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Education Trends, Uncategorized   |   Mar 26, 2012

Reflections on the ASCD 2012 conference, Part 2

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Reflections on the ASCD 2012 conference, Part 2

By Angela Watson

ASCD’s annual conference is coming to a close as I write this: I’m in the last session on Monday afternoon. Yesterday went by so quickly I decided to combine the Sunday and Monday summaries into one final reflections post. (If you missed my first post from the conference, here are my reflections on day one.)



Session: The Checklist Manifesto

On Sunday, I started with the general session by Atul Gwande. I loved his book Checklist Manifesto and he shared a lot of points from the book during the presentation.The most valuable part for me was the conversation on Twitter about the importance of coaching. Gwande pointed out that athletes have the benefit of a coach/trainer throughout their career who encourages and pushes them. Teachers need the same thing, and so do principals.

Lunch with the authors

ASCD invited multiple authors up to the press room so they could talk about their work with bloggers. My first conversation was with Pérsida and William Himmele, the husband and wife team who wrote Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. I can’t say enough good things about their work and also who they are as individuals. I spent nearly the whole hour chatting with them!  I’ll be sharing their ideas along with a review of their book (and a give-away copy!) very soon.

Afterward, I joined a conversation with Heidi Hayes Jacob. I went to her session at last year’s ASCD conference and it was great to hear about what she’s been doing since then, especially her work with NYC schools. I love that she refuses to use the term ‘education reform’, saying that reform means tweaking what already exists; she wants new forms altogether.

Session: Metaphors and Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching any Subject

I attempted to get in to a session on integrating 21st century technology in the secondary classroom and was disappointed that the (tiny!) room was full. I’m doing more work with middle and high schools now as an instructional technology coach and this would have been really valuable. Fortunately, the handouts will be available online and I’ll share them with you in my next post about free resources from the conference.

I headed over to Rick Wormeli’s session on metaphors and analogies and was really glad I did. Wormeli (a very engaging presenter) gave some great tips on using metaphors help kids develop critical thinking skills. He suggests having kids connect an intangible to a tangible. You can pick randomly: “Justice is like…give me an object.” A participant said doughnut. “Justice is like a doughnut because…” “They both have holes. They’re both sweet.” Some metaphors will be faulty and that’s great for critical thinking, too: teach kids to argue against a metaphor, and explore how they fall apart.

Session: Making Mobile Meaningful

I also caught the end of Hall Davidson’s session about digital textbooks (“tech books”). When I arrived, he was sharing some great apps which I tweeted out. Hall mentioned what I would say was the most highly talked-about app at the conference: a free tool called Puppet Pals, which allows kids to create their own podcasts, record audio of their ideas, and do all sorts of other types of digital storytelling. You can see all of Hall’s slides here or check out Jason Flom’s excellent recap of the session.

Session: Creating a Literacy Classroom in the Cloud

This presentation was about different cloud-based tools (wikis, blogs, microblogs, and web-based content creators) to enhance reading and writing instruction. It was presented by three teachers (Christine Miles, Ann Leaness, and Meenoo Rami) who did a great job making the info practical and relevant. There were lots of video clips so participants could see the practices in action in real classrooms. Nicely done.

I created an image with one of my favorite quotes from the conference. I didn't attend Todd Whitaker's session, but thanks to the #ascd12 hashtag on Twitter, I was able to find out about all the great ideas he shared.
I created an image with one of my favorite quotes from the conference. I didn’t attend Todd Whitaker’s session, but thanks to the #ascd12 hashtag on Twitter, I was able to find out about all the great ideas he shared.


Lots of attendees left Sunday night so they could be back at work on Monday morning, so today has been a much more laid back day with less going on. I made a second round through the exhibition hall to talk to vendors, but didn’t see much that caught my eye. Fortunately, the sessions I attended were excellent.

Session: Overcoming resistance to rigor

The morning session with Robyn R. Jackson was fantastic. She had only about 30 slides for the whole presentation, but I hung on her every word because the things she was sharing really resonated. Interesting how you don’t need a bunch of flashy slides when your message is real and practical.

I tweeted up a storm about the things she said about rigor: Rigor is not throwing kids in the deep end and telling them to figure it out themselves or to look it up. Rigor involves scaffolding. Without that support, kids think the work is too hard, and teachers think kids are lazy. Blame shifting starts. So we have to provide growth-oriented feedback. Kids avoid mistakes and therefore risk when it is impossible to recover from failure. Our system is set up so mistakes are fatal: students can’t turn things around mid-quarter if they made poor choices early on. Teaching students how to recover from failure is critical in ensuring they won’t resist rigor.

Robyn also cautions us to avoid short circuiting the learning process. We have to let others struggle productively instead of grabbing the quick fix.We have to think rigorously about challenges. If fact, Robyn says if you aren’t teaching with rigor, you are working harder than your students. In a non-rigorous classroom, the teacher works too hard and the kids don’t work hard enough: they’re bored. In a rigorous classroom, students are actively involved in their own learning and invested in it.

I introduced myself to Robyn afterward and told her I’d be reviewing her book (and yes, giving away a copy on my blog!) soon. It’s called Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching. If it reads anything like her presentation today, it’s going to be amazing.

Session: Mobile Applications for Learning

After a relaxing lunch with some Twitter peeps, I went downstairs for my last session of the day. I learned about some fantastic free apps for education which I’ll be sharing at appSmitten (make sure you sign up for a daily or weekly newsletter to get the recommendations sent to your inbox!) You can view the full list of apps from the session on the presenters’ wiki.

Wrapping up

I caught up with @JenOrr from Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It for coffee at the Amtrak station on our way out of town. She’s one of the most caring and reflective teachers I know and it was a pleasure to have more IRL (in real life) conversations with her.

Big take-away concepts and free conference resources

I feel like this post is full of “stay tuned!” announcements and I’m sorry about that. Big conferences are just so much to take in at once, and I don’t want to just regurgitate everything immediately for you. I’m going to take a day or so to breathe, process, and reflect, then share out some free resources from the conference and the main ideas I took away. In that post, I’ll also create a link roundup of other edublogger’s ASCD recaps so you can read what they learned. A few people have started doing this already, but there are several who are waiting to blog their take-aways and I want to make sure those posts are up.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll share more about specific topics from the conference (like how to create collaborative planning time, keep students engaged in instruction, and use free Google apps for education) and start doing some of these wonderful book reviews and give-aways, as well.

I’m so grateful to ASCD for the opportunity to attend the conference once again. This was such a powerful and enjoyable long weekend of learning. I’m really looking forward to bringing the ideas back to you and helping you implement them in your classroom.

If you were at ASCD12 and recapped the conference on your blog, feel free to share your link below and I’ll include it in my next post. 

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I love your impressions of educational conferences. I cannot afford to travel to them, but your descriptions make me feel as if I’ve been there! I google everything that I’m unfamiliar with and follow all your links. I’m so grateful that I can “tag along” with you on all of your adventures! You are a great teacher–informative and insightful, yet practical!

  2. I really wish I had the opportunity to attend one of these conferences – being a home schooling mom, I can see that there would be some great resources for me and my kids.

  3. Wow!! Loved reading through your experiences at this conference… loved the links to presenters and their resources that you’ve posted. In fact, I just ordered “Never Work Harder Than Your Students…” all because of your blog post! I’ll let you know what I think… but the reviews of the book are fantastic.

  4. I love your love ideas about educational conferences, a practical indeed thoughts that will help a lot of us here… I enjoy reading your post..

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