Friday Five: Reasons to Attend PCTELA

Our annual conference is only two weeks away!

Congruent Worlds, Convergent Practice: Re-Storying Self, School, and Society
The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, State College, PA
October 14th & 15th 2016

Here are some reasons to attend:
1. Listen to and meet our amazing speakers, like award-winning author Sharon Draper.
2. Attend concurrent sessions by amazing professionals who want to share exciting classroom ideas.
3. Visit our exhibitors and find new materials for your classroom (and come to our gently-used, free book table and go home with new books).
4. Network with colleagues old and new while eating delicious food at the Penn Stater Conference Center.
5. Because you’ll have fun!


Cynthia Lord and H.Bernard Hall at last year’s conference.

Friday Five: Reasons to Attend PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Let the Great World Spin

Up Late with Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann51i-t8vngdl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

I’ve seen this book at booksales and in bookstores, and always thought it looked interesting, but it wasn’t until a student brought it in, put it into my hands, and insisted I would love it that I actually started reading it. I am so glad she lent me her well-worn copy.  This novel circles around a tightrope walker’s antics on a wire between the Twin Towers on a hot August day in1974. Each segment profiles a different character, but also shows us how intricately connected we all are. In the author’s note at the back, he admits to being interested in those people who walk a tightrope just an inch off the ground.

I was struck first by the precision of language and McCann’s ability to really show me a scene and make me see it. The vivid visual depictions were masterful, and not overdone. Aside from these delightful images he conjures up for you, there are many insights into what it means to be human.  For example, on travel: “It struck me that distant cities are designed precisely so you can know where you came from. We bring home with us when we leave.” Related to this, a sense of place permeates the novel, and can be seen in observations like this one: “Everyone knows where they are from when they know where it is they want to be buried.”

McCann also writes this as a sort of love note to New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. He says of the city: “Strange things occurred precisely because there was no necessary regard for the past. The city lived in a sort of everyday present.” Later, when a character studying graffiti contemplates new tags and thinks of ways to make better, more original art, he considers: “It was only genius if you thought of it first. A teacher told him that.” Of course, as a high school teacher myself, it is easy to see this as something I might say to a student.

I highly recommend reading this National Book Award winner if you missed it the first time around.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Let the Great World Spin

Friday Five: Poems for Autumn

Friday Five: Poems for Autumn

Autumn Begins In Martins Ferry, Ohio
James Wright
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

Autumn moonlight

Matsuo Basho
Autumn moonlight–
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.

Autumn Valentine
Dorothy Parker
In May my heart was breaking-
Oh, wide the wound, and deep!
And bitter it beat at waking,
And sore it split in sleep.

And when it came November,
I sought my heart, and sighed,
“Poor thing, do you remember?”
“What heart was that?” it cried.

Autumn Song

Katherine Mansfield
Now’s the time when children’s noses
All become as red as roses
And the colour of their faces
Makes me think of orchard places
Where the juicy apples grow,
And tomatoes in a row.

And to-day the hardened sinner
Never could be late for dinner,
But will jump up to the table
Just as soon as he is able,
Ask for three times hot roast mutton–
Oh! the shocking little glutton.

Come then, find your ball and racket,
Pop into your winter jacket,
With the lovely bear-skin lining.
While the sun is brightly shining,
Let us run and play together
And just love the autumn weather.

Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn
Carl Sandburg
Smoke of autumn is on it all.
The streamers loosen and travel.
The red west is stopped with a gray haze.
They fill the ash trees, they wrap the oaks,
They make a long-tailed rider
In the pocket of the first, the earliest evening star.. . .
Three muskrats swim west on the Desplaines River.

There is a sheet of red ember glow on the river; it is dusk; and the muskrats one by one go on patrol routes west.

Around each slippery padding rat, a fan of ripples; in the silence of dusk a faint wash of ripples, the padding of the rats going west, in a dark and shivering river gold.

(A newspaper in my pocket says the Germans pierce the Italian line; I have letters from poets and sculptors in Greenwich Village; I have letters from an ambulance man in France and an I. W. W. man in Vladivostok.)

