Friday, November 30, 2018

The Stressors of our Students by: The #Bowtieboys

One of the best and trickiest problems of NCTE conferences is deciding which sessions to attend.  With so many incredible speakers available in any given time slot it can become impossible to decide.  Twitter and other backchannels help us share information we are learning in the different sessions, but we wanted to provide information regarding student stress led by the #bowtieboys during the H-session roundtables with Dr. Mary Howard and Heidi Branch.  We hope these help you and the students in your classes!  Please feel free to comment with any specific questions.  :-)

Ryan Beaver & Rishi Singh - The expectation to be perfect
Juniors Ryan and Rishi unpacked the expectation to be perfect in highly competitive areas (like northern Virginia).  Loudoun County where the boys are from is one of the fastest growing and wealthiest areas in America.  Schools have access to the latest technology and there is constant competition for grades (all motivated by getting into top tier colleges).  These elements greatly impact student stress levels in that they feel like past mistakes can forever damage their futures, that they MUST take all honors and AP classes to get into an acceptable college, and they need to get into a top tier school to find any success later in life.  This stress (as will be mentioned again below) sometimes results in the defense mechanism of "playing school" rather than learning.  This means class becomes and endless quest for grades rather than knowledge.  Students are attempting to juggle rigorous classes with multiple extra-curriculars and the demands placed upon them by friends and family members.  To cope, students rush assignments, skip assignments, cheat, study in less than ideal conditions, and develop an unfortunate disdain for school (as the source of their stress).  BUT there ARE rays of light: these boys detailed how offering one on one morning and afternoon review session, building real rapport, and giving emotional assistance when necessary with/to students goes a LONG way in managing student stress.  Inside of class, allow for review, conference with students about progress and grades, allow students to make authentic choices towards their learning, and make sure the work assigned leads to: preparation, comprehension, and/or enrichment.

Aaron Eichenlaub & Nihar Kandarpa - Balancing Extracurriculars and Schoolwork
These younger members (Aaron is still in middle school and Nihar is a freshmen) unpacked the "tightrope" that is satisfactorily committing to one's schoolwork and sports/arts/religious obligations.  They asked attendees the following questions:  have you ever been in a situation where you felt overwhelmed?  If you were ever faced with an uncomfortable workload, to whom would you go for help?  Have you ever felt scared of what the consequences might be if you didn't complete your task?  After discussion, Aaron and Nihar shared the trials of their heavy theatre obligations (rehearsals, memorizing lines and songs, voice/acting/dance training, auditions, and actual shows).  Given this knowledge their suggestions to help students are:  allow class time for completion of group projects (this way all group members are guaranteed to be present and can work together efficiently rather than spending their time attempting to balance their out-of-school schedules), allow for open time in classes when students need (if they finish your work, can they complete work for another class), and finally: assign projects that motivate students (if students are engaged in their learning and genuinely invested in the products and presentations they are creating (perhaps through inquiry learning and student voice/choice) they are more likely to prioritize these projects.  This will squelch the excuse that "we didn't have time to do it."

Sam Fremin & Connor Grady - Decreasing student stress through progressive development and building relationships
Sam (senior) discussed his current computer science class where fluid deadlines allow students to focus on the learning in the moment rather than rushing to complete for fixed deadlines.  It also creates a reciprocated classroom norm of respect between students and teacher.  Less rigid deadlines has led students to be more openly engaged with their teacher and their learning.  Connor (junior) then asked the very question you are pondering: "how do teachers ensure they are not being taken advantage of?"  His response:  establish relationships with your students early in the year based on trust.  Acknowledge student stress and take their current level into consideration.  Have conversations with your students on how to achieve the ideal learning conditions where stress can be reduced.  Be consistent with the style of relationship you have with all of your students (and keep it standard from day to day).  It is discouraging when students think a teacher likes one group more than another or when a teacher is friendly one day and strict the next.  Sam interjected by stating that the journey AND destination are equally important.  Taking the focus off the final comprehensive test removes the tunnel vision of the class.  Make time to review complicated material so even when students are not understanding in the present, their stress levels remain low knowing there will be opportunities to communicate with you and review.  Connor concluded with reminding teachers to frame their lessons (so students aren't overwhelmed by starting their lesson immediately upon entry) and to allow flexible seating so that students can sit with their friends and work with who they want.  If the respect has been established by both parties early, there should never be a concern about "off-task" behavior.

