I found out some very useful information at this conference and I was very pleased by the variety of presentations available for those who attended. My first session was, of course, the keynote speaker: Jacqueline Woodson. I may be a little far removed from the world of current childrens’ literature because I had not heard of her before this conference. However, upon hearing her read her work and see her passion for writing and also for children, I can honestly say that she is very talented and an asset for the literary world. In all fairness, she is not a particulary well-spoken public speaker but her hope for humanity and students came across very genuine and I loved hearing her read her work outloud.

With regards to writing, she made some very good points that would be useful in the classroom. She focused on the fact that “Everybody has a story” and the main goal of writing should be to get them over the fear of telling that story. She also made it clear that without the skill of reading (so often underestimated in schools), good writing skills are virtually impossible. How can we expect students to meet high standards in writing when their reading skills lag far behind? She said we should give students the time and opportunity to tell their story. Patience can be such a useful tool in the classroom.

One thing that I will definitely take away from her presentation is the three step editing process she uses for her own writing.

1) She says to those who read it, “Tell me what you like about this book” and then rewrites. This to build confidence for her own writing.

2) She says “Ask me three questions about this book” and then rewrites. This makes sure the book is interesting and grabbing to the reader.

3) She says, “Now, tell me where this needs work”. Once confidence is built it is much easier to do the serious and often more painful editing.

Overall, I learned some very important ideas and tools from Ms. Woodson. Her skill for capturing the reader and listener with her words is incredible. I will definitely consider looking into her books as literature material in my classroom.

After the keynote speaker, I chose to go upstairs to the Lake Erie room for my next two sessions. The first one, titled: “Introducing a 21st century curriculum: incorporating mass communication into the English classroom”. I found the name of the session fairly misleading. It turned out that the leaders of this session were student-teachers from MSU: one was an English major and the other two were journalism majors. The main focus in the session was the use of wiki’s and other mass communication tools in the classroom, but never really touched on the whole idea as a curriculum. Also, one part of the presentation was the use of graphic design in the English classroom, which for me personally, is not something most English teacher are going to be able to do with standards and all the other things (grammar, literature, papers) that secondary English teachers are required to teach. The person teaching it was one of the journalism majors and I could definitely see who graphic design is important for newspaper/magazine publishing. Yet, it didn’t really seem to fit with the wiki discussion or the overall 21st century premise.

I did learn a few valuable things about wikis that I may like to use in the classroom if I get the chance. For example, I really like the idea of building a wiki about either the history of the community or the school in which the students live and having students be able to research it and contribute. I think a project like that would be beneficial for students, teachers, the school, and the community. It was also mentioned that a wiki could be a place to set up a classroom webpage for students to get assignments from. I also liked that idea, but if it were used for that purpose I would have to restrict the password so that students couldnt get on and post fake annoucements or other such things. Those two ideas I felt were effective ways to bring wikis into schools as they inevitably will be. It also shows students how easy it is to change a wiki and thus why it is not a valid information source.

The last session I chose was for me the most beneficial. It was titled “In the City: Literacy and Learning in an Urban Setting”. I was pumped about this session for a number of reasons. One, I knew one of the speakers (Renee Speed) because I did some volunteering/observing in her classroom at Riverside Middle School in Grand Rapids Public Schools. And, two, I really hope to have the opportunity to teach in an urban school district at some point in my career. Also, this session was taught by Nancy Patterson, a professor at GVSU. My eyes were opened during this outstanding presentation which began with Ms. Speed’s personal story of growing up in GRPS and now teaching at GRPS and the problems she has encountered there over the years. Nancy Patterson presented valid research regarding the deep deficits that urban children are facing including a stigma placed on them by outsiders and even their teachers at times. The fact that urban school teachers are facing the crunch under No Child Left Behind because of low acheivement and the cycle that comes with teaching for the test instead of for the student was laid out very clearly and honestly for us. I still want to teach in GRPS or some other district like it even though the challenges there may seem overwhelming and highly politically charged. I admire Ms. Speed and I would love to do my student teaching with her some day. People like her who have dealt with the negatives the system hands out and turned them into tools to use for others are so important for other students and colleagues. This presentation taught me what to expect in those tense situation where the test deadline is approaching and how to deal with it. I feel more knowledgeable and prepared for what will face me in an urban English classroom. I am so glad a chose this particular session: it made the entire conference worthwhile for me.

Overall, the conference was beneficial for me because it gave me a starting ground for becoming a teacher and also some very important and relevant information and tools for me to use in the classroom.

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