I lean on an ash and watch the lights fall, the red ember glow, and three muskrats swim west in a fan of ripples on a sheet of river gold.. . .
Better the blue silence and the gray west,
The autumn mist on the river,
And not any hate and not any love,
And not anything at all of the keen and the deep:
Only the peace of a dog head on a barn floor,
And the new corn shoveled in bushels
And the pumpkins brought from the corn rows,
Umber lights of the dark,
Umber lanterns of the loam dark.

Here a dog head dreams.
Not any hate, not any love.
Not anything but dreams.
Brother of dusk and umber.

Friday Five: Poems for Autumn

Book Review: Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

So I still have that literary crush on Teju Cole, but it may have turned into full-blown fangirl status with his latest book, filled with brilliant essays, titled Known and Strange Things. I would argue Teju Cole’s work represents the voice of a generation–but more than that, the voice of our time, regardless of age.  His essays include personal narratives and travel writing and analysis of art and current issues and in each one I found myself scribbling notes furiously. Sometimes it was a turn of a phrase, somethings an insightful observation, and sometimes (most times) I found myself creating a list of authors, artists, and texts I needed to read/view/research immediately.

Teju Cole is like your super-smart well-read friend who always refers to books and ideas in a non-pretentious way and makes you wish you were as smart as they were. But you can’t be jealous of their brilliance, because without them, you wouldn’t know about all the interesting things they share with you.  Cole does not hold back on his criticism of those he finds lacking, but his work is fresh–unlike those he chastises here: “There are many standard formulations in our language, which stand in place of thought, but we proclaim them each time–due to laziness, prejudice, or hypocrisy–as though they were fresh insight.”

His credo is hard not to agree with: “What do I believe in? Imagination, gardens, science, poetry, love, and a variety of nonviolent consolations. I suspect that in aggregate all this isn’t enough, but it’s where I am for now.”

And his observations are compelling, and yet make sense–they are ideas we have not yet discovered we even had, until he utters them and makes us aware of our thoughts. For example, his comment that “All technology arises out of specific social circumstances” leads to his question “What is the fate of art in the age of metastasized mechanical reproduction?” And I want to know, what is the fate of art in this age?  You might find one answer by following Cole on twitter, which, I would argue is just as artistic as any of his full texts.  As he himself notes, “curation and juxtaposition are basic artistic gestures,” so the way he curates his social media is thus, by extension, a work of art. Sadly, he’s been on hiatus from twitter after his brilliant World Cup tweets in 2014.3e4c2106-58ef-11e6-89cf-11d50d057da5-300x464

You might find his thoughts about voting particularly important in this election year: “we participate in things not because they are ideal but because they are not,” or perhaps you might be transported by his idea that placing ourselves where our artistic forebears went before us can connect us in deep ways: “When I’m moved by something, I want to literally put myself in its place, the better to understand what was transformed.”

Finally, reading his writing was like immersing myself into deep water, trying to hold my breath longer in order to see the underwater delights: I had to keep surfacing, take a breath, take a break, take some notes, and then inhale deeply and dive back into the essays–which make this pausing a little easier than if this were a novel. Cole even writes about composing with a similar metaphor:”Writing as diving: an exhilaration, a compression, a depression.”

Reading this book, I found myself wanting to copy different essays to share with colleagues, students, and friends. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy to read immediately–you won’t regret it, and you’ll probably end up adding a bunch of books to your to-read list based on his recommendations.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

Book Review: Up Late with Genius The Game

Up Late with Genius The Game

When a student stays after class in the second week of school, talking about a book she thinks I need to read, and then hands me that book in the third week, I take some extra time over the weekend to read it.

Genius: The Game, by Leopoldo Gout, tells the story of three young geniuses with different skill sets, competing in The Game, held by a successful young entrepreneur. Painted Wolf is essentially a spy, filming secret business deals and exposing them online. Rex, a computer programmer and hacker, has a missing brother, which pushes him to create people-finding software. Finally, Tunde is an engineer who creates workable devices from recycled goods. Because he’s being blackmailed by a dictator in his country, he must win the competition and build a device that will meet the needs of the dictator while simultaneously undermining the evil ruler.

The book tells the story of each of these players, how they find their way to Boston, and why they want to compete.  What makes this young adult book a little different than others is the way it incorporates images, designs, and art on the page and the page borders.  There are schematics for inventions, screen shots from spy cameras, and bits and pieces of code.  While illustrations are not new for books, this particular text seems infused with the graphic elements, so they do not feel separate from the narrative.

