When you hear the title KATE Camp, what comes to mind? Tents? Fishing? Campfires? Mosquitoes?
While all of that might sound fun to some of you, none of it pertains to KATE Camp. At least not yet. Nowhere does it state that KATE Camp can’t happen at a real life campground. This year's KATE camp, however, took place at Johnson County Community College where there was plenty of air conditioning and no need for bug spray.
But what is KATE Camp? Only the best summer PD ever. Think of it as an un-conference. ELA teachers from across the state gather to learn from each other. The agenda is not set ahead of time. Instead, attendees determine the topics and lead their own learning.
And another thing–KATE Camp is free for members. Free! Honestly, what better professional development can you wish for than authentic conversations with expert teachers about your chosen topics. Here are some highlights from a few of the breakout sessions.
When ELA teachers congregate, you know great teacher tips will start flying. One of the most popular sessions involved sharing effective strategies for teaching writing. If you have any questions about using these in your classroom, ask in the comments or in the KATE Facebook group.
Ted Talks are an engaging way to introduce students to topics they might not have otherwise considered. The speakers are professionals and the topics are relevant. The specific Ted Talk mentioned at KATE Camp was Aleph Molinari’s “Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide”. It’s a nine minute video arguing for a specific way to help communities living in the digital divide, or the digital abyss, as he calls it. This Ted Talk can be used to introduce an important topic but also it can be used as a stellar example of logical reasoning. As students break down Molinari’s argument, they will understand how to create their own logical lines of reasoning. Undoubtedly, they will also learn about problems facing cultures outside of their own.
Please share in the comments for this post which Ted Talks you have found useful in your classroom. Include your grade level and tips for engagement.
The basic concept is to pre-write in groups, record it on posters, and hang the posters on your classroom wall as tools for all students. For example, if students are writing a character analysis, assign each group one character trait. The group will record on a poster cited evidence for that trait and commentary. As students individually write their essays, they can check out the posters for evidence ideas and for examples of commentary. They can’t plagiarize the commentary, but they can certainly let it inspire them. Additionally, any cited evidence on any poster is fair game.
Threshold Concepts in Writing
In the book Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, authors Linda Adler-Kasner and Elizabeth Wardle define threshold concepts as “concepts critical for continued learning and participation in an area or within a community of practice” (2). KATE Camp participants discussed the idea of writing as its own area of study and what foundational concepts are necessary to study writing as opposed to using writing as a way to study other areas. Only in a room full of passionate ELA educators can you find this kind of meaningful discussion about the art and science of writing.
TEACHER WELLNESS AND RELATIONSHIPS
It’s no surprise to you that we teachers have felt the impact of the pandemic, especially the attempts to engage our students meaningfully. One of our KATE Camp sessions focused on this very thing.
Building Relationships From the Start
First, as surely you know, you have to start off on the right foot. Instead of reading over the syllabus the first day–usually resulting in snores and stares, it’s better to get to know your students first and build that rapport. Some joke that you have to let the kids see a little of your “crazy,” y’know, just to make them wonder. Really, though it comes down to letting them see you as more than a teacher. When they can relate to you, and they can tell you see them as more than a student, it helps build that relationship, which goes to improve classroom management.
Boundaries for Wellness
Probably one of the most important lessons the pandemic has taught teachers is the value of boundaries. If you’re anything like me (Amanda), you probably hold “teacher” as a part of your core identity. You can regularly be seen in your classroom outside of contract time, prepping and grading away. But if you are trying to show your students you are human and there is more to you than being a teacher, you definitely have to believe that for yourself first and foremost. Setting boundaries is so important to not only your identity, but it can also be vital for your own mental health, especially when we so often carry the emotional load of our students. So during this session, participants discussed some of the best boundaries they have implemented to support a healthy work-life balance. These included: answering emails only during contract hours; taking and making calls only during contract hours if at all possible; grading at school–when this is possible, but let’s face it, we’re English teachers; making sure we find healthy ways to unload the mental stress the job can leave us with such as talking to a counselor, writing, and taking time to relax without feeling guilty.