Spencer Hill & Joseph O'Such - Stress regarding time management
Having taught both Spencer and Joe in my own English classes, I know them to both be high-functioning, engaged juniors with rigorous course-loads and demanding extra-curricular activities.  However, both boys approach their time management in COMPLETELY different ways (and still reap the same successful outcomes).  The added fun is these two polar opposites are the best of friends.  Joe's schedule consists of:  two hour early morning cross-country practices, a seven hour school day, six hours of homework a night, an hour to relax and a relatively early bedtime.  Spencer's day consists of the same cross-country and school schedule, seven hours of "chilling" and two hours of homework before going to bed around 1am.  To find out who YOU mostly resemble, please take their fun and interactive quiz at this link:  Fun activity for your class!  ;-)

Jack Michael & Jason Nguyen - Unrealistic/Unclear Timelines
Jack and Jason (both freshmen) co-discussed the importance of teachers setting realistic and clear timelines for their students as a way of mitigating student stress.  They stated that unrealistic timelines are a major stressor for students and urged teachers to be fair when assigning work (with the knowledge that students may be receiving an equal amount of work in their other six-seven classes).  They cited examples of teachers Remind texting their classes over a weekend to inform them that an extensive reading or online materials (posted to their website) were now due Monday.  This kind or urgency tends to create students who "play school" rather than really learn.  They jump through the hoop by any means necessary (skimming, copying, cheating) to get the grade with the least amount of effort.  They also discussed the importance of teaching the real-world skill of scheduling to students.  The boys suggested offering check-ins on long term assignments, chunking, and showing students how to use the time they have to most efficiently manage the tasks at hand.  This can include modeling a teacher's own schedule and encouraging students to create their own, frequent reminders of where students should be in their work/project, and plenty of class time to collaborate and ask questions.  They concluded with suggestions on how to make directions clear to all students.  Their first suggestion is to always have multiple ways of explaining a concept.  Since we know students can be visual/auditory/hands-on learners, it might be good to have explanations in each mode.  Allow students to ask questions in a safe forum and be willing to sit and start with students who still seem confused about the expectations.  This will undoubtedly increase the learning and the quality of the finished products.

Kellen Pluntke & Dawson Unger - A space where students feel comfortable
Kellen (a senior) and Dawson (a junior) discussed the prevalence of mental health issues currently experienced by middle and high school youth (often times centered around inability to manage stress).  Dawson opened with an overview of how students are more likely to succeed when they feel comfortable in the classroom and with the teacher.  Kellen added personal anecdotes about failing his science classes until his teacher spoke with him regarding a note he had written on a test.  The teacher caring enough to convince Kellen not to drop the class was enough rapport and motivation he needed to begin doing better.  Dawson then pointed out that not all students are open about the way they are feeling and suggested teachers should make the first move when establishing rapport.  He shared how making the classroom a comfortable and inviting place (setup, lighting, air fresheners, sound, and posters reflecting the teacher's interests can go a long way in sparking rapport with multiple students).  Kellen concluded by reinforcing how "key" it is to build rapport.  He shared that he has never been the kind of student obsessed with getting the "A" but that when he respects the teacher, he will work extremely hard not to disappoint them.

Christian Sporre & TQ Williamson - Prioritization
These juniors began their presentation with two simple questions to consider: how do you prioritize your life? and how do you believe your students prioritize theirs?  After discussion of the first answer, they revealed the truth about the second:  in school students tend to prioritize: extra-curriculars (sports and activities) over class (unless grades drop of concepts get difficult), their interests over their expectations, their core classes over their electives, and their homework over their sleep.  With this knowledge in mind they concluded their presentation by explaining that a significant way to reduce student stress is to consider yourself as the teacher when assigning work.  After your long day, would YOU prioritize your assignment?  Is it fun and interesting? (Why does learning have to be boring and dull?)  Is it useful and time-conscientious?  (Why do students need to complete busy-work in the name of "rigor")?

