? Is there another approach? We are artists of our work, so how can we maximize what students know about reading and writing?

The nonnegotiable:

Each day students will read and write.

We need to value students independent experience with reading, and we can do that by selecting engaging passages from novels to book talk. Think with the kids: “I wonder….” “I noticed…” Play with writing and language in front of them, model it, and yes struggle, too. Book clubs can be used to read an anchor text and incorporate independent themed choices.

What’s absolutely essential to learn? What’s important? What’s nice to know?

We have to stay with what we know is important for our kids.

Kelly Gallagher – Micro

We need to increase the volume of students’ reading and writing short, 3-4 week units, moving from shallow to deep:

  1. Shallow: Small, low-stakes, ungraded writing

Quickwrites are a way to increase the volume of writing. These should be short sneezes with interesting prompts. Students need to develop fluency with small writing centered on a genre. The quickwrites help familiarize them with the unit’s genre.

2. Mid: “Best drafts”

After students write 5-10 quickwrites, they should choose one to build their writing piece on. After spending 3-5 days adding and editing, students submit their “best draft.” Writers are never finished until the due date, which is why it is not a “final draft.” Feedback is crucial at this stage.

3. Deeper: Revisit

After the first “best draft,” students return to the shallow end to increase the volume of their writing. When they write their next piece this time around, students go deeper. They may choose a different topic, but they are to stay in the unit’s genre. Mentor texts are brought in to study within the context of the genre. What are the moves and techniques writers employ to get their point across? Think alouds are mixed with independent work. “Best draft #2” is submitted.

How can we pull of a unit like this?

  • High-interest topics
  • Low stakes
  • Start shallow and move deeper
  • Mentor texts
  • Teacher writes beside them

Here’s an example of a 3-4 week narrative unit:

  1. Shallow: 100 word memoir
  2. Mid: short narrative with 2-3 focus points
  3. Deep: longer narrative with more skills layered in

Here is how Kelly manages his time with students:

2 min Reading minute
10 min Reading block

–         Confer with 3 readers

15 min Writing block

–         Mentor text 5 min

–         Write beside 8 min

–         Revise 2 min

22 min Work time
3 min Debrief/share-out

–         Leave with beautiful words


And, of course, one of the best perks was all of the free books I came home with!