OCTELA, March 9-10, Columbus

The Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (that’s a mouthful!) held its annual conference on Friday and Saturday, March 9-10.  I hate to admit that despite my few years in the classroom, this was the first conference I had the ability to attend.  Given my new role, it was an incredible privilege to listen to so many enthusiastic educators who are on the front lines of classroom work, and for a brief moment, it made me miss my classroom; it gave me energy and enthusiasm to try new things with my high schoolers—a motivation that had waned recently as I drifted more toward educational policy.

Because I was so excited by what I experienced and learned at OCTELA, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to pass my learning along from some of the sessions I attended.

If you are an ELA teacher or just interested in the teaching of ELA, I suggest you join the OCTELA ning, currently in its infancy, at http://octela.ning.com/

Keynote Day One: Nancy Frey (@NancyFrey)

Having recently studied text complexity and written about it both in this blog and for the ORC, I was interested in Nancy’s presentation about text complexity.  While you can download and view the full presentation here or through the OCTELA ning, I want to walk you through some of my takeaways.

  • Defining Close Reading:  On slide 4, Nancy writes, “Read like a detective, write like a reporter.”  This, she said, is how the CCSS are approaching reading and writing.  To do close reading, students need to really dig into the text, and their writings need to show that level of study by using the text to build an argument or to explain.
  • What is a “text”?  In defining “texts,” Nancy said we think of traditional texts, which are read from beginning to end and are dictated by the author; Digital texts, which take on a third dimension by hyperlinking students to extensions and resources, which can, conversely, cause distraction and less deep reading; and Moving images as “texts,” to include films, sounds, etc.
  • Revision of CCSS Lexile bands:  Slide 8 shows a recently revised chart of CCSS expectations for quantitative measures of texts.  You’ll note the Lexile bands have been widened and there is significant overlap from the high end of one grade level to the low end of the next.  Nancy said this attempts to address the needs of struggling readers.
  • A 4th Dimension to the Complexity Triangle:  In taking a look at the complexity triangle, Nancy divides “reader and task considerations” into two separate pieces instead of lumping them together as the CC does.  She said, “Any reading can be made infinitely more difficult by adjusting the task.”
  • Use short passages for close reading:  Slide 13 shows Nancy’s thoughts for creating close reading opportunities.  I thought this was so important because I have been wondering how in the world you could do a close reading of an entire novel/book, but she cleared up that confusion by advising the use of short passages.  Instead of an entire book, she said to use a short, crucial passage from the book.  Excellent info.
  • Combine Personal Experience with Text-Based Questions:  Nancy does not want us to throw out those personal experience questions altogether, but she showed us how to build a foundation using text-dependent questions on which students can relate their personal experiences.  The second half of her presentation walked us through several text-based question examples.

“Metaphors of Technology Be with You:  Web 2.0 and the Common Core Standards”: Colleen Ruggieri

This session was FILLED, literally FILLED with viable classroom resource after viable classroom resource.  Colleen (follow her blog here) is incredibly knowledgeable about technology in the classroom.  Here I will pass along some of the many links she provided in the presentation.

  • Smithmag.net and Smithteens.com For sample 6-word memoirs
  • fwfr.com has 4-word film reviews, talk about choosing your words carefully
  • wordle.net to create those sweet word clouds—Colleen showed us where she had assigned tasks such as “Show how Shakespeare sets the tone in this scene using words from the tasks” and students created word clouds.  The bigger the word (the more times the student entered the word), the more significant that word was in the text—now, there’s some close reading!
  • Tagul.com does word clouds as shapes
  • mind42.com shows mapping of ideas
  • wittycomics.com allows students to create comic strips, as does pixton.com
  • easystreetprompts.com provides inspiration for writing
  • stixy.com is an organizational tool that provides post-it notes for your desktop
  • titanpad.com allows up to 8 people to work on a document at once
  • fakeiphonetext.com would be really cool for students to use with two characters in a text.
  • 60secondrecap.com shows 60-second videos recapping popular and classic texts.
  • Timetoast.com allows the user to create timelines—helpful for those non-sequential plots
  • Gleeditions.com provides e-book texts of the exemplars listed in Appendix B of CCSS
  • howjsay.com is a talking dictionary
  • pocketmod.com allows students to create free pocket-sized books
  • publicdomain4u.com links to music tracks that are free, legal, and downloadable.

Having typed all of that, my brain is just about as boggled as it was when Colleen whipped through all of these resources in her session!!

“Literary Nonfiction and Deep Questioning”:  Elizabeth Bridges, ODE

Elizabeth focused on “literary nonfiction” and its inclusion in the CCSS.  Here are my major takeaways from her sessions.

You already know about the 30/70 split of fiction to nonfiction as required by the CCSS by 12thgrade.  She said the burden of this expectation is to be ACROSS contents, not just ELA.

  • CCSS Verbiage:  Beginning in 6th grade, the standards verbiage shifts from “informational texts” to “literary nonfiction.”
  • What is “literary nonfiction”?  It includes essays, speeches, opinion pieces, biographies, journalism, and historical, scientific or other documents.  She defined it as having storytelling/narration, character, setting and scene, plot and plot structure, figurative language, imagery, point of view, dialogue, and theme.
  • Practice:  Using a sample from “Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796,” which is listed in the exemplars as appropriate for high school despite the struggles some in the audience were facing as they worked their way through the reading, Elizabeth led us through creating text-dependent questions.

Keynote Day Two:  Sara Kajder (@skajder)

Sara’s presentation, “Required Learning:  The Practice of Teaching with New Literacies” was reminiscent of what I heard/saw with Will Richardson and Ian Jukes at last summer’s Innovative Learning Environments Conference (happening again this July and August!), but rather than listening to her as Christina the Teacher, I found myself switching to Christina the Mommy.  Sara has young children, as do I, and she only allows them 30 minutes of media (television) per week, and they are too young to be on “Mommy’s computer,” she said.  Rylee, my two-year-old, isn’t even interested in the computer at this point—although, if you saw her flipping my iPhone from ear device to texting tool, you might think differently—but I worry about where she will be in the next few years in terms of technology.    After OCTELA, my book club (currently reading Want to Go Private, by Littler) discussed this article.  Having my own extensive digital footprint at this point, I can see where it is important for kids to establish themselves, though I would argue the creation of a pseudonym is probably more appropriate to me that my child using her actual name when she’s of age, but I’m overwhelmingly worried about those people who lurk in the scary corners of the Internet.  Sara led me to thinking about this.

Digital Storytelling:  Kevin Cordi (@KevinCordi) and Stephenie Eriksson (@stephKEriksson)

Before attending the conference, I had heard about digital storytelling, but I couldn’t have provided you with a clear image of what it actually was.  After attending each of these sessions, I had a much better idea, and if I WERE still in the classroom, I would be so excited to take the ideas I generated from these sessions back to my students.

  • For online digital stories to use as samples in your own classroom projects, check out the Center for Digital Storytelling
  • Kevin’s Anti-Bullying Project:  Using the book Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, Kevin created a project in which students created digital videos to discourage bullying.  I consider myself a fairly tough individual, but I was fighting back some tears after one of the student videos.
  • Stephenie’s High School Students:  Similarly, Stephenie showcased videos created by her high school students in which they had to recount very personal stories of people in their lives.  Yet again, giant tears.
  • I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into these projects, but they were incredible—and of so much more value than the traditional paper.

These were only some of the sessions I attended, recounting all of them would make this blog post a mile long!!  OCTELA was a fantastic experience, and I wish I had had the opportunity to attend when I was in the classroom.



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