Nerdy Book Club Suggestions by: The #Bowtieboys

One of the best and trickiest problems of NCTE conferences is deciding which sessions to attend.  With so many incredible speakers available in any given time slot it can become impossible to decide.  Twitter and other backchannels help us share information we are learning in the different sessions, but we wanted to provide the list of books read and reviewed by the #bowtieboys during the Nerdy Book Club roundtables with Donalyn Miller from Session C.  Each book comes with a brief summary, suggested age, and some ideas of how to use and implement.  Like Life cereal, kid tested, teacher approved!

Jason Augustowski - Losing my Cool by: Thomas Chatteron Williams
This autobiographical piece explores Thomas's upbringing and his constant struggle between sinking into a life of violence and drugs, and making his father proud through studying, bettering himself, and finding philosophical meaning to life.  The title serves as a double-entendre, referring both to his frustration with this constant internal war (bringing up the meaning of what it really means to be "black" or "a gangster" or "from the hood") AND from the moment when attending Georgetown when he realized our lives are about so much more than being perceived by our friends as "cool."  Due to the language and subject matter, I would suggest this book for high school.

Ryan Beaver - Boy Meets Boy by: David Levithan
The book is about a town where all LGBTQ is more common and accepted. This book follows Paul, the main character, throughout his high school career while also addressing the troubles of his friends.. Boy Meets Boy can be used in middle school classes due to its reading level and watered down content. It can be used to start conversations about how to make todays society more accepting of other people like the town in the book.

Aaron Eichenlaub - Empty by: K.M. Walton
This book is about a girl named Dell.  Basically everything in her life is going wrong.  Her dad divorces from her mom, she's overweight, she gets sexually assaulted by her crush, and gets "fat-shamed" every day.  Dell spirals into depression and the reader expects the book to get better for her, but it doesn't...  This book can be great for high schoolers as it teaches to watch how we talk to people because kids can be so cruel to each other.

Sam Fremin - Hope (And Other Luxuries) by: Clare Dunkle & Elena Vanishing by: Elena Dunkle
These two books follow Clare and Elena Dunkle respectively as Elena struggles with anorexia and bulimia after turning to these disorders as a coping mechanism for a sexual assault.  Elena's book circles around how she tries to hide her habits and the emotions she feels.  Clare's significantly longer piece takes on the mother's perspective to Elena's struggle but also how she copes with her own sadness regarding the situation.  She has to appear steady for her daughter despite her own world crumbling.  This story of two women fighting to regain their strength is a great way to build classroom empathy.  Its raw detail strongly illustrates the idea that we never truly know what is going on in a person's life.  It challenges readers to think about everything they say and do in an effort to remain considerate to everyone's emotions.

Connor Grady - Ordinary Grace by: William Kent Kreuger
When murder breaks out in New Bremen, Minnesota in the 1960s, tensions explode between the Native American and White populations of the town.  The main character, Frank Drum, struggles with the religious tensions that are splitting his family apart. Karl Brandt struggles to justify his homosexuality to the Brandt family, and subsequently the rest of the Methodist community.  I recommend this book for upper Middle School into High School for the mild sexual encounters. Foul language is also present throughout this novel, but it does not exceed anything too intense for mature Middle School audiences. This novel is a great gateway to opening up discussions on viewing life and certain circumstances.  Students can share the factors that alter or have previously altered their view of the world, with with the class as a whole or in small groups.

Spencer Hill - Hate List by: Jennifer Brown

The book was about the recovery of a community after a school shooting. The story is told from the perspective of the shooter's girlfriend, Valerie, and encompasses all aspects of her recovery, mental, physical, and social. The book also includes snippets of everyone's story to show the spider web of impact a traumatic event like a school shooting can have. The Hate List is written at a middle school level but has the occasional mention of drugs and sexual activity, so all in all, I'd recommend this for mature middle schoolers. Furthermore, the main messages of the book (treating everyone well, actions have unforeseen consequences, and the power of community) are fantastic messages to instill in those messages, especially at those transitional, personality-shaping years of middle school.

