The journal of English Language Arts Teacher Educators (ELATE)
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(Re)Viewing the Field
Welcome to English Education’s book review section. Here, you’ll find bite-sized, thoughtful considerations of different books that hold interest for those in the field of ELA teacher education.
Since English Education does not accept unsolicited reviews, please complete the journal’s interest form or contact Melanie Shoffner, editor, at EnglishEd@ncte.org, if you are interested in writing a review or extending the conversation on a published review.
Teaching the Strategies: Deemphasizing Whiteness in ELA Texts
Book review of McCann, T. M., & Knapp, J. V. (2022). Teaching literature in high school: Principles into purposeful practice. Rowman & Littlefield.
Teaching Literature in High School: Principles into Purposeful Practice models strategies that will help “students learn the procedures for disciplined reading of complex texts” (p. 7). Each of the book’s nine chapters provides in-depth analysis of a sample text and demonstrates the use of a suggested teaching strategy with that text.
The book opens with a chapter on frontloading background knowledge or themes through anticipation guides, while the rest of the text focuses on specific practices, such as locating irony and engaging in performance when reading plays. To illustrate how to teach these reading strategies, the authors rely on textual examples from the Western literary canon, making this book particularly useful to teachers drawing upon the canon for their classroom texts.
The strengths of the book lie in McCann and Knapp’s deep analyses of texts and detailed instructions for each teaching strategy. For example, in Chapter 4, they demonstrate how to recognize rules of configuration in literature and explain how to use those rules to guide students into making predictions about a short story. Additionally, the authors include example discussion questions and excerpts from online discussions of the story, taken from students in the authors’ courses. Teachers who use, or wish to use, the texts analyzed by McCann and Knapp will find the book a valuable resource, thanks to the ease of implementing the suggested teaching strategies with the provided texts. Teachers who wish to use different texts may also adapt the provided procedures to more contemporary texts.
As we know, the ELA classroom is a site that continues to reinforce racism and white supremacy (Baker-Bell, 2019; Johnson et al., 2017). Therefore, one concern involves the book’s inconsistent engagement with texts by BIPOC authors. Although one chapter’s central text is Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, the lack of attention given to diverse voices is a glaring omission throughout the rest of the book. McCann and Knapp do reference texts by BIPOC authors for use as extensions or scaffolds, but the singular use of a play by a Black author demonstrates the lack of engagement with texts by BIPOC authors overall.
Another concern involves the authors’ use of the Dr. Seuss book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street to introduce critical lenses. This text contains racist images of Asian American characters (Ishizuka & Stephens, 2019), identified by McCann and Knapp as “questionable images” with “unfortunate implications” (p. 68). The authors include a sample letter of complaint about the book that notes “negative stereotyping of Asians and the elderly” (p. 67), but they do not explicitly name the racism or consider the harm done by using racist images of Asian American characters to teach a lesson on thinking and writing critically.
Although the procedures presented in Teaching Literature in High School have merit, teacher educators and teachers would benefit from the inclusion of more contemporary and diverse text examples. Inservice teachers and preservice teachers alike need support in diversifying their classroom curriculum; instructional texts like this one can support this work by demonstrating how ELA teachers can use diverse texts to analyze literary elements and engage in thoughtful discussion. For example, in Chapter 2, a novel such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved might be used to demonstrate the importance of building background knowledge; in Chapter 5, contemporary YA literature such as Paula Yoo’s From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry could be used to introduce students to critical lenses. Inclusion of more diverse authors and texts, rather than reliance on texts typically found in the literary canon, would strengthen the ideas offered in McCann and Knapp’s book in purposeful ways.
Baker-Bell, A. (2019). Dismantling anti-Black linguistic racism in English language arts classrooms: Toward an anti-racist Black language pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 50(1), 8-21.
Ishizuka, K., & Stephens, R. (2019). The cat is out of the bag: Orientalism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s children’s books. Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, 1(2).
Johnson, L. L., Jackson, J., Stoval, D. O., & Baszile, D. T. (2017). “Loving Blackness to death”: (Re)Imagining ELA classrooms in a time of racial chaos. English Journal, 106(4), 60–66.
June 2, 2023
Arianna Banack is a visiting assistant professor of English education at Purdue University. Her research interests include supporting educators and teacher educators in using diverse young adult literature toward critical literacy in the classroom. She is coeditor of The ALAN Review and has been a member of NCTE since 2013.
Conceptual Conundrums in Learning to Teach English Language Arts
The University of Texas at Austin
Book review of Smagorinsky, P. (2020). Learning to teach English and the language arts: A Vygotskian perspective on beginning teachers’ pedagogical concept development. Bloomsbury.
Learning to Teach English and the Language Arts is as much a testament to Peter Smagorinsky’s extensive career as a distinguished research professor in English education as it is a handbook for educational stakeholders navigating the theory-to-practice divide—and indeed, it serves both purposes rather well. The introduction, for instance, speaks directly to the chasm between the language that educator-researchers use theoretically and the creative, affective, and mediated application in the classroom. Smagorinsky grounds his analyses and discussion in Vygotsky’s perspectives on learning to illustrate how learning to teach is complicated by each new teacher’s social context.
The conundrums Smagorinsky puts forth feel deeply familiar, and his writing embodies the clarity of explication that the book, as a whole, promotes. Taken collectively, the book’s 12 chapters argue for teacher education programs (TEPs) to develop a conceptual home base. If the field is going to recruit, prepare, and retain the excellent teachers that our nation’s diverse student populations deserve, TEPs need to explicitly reinforce, through practice, the theoretical principles they champion. This endeavor is infinitely more complex than it may sound.
To illustrate his argument, Smagorinsky presents multiple case studies across nine chapters, selectively aggregating each study by experience and focus. Student-participants come from three different TEPs and are followed through their student teaching and into their first years in the classroom. Data from interviews and classroom observations describe how each teacher’s pedagogical growth is shifted by competing and often irreconcilable power dynamics, curriculum and policy initiatives, and cultural ideologies. Smagorinsky threads these discussions alongside familiar teacher education theories, such as Lortie’s (1975) apprenticeship of observation and Feiman-Nemser and Buchman’s (1985) two-worlds pitfall. Readers will recognize the inevitably systemic, institutional, ideological collisions new teachers experience across schooling contexts when learning to teach English language arts. But, without cultivating a conceptual home base, Smagorinsky argues, the contradictory environments often end up (re)shaping teacher practice (and, over time, ideology) in ways that reify the very binaries current research and theory intend to resist.
For instance, Chapter 5 speaks to schooling’s historical, systemic investment in whiteness and how epistemological differences are often evaded through “flowery rhetoric” (p. 97) and diversity hires. Cultural mismatches in field experiences, accountability mandates, and fragmented curriculum further complicate programmatic assumptions in learning to teach in antiracist and equitable ways. Chapter 10 explores this tension through grammar pedagogy, revealed as a “glaring hole in English/Language Arts (ELA) teachers’ university education” and a persistent “staple” in language strands of schooling curricula (pp. 174–176). Readers follow two beginning teachers as they navigate the if and how of teaching grammar and find a “twisting path of concept development in relation to the mediation of different settings” (p. 187). The pedagogical complexity revealed in each case veritably troubles (and prunes) the field’s notion of “best practices” writ large, unsettling critiques of grammar instruction that often appear concluded, exhausted, and elitist. In his closing remarks, Smagorinsky explains how neoliberal patterns of efficiency and Anglo-normative standards in schools do not jibe with constructivist ideals. Rather, TEPs need to cultivate educators’ discernment and dexterity to face the complex realities of constructivism head on.
