Saturday, November 29, 2014

NCTE NOTES AND NUGGETS (Or Things I Should Have Tweeted)

Meeting new friends and fellow colleagues
Maintaining professional connections
Making and remaking old aquaintances
Mental stimulation and provocation
Musing ...
NCTE 2014 was held in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of our nation's capital.
This year's theme was Story as the Landscape of Knowledge
There were many lessons learned, some current thinking affirmed,
and much to consider and ponder.

I had many notes and nuggets to sift and sort -- many words of wisdom that I should have tweeted at the time, but was afraid I would miss a treasure while doing so.

Marian Wright Edelman
Teaching is not just a job, but calling and a mission. If it is not that for you, go do something else.
We need a new transforming movement. We need to be a transforming movement.
She reminded us of important lessons learned from Noah and the ark as we strive to become this movement:
Don't miss the boat.
We are all in the same boat.
Plan ahead.
Don't be afraid of criticism.
Remember that the ark was built by amateurs and the titanic was built by experts.
David Kirkland

Black males are at the bottom of all academic measures.
Counter narratives and qualitative data reveal literacies outside the classroom --social and cultural assets unmeasured by the quantitive data.
What do the competing narratives of quantitative data and qualitative tell us?
How does understanding the difference between their stories and data serve us?

Research and teach like our lives depend on it, because their lives do.

Story can be not real, but reveal truth.
There is always a story before, during, and after.  In story, we leave clock time.
In grief and trauma, it is important to go back to the before  to invoke memories and imagine a better future.
Stories and poems provide a framework for this.
 Here is the poem I wrote in this  interactive session as we were asked to remember a person/event:

I remember
I remember my father's eyes,
because they twinkled
like crystals
illuminating his face
undergirding the laughter
because he amused himself so
 with the devilment he studied.

Chris Crow and Pam Munoz Ryan

I couldn't help myself-- these are the books I purchased while listening to these two authors who are creating new forms/new structures each time they write.


That is the number of soldiers that died in 1968 in the VietNam War.   That is also the number of syllables in this novel, set during the same year.  976 haiku containing 16,592 syllables--one for each soldier that died that  year.

 Crowe told us how this unique structure came to be. He also includes this information in the author's note in the back of the book:

I started thinking about the number 17 and the other numbers that appeared in the story and wondered how I might use them. What else relied on 17? Well, haiku has 17 syllables; maybe I could have my character write haiku as a hobby. Or maybe I could divide the book into 17 sections and have a haiku introduce each section. What else? Was 1968 divisible by 17? It’d be cool if it was. ... 
The number 1968 isn’t evenly divisible by 17, but 16,592 is:16,592 divided by 17 equals 976. 
Then a jolt of creative surprise shook me. What if I wrote the novel entirely in haiku? What if the novel contained one syllable for every U.S. soldier who died in 1968? What if the entire story were contained by a syllable count? It sounded crazy. It sounded like a stupid gimmick. It sounded impossible. But I decided to try it anyway.

Also, my kind of book-- I can't wait for it to arrive.

It contains 3 novellas, a fairytale, and a short story, all connected by a single harmonica and woven into one novel, blending history and fiction, transcending three time periods and settings.

As it pushes the boundaries of structure, form, and genre- I wonder if novel is large enough to describe this accomplishment.


In search of a full vision, she urges young black women to engage in, writing--collaborative and individual writing --to counter power, to represent self, kinship and friendship---writing in which histories, identities,  literacies and society must intersect.

The students in her five-week writing institute wrote a preamble--a pledge, a call to action of sorts--which was recited at the beginning of each session:
We, the Sister Authors, write for then, now, and
later to honor those before us and to inspire
those who are yet to come. We write because we
will not allow those who aren’t us, speak for us,
judge us, or tell our stories. We all bleed blood
but society has chosen to look only at our skin
color. In order for the world to hear our voices,
we must be brave enough to let them be heard,
so we write to advocate for change. While we are
young, black, and female, we are individuals.
Our stories are uniquely beautiful. 
We cannot hold it in, we write it out!
This collaboratively written preamble was modeled on the 1831 Preamble from the Female Literary Association of Philadelphia and captures the spirit and challenges facing these young women.

Muhammad challenges us in the final words of an article related to the work she shared at NCTE:

As teachers design writing pedagogy for
students, we must establish a “literary presence,” or
an environment in which students can share their
voices and visions as they explore themselves through
writing. If students are able to use writing as a tool to
learn more about themselves, they may then counter
hegemonic or misaligned classroom practices. When
writing instruction is approached in this way, it is
liberating for students and becomes essential in
shaping the trajectories of their lives.
To read more about her research and the writing institute click here.

In closing, she offered the words of Alice Walker, which for me summed up this entire convention:

Rebellious. Living.
Against the Elemental Crush.
A Song of Color
For Deserving Eyes
Blooming Gloriously
For its Self.