Nihar Kandarpa - In Darkness by: Nick Lake
This book is about a teenager named Shorty who is trapped under the debris of the Haitian earthquake.  He's reminiscing about his horrible past, because Haiti is considered one of the poorest places in the world.  As a result, gang violence is taking place.  Shorty WAS a part of this and DID kill people.  He DID sell drugs.  This book showed his way of forgiving himself and moving on with his life.  This is a great book to teach in high school, especially when teaching the theme of empathy!

Jack Michael - Freaks and Revelations by: Davida Willis Hurwin
This book chronicles the lives of two boys and how they hurtle towards each other on one fateful night. Doug a punk who falls in with the wrong group of friends who could be classified as Neo-Nazis. While on the other hand Jason is a gay African American boy who is kicked out of his house because of his sexuality. This makes him homeless on the streets of San Francisco. This book is a great way to teach acceptance, to show that we may have differences but the similarities outrank them. I would recommend this book for low high School to top level middle school just because of some language, a few sexual encounters, drug abuse and violence, but again a great way to teacher acceptance in the classroom. 

Jason Nguyen - Thicker Than Water by: Kelly Fiore
The book starts out with, Cece,our main character getting arrested by the police and her brother on the floor with a lifeless stare. We then flash back to three months prior of her brothers death. We learn about her family’s financial problems, stresses of high school, and her brother struggling with drugs. Cyrus was hurt and went to a doctor for prescription drugs. CeCe then started selling drugs for college and trying to stop her brother from doing them. This shows how many factors can affect someone. Her father refuses to see anything and this starts to break their relationship. This showed that drugs just don’t affect the person who does them but the people around them too. We then flash forward to present day to CeCe in a rehabilitation center. She feels that she doesn’t deserve anything or anyone. It took so many people to breakthrough that armor and help her give a reason to live again. This is exactly why every person needs a support group. This book is great for the right middle school class and early high school. It’s a great way to spread awareness and show kids what really happens behind the scenes.

Joseph O'Such - The Terrorist's Son by: Zak Ebrahim
This autobiographical account is a story about choice.  Zak, a typical 7 year old in Pittsburgh moves to New Jersey but unbeknownst to him, his father is plotting a murder and in 1990, the plan springs into action.  Although his father is surprisingly found "not-guilty" for the murder, he is found guilty of lesser chargers that land him in prison.  In prison, Zak's father plots the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.  Zak then proceeds through his childhood not only lacking a father-figure but also dealing with his classmates knowing his dad is a terrorist.  Despite this upbringing, Zak becomes an advocate for peace.  I would recommend this book for middle school especially when exploring nature vs nurture.

Kellen Pluntke - Long Way Down by: Jason Reynolds.
This book showcases the thoughts of a teen who grows up in an inner-city area plagued by gun violence.  Will Holman, the protagonist, learns that his brother was shot and killed.  All he has ever known is "you must get revenge."  He grabs his brother's gun from his room, gets on the elevator, to go after his brother's killer.  On each floor on the way down his tenement building he meets a ghost of a friend of his or his brother's who was killed by gun violence.  They teach him that what he is doing is continuing the loop of destruction.  I would recommend this book for juniors and seniors in high school due to the vulgarity.  It can be used to show a different and more personalized look into gun violence.

Rishi Singth - Decoded by: Jay-Z
This autobiography of the famous rapper investigates his childhood in the drug-infested Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, New York.  Chocked full of valuable life lessons (not the least of which being: only you can make the tough decisions that fill your life), this is a book high schoolers will love.  Although the content is mature, they will certainly relate to Jay-Z's message.

Christian Sporre - Ghost by: Jason Reynolds
This book is about a boy named Castle Crenshaw who lives in a rough part of town.  He has a tragic past (his father tried to shoot him and his mother - but they escaped).  However, since that moment, Castle has isolated himself from others until he joins a local track team called The Defenders.  He learns to make friends and open up about his tragic past.  This is a good book for middle or high school.  It is not a challenging read and it shows how important it is to have a support system and work through the issues in one's past.

