Part I: #NCTE13

Every year after attending NCTE I struggle to summarize my experience. This year, inspired by my friend Cindy, I have decided to write two posts. Part I will focus on the events outside of the sessions I attended. Part II, coming later this week, will focus solely on the sessions I attended while I was there (and those I attended virtually, because there is no way to attend every session offered!)

NCTE is my home away from home. Even though it changes cities each year, the people make the event feel like home. This year’s conference was in Boston (which is now my favorite city) and it did not disappoint! I always leave physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, inspired, and renewed.

Chris and I arrived in Boston late Thursday night and checked into the Revere Hotel, which was gorgeous. I was presenting on Friday so I got everything ready and crashed. For the record, traveling by train is the way to go. So much better than the airport and airplanes, but just as exhausting! I tried not to spread myself too thin, but I still had a packed schedule for the weekend.


1. Don Graves breakfast Friday morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast hosted by Heinemann. The Don Graves breakfast was inspiring, to say the least. My awesome friend Jen was my plus one and we spent the first few minutes in awe as we looked at the rest of the audience.  “There’s Penny Kittle! And Ralph Fletcher!” The names kept coming.  Plus, the audience was full of NerdyBookClub friends, so it was the best way to start my time at the conference.

The breakfast was inspiring, as many of my English teacher idols spoke about the influence the indomitable Don Graves had on their lives.  You can see Penny Kittle’s intro here and some of the video clips from the breakfast here. Thank you to Heinemann for including me in this inspiring and amazing breakfast.  What a way to kick off the weekend!  I left pondering some new ideas for writing workshop and with a lot of notes in my phone.

2. Ripped from the Headlines and Applied to the Classics I was very blessed to present at NCTE with my amazing editor from The Learning Network, Katherine Schulten.  We had a slight snafu when our 75 newspapers were not delivered for the session, but we made do.  Katherine had a back-up plan and it worked out beautifully.

When I arrived at the room, I was stunned.  I was expecting a few friends and maybe some others, but the room was packed.  As in, people sitting in the aisles and standing room only packed.  I was terrified.  Just as I was about to have a heart attack, the amazing Leeann Spillane introduced herself and handed me a present!  She created a piece of art especially for me and it’s stunning.  It also calmed me down and the session went wonderfully.

You can learn more about our presentation from this post on The Learning Network.   Leeann also wrote a post about the session here and Using Information Text wrote another.


3. Exhibit Hall The exhibit hall is a bit like the Colosseum. It’s overwhelming, loud, and sometimes I’m afraid for my life!  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. ;)  But it’s also a great place to make professional connections.  This year I spent a great deal of time chatting with publicists about upcoming books and ways to use them in the classroom.  I also met lots of authors and chatted with them about my students.

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

4. Nerdy Party Maybe my favorite part of NCTE13.  It began with a dinner with my Nerdy friends and then we made our way over to the hotel lounge around 8pm.  By 9pm the NerdyBookClub had taken over the hotel lounge and there were readers, authors, publishers, illustrators, poets, editors, and so many others mingling and chatting.  Every time I turned around there was someone else to chat with!  Chris and I stayed until midnight and I still didn’t get to talk to everybody! I did get a chance to chat with YA author Gae Polisner, which made the whole night worthwhile.

Four hours of conversation centered on books and writing.  There is nothing nerdier or better.  Thank you to my NerdyBookClub friends for including me in your adventures and throwing an awesome party!  I’m already looking forward to #nerdy14!

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

5. General Session A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Sandy Hayes, president of NCTE.  She asked me if I would speak as part of her President’s speech at NCTE.  Of course I immediately said yes! Then I felt the terror take over.  I worked on my speech for a few weeks, but in true High Tech fashion, I finished it right before getting on the train.

I knew I would be speaking as one of a group of teachers that Sandy had invited to share their stories so I was very intimidated.

I think it went well.  I did not have a heart attack while speaking, though it was terrifying.  But more importantly, I was inspired by the other teachers Sandy invited to speak.  Each one of them made me laugh and a few brought tears to my eyes. Sandy’s idea of sharing the speech was brilliant and I wish more people had made it to the ballroom to see her in action.

And the best part of being part of the President’s speech?

Nancie Atwell spoke a few minutes after I did.

