#NCTE14 takeaways: Striving to improve student writing

On Friday I had the pleasure of accompanying a handful of my colleagues to the Washington, DC area for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). The conferences was multiple days, but my district, like many other struggling shoe string budget district, only managed to allow us to go for one day. Unfortunately, we did not get to hear all of the high profile speakers, but we’re blessed to even have a chance to go.

With limited time, I was very anxious to ensure the sessions I attended were meaningful to my needs as a teacher. I attended two sessions which I believe will instantly impact my teaching – (B.24) Telling Our Stories: Student Agency and Choice in Writing Workshop, Blogging, and Online Socratic Discussion and (D.21) Writing Workshop in Motion: Empowering Writers to Use Personal Stories to Enter, Navigate, and Contribute to the Landscape of Knowing.

Telling Our Stories: Student Agency and Choice in Writing Workshop, Blogging, and Online Socratic Discussion

The first session was broken down into three major components with three dynamic teachers from Worcester Academy (Mass.) which immediately offered their presentation to the audience (http://tiny.cc/waenglish). I love this practice because I didn’t have to frantically take notes; instead, I enjoyed each and every minute of their presentation.

A few takeaways and reasoning for my enjoyment, I recently implemented Writing Workshops and they were far from perfect. Plus, I did it the old fashion way with pen and paper, but thought to myself how I needed to do it in Google Docs instead. Lone and behold, the entire presentation pushed for doing it with Google Docs and instructed me on a few tools I was not aware of in the platform. In addition, the presenters pushed the idea of “Students Make Final Editorial Decisions” which sometimes gets lost because someone told them “it has to be changed” which I loved.

Socratic Discussions

My school is pushing for collegial discussions, but I am a tech guy and want to do it online. Teachers often talk about building relationships in the classroom, but building digital relationships is vital in the current generation as well. According to the article Online Discussions for Blended Learning, “asynchronous exchanges online can be just as beneficial, if not more beneficial to students than traditional in-class discussions. In the online environment students can thoughtfully add to the conversation and consider classmate responses which often do not happen during exchanges in the classroom.” This is a perfect example of why this would work well for ELL students because it gives them time to process the language before responding. Plus the rubric for online discussions was very helpful as well too.


Obviously, I have my own blog (since you are reading it), but I also have a class blog which I post student work and share it with parents. However, I was not adding tags on students work which was giving it limited traffic. Plus, I learned when sharing it online via Twitter the hashtag #comments4kid will help out with my group as well. Another light bulb moment came with ways to blog examples given. I have often wanted my students to blog and have not been able to perfectly get every kid due to the options I was providing. However, I have been given a ton of non-academic ideas to allow kids to blog about – sports, fashion, computers, cake decorating, etc. I was over focused on the academic side that I did not see the value of merely having students express their personal hobbies and thoughts – it’s valuable no matter what as long as they’re writing.

Awesome examples to follow on Twitter: @WAEnglish, @danamhuff, @iaccaril, and @cmf2001. Here is also their blogs: huffenglish.com and teaching365.wordpress.com

Writing Workshop in Motion: Empowering Writers to Use Personal Stories to Enter, Navigate, and Contribute to the Landscape of Knowing

Walking in late to any presentation sucks! You have missed the handing out of whatever there was and you are trying to catchup. Walking in five minutes late, it was no different for me. However, the presenters gave us a Twitter hashtag (#ncteww) to post questions which they immediately responded. For example, I asked for a handout and the co-presenter to the side was checking out the room to get me a copy of the presentation which I deeply appreciated.


Anyways, the group was going over a topic, writer’s workshop, which I implemented this year. However, I was always unsure whether I was doing it the correct way. This presentation reinforced some of the things I was already doing and gave me some great insight in how to implement mentor texts and even creating your own mentor texts to best fit the needs of your students.

Overall, I am glad to take something away from #NCTE14.



About briancookeducator

Husband, Daddy, teacher, #Mountaineer, coach, and aspiring school leader | Thoughts are my own.
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