Dawson Unger - High and Dry by: Sarah Skilton
This book is about a senior in high school who recently broke up with the love of his life.  Throughout the story, he has many problems including getting framed for a crime and overdosing on drugs.  Meanwhile he is struggling to get into college and win back the affections of his ex.  This book would most relate to high school students due to the subject matter.

TQ Williamson - Running with Scissors by: Augusten Burroughs
The book is a personal memoir of the author’s from 11 to 17 years old. The main character, Augusten, experiences a broken home with the father out of the picture and a mother with mental illness. Augusten is adopted by his mothers doctor who has a big family and a crazy house. Augusten experiences difficulties with motivation in school which causes him to not want to attend, something he ends up finding a way to do. Augusten experiences even more difficulties including the fact that he is gay, his mother continues to have breakdowns, he can not get a job, and his father still won’t take his calls. This book is a fantastic mirror book for students with difficulties similar to these outside of school. It can also serve as a window book that helps other students and teachers realize what can be going on in somebody else’s life. I suggest this book be reserved for upper level high school students such as juniors or seniors as it has some intense sexual scenes and minor drug use. Running With Scissors is a very comedic book and you will find very few moments of boredom while reading.

We hope these help you find some high interest texts for your classes!  Please feel free to comment with any specific questions.  :-)

Making Book Recommendations by: TQ Williamson

Recently, my interest in reading has been sparked up after multiple years of reading the minimum amount I need to for school. Although I have a fair list of books I would like to read, I understand the challenge of not knowing what book is right for me. This causes stress and ultimately, I find myself not wanting to read because the bookshelf full of books in front of me is too daunting. Thankfully there is a way that any student can find the right book for them. The key reason, other than for personal enjoyment, that teachers should be reading Is to be able to recommend a book to their students. The more books a teacher reads, and the more diverse they are, the greater chance that teacher has to make good recommendations for all their students. Personally, when a teacher I have is passionate about a book and expresses that passion to me and other students, I tend to have an interest in that book I would have not had before. At NCTE18, I learned from multiple different sessions and presenters, the three categories that books being recommended can fall into. The first, mirrors. Mirrors are books that allow students to see themselves in or are able to relate to. These are the best books out of the three for me because I am able to imagine all of the aspects of the book as if I were a part of it. When finding mirror books for students, it is very important to read books from all different authors and about all different subjects to be able to know the right books for all kinds of students. Second, Window books help the reader to see a story from a different perspective. A great example of window books are historical non-fictions books. These allow people to imagine what life would have been like if they lived at that time. Other than history, Window books can help students imagine what life would be like or relate to other people and different situations. Last, Door books are books that inspire people to do something. Whether it is joining an organization, writing their own book, or going on a missions trip across the world, door books inspire the reader to go out and make a change in the world and to be part of something bigger. Door books are difficult to come by however and every reader will have different books that are that inspiring to them. Finding the right book for yourself should be a non-stressful task for all students. With an understanding of the different types of books and a vast library of books read, a teacher can help all of their students find a good book. I would like to encourage all of my teachers and any other teachers to recommend books to your students that you believe they would have an interest in. If unsure what books to recommend, read some until you find one that is just right. I believe that with an understanding of the three types of books, and good recommendations, all students can find a love for reading.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Recalling NCTE 2018 by: Joseph O'Such

For the past 4 NCTE conventions, I have been fortunate enough to not only be an attendee of the convention, but also a presenter as part of the #bowtieboys. Since the 2015 convention in Minneapolis, I have always come back from NCTE with a drive to carry on the lessons I learned. But I have never written about my experience. I wish to share my personal experience, as in the way no two snowflakes are the same, no two NCTE experiences are the same. 