Readers who seek answers to the age-old theory-practice divide will instead find “gritty details” (p. 95) illuminating, collectively, the competing forces that keep many educators from developing the deeply rigorous and resonant craft required for excellent teaching. Offering a conceptual home base that sustains a teacher across contextual domains is a heady goal, but our nation’s children deserve racially and culturally diverse ELA teachers who engage, resist, and thrive over the long haul. Sharing cases with preservice teachers could indeed help them name and navigate the (often contradictory) variables shaping their own experiences, and this book provides teacher educators and beginning teachers alike with a spectrum of entry points.
Feiman-Nemser, S., & Buchman, M. (1985). Pitfalls of experience in teacher preparation. Teachers College Record, 87(1), 53–65.
Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. University of Chicago Press.
February 24, 2023
Kerry Alexander is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is an artist, writer, university instructor, and literacy researcher dedicated to community-centered inquiry and responsive pedagogical design in elementary literacy classrooms. She joined NCTE in 2017.
Inclusive Classrooms and Personalized Education for All Students
Dickinson State University
Book review of Wehmeyer, M. L., & Kurth, J. A. (2021). Inclusive education in a strengths-based era: Mapping the future of the field. Norton.
Michael L. Wehmeyer and Jennifer A. Kurth’s Inclusive Education in a Strengths-Based Era is the inaugural book in a series to share strategies for teaching students with disabilities in inclusive settings. The authors propose that inclusive, personalized education should be the default schoolwide approach for all students, with or without disabilities.
Wehmeyer and Kurth open the book with two chapters explaining the evolution of special education and perceptions of disability. The authors endorse a social model to understand student disability not as an obstacle to be overcome but as one of many defining features, like students’ individual abilities and interests. Since all students have their own strengths and needs as learners, they should be offered personalized education that emphasizes agency and provides multitiered support to achieve their learning goals.
In the three remaining chapters, the authors recommend several inclusive teaching strategies whose efficacy is supported by research, such as Response to Intervention and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Another recommended strategy is co-teaching, in which special education instructors teach in general classrooms alongside subject area teachers throughout the day rather than in isolated resource rooms, thus interacting with all students to provide tiered instruction. To help readers picture how co-teaching might be carried out, the authors provide a table listing pre-, mid-, and post-teaching roles and responsibilities to serve as a template for classroom and special education teachers as they determine who will do which tasks for a co-taught lesson.
Although intended for educators in all disciplines, this book does include examples specific to English language arts (ELA) from inclusive classrooms, such as how students with various communication needs may improve their listening and speaking skills by interacting with peers who can serve as “competent communication partners” and demonstrate “varied language structures” (p. 51) during ELA classroom interactions. The authors also illustrate UDL in the ELA classroom with examples such as providing an audiobook to a student with reading difficulties and allowing all students to choose their preferred book format, so long as they meet the same expectations for text comprehension. Examples of additional technology-assisted learning practices include using text-to-speech software to teach phonics and speech-to-text programs to support writing for students with cognitive or physical disabilities. A chapter on the supporting research cites studies in which participants in special education showed more gains in reading and writing when learning in inclusive ELA classrooms than in self-contained resource rooms.
In this book, Wehmeyer and Kurth suggest that special education is now in a strengths-based era: a period in which we offer personalized learning that starts with students’ abilities and interests and creates “education interventions around those factors and not around factors pertaining to deficits” (p. 59). The authors also observe that US schooling is simultaneously shifting from standardized to individualized education even for students without disabilities, making this an ideal moment to consider how to personalize education for students with disabilities based on each student’s strengths. I appreciate that this book offers a framework for inclusion as well as examples of inclusion in action, which will benefit my students in preparing for their field experiences.
Teacher educators could use this book to help future ELA teachers choose and use strengths-based strategies to serve all students, whether in special education or not. I intend to share it with my English education students to help them envision what inclusive strengths-based teaching might look like in their own classrooms someday.
February 24, 2023
Kevin Moberg is a faculty member in the Department of Arts and Letters and the School of Education at Dickinson State University in North Dakota. He teaches both English and education courses, including ELA teaching methods and adolescent literature, and supervises ELA student teachers. Kevin has been a member of NCTE since 2000.
Unlocking Multimodal Literacy through Filmmaking and Film
Holly Sheppard Riesco
University of Arkansas
Book review of Crisp, R. B. (2021). Using film to unlock textual literacy: A teacher’s guide. National Council of Teachers of English.
In Using Film to Unlock Textual Literacy: A Teacher’s Guide, Robert Bryant Crisp tackles questions with which I’ve recently grappled: What is “English language arts”? How can it evolve? Limiting “English class” to the traditional linguistic literacy of the white middle class can exclude and harm students who engage in multilingual and multimodal literacies within nonacademic spheres. As an alternative to written, text-based literacy instruction, Crisp argues that English language arts (ELA) educators can implement film as a viable mode for teaching literacy skills.
In his introduction, Crisp reasons that filmmaking can encourage students’ literacy proficiency by engaging the same analytical and compositional skills taught in a text-based ELA curriculum. Anticipating the potential challenges teachers may face when implementing filmmaking in their own classes, Crisp offers insights on grading, maintaining effective collaboration within groups, and setting a flexible hierarchy that promotes high expectations for student participation and design. Furthermore, his introduction includes a choice of 10 small-group, project-based filmmaking assignments—from preproduction to postproduction—that could encourage teachers to include filmmaking in their curricula.
In the remaining 12 chapters, Crisp clearly aligns the steps of preproduction in filmmaking with those of prewriting and drafting in traditional literacy and composition instruction, offering ELA teachers who are uncertain of digital video spaces or lack access to production equipment an opportunity to implement his lessons incrementally. Each chapter opens with a lesson plan that includes essential questions, objectives, central texts, agendas, differentiations, vocabulary, resources, and suggested timelines that do not necessarily require special equipment or skills. Connecting each lesson to the ELA Common Core State Standards, Crisp provides detailed steps to build students’ multimodal film literacy that parallel the ways ELA teachers already construct textual literacy. Moreover, Crisp relates his lessons to common literature texts, including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and William Shakespeare’s Othello, to create a transitional space for ELA teachers who are perhaps inexperienced with digital modes of literacy or more comfortable with classic texts.
Crisp’s filmmaking process and his film literacy lessons evoke the new literacies of Lankshear and Knobel, especially their (2007) “new ‘technical stuff’” (p. 7) and “new ‘ethos stuff’” (p. 9). The new ethos stuff is apparent in the participatory, collaborative, distributive nature of Crisp’s model, which engenders interactions between students and teachers throughout the analysis or preproduction process. The emphasis on students’ agentive participation fosters connections to their authentic strengths and powers discourses within the new literacies space of multimodal filmmaking or film literacy. Unfortunately, the “new ‘technical stuff’” may result in equity issues since not all schools have access to the same funding for technology. Consequently, one reason for Crisp’s focus on preproduction may be an attempt to overcome funding issues for ELA teachers who want to engage fully in the filmmaking process. By stopping the lessons at the prewriting and drafting stages, Crisp endeavors to circumvent any technological deficit that may exist for teachers.
