Plum Creek Literacy Festival

Yesterday I ran two sessions at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival about using and developing games for the classroom.

Overall it went very well.  People responded well to the sessions.  It was mostly pre-service teachers, which is a group that I haven’t worked with in a while.  My duties as a mentor in my District and as a professor at UNO focus on first and second year inservice teachers.  So, it’s always refreshing to speak to different groups.

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The first session was a presentation.  I started with encouraging them to do what kids do in my classroom with the Natural Resources Game.  We didn’t play the full game as these were hour long sessions.  After they made their energy choices I explained what would happen next in the game and then focused on describing my design process.  The session ended with tips on how to use games in the classroom at multiple levels, from indoor recess, plugging in an existing game, to thoughts about how they might go about designing their own.

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The second session was more of a free-form open session.  I began by describing some of the games I had brought from Spielbound and how a teacher might play or adapt a game to their classroom.  I then encouraged people to split into groups and just play!  I talked to a small group of a half dozen people who were interested in seeing the classroom games that I showcased in the first session.  I answered some questions and gave some tips, but mostly I tried to impart that the professional has the power to effect change and that they have to commit to their own premeditated decisions.

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Sorry, lighting was low.

I wish had brought Story Cubes!  Those would be great tools for writing and reading development!

I listened to children’s author Carmen Deedy talk about her experiences as a child that helped her to become a writer and love reading.  She’s a spectacular story-teller.  She really knows how to connect to an audience.  As much as I enjoyed it, I just find it really interesting how different my role is from her role.  All she has to do is speak and all we have to do is listen.  That doesn’t mean story-telling and public-speaking aren’t deep skills.  They certainly are.  The preparation and execution are just more personally-directed it would seem.  In a classroom, the best teachers put the students in charge and have to juggle controlled chaos.  That is incredibly hard and just a different level of analysis.  I especially enjoyed her emphasis on the importance of relationships and her witty quips throughout.

Lunch was gourmet.  Wonderful.  I did not care for the lunch speaker, Richard Peck.  I get it.  He’s a very famous author.  He’s also an older gentleman.  Maybe that affords him the ability to say what he wants?  He said a lot of good things about assessment (he didn’t frame it that way) and is working on a book about children understanding same-sex marriage, which I think is great.  He highlighted some classic and critical Nebraska authors.

What bothered me about him is that he made the point that history is a cycle and that this cycle should concern us.  I agree and that’s great. But then he dove right into the generational bashing and ridicule that history has repeated over and over again.  He blamed parents, he blamed technology, he blamed young people’s choices, he blamed teaching methodologies he doesn’t like, but not once did he seek to understand.  I’m sure he appealed highly to traditionalists in the audience.  But this isn’t how modern teachers think.  We are not coddlers nor are we idiots.  Just because someone doesn’t understand how we use positive guidance doesn’t mean that positive guidance is wrong.  It is a stereotype to say that we’re just a bunch of coddlers.

Literacy is important.  There is no doubt there.  But I don’t believe that we make literacy a mission by condemning what is new in our collective culture.  I just felt patronized.  It was a “I love you, but here’s why you suck” style of talk.  As if we’re in control of everything that happens in a school.  A lot of people couldn’t seem to get past the “I love you” part, maybe because they have a deep respect for him as an author?  I just don’t believe that fame should give anyone carte blanche to justify any argument they want.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing too.  East coasters have very different opinions than us “lowly” Mid-westerners.

Literacy isn’t my training, so I couldn’t help but feeling like an outsider in a good ol’ boys club there.  But, I had some good conversations and I hope I helped young and experienced teachers consider the power of play and games in the classroom.  The communication, from the perspective of someone who has done a lot of speaking engagements, could have been better.  When one does a speaking engagement, over-saturation of communication is needed and that didn’t really happen.  I’ve never been to this festival and had no idea where to go, park, or unload.  I was supposed to receive a packet with information and did not, but I could have done a better job in following up on that.  It is what it is.  It all worked out.

Just one more step in helping people consider options for creative instruction!

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