Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Coping in a Time of Tragedy

Recently, storms ravaged the United States with heavy rains causing flooding and many, many tornadoes. We know that not only have people lost their homes and places of employment but children also lost their schools and libraries. It’s been wonderful to see how groups have already started recovery efforts. You can read about some in this post in the NCTE Connected Community. The following resources from NCTE can help adults and children alike cope with this tragedy as well as others.

After 9/11, NCTE updated their Position Statement, a Resolution on Teaching in a Time of Crisis, (G) originally from 1985. This statement noted the "growing complexity of world problems," including "nuclear weapons, terrorism, diseases, [and] social dislocations," that produces "anxiety and apathy in students-reactions which teachers have a responsibility to combat."

The Language Arts article, “’Wen the Flood Km We Had to Lv’: Children’s Understandings of Disaster” (E) reiterates that reflection can support both teachers and students in the aftermath of a disaster. Time is needed for children to reflect on their experiences and for teachers to reflect collectively on their students’ art and writing.

Difficult Days and Difficult Texts” (M-S) from Voices from the Middle suggests that all teaching in literature classes is in some ways preparation for events such as September 11th. The author argues that teachers teach students to read events such as these by showing them how to move from reaction to reflection, and from image to empathy; and to write so that they capture their thinking, reexamine it, and present it to others. View more from the themed issue, “Tributes: From Authors, By Students, To Books”.

After the death of a teacher at their school, students had written for hours upon hours. Their teacher worked to create a lesson that would add variety and spice, a piece that wouldn’t be saturated with the death of their teacher. I wanted them to see that life does move on, even when we lose someone we love. This assignment is shared in the English Journal article “Writing through a Tragedy” (M-S).

Floating Foundations: Kairos, Community, and a Composition Program in Post-Katrina New Orleans” (C) from College English describes experiences of teachers and instructors who reconstructed their New Orleans-based university composition program in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They emphasize how the concept of floating foundations helps account for changes in their students’ interests, and they suggest that this idea is applicable to the work of writing instructors in general.

At the 2008 Annual Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), a full-day workshop was offered on “Basic Writing after the Storm”. Teachers affiliated with the Greater New Orleans Writing Project (GNOWP) demonstrated how the reality of teaching Basic Writing has changed in their post-Katrina classrooms, and how “the new reality for teachers and students has centered on dealing with personal and professional trauma, fractured and fragmented schools, and a profoundly changed physical and emotional landscape.” This article some details about that presentation.

How have you and your students dealt with the tragedies of late? Or what recovery efforts can you share? Please let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Focus on Native American Heritage

National American Indian Heritage Month (G) is recognized each November as a time to learn more about the history and heritage of Native American peoples. These resources provide strategies to explore Native American literature and heritage in your own classroom.

Many people think that Native Americans are a vanished people—that they do not exist in the present day. In the lesson plan “Native Americans Today” (E), teachers use photo essays and other texts to introduce students to Native children and their families, thereby countering the idea that Native people no longer exist. Students then compare and contrast their ideas about Native Americans at the beginning of the lesson with what they now know. The Language Arts article "Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom" (E) explains the importance of selecting texts that include realistic and accurate presentations of Native American peoples. The article includes guidelines for evaluating and selecting Native American literature.

Examine two speeches by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh with the ReadWriteThink lesson Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh's and Patrick Henry's Language of Resistance (M) and ask students to consider Tecumseh's politically effective and poetic use of language. This lesson extends the study of Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech to demonstrate the ways Native Americans also resisted oppression through rhetoric.

The book, Roots and Branches: A Resource of Native American Literature, (M-S) offers teachers an opportunity to learn and teach about Native American literatures in context. It includes lessons, units, and activities keyed to grade level. Additionally there are detailed annotated bibliographies to direct the teacher to a wealth of additional resources. "Contemporary American Indian Life in The Owl's Song and Smoke Signals" (S) from English Journal explores how to teach the novel and film together in a unit that "paints a realistic picture of contemporary American Indian life" while inviting students to identify with protagonists who grow in both self-awareness and their appreciation of others. The English Journal article "Hoop Dancing: Literature Circles and Native American Storytelling" (S-C) explores strategies teachers can use to address the misrepresentations of Indian culture through the study of Native American oral traditions and literatures.

Reading Native American Literature (S-C) is ideal for high school and college teachers who want to teach units or courses on Native American literature. The book includes primary material provided in appendixes that can be photocopied for classroom use.

Do you have additional suggestions? We'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Celebrate National Family Literacy Day!