However, the strengths of Crisp’s book lie in how it encourages current and future teachers to move beyond the boundaries of text-based curricula. Reading his book with preservice teachers can inspire inquiry into developing more project-based, multimodal literacy spaces as they prepare to go into the field. Although many of the lessons illustrate the connections between film and literacy, one of my favorite lessons revolves around the development of collaborative learning spaces and includes team-building activities that establish the participatory mindset needed for current and future literacy education. Ultimately, Crisp’s book eschews narrow literacy perspectives and encourages both in-service and future teachers to design curricula to further the evolution of multimodal literacy within ELA spaces.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2007). Sampling “the new” in new literacies. In M. Knobel & C. Lankshear (Eds.), A new literacies sampler (pp. 1–24). Peter Lang.
February 24, 2023
Holly Sheppard Riesco is a third-year doctoral student at the University of Arkansas in the Curriculum and Instruction Program in English education. Prior to entering the doctoral program, she taught secondary ELA for 15 years. Her research interest centers on the valuation of students’ lived literacies through young adult literature, rhetoric, and composition. She co-authored the book Adolescent Realities: Engaging Students in SEL through Young Adult Literature (with Judith A. Hayn, 2021).
Power and Beauty in Difference: Diverse Nonfiction Children’s Literature
Western Michigan University
Book review of Crisp, T., Knezek, S. M., & Gardner, R. P. (Eds). (2021). Reading and teaching with diverse nonfiction children’s books: Representations and possibilities. National Council of Teachers of English.
Since the development of the Common Core State Standards in 2009, teachers have felt pressure to blend more nonfiction into their curricula. In Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children’s Books: Representations and Possibilities, editors Thomas Crisp, Suzanne M. Knezek, and Roberta Price Gardner combine a critical multicultural framework for teaching children’s nonfiction with practical suggestions for incorporating these texts into K–8 classrooms. This collection follows Kathryn H. Au’s testimony in the foreword that “engaging our students with diverse nonfiction books may be one of the most important tasks we can perform as educators committed to social justice” (p. x).
The first of 11 chapters sets the groundwork for the rest of the collection by defining critical multiculturalism as an analytical framework. Subsequent chapters focus on the “history and trends in nonfiction children’s literature about specific parallel, underrepresented, or minoritized populations” (p. xix), including Latinx, Indigenous Nations, Asian American, African American, multiracial, Jewish American, and Muslim American, as well as individuals with disabilities and LGBTQ+ communities. The book also addresses representations of religious holidays in children’s nonfiction. Each chapter follows a series of guiding questions, provides a history of the subject in children’s literature, and offers guidelines for educators to consider when selecting books for classroom use. Additionally, each chapter includes a discussion of one or more books, along with lists of teaching strategies for K–8 teachers, books recommended for classroom use, and online resources.
While most chapters focus on picture books and elementary-aged audiences, many of the activities could be paired with deeper analysis or further research and discussion to make them appropriate for upper elementary and middle grade students. As an eighth-grade ELA teacher, I was invested in this book as a way to both teach informational texts and model critical analysis through a multiculturalist lens. A number of contributors suggest applying a multiculturalist framework to books for younger students, so I developed a project for my eighth graders to work in pairs through some of the inquiry strategies offered by Vivian Yenika-Agbaw in Chapter 1. Specifically, I acquired 20 of the nonfiction children’s books suggested by contributors and re-created Yenika-Agbaw’s five-category chart (p. 15) in student-friendly language so the pairs could work through questions in the areas of book design, voice/identities, authenticity/accuracy, power, and audience. Each pair then wrote a summary of their book analysis to serve as a rough draft of a presentation promoting texts that should be included in classroom libraries. Students enjoyed this authentic analysis and writing assignment since many chose books that represented their own identities.
As the editors point out, there are noticeable identity absences in the book, such as the lack of contributions representing gender diversity and people of size (p. xix). I would include discussions exploring the intersectionality of identities as another gap in this text since almost every contributor points out the importance of celebrating difference without recognizing the potential overlap of identities. With the exception of the Muslim American chapter, people with Middle Eastern identities are also left out, as are those with South Asian identities.
Despite this shortcoming, I see Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children’s Books as a practical text for use by practicing and preservice teachers to evaluate and implement nonfiction children’s literature in the classroom. This collection can support teacher educators as they strive to instruct preservice teachers in culturally responsive pedagogy and curriculum. This work includes learning to assess what literature to use, as well as how to engage students with “models for understanding themselves and the world in which they live” (p. xviii). Each chapter encourages educators to find more professional resources and primary sources about identity—all of which promotes continued involvement in seeking out inclusive texts representative of the diversity of students.
February 24, 2023
Katie Sluiter is an eighth-grade ELA teacher at Wyoming Junior High School near Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in English education at Western Michigan University, focusing on Holocaust and human rights studies in the ELA classroom. She has been a member of NCTE since 2008.
Teaching Grammar: What Could Be?
University of Michigan
Book review of Benjamin, A. (2021). Engaging grammar: Practical advice for real classrooms (2nd ed.). National Council of Teachers of English.
When I first read Amy Benjamin’s Engaging Grammar: Practical Advice for Real Classrooms, I felt seen. I was once the preservice teacher who, like teachers noted in the text, struggled with having the confidence to teach grammar, thinking, “I’m very nervous about teaching grammar. I never learned it myself” (p. 3). Once I had my own classroom, I became the new teacher whose more seasoned colleagues told her, “The best way to teach grammar is just drill-and-kill. So, I do it for a few weeks and get it over with” (p. 3). After teaching my own classes for some time, I still see the book’s tremendous value. My first-year writing students enter the college classroom thinking of grammar as a rhetorical practice for avoiding or correcting errors. I’m glad to have Benjamin’s book on my shelf as a resource for when students and I discuss both grammar in context and the evolving nature of language.
Benjamin’s book offers strategies and best practices grounded in linguistic grammar, an approach that is defined for readers in early chapters of the text. Benjamin outlines and unpacks relevant theory and research, which in turn provide a helpful framework and justification for why grammar is a crucial part of teaching and learning. Additionally, each chapter offers activities and strategies for teaching grammar. Chapter 8, “Scope and Sequence,” is particularly useful for envisioning how the grammar pedagogy Benjamin proposes can play out in grades 6 through12. However, there were times when I was in the weeds. Benjamin’s definitional work for mechanics and usage of grammar were quite complex, and new students of grammar may struggle with terminologies. Yet the definitional work and examples she provides serve as solid resources to return to when planning lessons about grammar and its foundations.
