That Was Fun! — Zapping Apathy at #NCTE11

Thanks to everyone who attended our presentations at NCTE this weekend. If you’re looking for the handouts, scroll down any time!

Tony Romano and I were happy to see our friends Jodi Douglas Moeller and Douglas Jameson from Hazelwood West High School, and share our Writers Week programs with a roomful of energetic teachers on Friday morning. Thanks especially to Billy Lombardo and Theresa Christensen for generously adding perspectives on what it’s like to bring authors into schools.

Tony, Lee Ann Spillane, and I were excited and actually sort of surprised by how many people attended our presentation “Zapping Apathy: Creating Community in English Classes.” Those of you who were there know that it was max capacity. I wish I’d known people were being turned away at the door. I would have come out and dealt with that situation.

Zapping Apathy at NCTE 11 in Chicago, November 18, 2011 (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Alander)

Although we heard a lot of great feedback after the session, I’m curious about what lured so many people to our session in the first place. This is what the program said:

“This is boring!” Anyone who hasn’t heard that line has probably never been a high school English teacher! We love writing and literature, so why do our students not love them too? Find out about research on engaging students, and strategies guaranteed to zap the apathy in any English class.

Many teachers are sensing growing disengagement in their students, and I hope we helped with that. But then I think about the elementary school students that I see fairly regularly who are almost jumping out of their skins in order to participate in class and show their interest in what is going on around them. What happens to that enthusiasm as those kids approach middle school and high school? Is there something going on developmentally that makes it harder for them to engage? Or is something about the current “accountability culture” turning students off? Or maybe it’s us.

If it’s us, we can fix that. If it’s the educational climate in our country right now, we can make inroads against that in a variety of ways. If it’s developmental in our students, we can accommodate and adapt to work around biological factors. The important thing is to look at our classes through the eyes of our students from time to time.

One of my favorite moments happened while Tony and I were having lunch at Corner Bakery an hour or so before our session. It was pretty crowded. As I walked through the restaurant, this phrase came floating through the air and into my right ear: “We love writing and literature, so why do our students not love them too?” That sounded familiar. (See program description above.) Sure enough, a couple of teachers were looking through the NCTE convention program, talking about what sessions to attend that afternoon. I stopped and asked if they were talking about Zapping Apathy. They looked at me, maybe a little startled. After I showed them my name tag that matched the program description they were looking at, we talked about what the presentation would be like, if it fit their needs, and sure enough, they came to the session! So, thanks, Corner Bakery people! I wish I knew your names to say a better thanks for trusting your instincts on that.

We were excited to see poets and literacy educators Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger sitting in the front row, and we appreciate Sara providing everyone with a poem. Thanks also to everyone who volunteered and played along with us.

Thanks to the teacher from Aurora, Illinois who tried to get more copies when we ran short. She was generous and resourceful. To whoever said no to her request … thanks anyway. The handouts and other information are attached, described, or uploaded here.

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or stories about the activities as you try them and adapt them.

And again, really, thanks for spending some time with us at NCTE11 in Chicago.

Here are the handouts:

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2 Responses to That Was Fun! — Zapping Apathy at #NCTE11

  1. Pingback: NCTE11 News and Notes : Grading Girl

  2. I think every teacher wants to learn ways to help their students become as passionate about reading as they are. Seeing the words “Zapping Apathy” (a brilliant name btw) automatically made each teacher think of one student or one class that they need just that little bit of help with and your presentation was just the medicine we needed 🙂


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