National Family Literacy Day, celebrated across the U.S., focuses on special activities and events that showcase the importance of family literacy programs. First held in 1994, the annual event is officially celebrated on November 1st, but many events are held throughout the month of November. Schools, libraries, and other literacy organizations participate through read-a-thons, celebrity appearances, book drives, and more.

As both a parent and a teacher, I know it’s critical that we make the connection between home and school. The following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org provide more ideas for fostering family literacy.

As children learn to write, parents and family members can support their progress in a variety of ways. The NCTE document "How to Help Your Child Become a Better Writer" details some useful tips, and is available in both English and Spanish.

Bursting with the energetic voices of young writers and their families, Family Message Journals: Teaching Writing through Family Involvement, (E) follows the development of emergent and beginning writers as they explore the power and joy of written communication. View the lesson plans based on this book and written by the author, Julie Wollman.

NCTE's Becoming Teammates: Teachers and Families as Literacy Partners (E) offers a bold new look at how teachers and families can work together to build family-school relationships that value and respect each other’s perspectives on literacy. This book features the voices of parents, teachers, graduate students, and preservice teachers.

In Reading and Writing and Teens: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Literacy, (M-S) author Cathy Fleischer, an English professor and mother of teenagers, explains what current research tells us about reading, writing, technology, and standards and testing – and gives specific suggestions for what parents and caregivers can do to help children succeed, both in school and outside the classroom.

The Family Writing Project: Creating Space for Sustaining Teacher Identity” (S), an article from English Journal shares a report on the study of family writing projects in an urban school district. Using the concept of “third space,” they describe the influence of this family literacy program on teacher practice.

The themed issue of English Leadership Quarterly Leadership Roles in Family Literacy Projects (TE) covers the topic of family literacy with articles such as “Fostering Literacy: Connecting Families with Schools” and “Building Home and School Literacy Partnerships: A Principal’s Perspective”.

Visit ReadWriteThink.org’s Parent & Afterschool Resources (G) for an array of activities you can recommend to families and caregivers to make connections between literacy learning in and out of the school setting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blog Round -Up - Literacy

This week’s blog round-up features a potpourri of blogs and commentaries on literacy—for educators and all their students.

For younger students:

In "Summer Must-Read for Kids? Any Book" (New York Times August 2, 2010), Tara Parker-Pope shares research from two NCTE members at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen ‘s three-year study found that children who read books of their own choice over the summer gained as much, if not more, than children who attended summer school.

Rebecca Alber writes on Edutopia.org (August 4, 2010) asking (and answering) "How Important is Teaching Literacy in All Content Areas?".

Former Secretary of Education Susan B. Neuman notes "Public Media's Impact on Young Readers" (Education Week August 9, 2010) and suggests using public television to distribute high quality literacy resources to families and children of poverty so the children can gain literacy skills they need to begin school.

For high school students:

Holly Epstein Ojalvo and Shannon Doyne write in The Learning Network Blog on "Teaching ‘The Great Gatsby’ With The New York Times" (August 3, 2010).

For college students:

NCTE member Mike Rose, author of many books, including Writer's Block: The Cognitive Dimension, has two August commentaries in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In “Colleges Need to Re-Mediate Remediation " (August 3, 2010), Rose describes his work with a student named Kevin through the remediation program he helped develop at his college. Through the program Kevin was able to build his writing and reading skills and move out of remediation into “regular” college courses. Rose writes again in “Why America Needs a Smithsonian of Basic Skills” (August 8, 2010) and proposes “ a conceptual sea change in the way the nation understands and deals with the issue of academic underpreparation,” including a way to teach students across subject areas.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Developing Effective Writing Programs: Help for High Schools

The new book Taking Initiative on Writing: A Guide for Instructional Leaders by Anne Ruggles Gere, Hannah A. Dickinson, Melinda J. McBee Orzulak, and Stephanie Moody (copublished by NCTE and NASSP) offers practical strategies and extensive resources to help principals and teachers develop effective writing programs in their high schools. Read on for a taste of this book, taken from the opening chapter:


The headline reads, “Writing Scores Drop Again,” and your phone has been ringing all day with parents, board members, and media representatives asking how you plan to improve writing instruction in your school.


A group of business leaders meets with you to talk about how your school can help prepare students for the world of work. They emphasize that they need employees who can write effectively, and they imply that students from your school don’t meet their standards.


On a return visit, a recent graduate of your school, an excellent student who went on to the university, says that she felt very well prepared in math and science, but she didn’t feel ready for college writing.