While I see Engaging Grammar as a useful resource and reference text for teaching grammar, I still grapple with grammar and its role as a gatekeeping function in US education, especially as related to standardized testing. Benjamin acknowledges that the “debate over the extent to which instruction is enhanced or diminished by the demands of high-stakes tests is not the focus of this book” (p. 87). Still, a full chapter—Chapter 6—is dedicated to “explor[ing] ways in which our grammar instruction can elevate student performance on standardized tests” (p. 86). As a result, Benjamin’s work raises questions for me regarding teachers’ acceptance of and beholdenness to standardized tests as an inevitable part of teaching, despite the increasing understanding that standardized tests serve an inequitable gatekeeping function. I wonder whether different conversations could challenge these gatekeepers, especially now that some universities no longer require ACT or SAT scores because they are poor predictors of college success (Allensworth & Clark, 2020).
Ultimately, Benjamin’s work contributes to the important, ongoing conversation about how grammar should be taught: with text-centered strategies, rhetorical and flexible approaches, and considerations for prior knowledge and purposeful context.
Allensworth, E. M., & Clark, K. (2020). High school GPAs and ACT scores as predictors of college completion: Examining assumptions about consistency across high schools. Educational Researcher, 49(3), 198–211.
January 7, 2022
Ann Burke is an educator, facilitator, and designer whose teaching and research interests center on K–12/college connections and educator development. She has taught across K–12 and higher education contexts for almost 15 years and currently supports faculty at the University of Michigan’s Center for Socially Engaged Design. Ann joined NCTE in 2008.
The World’s on Fire: Using Critical Civic Empathy to Douse the Flames
The Ohio State University and Denison University
Book review of Mirra, N. (2018). Educating for empathy: Literacy learning and civic engagement. Teachers College Press.
In the past year, I have argued with loved ones over face masks, marched in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and witnessed virtual discourses that simultaneously embody compassion for our fellow humans and seem absolutely void of it. Our lives have become so affected by the political polarization now defining the contemporary world that schools have begun implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) curricula. For those who teach English language arts, SEL is nothing new. Our classrooms are centered on stories; personal traits such as empathy can be naturally cultivated through reading and writing about our worlds. However, my own research on Ohio’s SEL standards and the potential ways SEL could be implemented in English classrooms reveals that the ways empathy is often framed lack the critical lens necessary to engage with systemic problems, such as racism, and to activate social change (Clark et al., 2021).
Nicole Mirra shares this concern. Her book Educating for Empathy: Literacy Learning and Civic Engagement (2018) responds to the theory and practice of critical civic empathy, a model which connects language arts instruction to civic engagement. Mirra asserts that fostering empathy should be a “primary goal of education because it offers an organizing principle for our field grounded in hope, love, and a commitment to a more equitable society” (p. 3), but she also says that encouraging empathy is not enough. Critical civic empathy shifts the focus from simply creating good people in our classrooms to creating “good citizens in a complex, 21st-century democracy” (p. 20). At its heart, critical civic empathy is a way for English educators to enact a commitment to equity and justice.
The text synthesizes theory, research, and practice, offering case studies, discussion and reflection questions, and an appendix with pragmatic resources. Chapters 1 through 4 are each organized thematically around a different way critical civic empathy can be taught, and examples are given from Mirra’s own experiences and research. She explores the robust and creative ways critical empathy is being implemented in classrooms, schools, and communities across the United States, from the implementation of debate programs in New York City to the use of youth participatory action research in California. For me as an English teacher, Chapter 1’s discussion of the ways literacy analysis can be used to “spur imaginative thinking about social issues and provide students with agency to think about new possibilities for our society” (p. 33) had a profound influence on the development of my Diversity and Equity in YA Literature class.
Shifting the topic from literacy practices in schools and communities to teachers themselves, Chapter 5 explores “the steps that we teachers must take in our professional and personal lives to prepare ourselves to teach toward critical civic empathy with our students” (p. 89). Readers are called to reflect on their civic engagement and given strategies to increase involvement so they can better serve their students. I found solace and empowerment in Mirra’s call to action, since teaching with the goal of dismantling inequities will never be easy in such a politically polarized society.
Educating for Empathy gives readers a concrete range of ideas and resources that they can incorporate into their classrooms to create a space where critical civic empathy and literacy development are synthesized. I found her book relevant, inspiring, and useful for my own pedagogy, and I highly recommend it as an essential addition to any English teacher’s bookshelf.
Clark, C. T., Chrisman, A., & Lewis, S. G. (2021). Using picturebooks to teach with and against social and emotional learning. Language Arts, 98(5), 246–259.
January 7, 2022
Alyssa Chrisman is a PhD Candidate in Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University and a visiting instructor in the Educational Studies department at Denison University. Her research interests include representations of mental health in young adult literature and social-emotional learning. She has been a member of NCTE since 2011.
Scaffolding Reflective Practices with Early Career Educators
North Carolina State University
Book review of Scales, R. Q., Wolsey, T. D., & Parsons, S. A. (2020). Becoming a metacognitive teacher: A guide for early and preservice teachers. Teachers College Press.
Intended as a guidebook to help early career teachers develop professional competencies, Becoming a Metacognitive Teacher: A Guide for Early and Preservice Teachers by Scales, Wolsey, and Parsons is a reader-friendly, accessible textbook that breaks down the processes of coursework, field experiences, student teaching, and one’s first year in the classroom. As such, it is a highly effective resource for both preservice teachers who hope to understand their practice and teacher educators who want to scaffold the reflective process. The authors’ clear emphasis on developing educators’ ability to “make decisions in the moment, in the milieu of all those mediating factors” (p. 39), is particularly insightful; many of my students have struggled with what it means to evaluate, reflect, and act in the process of teaching, and the authors provide well-scaffolded instruction in how to implement those practices.
Becoming a Metacognitive Teacher reads like a cheat sheet for a candidate moving through the stages of a traditional teacher preparation program. Defining metacognitive teaching as the “ability to adapt and adjust” (p. 5) instruction intentionally, the authors emphasize the broader context that informs each situation and pair each stage of the teaching process with a series of metacognitive questions and considerations. I appreciate how the authors reinforced one of my mantras in their lessons: “Keep the design simple, and let the students do the complex thinking. Trust them” (p. 83).
The book’s seven short chapters are split into relevant topics such as the transition from student teaching to novice teaching, navigating coursework, shifting from a student mindset to a teacher mindset, and professional collaboration. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 3, “Focusing on Coursework for Professional Background Knowledge,” as it addresses the presumed disconnect between university classroom methods instruction and practice. To effectively illustrate how coursework can be approached to best prepare preservice teachers, the authors use the analogy of canoeing, which vividly illustrates both the practical skills needed to “navigate the rapids” and hidden snags of teaching while developing awareness of the forces within and outside of teachers’ control.
The chapters have clear headings and concise writing regarding each topic. Preservice teachers will appreciate the fact that each chapter contains an anticipation guide, reflection questions, and supplemental resources via links, as well as the multimodality of these materials. Early career teachers are inundated with options for resources, and this intentional list can reduce the decision fatigue from searching for materials. The digital materials, all incorporated by QR code in the margins of the text, are relevant to the chapter topics and contain a solid highlight reel of what is available from professional organizations, education blogs, and reputable websites.
Although the book does an excellent job of selecting different facets of the teaching experience to examine, its scope can be confusing. For example, the pieces of chapters that deal with picking a program are less relevant to student teachers who have nearly completed theirs, and the sections on finding a mentor at a placement school are relevant especially for students in the first year of their program. None of these specific sections are particularly long, but they do add a disjointed feel to the text. Overall, however, the authors have done a remarkable job of choosing their topics and keeping the text well structured.