While this is a fairly archetypal hero quest, the characters offer diversity for the reader’s interest.  Additionally, there were some interesting statements about creativity and power in the book. At one point, a character says, “we can’t remove ignorance but we can repress it.” Another portion I found particularly interesting arrive in the form of a rebellious group’s credo, called the Terminal Manifesto:screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-24-26-am

So if you have a student interested in programming, engineering, espionage, or film, this might be a good book to hand off to them. If you’re looking for a fun adventure story with strong-willed protagonists, this might be the perfect read for you.


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Genius The Game

Friday Five: Blogs for English Teachers

This week as we all settle back in to school routines, whittle down our in-box emails, and finish up with back-to-school nights, I figured we might be ready to do some exploring of interesting, relevant teacher blogs.  Here are five I enjoy–if you have your own favorites, share them in the comment section.

  1. Crawling out of the Classroom: as stated on the blog: “As I begin a year of transformation as a teacher, I am attempting to break down the four walls of my classroom to reach out to others and connect about the incredible world of education.” I’ve found Jessica Lifshitz’s blog compelling for many reasons. She’s willing to write about uncomfortable topics, important topics, and she also offers great ideas to apply to your classroom. For example, after reading about how her students were creating data about her classroom bookshelves, I did that with my students and discovered huge gaps in the diversity of the books on my shelves. Great topics, great writing, great ideas.
  2. The Nerdy Book Club Run by four amazing people: Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, and Cindy Minnich, this blog is for all of us booknerds: “If you love books, especially those written for children and young adults, then you are an honorary member of The Nerdy Book Club. Like us, you probably always have a book along to read, a title to recommend, and time to talk about works held dear. This online space was designed to give us a home to share that love of reading with others as well as to organize voting and announcing winners of our First Annual Nerdies Book Awards.”
  3. Two Writing Teachers Originally created by Ruth Ayers and Stacy Shubitz, this site focuses on the writing parts of the classroom. The site states it is a “A Meeting Place for a World of Reflective Writers.”
  4. Brain Pickings. Maria Popova is a genius at synthesis. Her blog posts are full of smart connections and thoughtful analysis–she does the hard work so we don’t have to. According to her, the blog is “my one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why. Mostly, it’s a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.”
  5. Book Riot is a little bigger/more commercial than these previous blogs, but the posts are enjoyable and they’re usually on various and sundry topics related to books. According to the site, “Book Riot is dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are. So sometimes we are serious and sometimes silly. Some of our writers are pros. Many of them aren’t. We like a good list just as much as we like a good review. We think you can like both J.K. Rowling and J.M. Coetzee and that there are smart, funny, and informative things to say about both and that you shouldn’t have to choose.”

So enjoy these new blogs, and feel free to share your favorites in the comments section. Happy reading/writing/blogging. And have a great weekend!

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Friday Five: Blogs for English Teachers

Fund Teachers for the Dream Application

Fund Teachers for the Dream Grant Proposal and Application

The Fund the Dream grant was awarded to the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). We are using this grant in order to mentor teaching candidates and new teachers in their first three years of teaching. Our goal is to select teachers of color who are enthusiastic, academically ­driven, and passionate about this profession! We want to support these teachers in developing and implementing a mentoring opportunity for students so they can grow professionally and share that flare for learning with students across Pennsylvania.

We will be selecting up to three teaching candidates and/or new teachers from Pennsylvania to mentor as they develop a mentoring activity for students in a “pay it forward” play on professional development.

The teaching candidates and/or new teachers selected for this opportunity will be given:

●  Up to $125 to purchase materials for your proposed mentoring activity

●  $50 to purchase books published by NCTE

●  Complimentary one­day registration to the October 2017 Annual PCTELA Conference in Pittsburgh, PA

Please take 10­-15 minutes to write a short response to the following questions and submit your proposal either online or via email to our Executive Director, Allison Irwin. You do not need to be an English or Reading teacher to submit a proposal! We welcome all teachers with a heart for using literacy in the classroom (reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards) to apply!


Allison Irwin Executive Director PCTELA


Fund Teachers for the Dream Application