I acquired a lot of new information at the ILA convention. I acquired approximately five metric tons of books at ILA, too. My heart was fed and my enthusiasm rekindled.
And if I were content with that, ILA would not be complete. It’s great to get inputs; I’m a fan of Twitter chats, nerd camps, good books, coffee klatches, and research. We need those. We need to take in information from other people.
But rather than recap my ILA takeaways, I want to give some of my ILA bring-backs. I want to talk about some changes I’ll make in my practice because of what I experienced at ILA.
In no particular order, then:
Tell stories in my own voice
I had two chances to witness an oral storytelling performance by Dr. Betty Roe. Both times, I was struck by the emotional connection and sheer pleasure of hearing a story told out loud. It’s not the same thing as reading aloud, and neither can replace the other.
One powerful reason oral storytelling connected with me was because of the dialect storytellers are allowed to use. In written stories, dialect is hard; usually in exists in a constant awkward flip-flopping between regional dialect dialogue and standard dialect narration. In storytelling, you have permission to make it all one. And that opens up a species of delight in the variety and diversity of language that carries over into written texts.
So I’m going to give myself permission to tell stories to my class (even when on paper it looks like a Waste of Instructional Time, because it isn’t). And when I do, I’m going to give myself permission to use the language I learned in my grandma’s kitchen, not English Teacher English. Code-switching is an important skill, after all, and somebody has to model it for my Dominican students.
Double-dipping is not just allowed; it’s encouraged
Lester Laminack (a funny, funny man) stood in front of a room full of teachers and pleaded with us to let the first encounter with a text be a gift. No quizzes; no predetermined discussion questions; no stopping for analysis; just pure enjoyment of the story. After all, you only read a book for the first time once.
As a corollary, then, you have to dip back into the same book as a mentor text. Laminack called these “best friend” books, mentor texts that you refer to over and over for different purposes.
I have a long list of official curriculum books. I will probably be under some pressure to march every student through every last one of them. (Spoiler alert: Ain’t gonna happen.) But I’ve resolved to take Lester’s approach with read-alouds and teach my students to do the same with their own reading. First, we read just for the pleasure of encountering the book as it is, a gift from writer to reader, having an intensely personal encounter with the text. After that, we will get down to literary business.
This was a weakness in my first year, one that wasn’t helped at all by having to keep to separate gradebooks for grammar and literature. (That’s going away now, hallelujah, amen.) In session after session, I watched how teachers of writing started by reading a text and scribbling on it. Then they developed the scribbles. Then the scribbles turned into full-on drafting of a new text.
I knew that lifting a first line was a kind of poetic tradition, but I hadn’t much thought about how else reading could become a diving board directly into the sea of writing. Now having seen other teachers work with marking up texts, collages, lifting lines, imitating forms, and a raft of other ways, I’ll be giving my students many more ways to interact with texts as reading writers and writing readers.
I knew it happened, and I swore it wouldn’t be me: Writers start to teach writing and stop writing.
And… you’re reading another change I’m determined to bring back. I’m fired up to write. More. Of everything.