Becoming a Metacognitive Teacher is an effective text focused on early career concerns that successfully breaks down the complexities of teaching into comprehensible chunks; if you have students who ask, “How do I really use the strategies you taught me?” or “What is it really like to teach?” then this text will serve you well. I’m looking forward to using this accessible and implementable text with my student teachers during their practicum. It does an excellent job of contextualizing the different parts of both teacher education programs and teaching proper to illustrate how those parts fit into the larger pedagogical whole; early and preservice teachers struggling to organize their thoughts on their practice will find the structure and resources useful as they grow in their teaching.
January 7, 2022
Caitlin Donovan is a doctoral student in literacy and English language arts education at North Carolina State University. She taught middle and high school humanities courses in public schools for eight years and has been a member of NCTE since 2012. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DonovanTeacher.
Fostering a True Classroom Community through Reading and Writing
Teachers College, Columbia University
Book review of Ochoa, J. (Ed.). (2020). Already readers and writers: Honoring students’ rights to read and write in the middle grade classroom. National Council Teachers of English.
Already Readers and Writers: Honoring Students’ Rights to Read and Write in the Middle Grade Classroom is a book that every educator needs to read during their ongoing pedagogical journey. This guide provides in-depth instruction for reading and writing classroom practices that many educators—not just those who work with the middle grades—can implement to help mold both educators and students alike into critical thinkers, inquirers, and empathetic individuals who never stop reading, writing, and ultimately, learning.
The book also explores different methods for teaching our students to be effective writers. To this end, the chapters consider how poetry, fables, songs, and other text styles can be incorporated into classroom reading and writing practices, with examples of what various teachers are doing in their classrooms. One teacher mentions creating assignments that connect to historical events and encourages students to think critically as they engage and utilize their voices to dive into deeper conversations. In doing so, she challenges her growth as an ELA teacher and encourages others to do the same.
A common theme throughout the book is the importance of taking time to connect with your students, embracing diverse perspectives to inspire change beyond the classroom through creative critical reflection, and how to implement that approach in the classroom. Many chapters reiterate that good literacy instruction can help shape a better tomorrow and foster deeper connections to the world beyond the classroom. For instance, in “Nike Socks and Ceiling Tiles: Conversations That Push and Clarify” by Heather Anderson, the book details how educators at any level can design curricula with the intention of helping students understand what it means to share both national identity and a complex history. The book also reminds us to create spaces in the classroom for diverse cultural backgrounds and distinct lived experiences—and that, to such an end, we should invite students to reflect on their own cultural identities and to develop empathy. This process can begin by implementing classroom norms and designating respect as the foundation of the classroom community, all of which remain rooted in literature and writing.
The text stresses that the most important part of honoring the rights of our students is to foster the love of both writing and reading while encouraging our students to express themselves as they see fit. Students’ right to read includes books that truly echo and represent their full, complex identities and cultures. In my own classroom, my students are provided with multiple chances not only to see themselves in the texts we read but also to write about their lives in any way that is meaningful to them. Reading and writing help strengthen the bond between teacher and students by opening the lines of communication and establishing trust. Sometimes there are things that we can’t talk about but are able to put down on paper. That’s the beauty of teaching writing: watching your students come to life and discover the abilities that they didn’t know they had.
Through Already Readers and Writers, Ochoa’s goal is for children everywhere to know that they are seen and heard, and, most importantly, have a place in the world. We should constantly be growing and evolving as educators to model how to be natural inquirers, real-world advocates, and critical thinkers to our students.
January 7, 2022
Darius Phelps is a middle grades ELA teacher and PhD Student in English education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Since joining NCTE in 2018, he has become co-chair of the ELATE Graduate Strand (ELATE-GS), a member of the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children Committee, and an ELATE Executive Committee graduate student representative. He can be found on Twitter at @dphelps1113 and on Instagram at @mr.dphelps.
Living Poets in the Classroom: A Spell Book for Teaching Contemporary Poetry
University of Connecticut
Book review of Illich, L., & Alter Smith, M. (2021). Teach living poets. National Council of Teachers of English.
Lindsay Illich and Melissa Alter Smith’s Teach Living Poets invites us into ELA classrooms where the teachers, students, and poets who make up the #TeachLivingPoets community participate in learning experiences that capture the “magical qualities of the language in poems” (p. 12). Their approach pays special attention to students’ sociopolitical development and the goals and challenges educators face when it comes to teaching poetry in the current sociopolitical climate. The poems, strategies, and ideas presented in the well-sourced chapters will appeal to English teacher educators, preservice teachers, and novice and experienced educators who want to unlock the pedagogical possibilities of contemporary poetry in their classrooms and ignite within themselves and their students a love and enjoyment of poetry.
The chapters include a wealth of practical strategies and activities, examples of student work, and detailed guides for teaching a variety of subgenres within contemporary poetry. Chapters 1 through 3 orient the reader to the Teach Living Poets approach and to ways of discovering and reading contemporary poetry. Chapters 4 through 8 focus on teaching contemporary poems, with sections dedicated to unpacking key ideas in the teaching of poetry, such as “what is poetry” (p. 40), teaching tone (p. 47), and annotating a poem (p. 58). Each topic is accompanied by lesson plans and suggested poems. Chapter 9 encourages educators to connect by joining the #TeachLivingPoets online community.
Teach Living Poets also addresses theoretical implications (which teacher educators will find compelling) to give readers insights into the contemporary poetry scene. In Chapter 3, the authors urge educators to resist the lures of teaching literary devices—which they contend renders a poem down to a closed interpretation—and instead teach poetry through a “lens of moves” to help students understand, analyze, and critique poems. This chapter also helpfully discusses common contemporary poetic moves, explicates common subgenres that may be unfamiliar to readers, and provides classroom-tested lists of selected poems that feature each move.
As a former high school English teacher, I appreciate how the authors provide a detailed pedagogy of and for contemporary poetry that highlights how the #TeachLivingPoets approach positively impacts students’ critical reading and writing development and creates opportunities for self-expression and social-emotional learning. As a teacher educator, I appreciate how the authors articulate the importance of shifting the interpretive authority in reading poetry from teacher to student. On this point, the book provides a model for teacher educators to engage preservice teachers in deeper discussions about what it means to relinquish power in relation to students.
In my work with preservice teachers, I foreground the political and philosophical aspects of teaching literature while emphasizing what should be taught and how it should be taught. In my methods courses, we discuss power, value, and purpose in teaching literature and the impact of these curricular and pedagogical choices. While the #TeachLivingPoets approach positions teachers as “skilled anthologists, culling poems from everywhere for the small audience they know best, their students” (p. 12), I didn’t find that the chapters adequately confronted issues of power, value, and purpose for teachers assuming the role of anthologist. The authors aim to empower teachers to choose the texts they want to teach in order to satisfy curricular needs, but, for this empowerment to occur, teachers must examine the political and ethical dimensions of text selection. I suspect the authors intend for this process of empowerment to be further developed in virtual community; however, this book would benefit from including these kinds of analyses or prompts in each chapter.