Waking up before 6:00 A.M. isn’t commonplace for me. Yet due to my experience with cross country and track, the idea of waking up this early isn’t completely alien. So when I set my 5:45 alarm, I was ready. After a quick banana and tying my bow tie with haste, I departed my house, en-route to the airport. Despite the fact school had been canceled due to weather, there seemed to be nothing outside that would indicate so. Yet as I arrived at the airport and meandered my way through security and terminals, I made it (with my fellow #bowtieboys) to our designated gate. Having not seen the outside conditions since arriving, I was expecting the same old boring look. Wrong. Snow was coming down, and it was already sticking. Yet our plane was delayed for a meager 40 minutes, so all seemed under control. We boarded the plane and to our surprise, every single seat had a personal TV in front of it. As I was waiting to ask for a pair of headphones for the TV, I realized that the plane was boarded, and we haven’t moved. As I finally got headphones, I popped on Avengers Infinity War, and plunged myself into one of my favorite Marvel movies. Throughout the whole thing, I was interrupted variably by announcements, each one pushing back the takeoff time. As I finished the movie (which is over 2 hours), we still hadn’t taken off. Finally, nearly three hours after the scheduled takeoff, the plane de-iced and took off. The rest of my flight was punctuated by school work and another movie (Ant Man and the Wasp). We finally landed in Houston at the time of B session. At that time, we made a group decision to not attend the general session and tend to our bellies, which were screaming in hunger. Fortunately, we were able to attend the middle level meet up, which consisted of Chris Lehman and author Duncan Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh was a fantastic advocate for migrant workers, and his work often reflected that. One of his books was about a rabbit on the search for his father which had gone away to work. The rabbit paid a coyote to guide him but when the rabbit ran out of food to pay the coyote, it targeted the rabbit. The story was a metaphor for crossing into America with references such a “the land north” and “a wall that was too tall to scale and too long to go around”.  Chris Lehman also did a fantastic job framing the entire presentation. After our sole session, we head back to the hotel to eat in the restaurant there. I no doubt enjoyed the meal, but the most entertaining part was when someone, who was obviously trying to mess with me, asked me what was in the nachos on our table. After I guessed, they pointed to the adjacent table saying that the occupants wanted to buy the nachos, and left. After that, I went up to bed for the night.

Despite the later wake up time of 6:30, as compared to 5:45 the previous day, I felt far groggier as I woke from my slumber. As the #bowtieboys departed to the general session, I felt a little more energetic, but not by much. Then as I arrived at the general session, I was elated. At a conference whose them was student voice, there were students presenting at the general session! Olivia Van Ledjte and Marley Dias brought an optimism about books which in conjunction with the vendors, prompted an urge to read that was unparalleled with anything I had felt in a long time. Zephyrus Todd and Jordyn Zimmerman both brought both of their unique perspectives to the table. As a transgender student, Zephyrus told of the personal struggle to discover ones self, and how it is unlike anything else. Jordyn Zimmerman indirectly spoke of her struggle of not being able to really speak and how that forced her to grow. Sara Abou Rasheed’s story was similar to that which Duncan Tonatiuh advocates for. Sara had to come to the US with essentially no English skills, and had grown to be a member of her poetry club and shared something I will remember forever: The America Poem. The intensity in which she spoke and the meaning of what she spoke struck my heart like a beating drum, and told me America is good, but we make it bad. Coming from someone who moved here a few years ago, it was extremely impactful. And finally, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, whose lax state calmed my mind for what would not be the last time. His passion for hip hop was a mirror of sorts for the #bowtieboys own experience of educational rapping. Then we had our first presentation of the conference at the famous Nerdy Book Club round table. Although the 15 of us presented at a single round table, we managed to thoroughly discuss 15 books which look at a diverse group of characters with unique struggles. During the following D session, the group raided the vendors for books and also ate a brief lunch as I prepped for what I thought would be the scared session. This was the famous Laura Robb round table session, with table leaders: Gravity Goldberg, Mary Howard, Lester Laminack, Donalyn Miller, Harvey Daniels, Linda Rief, Pernille Ripp, and Jim Burke to name a few. Clearly a powerhouse, even though Laura Robb was unable to attend due to weather. Now our part was to open the session with an authentic rap on the NCTE theme of student voice, which was clearly a theme that we could relate with. Our rap was to the tune of Empire State of Mind by: Jay-Z, and had a focus on the journey of a student and what they potentially go through at school. After our opener, the #bowtieboys diffused among the 20 roundtables. The first table I attended was Pernille Ripp’s. She asks here students deep questions like “Why does reading suck?” and “What are your reading rights?”. Her table explored ways to create a classroom based around student input which is a dream come true for many students, myself included. The second round table I attended was Donalyn Miller’s. She introduced fantastic websites to use for organizing the class room love of reading like flip grid and mustie. Donalyn’s love of books was as clear as ever in both her roundtable and in the  C-session Nerdy Book Club. Then we went to our final session of the day, which was the first of two IGNITE sessions of the conference. IGNITE sessions are rapid fire, with each speaker allocated a mere 5 minutes. The #bowtieboys opened up the IGNITE with another rap, this one based on Remember the Name by Fort Minor, based on the view of a student who has the potential to make a splash in the world, and has to overcome the school system. The preceding presentations were a blur of rotations and quick side chats, but two specific presentations stayed with me. The first was by Bill Bass, who opened his presentation with his interest in photography and how he used YouTube as a major source of learning and how students can learn from such sources. The second was by a nurse who taught us one breathing technique to calm down. The technique was repeated five times and consisted of breathing in, holding, breathing out, and holding for five seconds each. The point was to reduce student stress, which was coincidentally the theme of our roundtable the very next day. At the end of the session, I went up to her and told her that the #bowtieboys were presenting the very next day on student stress and that I would love her to come as she would be knowledgeable on the subject.  As we left the IGNITE, we were told of a “surprise”. Before our formal dinner, we went back to the hotel and got in the pool! As Spencer Hill, one of the #bowtieboys said at the pool, “work hard, play hard." After the fun, we quickly got ready for dinner, which was at the famous Three Forks restaurant. After almost four hours, we left dinner and I went to bed mentally prepping for the other half of our sessions the next day.

