Conference Craze: My Experience Attending the National NCTE and National Sigma Tau Delta Conferences
As English majors, all of us are familiar with the amount of dedication, sweat, and tears it takes to write a solid essay or create a complex project. Many times, these projects and papers are read by our professors and given a grade, but then they become only a wisp of a memory in the back of our minds, especially after we are assigned additional essays and projects. However, there are times when we create an essay or a project that we are really, really proud of. So proud, in fact, that we may want to share it with others. Thankfully, college students can have the opportunity to share their work with others by attending conferences. There is truly no greater feeling than having the opportunity to present a paper or project (that you’ve spent hours of time creating) in front of a group of peers and professionals who support and encourage you.
This semester I have had the wonderful opportunity to attend two national English conferences where I shared my academic work, met new people, and gained valuable knowledge from professionals in the field of English and Education. After diligently submitting abstracts and receiving research grants, I was able to present a project at the national NCTE conference in Fall 2017, and I was able to present a paper at the national Sigma Tau Delta Conference in Spring 2018!
The NCTE Conference:
NCTE stands for the National Council of Teachers of English, and this conference was comprised of English teachers from all over the country! The national NCTE conference,
which was held in Saint Louis, Missouri this past November, was dedicated to helping English teachers refine their skills, network with other teachers, discover new books to read with their class, and meet new popular authors. Thanks to the help of Dr. Alisha White, I was able to attend the national conference. Dr. Rebekah Buchanan also joined us!
While at the conference, I was able to attend a variety of panels to gain more information about recent research concerning English instruction. A few of my favorite panels were: Recapture Our Voices: The Joy of the Thing (I was able to hear various authors, such as Laurie Halse Anderson and Jason Reynolds, discuss their young adult literature books), The Arts for Action and Meaning Making Today, Tomorrow, and Forever: An Invitation to Think, Play, Move, and Feel (Dr. Alisha White, from WIU presented in this panel, which advocated for using art to teach literature!), Recapturing the YA Voice in Literature: Culture, Family, and Identity (Various teachers presented on various novels and the benefits of teaching them, and author Benjamin Alire Saenz gave an incredible speech about the importance of young adult fiction in English classes). I was also able to hear authors Gareth Hinds and Jacqueline Woodson speak about their work in the general session panels. Additionally, I presented my learning segment project “Analyzing Isabel: Exploring A Fierce and Subtle Poison Through Action Strategies” in the Future is Now: Exploring 21st-Century Teaching Ideas with the Next Generation of English Teachers panel. During this panel, I was able to talk with other pre-teachers and teachers about fresh ideas and activities to use in the English classroom. Besides having the opportunity to present at this incredible conference, my highlight of the conference was having the chance to meet Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympian Series!
While at the conference, I presented my learning segment project, “Analyzing Isabel: Exploring A Fierce and Subtle Poison Through Action Strategies.” This learning segment was a series of three lessons that focused on using role play and dramatization activities to allow students to explore and respond to the book A Fierce and Subtle Poison. I focused my presentation specifically on one lesson, called Good Angel/Bad Angel, which requires students to split into groups of three and role play the decision of a major character in a
novel. To complete this activity in small groups, each member of the small group takes on a specific role. Students are presented with a scenario that a character must overcome. In this case, I asked the students if Isabel, one of the main female protagonists of the novel, should continue to let her father experiment on the people he kidnaps in order to save her life. After reading the scenario, students adopt their roles. One student plays a character, in this case Isabel, one student plays the character’s “Good Angel” or good conscience, and the other plays the characters “Bad Angel”, or bad conscience. The students playing the angels have to tell Isabel what they believe she should do, and they must create arguments to support their points and refute the other angel’s point. The other two activities in the learning segment included a lesson where students have to conduct a news report about a specific event in the novel and a lesson where students act out scenes from the novel in a tableau. All of these activities help students analyze and answer higher order questions, integrate relationships between various pieces of information, and develop a deep understanding of a text.
The Sigma Tau Delta Conference:
Sigma Tau Delta is a national English honors society. WIU has an active chapter, Phi Delta, which devotes itself to supporting literacy, volunteering, and giving English majors the opportunity to network with other English majors and present their work. Thanks to the help of Dr. Magdelyn Helwig and Dr. Timothy Helwig, Paige Rohrback, Molly Cameron and I were able to attend both the regional Sigma Tau Delta conference, which was held at WIU, and the National Sigma Tau Delta conference, which was hosted at the Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. Attending the National Sigma Tau Delta conference was an incredibly enriching experience because it not only gave me the opportunity to share my academic work, but it also allowed me to network with other English majors and
hear about their scholarly research. A few of the panels that I attended and found particularly interesting and helpful were: How to Teach Shakespeare to Children of All Ages, Popular Culture and Mental Health, Getting Published: From Pen to Printing Press, and Pedagogy: Teaching Writing. I believe that the information I gained while participating in these panels will assist me in my future as an English Teacher. I loved being able to hear recent academic research concerning the field of English, and I was glad that I was able to attend the conference and gain new information. While at the conference, I presented my essay “Prospero: Man of Otherness,” which discussed the relationship between the colonizer, Prospero, and the colonized natives, Caliban and Ariel, of the island in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Paige Rohrback presented her essay “Home Away From Home,” which was centered on The Book of Unknown Americans. Molly Cameron presented her essay “Addicted to Happiness: Dystopia as Utopia” and also presented in a roundtable called “Brave New Worlds: Plausible Dystopias.” Her presentations focused on exploring dystopian novels and their messages to readers. All of our presentations were successful, and we enjoyed getting to discuss our topics with other English majors.
In between conference days, we also had the opportunity tour the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center with chapter advisors Tim and Magdelyn Helwig, and receive a private tour of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House.
Additionally, this conference included fun socializing activities such as an Open Mic Night (Anyone and everyone could share their writing), a Bad Poetry Contest, (Molly Cameron shared her poem “Chipotle,” and Molly, Paige and I presented our poem “I’m Feeling a Little Suicidal, So I’m Going to Wallgreens,” which was based on a poorly executed theft we witnessed at the Wallgreens down the street from the hotel) and a Literary Escape Room. These activities allowed everyone to get to know one another and bond through our love of English. The Bad Poetry contest was particularly hilarious, and the audience enjoyed booing and heckling speakers off the stage. Participants won awards for “Worst Bad Poems” and “Worst Good Poems.” Be sure to ask
Molly Cameron about the award she won for “Chipotle,” which she artfully composed around 5 minutes after eating dinner with me at the restaurant by the same name. The Literary Escape Room was also extremely enjoyable, and each escape room was focused on a particular book or book series. For example, our group attended the Jane Eyre room and the Series of Unfortunate Events Room (Sadly, those were the only rooms we could experience because so many people attended this event!) We were also able to attend the final Gala, which included a multi course dinner and an award ceremony. Overall, the National Conference was extremely enjoyable!
After attending these incredible conferences this year, I highly encourage undergraduates to attend conferences as well! Conferences are a great way to present you work, network with other people in your major, and learn about fresh research concerning your major! Do not miss out on the wonderful opportunities conferences can offer!