BEYOND THE “UN-CONFERENCE”
Phenomenal Art Museum Experience
The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art is located just steps away from where KATE camp took place. The museum is deceivingly large and spacious. A teacher looking to suck every last ounce of indulgence out of summer could get a little lost.
Shinique Smith’s STARGAZERS exhibition pulled us into a mesmerizing world of fabric, clothing, collage, and sound that explored the expression of identity. Upstairs, Kehende Wiley’s Alexander the Great (Variation) brought a feeling of empowerment. Kehende Wiley is especially famous for what is called “street casting”. He discovers young, black men from the streets and paints them in the fashion of Renaissance masterpieces but maintains their modern attire. You can read more about his amazing life and work on the website, TheArtStory.org.
Literature and art collide in Tim Rollins’ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (mixed media on canvas). The wall-sized art is a repainting of one of the original book illustrations commissioned by Mark Twain. From across the room, the painting is quite powerful. Upon closer examination, the viewer can see that the canvas is made from pages of the novel. The work was created with the help of a group of Kansas City teens.
Executive Board Meeting
Before the “un-conference,” the executive board met for the summer meeting. One of the discussion items was the various needs and different changes to our upcoming Fall Conference. (Insert shameless plug for one of the best experiences KATE has to offer!) Thanks to the efforts of various board members, this year is shaping up to be an amazing gathering with a focus of ELA as Art & Science. Keynote speakers are Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King and Tabitha Rospory, 2020 National Teacher of the Year. Save the dates, October 28 and 29, 2022, a stay tuned for registration information. In the meantime consider sharing your own expertise in a breakout session. You can use this link to submit your session proposal.
The board meeting was also a time to discuss the future of our organization. We are excited for some new opportunities and refreshing some old ones.
One opportunity is a newly created board position, the public relations chairperson. The official description for this position is as follows: Public Relations Chairperson(s) shall be responsible for promoting the Association and recruiting new members by supervising (1) the production of informative media about the association and (2) the distribution of these media to schools, universities, and other institutions interested in the Association's mission; (3) media shall include print, electronic, and social media of the organization.
This position is a great way to practice your content creation and marketing skills. Since it’s new, you can make it your own! Please nominate yourself or someone you know who would enjoy getting the word out about KATE. Use this link to nominate KATE members for this and other positions.
Additionally, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee is looking to expand. To become part of this important and energetic committee, tell us in the comments below or in the KATE Facebook group. Krystal Jordan will reach out to you.
In conclusion, the best part of KATE Camp is the opportunity to get together with like-minded peers. KATE Camp usually happens in July, so send yourself a reminder to register for it when you see the announcement, probably sometime in May.
As summer vacations and campouts come to end, KATE is revving up for an exciting 2022-23 school year. Remember, ELA is for everyone, so check your email for the monthly newsletter and invite your teacher friends to join our membership of exceptional teachers.
Deborah McNemee is a veteran teacher of the high school ELA classroom. This year, she’s starting a new teaching adventure as a middle school instructional coach. She loves classic lit and is a sucker for a good retelling. Outside of the classroom, she manages the Keeping Classics teacher blog and searches for quirky, small-town Kansas museums to tour. Her modern debut YA novel, Just Daisy: A Gatsby Retelling is available through Amazon and Watermark Books.
Amanda Little is an ELA teacher for upper level high school. She’s taught everything from drama to speech to college composition classes. This year she is starting in USD 305 at Salina Central after teaching for several years in a rural school district. When she isn’t teaching, you can find her at her part time job at the Salina Public Library, spending time with her family, crafting, or reading and writing poetry. She’s working on a poetry manuscript, and you can find some of her poetry in Trees in a Garden of Ashes and CHAOS: A Poetry Vortex (2020, Local Gems Press).
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