That said, Teach Living Poets offers practical advice for reading and teaching contemporary poetry and details practical classroom activities that engage students as meaning-makers and knowledge producers. Not only an engaging how-to guide for appreciating poetry, it is also a call to action and a philosophical meditation on the alchemy that occurs between selves, words, and worlds when we share the experience of interpreting poetry.
August 31, 2022
Sian Charles-Harris is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, and her research focuses on secondary English teachers’ sociopolitical development and how it impacts the teaching of literature in secondary schools. She has been a member of NCTE since 2019.
A Window on Evidence-Based Writing Practices
Bridgette B. Davis
Book review of Dean, D. (2021). What works in writing instruction: Research and practice (2nd ed.). National Council of Teachers of English.
In What Works in Writing Instruction, Deborah Dean answers the titular, age-old pedagogical question by examining evidence-based writing in five independent chapters focused on climate, structures, practices, content, and tasks. To link the chapters and writing areas together with real-world application, the author utilizes “sketchnotes,” which transform traditional note-taking into an interactive and engaging process. These sketchnotes also functionally mimic the graphic organizers and thinking maps used in many classrooms—including my own—to brainstorm and spark creativity when beginning the writing process or further developing an idea.
Also essential to the text and its tethering of real-world application to pedagogical theory are “windows” that are introduced as glimpses into classrooms through space allotted for teachers to share stories from implementing evidence-based practices. These windows helpfully provide testimonials and pedagogical tools which translate into my classroom as the sharing of my books and personal writing process with students. What Works in Writing Instruction also features the challenges encountered when applying the practices and consideration of how the needs of students lead to adaptations. In other words, despite the usefulness of evidence-based practices, the resounding message of the book is that not all practices work the same for all students.
The book has numerous strengths. For example, Dean leaves us with the feeling of sharing ideas with a colleague over hot coffee or of two friends gleaning evidence-based practices from one another’s classroom experiences. This sense strengthens the idea of collaboration among peers, which leads to a greater impact on students. Another strength nestled in these pages is how the text encourages teachers to share and show vulnerability to their students through their writing. The personal windows provide teachers the comfort of knowing other teachers share similar experiences in their classrooms. Dean also provides examples of how teachers can integrate the windows into their student’s writing process. Overall, the author accomplishes her goal of providing readers with glimpses into real classrooms, filled with real students and teachers overcoming real challenges, as they develop real writers.
One minor criticism of the book is the insertion of the “Research Toolbox” feature, which gives credit to those whose research contributed to this publication. The placement throughout the book proved to be more of a distraction than a bibliographical enhancement while reading. The purpose of the feature is unclear and seems redundant.
As a veteran educator, I hope a book of this type encourages ELA teachers to relax, have fun, enjoy the writing process, and make it fun for their students. In addition, realizing that no prescriptive writing format or evidence-based practice produces the same result for all classes or students may lessen the pressure felt by many ELA teachers. What Works in Writing Instruction equips ELA teachers with a resource and a support tool for implementing writing in their classrooms. Teacher educators could also use this book with preservice teachers as a resource for implementing writing ideas and adaptive concepts to meet their students’ needs. Finally, the book may reduce the anxiety that new ELA teachers feel and give them a starting point when beginning the writing process in their classrooms.
Ultimately, Dean does a great job of answering the question of what works in writing instruction—teachers’ work, students’ work, and the work of using evidence-based practices, even if that means adapting them to meet students’ needs.
August 31, 2022
Bridgette B. Davis is a twenty-plus-year educational veteran who has been a member of NCTE since 2020. She currently serves as a district MTSS and assessment coordinator for an inner-city state charter school. She previously served as an instructional coach in reading and social studies for six years. Her background is in elementary education and adult education.
Teachers Who Persist
University of Illinois at Chicago
Book review of Rodriguez, T. L, Hallman, H. L, & Pastore-Capuana, K. (Eds.). (2020). Invested stayers: How teachers thrive in challenging times. Rowman & Littlefield.
Although written before the pandemic, the narratives of teacher resistance featured in Invested Stayers: How Teachers Thrive in Challenging Times resonate right now. Through in-depth consideration of why teachers persist despite the stressors they face, this edited collection offers hope and wisdom. Using a model of “relational reflection,” each chapter is coauthored by at least one practicing PK–12 teacher and one teacher educator, an approach which “highlights the reciprocal nature of learning and the power of relational ways of knowing and being” (p. xviii). While the editors are seasoned English educators, the chapters feature a variety of voices, including teachers of English, science, math, social studies, special education, and English as a Second Language that span early childhood through college. Taken collectively, these essays disrupt the negative dominant discourse about teacher retention. Rather than highlight the problems that cause teachers to exit the field, the selected stories reveal how professional relationships and institutional supports can sustain teachers’ careers.
As the title indicates, the collection focuses on “invested stayers,” or teachers who persist in the field, a label which directly counters Glazer’s studies of “invested leavers,” defined as credentialed teachers who exit the career after more than three years (2018a, 2018b). Unlike typical stories that situate resilience as an individual endeavor, the narratives of this book are clearly situated within broader conflicts and changes in the field, which the editors call “landmark catalysts” (p. xii).
The twelve chapters are organized into three sections. Part 1: Social Landscapes emphasizes the value of learning from and about local school communities to teach in culturally relevant and sustaining ways. All four chapters in this section highlight mentorship from teacher educators after graduation as a key element in professional growth. The chapters in Part 2: Political Landscapes tell narratives of agency in which teachers persist because they can push back against or work around educational reforms they deem as constraining or harmful. A notable theme of this section is the importance of collegiality and connection with others, such as through teachers’ unions or communities of practices. Like Part 1, the chapters in Part 3: Disciplinary Landscapes emphasize the value of university and school collaboration. These stories showcase how inquiry (such as practitioner research) and innovative practices (such as redesigning curriculum and utilizing digital tools) motivate and sustain careers.
While positioned as a book for PK–12 teachers and teacher educators, the narratives speak most directly to secondary education teacher educators, highlighting the importance of mentorship and collaboration between universities and local schools. As a teacher educator, I found myself considering how my program could better support teachers after graduation and nurture invested stayers through collaborative partnerships or research. I was also struck by the narratives of teacher educators who reflect on the mutual benefits of collaboration. These teacher educators intimately reveal how their own pedagogical practices have been impacted, thanks to their ongoing work with practicing teachers. For me, few of the chapters shared particularly groundbreaking insights on why teachers persist; however, I find this book’s coauthored structure compelling. Given the increasingly challenging times, I would love to see a follow-up collection about teacher resilience in the context of the pandemic.
Glazer, J. (2018a). Leaving lessons: Learning from the exit decisions of experienced teachers. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 24(1), 50–62.
Glazer, J. (2018b). Learning from those who no longer teach: Viewing teacher attrition through a resistance lens. Teacher and Teacher Education, <em74, 62–71.
August 31, 2022
Abigail Kindelsperger is a lecturer and associate director of English education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Previously, she taught high school English for more than a decade. She joined NCTE in 2004.
Literary Literacy: A Pragmatic Guide to the Teaching of Literature
George Mason University
Book review of McCann, T. M., & Knapp, J. V. (2021). Learning to enjoy literature: How teachers can model and motivate. Rowman & Littlefield.
