ALAN: The Best Professional Development

After two days at the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) Conference in DC, I thought I’d write about the highlights from this year’s panels. This is my second year to attend, and after last year’s experience I decided it’s the best professional development for secondary English teachers around. And this year didn’t disappoint, and certainly supported my thoughts on these powerful two days.

Let me first talk about why it’s the best. It’s two days of panel after panel of authors speaking candidly about their work. They talk about their craft and their experiences that influence their works and share their perspective on the power of books. As a college professor of future teachers, these perspectives are the best thing I can bring back to my graduate students so that I can help them with the teaching of YA literature.

Knowing the author’s thoughts can give teachers something to discuss with students in reading conferences and frame how they implement their reading workshops. In my opinion, this holds much more value than a lesson that I may or may not use when I get back to my classroom that so many professional development workshops intend to do. So with that said, here are quotes and ideas that will stay with me as a teacher, and I hope they can bring something new to your teaching. However, I hope they also get you excited for ALAN 2015!

Libba Bray:

  • “Stop assigning gender to books. There are no girl books and boy books; there are only books.”
  • “By telling boys ‘that’s a girl’s book’; you are saying that half of the population is not worth knowing. And the same could be said for girls.”
  • 70-80% of the suggested CCSS works are written by men.
  • Addressing an article that closes with, “You can’t give a boy a book with a female protagonist and expect him to identify.” Libba Bray’s response: “WHY NOT?…And yet we do this with girls!” (Personal note: One of my favorite memoirs is The Glass Castle.)
  • All homophobia has its roots in misogyny. (Not sure if Bray said this, but it makes sense.)

Transgender Panel:

  • “People want to bring sex and religion into it and that is so far from what we’re dealing with. It’s about dealing with who we are.”
  • “It doesn’t matter what the gender is, it matters who the human being is.” (I think the use of “what” versus “who” is noteworthy.)

Common Core: Bridge or Barrier? Nonfiction books in the classroom:

  • How do we get their eyes to light up about researching a topic that interests them? Encourage students to see research as “active”–interviews and observations. What I loved about this panel was that it was nonfiction writers talking about why they love to research, and it has nothing to do with how we generally teach it in schools.
  • Primary documents versus “Textbook veneer.”
  • Experts want to talk about what they do, so encourage kids to talk with them. Internet can make this happen!

Brandon Sanderson – Fantasy Panel:

  • When asked by a parent, “My kids loves these [YA] books, but how do I get him to read Milton?” His answer, “Getting kids to read without forcing them to read will get them there.”



3 thoughts on “ALAN: The Best Professional Development

  1. Re: Libba Bray comments: The prognosticator in me sees a rich new(ish) culture-war battlefield developing in the way elementary schools approach gender issues. On one hand, you have the bazillions of elementary-schools and classrooms that rigidly enforce boy-girl gender separation and stereotypes. Not just in book choices, but in activities, lining up, etc. On the other hand, we’ve got influential elite voices like that of Bray, pushing for a new vision of gender in schools.
    We’ve already seen some battles over school bathrooms. Who decides who gets to use the “boys'” room or the “girls'” room? With fervent activists like Bray on one side and deeply held traditionalism on the other, seems like the ground is ripe for battles.

    • I couldn’t agree more. There was also a panel titled “Celebrating Our True Identities: Personal Stories of Transgendered Teens and Their Families.” I’d be curious to see how well that would go over with some of the conservative voices.

      • And even among people who don’t consider themselves particularly “conservative.” Back in the 1920s, this same broad coalition of traditionalists did a lot to make sure that kids in public schools still read the Bible. Not all of them were religiously conservative. Many people back then just ASSUMED that proper schooling included the Bible. These days, I don’t think a parent has to be particularly self-consciously “conservative” to be flustered by teachers’ or authors’ attempts to celebrate transgender identities in public schools.

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