I woke up Saturday with more energy than any other day which was to be in my favor. Our roundtable was at 8:00 and we were to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Despite the early start time, there was good attendance. Each roundtable had two presenters, and my partner was Spencer. The highlight of our presentation was a fun and cheesy quiz that determined if the teacher was more like Spencer or myself in terms of time management. Immediately after our session was over, we made it to the general session a little late, which looking back on it I partly regret as this general session was spearheaded by Christopher Emdin, whose rallying call touched me, and I’m not even a teacher! Not only did he fully utilize the "power zone," but he was also very honest, and told the audience some things they might not want to here. He did thoroughly back up everything he said with facts and charisma. Although I did leave the session mildly disappointed from being so close to asking a question, I was none the less in a good mood as I headed to the second IGNITE session, where the #bowtieboys once again opened with our Remember the Name rap. One part of the IGNITE session that stuck with me was that fiction is more rigorous than non-fiction. However, David Finkle, who put forth this opinion, showed several PowerPoint slides with lists of what a writer needs to keep track of in fiction vs. non-fiction. While the non-fiction list took up one slide, the fiction took up three. After eating lunch during J-session, we headed into our final session which was a panel with Linda Rief and Lester Laminack with a theme on reading. The #bowtieboys discussed several aspects of how reading both books and other media has shaped our lives. We then went to L session which was headed by Cornelius Minor who discussed how reading needs to conform to students (not the other way around). "There should not be five books every student must read." As I left the convention center after Saturday for dinner and more pool time, I realized there was only one day left of NCTE.

Sunday was brief but the three session I attended were all amazing. The first was a session that was introduced by Penny Kittle and followed the story of Hanna Al-Jibouri and Karen Workun and their incredible work with teaching poetry to incarcerated women in Oklahoma (where the rate of incarceration of women is twice the national average and the prison system is notorious for creating an endless cycle of heading in and out of prison). The next session was the featured N-session, and rightfully so. The session presented several successful ideas for bring technology into the class room and the power that something as simple as a picture can invoke. Finally, the Sunday general session with Paul and Peter Reynolds told me something very important. In the world where many strive to speak with a complex tongue, sometimes simplicity has immense power.

