Sigma Tau Delta International Convention Observations (Nikki Highfill)

Veronica “Nikki” Highfill

From donut shops to Virginia Euwer Wolff and everything in between, the international English Honor Society convention in Portland was one for the books. I love trips as much as the next guy, but a trip that involves being surrounded by literally hundreds of English lovers of all kinds? Sign me up.Thursday through Saturday were scheduled with sessions in which students presented their work within a certain area. There were sessions of creative writing pieces, British romantic poets, and teaching secondary English, just to name a few. It got to the point where there were so many options that I was upset that I couldn’t attend them all. The ones I did attend left me with new ideas or understandings of aspects of English. During the allotted time in which students were not presenting papers, there were featured speakers to attend who shared their stories as authors, writers, readers, and teachers. I made it a priority to attend each featured speaker.

One particular session that really stood out to me was the one about slang words and grammar. As English nerds, it’s safe to say that we don’t mind learning about gerunds or noun phrases. Yet, we’re not going to be teaching all future English teachers. Kids will be slaughterin’ our gerunds and thinking that that is “legit.” A male student presented a paper on how slang is working its way into the classroom. This set up the room for a debate as to whether or not it should be allowed. With all the discussion on “right” or “proper” English, slang is a touchy subject. After papers are presented, the audience is allowed to ask questions or make comments to the presenters. Some audience members argued that slang should not be allowed in the classroom as they believe there is a correct form of English. Other audience members declared that banning slang from being incorporated is a form of discrimination. As a future teacher, this is important to reflect on and ponder what I will do when I see “u” instead of “you” or “legitly” instead of “legitimately.”

The session that I looked forward to most was the assembly in which four English teachers had a “Q and A” discussion. Discussion revolved around how to get students to read assigned reading. Two of the speakers gave two different options as to how to approach assigned readings in classrooms of all ages. One suggestion made by an English teacher of 20 years was an approach called literature circles. Teachers may use this technique in various forms, but as he was describing the way in which he formats his literature circles, I began to take notes furiously in my notebook. The passion in which these four English teachers expressed during the session made me excited to be one of them someday. Their honest reflections and confessions made me sit back and think to myself how happy I was that I came to this conference.

Another tip learned from that particular session lead by four English teachers was how to get students engaged in what they are reading. This is a common concern for many teachers; how do we get students to actually enjoy and understand their assignments? The best example given was handing each student a copy of Hamlet and saying “read this, here’s hoping you understand it.” Even if we walk them through it, certain materials are harder to grasp. The tip given was to start small and work your way up. Give the students “a ramp to the runway.” Give the students articles or show them clips that are relevant to Hamlet but easier to understand. Give the students a similar story to the harder piece of work to relate back to and make easy connections. This advice may seem like a no brainer, but when you’re faced with a classroom full of teenagers staring at you expecting you to do a trick, it’s difficult to know what to do.

The final session I attended was one titled “Teaching and Pedagogy.” This session was well worth my time because it focused on writing across the curriculum. The importance of writing does not just belong in an English classroom. Writing occurs in science, history, and math, yes, even math. The point was made that English, science, and history classrooms incorporate writing into their curriculum, but in a fashion that leads students to regurgitate facts about what they just learned in a formal paper. As important as those facts might be, it would be more enjoyable for students to write and teachers to read creative writing assignments that still revolved around those facts. Similar to the “ramp to the runway” method, give students a more enjoyable assignment in order to better understand and relate to the bigger picture.

This report doesn’t do the trip justice. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to explore Portland and explore my love for English. The resources I came home with are ones I will utilize in the future. 

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