Story as the Landscape of Knowledge

Are the landscapes we are creating large enough to include everyone?

Is there space for the poor, the black, the brown, the yellow, red and white, the migrant, the immigrant, the refugee, the woman, the LGBTQ, the troubled male, the excluded, the marginalized.... the other and the other?

Whose stories are we privileging, excluding, including, ignoring, lifting up, exploiting....exploring?

Whose stories are included and preserved in our museums?  Who is remembered in our memorials?  And who do we honor with our monuments?

Story as the Landscape of Knowledge

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

How can we best serve, teach, and honor today's children?

How can we include everybody's discourses, identities, and literacies in our classrooms?

What is our role in the transformative movement?

What genres, structures and forms can move us all forward into the future?

Write an  essay  exploring these questions.

Write an inspirational poem for today's students.

Create a new form/structure/genre to tell your story as the landscape of knowledge.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


It is not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear...It's like being between trapezes.  It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There is nothing to hold on to.
          --Margaret Ferguson                                                        

Flying trepeese
Fotokannan at Malayalam Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The place in between
that space sandwiched
betwixt and  between
our memories and realities
our now and next
our was and wanted
our seen and unseen
our predicted and actual
our remembered and forgotten.

There is that place
where we hang
in the balance
for a  hand
or a foothold
riding on a gust
of liminality
searching our current boundaries
for a breach
for a hole in the fence
for a solidity in the vague margin
that will allow us to reach
the next place.

There is that space
where we float
just above
just below
our own reality
our own intentions
searching the expanse
for the lines
that will define
our uncertainties
compass our doubts
name the space
and create
our new personal place.

How do we live in those uncertain, unnameable places in between?

In An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Colin enters the inbetween via a road trip-- his friend's antidote to Colin's breakup with Katherine, the most recent of  several former girlfriends of the same name. Colin views that wandering space that we all visit as one of creation-- an opportunity to reinvent himself.

Soon Colin drove past the Hardee's and out onto the interstate heading north.  As the staggered lines rushed past him he thought about the space between what we remember and what happened, the space between what we predict and what will happen.  And in that space, Colin thought there was room enough to make himself into something other than a prodigy, to remake his story better and different--room enough to be reborn again and again.

Sometimes the space between is where we, like Colin, ascend to our better selves.

Often, it is unknowable and un-snatchable, as the space widens and separates us from ourselves.

Jill Jupen captures this elusiveness in her poem The Space Between included in Rattle #43 Spring 2014.

...I speak words
 that sound foreign
even to me:
said too early
or perhaps too late...,

Emotional  and relational situations like Colin's breakup  can send us reeling into unknown inbetween spaces. 

 Physical circumstances can also displace us, sending us into an undefined place.

In No Place by Todd Strasser, Dan find himself between home, as his parent lose their jobs and his middle-class family descends  to homelessness.

In this new space, he is confronted by perspectives, choices, and social justice issues which he had never before considered.

Sometimes  we make a conscious choice to enter the "big air" space -- to hang between the known safe and the desired goal.  Like flying between trapezes referenced in the opening quote, walking the high wire also places us in that space.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers  by Mordicai Gerstein tells the true story of French aerialist, Philippe Petit walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.
He looked not at the towers but the space between them
and thought what a wonderful place to stretch a rope;
a wire on which to walk. Once the idea came to him
he  knew he had to do it...

As we read his story, we can't help but think about the awful space created when those same towers were destroyed in 2001.  And we celebrate, as just days ago the new World Trade Center Tower opened for business.

Finally, as we consider these various spaces in which we have nothing to hold onto, in which we hang in the air, floating in limbo-- it is important to recognize that these spaces exist also as we write.

We seek to explore our ideas and meanings, before too quickly coming to conclusions, prior to settling into a space of certainty.  

 In Critical Passages: Teaching the Transition to College Composition, the authors adopt Victor Turner's definition of liminality and design writing experiences  using artwork as a way to foster this liminality:

In his 1969 work The Ritual Process, the anthropologist Victor Turner helped spread "liminality" as a concept for explaining the experience of those who participate in rites of passage.  For Turner, liminality denotes a period in which participants are "neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial." the classroom, the goal of the liminal phase is to spend time creating a set of  potential provisional connections (among the details of the artwork), the evoking tensions that arise begin to speculate playfully,,, write a list of questions...

In other words, as we compose ( and as we live)  we remain, at least initially, in a space in between, allowing multiple perspectives and possibilities to freely enter that space.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

List those inbetween spaces and places in your personal life, your professional life, your love life, your spiritual life, or other aspects.

Write questions about these spaces, as well as alternative, oppositional, and speculative details, definitions, and descriptions of your limbo spaces.

Write a personal narrative, essay or poem about the inbetween places in your life and your world.