In Learning to Enjoy Literature: How Teachers Can Model and Motivate, Thomas M. McCann and John V. Knapp offer a series of structured approaches for ELA teachers to utilize in teaching (and modeling for) students the procedures for reading and understanding literature. The basis of their argument is that common approaches to teaching literature fail to give proper “attention to teaching students how to read” (p. 2). My own experiences as a teacher of literature lead me to believe that McCann and Knapp’s advocacy for an expanded conception of the literate activities that undergird students’ efforts to write about literature is a promising contribution to ELA educators and education. It is particularly useful for both “teachers-in-training [and] teachers currently on the job” (p. xi) in need of practical approaches to help students treat literary interpretation as a collective, collaborative, social, and intellectual activity.
Presented as the praxis-oriented follow-up to McCann and Knapp’s previous, more theoretical book for ELA teachers, Teaching on Solid Ground: Knowledge Foundations for the Teacher of English (2019), this volume offers detailed descriptions of specific instructional sequences often focused on particular literary works. For example, Chapter 3 suggests leading with a student survey on “fairness scenarios” (i.e., hypothetical school-based situations) that invites students to contemplate their own personal conceptions of fairness. By engaging students with the values—which then help them to navigate the myriad ethical and moral complexities in works such as The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, Great Expectations, and Things Fall Apart—the authors are urging ELA teachers to more sensitively attend to how their students read. Chapter 4 encourages students to consider competing interpretations by first thinking about authorial intention and then accounting for the alternative interpretations that arise from small-group discussions with peers before agreeing, as a class, on explicit rules of notice and signification (i.e., how and what readers notice and what constitutes a key feature of a narrative).
Chapter 5 directs teachers to perform read- and think-alouds of short passages in order to “wonder out loud” (p. 66) and thereby model for students how a mature reader thinks about the complex prose and narrative arcs of literature. These detailed descriptions are de facto lesson plans, with pragmatic, accessible activities that teachers could implement and build on in their own classrooms. Further, the activities all seek to cultivate an understanding of students’ own perspectives first, which can then connect to literary experiences with an amplified emphasis on the social, dialectical exchanges that help to develop and reinforce students’ ability to write about and respond to literature.
One drawback of the book is the inlaid presumption that this teaching of literature will take place in traditional face-to-face environments. In a contemporary educational context that increasingly values progressive pedagogies focused on marginalized experiences, and which is addressed to students deeply immersed in a digitally connected and multimedia world, these efforts can feel a bit dated. It is incumbent upon all of us to, on the one hand, continue to modernize and sensitize our teaching practices and, on the other, not lose sight of the conveyable lessons of the literary past or the literate procedures for accessing them.
As a mid-career ELA teacher, I found Learning to Enjoy Literature: How Teachers Can Model and Motivate at its most valuable when it challenged me to reconsider the value of explicit instructional methods which attend to the often-occluded skills that amalgamate to form the literacy and literary ability of the students in my classroom. McCann and Knapp are to be commended for balancing a delicate spectrum of demands by centering on how to teach literature in a world that continues to question its value.
McCann, T. M., & Knapp, J. V. (2019). Teaching on solid ground: Knowledge foundations for the teacher of English. Guilford Press.
August 31, 2022
Jonathan Marine is a doctoral student in writing and rhetoric at George Mason University and has been a member of NCTE since 2019. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com and on Twitter at @JonathanMMarine.
Reading Together: Crafting a School Culture to Support Multilingual Students
Stacia L. Long
University of Georgia
Book review of Vu, D. (2021). Life, literacy, and the pursuit of happiness: Supporting our immigrant and refugee children through the power of reading. Scholastic.
As an English language arts (ELA) teacher, I spent a lot of time thinking about the culture of the learning community I built with students. However, what we built together was limited to the four walls of our classroom, separate from other subject areas. Likewise, there wasn’t continuity from my class to the next ELA class the following year. While I sought collaborative educators among the other ELA teachers, I never thought much beyond my departmental setting. Don Vu’s (2021) Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Supporting Our Immigrant and Refugee Children Through the Power of Reading challenges teachers like me to think bigger.
In this slim volume, Vu reflects on his work as an elementary school principal who worked alongside teachers to shape the school into a place dedicated to student literacy. The book sits nicely within the conventions of practitioner texts: it has a catchy title, an accessible length (144 pages), clear headings, bright images, framing narratives of both the author’s life and the school community, book recommendations, and an optimistic tone even when acknowledging the difficulties educators may face.
In sharing the ideals and practices that fed this work, Vu draws on a wide range of foundational thinkers in the field of critical education (e.g., Paulo Freire, Rudine Sims Bishop), proponents of reading workshop (e.g., Lucy Calkins), reading researchers (e.g., Richard Allington), and current practitioner voices (e.g., Kelly Gallagher, Steven Layne, Donalyn Miller). Quotations from other public voices—including Vice President Kamala Harris, James Baldwin, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar—introduce each chapter, previewing how reading is connected to identity, community, or freedom.
In Part One: Life, Vu introduces himself as an educator who came to the United States as a Vietnam refugee in 1975, which illustrates his connection to immigrant and refugee students and demonstrates how literacy circulates in people’s lives. This reflection on his culture precedes his account of creating a campus-wide reading culture, the importance of this work, the challenges that educators may face, and the conditions necessary for a schoolwide reading culture: “commitment, clock, collection, conversation, connection, and celebration” (p. 30).
Part Two: Literacy focuses on the material conditions Vu and his colleagues established to support students and teachers as they developed reading lives. For instance, Vu offers book recommendations and descriptions of the steps he took to create time and space for reading. He also describes how parents and children’s book authors were invited to the school to support literacy practices beyond the campus. These strategies may be familiar to teachers, but by going beyond the school, he refreshingly offers a broader take.
In Part Three: Pursuit of Happiness, Vu makes visible his belief that reading is inextricably bound to achieving the American Dream while highlighting how books help readers better understand themselves and the world. Admittedly, this gave me pause. Vu leans heavily on the American dream as an aspiration for students without thinking critically about its flaws that are steeped in individuality and meritocracy or how social conditions constrain the prospects for many students to achieve it. This book was also written and published during the resurgence of the Reading Wars, the global pandemic, and racial violence. Vu neatly sidesteps these complex issues, instead offering a cursory discussion of how the pandemic increased the visibility of discrimination and inequality in education and American life.
Nonetheless, this book engages principals, teachers, and literacy leaders in the effort to develop a school reading culture that rests upon core values and is maintained through regular work. Readers will appreciate the window into a long-term project of school change that supports authentic literacy lives for all school stakeholders.
June 23, 2022
Stacia L. Long is a doctoral candidate studying English education at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on how English language arts teachers talk and teach about sexual violence. She has been a member of NCTE since 2010.
Developing Racially Literate Readers
Saint Augustine’s University
Book review of Borsheim-Black, C., & Sarigianides, S. T. (2019). Letting Go of literary whiteness: Antiracist literature instruction for white students. Teachers College Press.
