Sunday, October 21, 2007

ACTE Conference 2007

Okay, before I forget too much about it, I would like to write a little about this year’s Alabama Council of Teachers of English conference. I was invited to submit a proposal for a workshop a long time ago and did so. This workshop is titled “Introducing Process Writing Using Legos.” I’ll get to that in a bit.

The day started off with a keynote speech by Carol Jago. She was lively and entertaining, as well as thought provoking. She posited that teachers are often not working in their students’ Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD) as proposed by Vygotsky. She thinks that a lot of teachers (and she did not exclude herself entirely) work in their students’ ZME: Zone of Minimal Effort.

She thinks that too often teachers make the work too easy for the students. She believes we should challenge our students more in the classroom. I have to say, she made some good points in her speech. She shared a lesson with us and got us talking to each other and sharing with each other. It was well done and thought provoking. A little while later I had a chance to meet her and talk to her a little one on one. She was friendly and interesting in person as well. She autographed a copy of her book Cohesive Writing for me. As soon as I finish Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing by Ted Kooser and Steve Cox I plan to read it.

The speaker at lunch was Watt Key, author of Alabama Moon. He was an entertaining speaker and kept the crowd of teachers laughing. He didn’t do a reading from his book, saying he always disliked going to readings of other authors (no matter how much he happened to like the author). Instead he told us stories about his time in college and his visit to New York after his book was accepted for publication.

My workshop came up after lunch. I started by defining an old definition of an expert--someone who travels more than 20 miles and provides handouts. It got the hoped for laugh and broke the ice. I then quickly explained the idea behind the activity, passing out bags of 25-30 Legos to groups of students who then build something with them. They also have to write specific instructions for another group to do the same. Then I take pics, the object gets deconstructed, and then another group (in a different class if possible) tries to recreate the original object following the directions.

It doesn’t take long to explain, even with a PowerPoint show of what my students created and what the next group created using the provided instructions. The meat of the workshop was actually breaking the teachers up into pairs (and one group of three due to the odd number) and letting them construct something, write instructions, deconstruct it and swap with another group. They all worked happily away while I wandered around the room and tried to keep out of their way.

I didn’t have my digital camera, as the battery is fried and will not hold a charge. I was a little at a loss until I though of my cell phone. I took pictures of the original objects with it and then emailed the pics to my myself. I was then able to open them up and show them to the group over the LCD projector hooked up to the classroom computer. It worked out pretty well. One of the participants told me that she appreciated the opportunity to actually do the activity. She said that if I had simply told them about it she would not have “gotten it.” But by letting them do it themselves she “got it.” I was pleased. I was also pleased that the extra handouts I had were mainly taken by the participants to share with other teachers at their schools.

I was going to try to go to another session after mine, but due t me heading for the wrong room, and staying there a while, I would have been unfashionably late. I was also a bit fatigued from the drive to Birmingham and the equally long search for a hotel room (apparently the Birmingham hotels were full with fans going to the Alabama/Tennessee football game the next day--serves m e right for not being a football fan). I decided to head for home.

Before I left, Cindy Adams, the president of the ACTE, and my friend, asked if I would like to be a Representative-at-Large for the ACTE, as there was no representation from my part of the state. I agreed. Now I will patiently wait for the other shoe to drop and find out what, exactly, I have signed on for. Whatever it is, I will do it the best I can. I am excited that Cindy is reviving the ACTE. It is a needed organization in the state.

I look forward to the next ACTE conference. I will try to have a new workshop set up for that one.

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