Looking back on NCTE this year, I can confidently say that I had the most fun this year. As with most things in life, it was the people who surrounded me that made NCTE what it was. I’m not just talking about the #bowtieboys, I am talking about all the people I interacted with at the conference, whether they were presenting, coming up to me with the all familiar, “So what do you guys (the #bowtieboys) do?”, commenting on my presentations, or even just saying hello, made my conference. I hope for even greater things in the years to come and I am already getting excited for NCTE 2019 in the nearby city (for me at least) in Baltimore.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Classroom Environment by: Elizabeth Salmon

I can not tell you how many times I've walked into a classroom, bright with posters, and banners and jingles and I just felt overwhelmed. It didn't feel like a classroom, it felt so… bright. It was really pretty, don't get me wrong, but with me being totally ADHD, it didn't work. I get distracted all the time, and it is on and off with me. And the thing is i'm not even the worst one, because I'm in middle school and you know how a lot of middle school boys are. They're the same as me, they get totally distracted. It could also be said the same for a bland classroom. It's hard to find the perfect balance, but when its done it totally changes the room, and the overall mood.

It all changed in seventh grade for me, when I was used to big flashy bright colors, or no color at all. I looked down at my schedule, and realized I had English next. I walked to the back of the hallway, and walked into the classroom. It was like nothing I've ever seen in a classroom.  It was bright, but tasteful, and the lights were dim, but i could still see. It was great. And when i went into the classroom, I knew it was hers. I had met her before, and her room reflected her class and personality. It was perfect, and I could focus just fine.

I think that is the best way to decorate your classroom, reflect on who you are. It makes the students feel invested in that class, and the classroom feels like home. I worked so well in that classroom, and I got an A every quarter BECAUSE that classroom was just perfect for my learning style. So, in conclusion, a classroom can really help a student in that class.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Revising my Reading by: Leila Mohajer

One thing that I regret not doing more of in middle school is reading. I have always loved to read, I just never went out of my way to do so. Now, as a freshman in high school, I read more than I ever have before. Here’s why.

In my English class, we recently finished reading the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and the whole class loved it. We would return to class every day discussing the crazy events that took place in the three chapters that we had read the night before for homework. It was an excellent book choice for us and it kept us engaged throughout the whole read. However, reading the book for homework each night would not have been the same without the additional packet that we filled out with it.

The packet that we filled out was called the “Critical Eye” and would allow us to be more in depth with the book while reading it. We had one packet for every three chapters. The Critical Eye would have us write about two parts of the book where we saw the theme of the book developing or to list a key character development and analysis on the character. It truly changed the way I read books because now I think about these questions as I’m reading and it helps me to understand books better.
When the whole class had finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, our teacher gave us a lecture on the allegory and word choice used in the novel. The whole class was shocked about the things that we had not picked up while reading. For example, a mockingbird is an innocent bird providing good music through purity, kindness, and innocence. The mockingbird represents a main character in the book that was killed even though he was innocent. Hence the title, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Now when reading, I actually understand why authors use specific words or actions within the text.

These two assignments got me to enjoy reading so much more. I think it would be great if all teachers did things like Critical Eye and gave lectures about allegory in their class books, because it helps students to understand what they are reading so much better.

Try some of these with your students and see if they like it!

Captivating Classroom Environment by: Madison Whitbeck

When I walk into the classroom, I want to be excited. Not only does the subject and teacher effect that, but the classroom environment does as well. I find it is much more inviting and cheerful when a classroom is decorated or set up in a way that the students will enjoy. Kids love colors, so things like posters, couches, and decorative pillows make the classroom more inviting to the students.

I talked to some peers around the county and most of them said about 3 or 4 classes are personalized by the teacher, and the students favor those classes over others. The physical structure of a classroom is a critical variable in affecting student morale and learning. Students usually feel more welcome and relaxed in a decorated classroom, in turn, improving their academics.

I also believe that students would benefit from having a hand in personalizing the classroom. Including students in creating the physical environment can enhance that environment, increase the feeling of classroom community, and give students a sense of empowerment.

Overall, I do believe students would benefit in multiple ways from a personalized classroom. If you're a teacher, you spend a good part of your life in places that should feel more like a warm home than a cold, impersonal office building or warehouse. So consider increasing your own sense of well-being and motivation as much as increasing these qualities for your students.