By Avery Castellani
On the weekend of November 17th, many of us here on the Busload of Books team got to take our research operation to the great city of Columbus, Ohio to participate in and present at the annual NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference. With over 600 concurrent sessions, this conference attracts a staggering number of teachers, researchers, authors and more, and is the premier conference for ELA and literacy educators. Being a part of such an event is impressive on its own, but even more so when you consider that just a couple years ago, the BoB research project was a mere lightbulb moment shared between a few curious minds in Chestertown. The scale of this project has never been larger, and continues to grow day by day!
Our NCTE involvement consisted of a poster presentation specific to the research team, as well as a survey that was integrated into Matthew and Robbi's joint exhibit (yes, the bus made it to the convention hall floor!) with the First Book and Build a Bear organizations. For those who don't know, First Book is a nonprofit with the goal of ensuring quality education access for all children, particularly those who are underserved. They provide books and resources to over 575,000 educators and played a large role in assisting Robbi and Matthew with their nationwide tour. And later, to really stick the landing, Build a Bear provided each child reached by the Busload of Books tour with a "reading buddy" after Matthew and Robbi's visit.
All together, we made a powerful team on the floor of the exhibit hall.
Though Matthew, Robbi, Dr. Bunten, and Dr. Garcia had held smaller sessions the day prior (11/16), our big exhibition kicked off at 10:00 AM sharp on Friday the 17th. The calm before the storm ended the second the hall doors opened. Within minutes, a line of attendees eager to see the bus, receive a book, and snag one of 6,000 Build-a-Bear reading buddies had formed. How did we keep them occupied during their wait, you ask? With the BoB research team survey I mentioned earlier, of course!
The goal of this survey designed by the professors of the research team was to, on the heels of our research surrounding Matthew and Robbi's tour, better understand the impact of an author/illustrator visit and book giveaways on schools. Specifically, we were curious about what educators see as the strengths and challenges of author/illustrator visits.
To garner participants, fellow student researcher Riley McHugh and I were each given a flyer briefly describing the survey with a QR code printed on front for efficient access. Then, we were turned loose on those waiting in line. For the most part, our script upon approaching attendees went a little something like: Hi! Welcome! Are you a K-12 educator? Would you be interested in taking a survey associated with the Busload of Books research project regarding K-12 teachers and author/illustrator visits?
If your phone was dead, the QR code was being finicky with your camera, or you just preferred to do things the old-fashioned way, we had an option for that too! Once attendees got through the First Book / Build-a-Bear line, they were directed to Drs. Bunten and Clarke De-Reza, who provided them with paper copies of the survey they could fill out before heading around the bus to speak with Matthew and Robbi themselves. Thanks to the excitement and cooperation of the attendees (as well as our dazzling personalities), we managed to collect 450+ responses in one day!
At 12:00, Riley and I relinquished our survey-recruiting duties to Dr. Garcia and made our way to the poster session area. There, for about two hours, we spoke with passerby interested in hearing about our research regarding further understanding of elementary students attitudes towards reading, writing, and drawing. For more information on the findings we were eager to show off, keep your eyes peeled for a specific research update post coming to the blog later this month!
For the most part, these conversations were informal, with Riley and I playing off of what those interested wanted to hear about most. The few pre-written scripts we had (as well as our general knowledge regarding the project) gave us a great foundation to see what sparked interest in attendees. We got to converse with a wide range of people, from authors, to educators, to higher ups in the publishing world, with the general consensus among them being that our work was extremely interesting.
Our poster location was in a prime spot, too. From where we stood, we had a full view of the bus and the First Book line, meaning that after we got attendees excited about our research, we were able to direct them right to Matthew, Robbi, and the rest of the research team if they hadn't visited them already!
This made up the general flow of our day on the NCTE floor. Riley and I were fortunate enough to be granted time to go and attend sessions of our choosing in between work time to take advantage of the full conference experience. We will be talking about the day through a student researcher's perspective in more detail in a blog post at a later date, but for the most part, we all worked from 10am to 5pm to give those who visited us the fullest experience possible. Still, on our way out, we all took the time to browse the booths in the exhibit hall, snag free swag, and briefly indulge in everyone else's achievements. (Mo Willems' Pigeon of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus fame was a particularly large hit with our team!)
Overall, I think I speak for everyone on our team when I say that the conference was both an exhilerating and deeply rewarding experience. It's always exciting when something you've put so much time, care, and effort into for so long pays off, but I think this sentiment rings particularly true in this case. The atmosphere was NCTE was just jubilant. The enthusiasm of everyone in the room, whether they be an attendee, a presenter, or any other role made it easy to ride the high simply being there brought us. I believe that this attitude energy is very important to harness in the world of education (among other things) in which our project is grounded. We have to be eager to make a change, whether through research, teaching, or tours across the country, and we have to find the joy in the creative aspects of that change too.
Let me close out this post by extending a thank you to everyone who has supported the research team or the BoB project as a whole. Without your excitement adding on to our excitement, opportunities like NCTE wouldn't be in the cards for us. I hope I channeled enough of the energy in that exhibit hall into this post so anyone reading this feels like they were there too.