NATE Conference 2017, as experienced by Gavin Tulloch
Those who think that the NATE conference is just an excuse to get out the classroom for a day or two – with the primary aim of boosting stationery supplies with trade show freebies – would be much mistaken. You’d need only have listened to the fervent and excited discussions between the SATE contingent on the car journey home to realise that NATE’s annual event provides so much more.
Amongst the plethora of inspiring sessions, a particular highlight for me was a workshop on ‘Text-Worlds in the Classroom’ delivered by Joanna Gavins, Marcello Giovanelli, Ian Cushing and Jess Mason. I was familiar with some of Giovanelli and Mason’s work on authentic and manufactured readings in the classroom (their article had featured on our PGDE reading list), but this session widened my thoughts in this regard. The workshop started with a practical demonstration of ‘what goes on in our heads’ when we read, with participants drawing what they saw in their mind’s eye when listening to the opening extract of Dickens’ Bleak House. This helped us to understand text-world theory, the idea that we understand the world around us through our own mental representations, and initiated discussions into how this theory could be considered in the English classroom. Examples discussed by the workshop leaders included using text-world theory to teach grammar (how do we know who the ‘you’ is in a poem?) and thinking about how teachers interfere with a pupil’s authentic interpretation of a text by suggesting, or prefiguring, what the text-world should or will look like. This was a helpful reminder that the ostensibly sacrosanct interpretations of texts we read in study guides and school resources might not be what is going on in the mind of a pupil; and most importantly, no text world is more or less valuable than another.
Other workshops I attended included ‘Literacy for Life – closing the gap for disadvantaged pupils through academic language acquisition’ presented by the National Literacy Trust (NLT), which was particularly pertinent for the Scottish contingent in light of the ongoing addressing of the attainment gap and literacy challenges in Scottish schools. Another seminar explored the benefits of incorporating newspapers into guided reading in class, supported by the findings of research carried out by the NLT, and introduced me to the interactive First News Literacy iHub, on which pupils can explore news stories, answering questions or playing games related to the content thus developing their critical reading skills. These were, of course, only a handful of the informative sessions I attended at the conference, not to mention the inspirational keynote speakers (including Simon Armitage and Henry Normal to name a few), and vast number of stalls at the trade fair. It was really interesting to chat to those who work with organisations supporting education too, especially in order to find out more about the English education system.
By the end of the conference, I was overwhelmed with ideas to ponder and resources to explore, and felt a heightened sense of excitement for starting my NQT year in August. The NATE conference emanates a palpable and infectious sense of enthusiasm and commitment from everyone involved, which every English teacher should experience… and perhaps especially those who are just looking for a few days out the classroom.
Gavin Tulloch is an NQT English teacher in a Glasgow secondary. Any views expressed are his own.
Read Jess and Marco’s blog at studyingfiction .