I recently packed my bags and headed to the 2nd nErDcamp Northern New England in Falmouth, ME. Last year I attended with my good friend and fellow book nerd Trish. After hearing all about the original nErdcamp in Michigan through Nerdy Book Club we were willing to give it a go. But, we had some trepidation. Put a bunch of teachers in a room and try to come up with a plan for professional development that we facilitate ourselves? How could this work? As teachers, professional development is often something that is done to us. What would happen when left on our own??
We were worried it wouldn’t work out and had an exit strategy… we both agreed that if it wasn’t working for us we would bail at lunchtime and head to a nearby bookstore. We never had to implement the exit strategy because we both were so amazed by the power of allowing professionals to learn from each other.
Fast forward to this year… My wild weekend of book nerdiness began Friday night with the Authors Night. Over twenty authors were there for an event open to the public. As Trish and I entered the cafeteria the room was buzzing! Authors were seated at tables around the perimeter with book lovers of all ages clutching their books waiting to have them signed.
I love watching children’s authors interact with their readers. The authors have an obvious love and care for children and speak to them in a way that makes each child feel important. The young readers look at these authors like they are magic makers… the people who create the characters and worlds that readers get to escape to. There were many smiles, excited conversations, gasps of delight and photo ops.
Saturday morning I was up and out the door early for a full day of nErDcamp. I met up with some friends and we hit the road. When we arrived the energy in the cafeteria from the night before was still there only now the room was full of professionals with a love of children and literacy. We met up with a few more colleagues from our district who came because word had spread about this amazing learning opportunity.
When we settled down I worried… maybe last year was a fluke. I talked this up to my colleagues and they all willingly gave up a Saturday and here we are. What if they are disappointed or we don’t find relevant sessions to attend??
My worries were soon put to rest as Susan Dee welcomed the nErDcampers and began to organize the sessions. There were so many opportunities to learn and network from passionate professionals. The sessions tend to fall into one of two formats. The first format consists of teachers meeting to share ideas around an area of interest. The second format is run by authors who provide insight into the work they do and how we can use it to help our students.
It is amazing what happens when teachers are given a chance to talk. In sessions on vocabulary/spelling and motivating reluctant writers, we all shared our struggles and then shared our ideas. None of us felt that we were an expert, yet, as the sessions evolved just about everyone spoke up and contributed to the conversation. I walked away with many new ideas and felt validated in the work I do as other teachers listened to what I had to share.
The sessions facilitated by authors were so powerful. My first session was with Julie Falatko, Sarah Albee, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Megan Frazer Blakemore and Melissa Stewart. This panel of authors shared their different approaches and challenges with the writing process especially revision. One of my favorite quotes from the session was from Lynda Mullaly Hunt who said, “Anyone who is successful has failed over and over again and it is part of the process.” This is an important message to share with our student writers!
I also had a chance to attend a session with fabulous nonfiction writers Sarah Albee and Melissa Stewart who talked about structure and craft in nonfiction. A big part of the session focused on voice in nonfiction. There has been a shift in nonfiction from a flat textbook style to more engaging writing with voice. Melissa shared her recent blog post about voice in nonfiction, which included a nonfiction voice continuum:
In addition, we studied the different structures that nonfiction can follow. Learning from these authors helped me to see how I can strengthen the work that I do with my writers in nonfiction.
As I write this, I struggle to figure out how to share ALL of the learning from this amazing day. I suggest checking out the link to the schedule with links to notes from all of the sessions at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1oTzlvjpOTeo1V6jDO-7lkI0MT8oIVRzENAgDVCY7vOo/pub
Another part of the fun from nErDcamp… Swag! It was suggested that campers bring a bag to carry home the swag and I was glad I did this. Many free books, posters, and little goodies to share with students.
The day flew by and during our car ride home we shared our learning and the positive feelings from the day. I think the reason nErDcamp is so empowering is because it involves choice and allows educators and authors to share their expertise in an environment that celebrates the work we all do.