This afternoon, I arrived in the windy city of Chicago very excited to get to NCTE! After the many months of preparation to present, and the more recent stresses of packing, travelling, and preparing sub. plans, the first day alone proved that it was all worth it!
The first workshop I attended was “Talking Writer to Writer: Rediscovering the Power of Conferring” with Douglas Kaufman, Penny Kittle, and Linda Rief. The session was absolutely inspiring! Kaufman opened the session by stating, “The writing conference is a learning event.” And then the whole room wrote by responding to three effective quick write prompts. The presenters paid tribute to Donald Graves and it reminded me of a video I used from him that made such a difference in my writing classes last semester: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ_sXJKiiSA. To build a writing community, you need to write together, and that was exactly what we did during this session.
It was interesting to watch the three videos the presenters showed of writing conferences with their students because it was easy to see how coaching writing is a skill (not a formula) and how it looks different depending on age groups. Some of the best advice the presenters gave about writing conferences:
- Go into a writing conference like a listener and writer and try not to push your agenda too much.
- Try to encourage students to walk away from the writing conference wanting to write more.
- Shorter writing conferences tended to be more productive.
This evening, I was able to listen to Natasha Trethewey read parts of her book, Native Guard. Her speaking about cultural memory, personal history and what gets erased from cultural history was captivating. She said that she often asks her students to think about themselves as historical beings. I enjoyed hearing her read her poetry and like many reviews of her writing, I found her style to be very polished, yet accessible. I’m hoping to use some of Trethewey’s poems when I teach The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (“NATIVE GUARD” 25), Kindred, Beloved, and To Kill a Mockingbird (“SOUTHERN GOTHIC” 40). Professor Trethewey signed my book and told me that one of her favorite writers is Seamus Heaney.
I came back to my hotel room tonight feeling so inspired by the sessions I attended today. In reviewing some of my students' digital portfolios today, I tried to respond to some of their updated posts with conferring strategies I saw today. The first session reminds me that coaching writing is a difficult practice and I need to be critical of my role in helping students improve their writing. Watching the presenters review their conferences on film made that so much more apparent and I really appreciate their willingness to show what they've learned from effective and ineffective writing conferences.