Just in from the annual MCTE Fall Conference. I thought this year offered an interesting key note speaker in Barry Lane, who emphasize teaching humor and voice through a series of unconventional (and often hilarious) writing assignments. Lane was frenetic and a little disorganized, but he held my attention and made me laugh aloud a few times. The most intriguing writing assignment, I thought, involved asking students to change the text of advertisements. This is nearly the same idea that Rob Pope recommends in one of my favorite books, Textual Intervention.

I also really appreciated the talk given by my friend (and co-author) Allen Webb. The amazing part about Allen is that he can wear any number of academic hats. His usual area is English education–and he has written a number of books and countless articles on issues related to our field. But he is also a scholar of post-colonial literature, and his talk today showed his depth of expertise in this field as well. His talk covered Middle Eastern literature, a topic pretty unfamiliar to me. By the end of his presentation, I had a number of titles to read, including Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, a young adult novel about a Palestinian girl whose father decides to move the family from St. Louis back to Palestine. This would make a great literature circle text.

I also had a chance to stop by the publisher’s exhibitions–a larger bunch than in previous years. A couple of titles caught my eye: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, a YA novel about a high school where students are unbelievably tolerant. Haven’t read it, but it looks like an interesting exploration of adolescent sexuality and attitudes. Another one that looks good (found a copy in the teacher dollar store) is Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein. I heard Klein interviewed on NPR not too long ago, and if her book is as funny (and poignant) as she is, it’ll be a good read.

What else are conferences good for? Networking. It was great to talk to my friend Troy Hicks, who is working on a book about digital technologies and writing. Troy is always ahead of the curve on technology issues, and he pointed me to a couple of cool Google things: first, Google Teacher Academy, which offers workshops to K-12 teachers (it’s competitive–you need to apply), and then, Google In Quotes, a site that allows you to compare recent political discussions (“quotes”) in a side-by-side format. Cool!

Oh, and somehow I volunteered to clean up the MCTE web site. I’m thinking of converting it to a social network. Thoughts?