NCTE Convention 2013: (Re)Inventing the Future of English

by Mark Hansen

Paul Revere at NCTE convention

“The eBooks are coming!” | image courtesy: National Archives and Records Administration

BOSTON—If Paul Revere were a high school English teacher today, he’d probably be on the edtech vanguard, tweeting messages like “The eBooks are coming!”

But would it be a warning to retreat from or to join the revolution? (I think join.) Most famous for his so-called Midnight Ride—in which from horseback at full speed he warned the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in Concord that “The British are coming!”—Revere was also one of the top silversmiths on the Eastern seaboard, parlaying his skill on an entrepreneurial bet that new technology would improve his business. He could have worked in the old method and remained a relevant silversmith, but he embraced technology to extend his reach.

Sure maybe a main reason for him to use technology was profit, and you might then ask how that relates to using technology to raise student achievement, but you see where we’re going. Boston—home of the recent annual convention of the National Council of Teachers or English (NCTE)—was the scene of a robust set of sessions on edtech organized around the implicit mantra “Make it New,” reflecting the explicit convention tagline “(Re)Inventing the Future of English.” Lovers of creative wordplay, syntax, and punctuation we NCTE devotees are, the parenthetical “(Re)” reflects the idea that we’re building off a rich history while breaking free of old regimes to make something new—now you can’t argue much if Mr. Revere would quibble with that!

Beyond the clear presence of the spirit of Mr. Revere, here are some other takeaways from our trip to NCTE 13.

Close Reading and Argumentation

The Common Core State Standards’ (CCSS) focus on close reading and argumentation is deeply engrained in the new major textbook programs. Online features of mainstream and supplemental programs that allow digital text markup, note taking, and writing to that end are growing but not perfected.

Surging Startups

Boston marathon finish line at NCTE convention

There’s not one finish line on edtech integration. You can forge a route from myriad options. | credit: Mark Hansen

The Exhibition Hall had a number of surging startups. Here are three worth your time to consider.

ThinkCERCA—This online program includes an array of texts and a neat writing platform with drag-and-drop features for students to structure their papers around the facets of Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, Counterargument, and Audience (CERCA).

Curriculet—A “curriculet” is a layer of annotations, multimedia links, and assessment items in the margin of the text. The program is web-based and it works on computers, tables, or phones of all types, and the authoring system to add annotations is slick.

Subtext—This good-looking app provides a solution for tablet reading in the classroom. Students can have shared discussions based on their note-taking; teachers can embed questions and activities and track student progress.

Session Report

Teachers are still in the edtech ramp-up phase, but interest is palpable.

iPad 1-1 is becoming reality for some. Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, IL, near Chicago) is rolling out 3,800 iPads next year.

  • Big change—but imagine what the scops, griots, and bards thought thousands of years ago when the first stone tablets rolled out!
  • Good toolsApps and web sites they’re using:
    * Readmill (neat reading app with social aspect—you see others’ highlights)
    * Subtext (robust classroom reading app with discussion feature)
    * Newsela (website with leveled, current news articles)
    * Haiku Learning (innovative LMS—Learning Management System)
    * Overdrive (e-media center)
  • Surface challenge—Kids may just skim and scroll (surface reading at best) on an iPad. Multi-task reading may be a myth—if you’re doing everything at once, perhaps you’re doing nothing with depth.

The power of blogging was espoused by many teachers. Some teachers noted that, with the myriad apps, web sites, etc. available, the most powerful benefit of technology they saw was simply using blogging tools or Google Drive or Docs to give written feedback on students papers, and to facilitate robust student discussion.

  • Be the moderator—For student blogs, have one classroom username, have students post to that one username, and set up the blog with you as the moderator so you can approve (and officially, post) all comments, vetting them for appropriateness. This helps address COPPA regulations (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act).
  • Extend brick-and-mortar discussion—In their blog, have students continue the discussion started in class. Review the comments the following morning and let them shape the discussion that day.
  • Get the count up—Blogging makes daily writing more engaging for students, increasing the amount of words they write, always a good thing.
  • Make it process-oriented, and purposeful—When possible, have blog posts form part of the writing process, such as part of the work used for a full essay, rather than a random one-off comment.
  • For more good ideas—Visit Pamela Hunnisett’s blog  

Did you attend NCTE? Shoot us insights we missed or things you’d like to discuss with us.

Mark HansenMark Hansen is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. Mark recently spearheaded the iPad PD training series for GLPD. 

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