As an instructional leader, you have probably experienced a scenario like one of these—or it is a situation you are trying to avoid. You no doubt know that writing is increasingly important in the twenty-first century. You may be aware that U.S. workers write more now than at any time in history and that colleges expect students to be able to write well. The responsibility of preparing students to be college- and career-ready writers may be weighing heavily on you, and you might be feeling increasing pressure to take some action. The challenges of high-stakes writing tests; the expectations of stakeholders, including parents, board members, and central administration; and underprepared faculty all contribute to the weight.

You’ve been dealing with local and state writing standards for several years, and now national core standards for writing have emerged. You’re likely wondering how to help teachers in your school face the challenges of preparing students for national graduation and workplace standards such as the following:

  • Establish and refine a topic or thesis that addresses a specific task and audience.
  • Support and illustrate arguments and explanations with relevant details, examples, and evidence.
  • Create a logical progression of ideas and events, and convey the relationships among them.
  • Develop and maintain a style and tone appropriate to the purpose and audience.
  • Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard written English, including grammar, usage, and mechanics.
  • Write effectively in a variety of school subjects.
  • Assess the quality of one’s writing and strengthen it through revision.
  • Use technology as a tool to produce, edit, and distribute writing.

English language arts teachers do play key roles in helping students become writers who can meet standards like these, but they cannot do it alone. In fact, some English teachers are not entirely confident about teaching writing. It will take a team effort. You have probably been an instructional leader long enough to know that improving student learning requires effort from many people headed in the same direction. Perhaps you’d like to exert leadership in developing an effective program of writing instruction in your school, but you’re not sure where to begin.

This book will help you. It recognizes that you are a busy and cost-conscious instructional leader who needs a way to move forward. It lays out a full sequence of activities designed to assist you in creating an effective program of writing instruction in your school, an effective writing initiative. This sequence includes assessing the current program, developing a plan, implementing action steps, and continuing to sustain and improve the teaching of writing in your school.

Each chapter lays out a series of steps to make the process manageable, and each chapter includes the evaluative tools, checklists, and guides that you will need. Each chapter also includes links to online resources developed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the association known for its effective professional development for writing teachers.


Have you participated in the development of a schoolwide writing program? Share your experiences in the comments!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Piecing Together the Copyright Puzzle

Copyright Symbol by Horia VarlanFiguring out copyright can be like piecing together a puzzle. You have a good idea how it’s supposed to work in the end, but all the little pieces can be confusing to piece together.

These links can help you learn more about copyright yourself and teach students about fair use and copyright. In no time, you’ll move from scattered pieces to a full picture of copyright and fair use.

Classroom Resources

Check out the Media Education Lab website for key resources and curriculum materials. The site includes links to My Pop Studio, which focuses on media literacy for girls 9–14, and Assignment Media Literacy resources for K–12 students. You’ll find songs and video clips that you can use with students or in your professional development workshops.

Copyright on the Web, from CyberBee, is a simple FAQ interactive that younger students can explore to learn more about copyright.

Older students can use the Digital Slider from the Copyright Advisory Network to test whether the works they want to use are covered by copyright. The Fair Use Evaluator, also from the Copyright Advisory Network, steps content creators through the process of creating a fair use defense.

Teaching Copyright, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is a collection of five lesson plans on copyright, fair use, file sharing, and remixing.

The Fair Use section of the Center for Social Media website includes teaching materials and educational resources on fair use of documentary film and online video.

The Campus Guide to Copyright Compliance from the Copyright Clearance Center provides a thorough overview of copyright, fair use, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Copyright, from University Publishing of Washington State University, recommended by NCTE & CCCC member William Condon, includes information on everything about copyright from music to the Internet. The Public Domain Chart and Fair Use section are great classroom resources.

In addition to resources on copyright, you may want to know something about Creative Commons. For a great overview, check out “The Beauty of ‘Some Rights Reserved’: Introducing Creative Commons to Librarians, Faculty, and Students” from the November issue of the Association of College and Research Libraries publication C&RL News. The About section of the Creative Commons website offers movies, comics, and FAQs.

Issues for Discussion

If you’re ready to ask students to think critically about the complex issues that copyright law raises, you’ll find ideas on these sites. Some are meant to provide background for you, the teacher, while others are appropriate for sharing in the classroom.

The role of “fair use” in a time of CHANGE, a 2009 lecture by Lawrence Lessig, raises intriguing questions about the way copyright works for print-based texts versus video-based texts and introduces the idea of Creative Commons as an alternative. The video is 66 minutes long, so you may want to ask students to view it outside of class and save class time for discussion.