Nancie Atwell.

My English teacher hero.  I babbled and looked like an idiot, but we had a great conversation.  She even took a few minutes to speak with me about my writing.  Bucket list item? I think so!

6. Catching Fire Scholastic invited some of the NCTE attendees to a private screening of Catching Fire. Greatest idea ever?  I’d say so!  David Levithan introduced the film and I definitely squealed like a fangirl.  Then I spent the next two hours gasping and covering my eyes alongside a theater full of fellow English nerds. Absolutely amazing! (And if you haven’t seen Catching Fire yet, what are you doing reading blogs?!  Get yourself to a movie theater, pronto!)

7. ALAN Cocktail Party I love ALAN.  This was the first year I stayed for the conference after NCTE and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ll write more about ALAN later, but the cocktail party capped off my NCTE experience. The ALAN cocktail party is a low-key event where teachers and authors get to mingle, provided you aren’t too shy to go up and introduce yourself.  I chickened out when it came to introducing myself to Laurie Halse Anderson (next year!), but I did meet Andrea Cramer.  Love her! I also stuck with the wonderful Paul Hankins for a bit and he introduced me to Nancy Garden, who was an inspiration. Special thanks to Paul for taking me under his wing for a bit.  That guy knows everyone!!

Oh!  And I met Judy Blume! I totally babbled and I think I said something like, “You’re Judy Blume!”. Pretty sure she already knew that.  But Judy Blume!

And the ALAN party also provided me with the opportunity to finally meet Eliot Schrefer in person. I read Endangered last year and then our school book club also read it. Endangered is probably my favorite book of the last year and it was brilliant getting a chance to chat with Eliot. We’ve chatted over social media but meeting in person was fabulous.  We spent about 25 minutes chatting and Eliot also introduced me to David Levithan and Bill Koenisburg.  What great guys! (My new mission is finding a way to bring Schrefer to do a school visit at HTHS…)


Me, Eliot Schrefer, Jen Ansbach (thanks for the photo skills, Noah!)

The ALAN cocktail party was the best way to cap off my NCTE conference.  And it led directly into ALAN and the many panels that inspired me to be  a better reader and teacher.  But more about those sessions later….   Part II: NCTE Sessions and ALAN to come later this week!

Guest Post on Kirby Larson’s Blog

Be sure to check out my guest post on author Kirby Larson’s blog. I share some of the ways I encourage my high schoolers and my colleagues to be lifelong readers.

A #coverflip Experiment with High School Freshmen

Today in class the freshmen read Maureen Johnson’s awesome essay, “The Gender Coverup“, wherein she takes a look at gendered book covers and calls to task those who think there are  “boy” books and “girl” books.

“I don’t care,” say some other people. Probably most of the people. Because a lot of people don’t read much or see why any of this affects their lives. But I believe it does affect us all, very much so, because these are all subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) value judgments on what kind of narratives matter.

“But!” some of those people who are still paying attention cry. “Boys don’t like to/can’t read about girls!”

“&^%$@,” say I.

Of course they can, and stop making their choices for them or telling them what they do or don’t want to do. This may be a big part of the problem.

I see this issue every day as a teacher.  I saw it in 6th grade and I see it with my high schoolers.  I’ll booktalk a fabulous book and the cover will influence students to read it or not read it.  I have plenty of male students who, as avid booktalkers of Thirteen Reasons Why  would love Before I Fall, but avoid it because of the cover. They deem it “feminine” and say that they will be made fun of.  A problem in and of itself, obviously, but we need to stop placing gender labels on books, too.

The conversations that stemmed from the article were fabulous.  I eavesdropped as students argued over whether girls are more willing to read broadly while boys stick to certain topics.  I watched as they analyzed the covers of the books on their desks.  And I hid a smile as they vehemently argued over whether the covers of YA novels fit gender stereotypes.  Plus, it led to a great analysis of the many editions of our current class novel, Things Fall Apart.  The students noted similarities between how Achebe’s characters were presented on some covers and how those in the Western world view(ed) Nigeria (and Africa as a whole).   Could this English teacher be any happier?

After reading the article and viewing the slideshow, I challenged my students to try #coverflip.  In groups, they decided on a book that they felt had a cover that appealed more to one gender than necessary.  Then, they searched for Creative Commons images that they could use to create a new cover.  In photoshop, they designed their new book cover with either a more neutral cover or one that appealed to gender stereotypes.  Take a look at what they came up with!




a wrinkle in time










Twilight Flipped Cover











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fahrenheit 451




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PJ Book Cover




the hunger games







The Fault in Our Stars




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So impressed with what these students came up with in only 40 minutes!  And I have to admit, some of these #coverflip books really make me think.  What about you?

As a lover of books, I dream of a day when there are no “boy” or “girl” assumptions when it comes to audience.  After discussing it with my students, I think they will be the ones to make it happen.  For the most part, they see no reason why the narrator or characters should influence  the gender of a perceived audience.  You hate romance and love action?  Great!  Doesn’t matter if you are male or female.  You love character-driven stories with romance and can’t deal with gore?  Awesome!  Who cares if you are a girl or a guy?  An appealing cover should show some aspect of the story and the audience will find it, as my students said.  Marketers can’t always predict who will buy a book (data isn’t perfect, they pointed out!) so why not appeal to the broadest audience possible?

I love my students. :)



*students- if you don’t see your cover here, it’s because I didn’t get it!  Tweet or email it to me and I”ll update this post!



Slice of Life March 13th, 2013 #slice2013

Tonight I took the dogs to my friend’s grooming shop and they received baths and haircuts. Four hours later, they looked much better. Ok, one hour of that time was a training class, but the rest was spent bathing, brushing, and cutting hair.

Dublin is ok with the bath and even the blow dryer. But he is a drama queen when it comes to cutting his hair.


Bailey is taking applications for a new family. Preferably one that doesn’t believe in baths and definitely doesn’t use blow dryers.

But everyone looks beautiful. I’m just stuck with a lot of dog hair coveting me!

Slice of Life- March 4, 2013 #slice2013

For the past five weeks I have been taking Dublin to meet with a little girl on the autism spectrum.  She and Dublin are participating in a study, Animals Assisting Autism, which is examining whether therapy dogs are beneficial to individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

We only have a week left, and the entire experience has been beautiful to watch.  Dublin and his new friend have become partners in crime, and he doesn’t even react when she is having a bad day. He cuddles with her on her bed, plays games with her, and lets her lead him around the house and yard. She started out a little tentative around Dublin but now she is comfortable petting his back and head and even feeding him treats from her hand.

Last night we arrived and Dublin walked right in, leading the way up the steps to the family room.  He knows the routine!  He and Jamie (name changed) got right to work, playing with his toys.  She took out his squeaky toy and waved it in front of him before throwing it and asking Dublin to fetch.  Then she asked him for his paw and gave him a treat when he performed his trick.

Then we had a special surprise for Jamie.  Dublin had learned a new trick for her!  I wasn’t sure if he would perform it in a place full of distractions as it’s a brand new trick, but he performed very well.  When he rolled over and played dead, Jamie burst into giggles and it was glorious.  I’ve never been so proud of Dublin!

Handling a therapy dog really is a life-changing experience and I am so glad we are involved in this study.  Sometimes I groan because the appointment is in the middle of the day (especially when I have a busy weekend), but as soon we get there and Dublin gets to work I forget about any stress.


What Will You Do with an English Degree?

  1. Michael Berube asks: ”what will you do with an English degree?” and concludes- a lot.
  2. RT @samplereality: Another way of interpreting the data @MichaelBerube1 uses ( is that STEM degrees need more reading and writing. #MLA13
  3. “The more reading and writing they did – serious reading, analytical writing – the more they learned. ” > STEM please
  4. A very interesting article that makes a great argument for some majors that you may have never considered!
  5. Great post! Developing critical media literacy across texts and kinds of media (including film) is absolutely an asset.
  6. That Humanities Degree you’re pursuing will suit you quite nicely career-wise…
  7. To anyone who’s ever been asked, “What do you do with an English (insert other creative) degree?” @CNN
  8. Wondering about the value of a liberal arts degree? One of our #pennstate profs breaks it down for @CNN
  9. Great article by Michael Bérubé on the value of a Humanities degree schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn….
  10. RT @KenSmith: “Humanities majors .. are employable anywhere in the economy where there is thinking to be done”–Michael Bérubé. schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn….

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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