Copyright: The Elephant in the Middle of the Glee Club, from the blog Balkinization, points out the glaring problems with the instruction at William McKinley High School on the television show Glee. There’s lots of fun and songs, but also a lot of apparently teacher-sanctioned copyright violation. The article will lead to lively discussion among students who watch the Fox TV show.

The Inbox Blog post Mixing or Plagiarizing? raises questions about how print-based text was recently borrowed in a German novel that the author defends as a cultural remix. Students can read the related news articles and discuss whether the copying was fair use or a violation of the original writer's copyright.

Challenging a YouTube Video Take Down is a short, and likely memorable, introduction to the fair use in using video clips to create a new work. Classroom discussion might focus on how the principles of fair use apply in other contexts. Students might also search other sites to learn how to protest a take down on another website.

Can You Copyright Your Tweets? refutes the position that Twitter posts are too short to be protected by copyright. The post comes from the blog 95Years, recommended by @jensmyth. Check the blog for the latest controversies involving technology and social media. Because some information on the site is not appropriate for your typical classroom, the resource is best for teachers rather than students.

The xkcd comic “Steal This Comic” is a short, pointed discussion starter for the issues surrounding music copyright. Whether you agree with xkcd’s take on the issue or not, it’s an interesting way to introduce the topic.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo of copyright symbol by Horia Varlan]

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Challenging the Metaphor of Scaffolding for Supporting Student Readers

In her new book Adolescent Literacy and the Teaching of Reading: Lessons for Teachers of Literature, author Deborah Appleman relies heavily on the pedagogical metaphor of scaffolding to describe the support we can offer students as they develop as readers in our literature classrooms.

Appleman notes that while “primary school teachers may not as easily question the need to explicitly model and scaffold reading processes, teachers of adolescents all too often assume that their students already possess the knowledge to become successful readers” (16-17). As a secondary English teacher, I have come to understand the need for such support, but I’m afraid that I’d never really thought too much the implications of the metaphor behind that word scaffolding. I hadn’t considered the limits—the rigidity, uniformity, and linearity—such a “building” metaphor might imply, leading to one-size-fits all, teacher-directed support in the classroom.

It’s fitting then, that it’s a paper by Anne Haas Dyson—whose work focuses largely on early literacy development—has recently challenged my understanding of scaffolding and helped me appreciate more fully the challenge and promise of supporting adolescent readers in the ways Appleman describes in her new book.

In “Weaving Possibilities: Rethinking Metaphors for Early Literacy Development,” Dyson explains that “[w]hile scaffolding is a vertical metaphor, one that represents how more skillful others support [students’] progress within one activity, weaving has a more horizontal dimension. It suggests how [students’] progress in any one activity is supported by their experiences in varied activities.”

Many of the excellent examples of scaffolding that Appleman describes benefit from being re-thought in Dyson’s terms. When Appleman describes an American literature teacher who responds to students’ interests in digital literacies by having students explore war-related blogs and complete an assignment called “The Apps They Carried” before reading a short story by Tim O’Brien, she is acknowledging the nonlinear, student-centered ways teachers can support students as readers across a variety of contexts.

When Appleman discusses a group of students reading the short story “The Boy without a Flag,” she tells of students performing a close reading of The Pledge of Allegiance, writing their own pledge, and composing collaborative poems based on the sentence frame “I am a ___ without a ___,” she’s exploring another model of support that is enhanced by metaphorical re-examination. Enacted ineffectively or without clear intention and purpose, these activities may end up seeming disconnected from the reading activity. In the carefully managed, responsive classroom Appleman depicts, these activities “allow us to see and allow space for the diverse intentions and resources of [students]” as they grow as readers and interpreters of text (Dyson).

When I first read Dyson’s critique of scaffolding, I didn’t know quite what to make of it—after all, the unchallenged term has become a staple of the teaching lexicon. But as I read each of Appleman’s cases of teachers tapping into linguistic and non-linguistic resources, school-sponsored and out-of-school literacies, and diverse life experiences of our students, its value started to make sense.

It’s not a rigid set of “before, during, and after” activities—and certainly not scripted curricula and more oppressive standardization (even that which nominally includes “scaffolding”)—that our students need. They need teachers who are supported and encouraged to learn more about their students and more about the ways to match their students’ needs with effective pedagogical practice that will give us a chance to weave success with adolescents as they face increasingly challenging text in and out of school.