In Letting Go of Literary Whiteness, Carlin Borsheim-Black and Sophia Tatiana Sarigianides explore pathways for developing educators’ racial consciousness by interrogating literary works through the lens of critical race theory (CRT). Nowadays, any association with CRT is fraught, but Borsheim-Black and Sarigianides propose that CRT is necessary because it asks readers to acknowledge that “literature does not simply reflect race and racism in . . . society; literature has played a role in constructing race and racism in . . . society” (p. 7). As I think about my own identity as a black woman educator, both on the delivering and receiving end of educational experiences that center whiteness, I found this text validating, interesting, and engaging. But most of all, I appreciated Borsheim-Black and Sarigianides’s demand of teachers to address and unpack student responses when encountering texts that reflect on race, racism, and white supremacy.
Written with secondary English teachers and English teacher candidates in mind, Letting Go pushes against impulses to prescribe when and how teachers address racism in the classroom. To this end, the book encourages teachers to embed antiracist literature instruction throughout the curriculum and center the material prominently within classroom discussions and formative and summative assessments. The first chapter establishes base assumptions: that white texts need to be decentered, that colorblindness is inherent in teaching, and that racism needs to be interrupted in educational settings. The other six chapters focus on theories that support this argument—namely, reader response theory and critical race theory—and provide examples of how to adopt antiracist approaches to teaching texts and crafting assignments. The authors address the use of both canonical, white-authored novels, such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, and those less anthologized, such as works from Kwame Alexander, Sherman Alexie, and Elizabeth Acevedo.
This book does two things well. First, in Chapters 2 and 7, it offers practical guidance for implementing antiracist approaches, including the development of learning objectives and assessments. Unit plans, guiding questions, and classroom activities in each chapter aid in this work. Second, the book provides real accounts from classroom teachers to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of antiracist literature instruction as a method for racial literacy development and deep literary interpretation. For example, Chapter 2 features a teacher who investigates the racist tropes present in a political cartoon. In this example, Mrs. Kinney makes a noble effort to approach the work but stumbles because of student resistance and misreading, her own apprehensions and race-evasive practices, and her missteps in scaffolding the assignment. Borsheim-Black and Sarigianides share measured advice that helps support teachers and students through these challenges. Because white readers “need instruction for uncovering ways whiteness operates ideologically to shape our responses to literature” (p. 46), this text outlines approaches, such as counter-storytelling, and assignments, such as scaffolded race talks and collaborative glossaries, to generate structured points of entry into these discussions.
Letting Go outlines important opportunities for the future of literary study, including the need to develop citizens capable of navigating conversations about racism. Because of my own subject position, I found myself drawn to the few moments in the book that brought students of color into the conversation. As much as I found this book useful, I would have loved more attention to exploring not simply how white students are impacted by a focus on whiteness, but also how all students are affected. By doing so, this groundbreaking research can acknowledge that, since most literature curriculum is oriented toward whiteness, the anti-blackness and othering that occurs as a result impacts all students in significant ways. Thus, antiracist teacher training and pedagogical approaches offer an important benefit to students and educators from all backgrounds, including—and perhaps especially—those whose anti-blackness has a significant impact on their own self-worth.
June 23, 2022
Janelle Jennings-Alexander (@ProfessorJJA) is a scholar-educator whose teaching and training explore opportunities for increasing racial literacy and engaging learners in critical discourse through the study of African American–authored fiction. Janelle is a 2018 recipient of the NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award and currently serves as a success coach with Write the Damn Dissertation. She joined NCTE in 2017.
Critical Conversations in Troubling Times
Christian George Gregory
Saint Anselm College
Book review of Schieble, M., Vetter, A., & Martin, K. M. (2020). Classroom talk for social change: Critical conversations in English language arts. Teachers College Press.
Classroom Talk for Social Change tackles pedagogies of classroom discourse surrounding thorny issues that create tension and anxiety for teachers and students alike. Written for classroom teachers, the work is divided into eight accessible chapters that provide theory, research, key terms, and firsthand narratives. Additionally, each chapter contains reflective questions for personal or group use and a well-curated list of topical readings focusing on power, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and teacher talk. Though there are many books about classroom discussion, this carefully researched volume is an invaluable go-to guide for teachers eager to address critical conversations responsibly.
While the initial chapters lay the groundwork for discussions of power, privilege, reflection, and racial literacy, Chapter 4 provides methods of establishing a critical learner stance or a “mindset that embraces the possibility for challenging, rethinking, or developing nuanced understandings about knowledge” (p. 14). Through engaging in self-reflection, teachers can best prepare for conversations about confronting power and more ably guide students to examine white privilege and dominant, oppressive narratives related to gender or class.
In Chapter 5, the authors examine discourse spaces that encourage a more equitable flow of ideas, habits of critical listening, and lines of questioning and response. The chapter’s focus on vulnerability and discomfort gives weight to affective responses in complex discussions, and the authors provide a thoughtful, stepped approach to navigate “tension and model repair” (p.66). Since reparative work seems uncommon (or absent) on social media platforms, the authors include verbal and written cues to enable students to identify their feelings and respond to complex topics. At the same time, they encourage teachers to join in critical conversations through collegial affinity groups to reveal bias, combat prejudice, and disrupt beliefs.
A trio of chapters then provides additional methods of practice and reflection for critical conversations. Chapter 6 provides teachers with varied tools to navigate critical conversations about race, gender, and sexuality. First, the authors offer protocols to humanize discussion—to de-essentialize ideas, encourage mindful language, and listen critically to others. Second, they name methods for teachers to address racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic discourse and invite the class to name how identity politics (e.g., focused on race, class, gender, or sexual orientation) can shape ideas and events, interrupt existing power structures, surface systemic oppression, and strategize ways to combat such systems in support of equity. Chapter 7 examines how four teachers’ talk moves—those that pose essential questions, disrupt status quo mindsets, render discourse more inclusive, and facilitate gateways to civic action—form the basis of critical conversations. Last, Chapter 8 invites teachers to consider how collegial inquiry groups afford teachers a safe space to reflect on critical classroom conversations. This chapter provides a practitioner model for inquiry groups, based on the authors’ experience of recording and transcribing conversations, identifying each teacher’s reflexive position in discussion, and breaking down the spoken, unspoken, and unremarked that can occur with complex conversations.
This work’s great strength is how it balances the context of critical conversations with a practical guide for teachers before entering classroom discussions about race, gender, sexuality, and ability. As a former secondary school teacher, I have observed how easily classroom conversations can diffuse into vague abstractions or sharpen regrettably into personal attacks. As a college professor, I notice students retreating from controversial topics into the dangerous safety of neutrality. Thankfully, these authors encourage teachers to engage, rather than retreat, from critical discourse—to create safe spaces of discourse, articulate ground rules, and practice inquiry and disruption, rather than battle in debate and defense. By doing so, they provide what many teachers have yearned for amid the sound and fury: an equitable and mindful framework for classroom discussion on topics relevant to the lives of our students.
June 23, 2022
Christian George Gregory is an assistant professor of education at Saint Anselm College and a former lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research interests include queer theory and pedagogy, classroom discourse, and expanding the canon in English education. He has been a member of NCTE since 2010.
Reckoning with the Other R in Education
Shelley L. Esman
Western Michigan University
Book review of Picower, B. (2021). Reading, writing, and racism: Disrupting Whiteness in teacher education and in the classroom. Beacon Press.
Bree Picower’s book Reading, Writing, and Racism: Disrupting Whiteness in Teacher Education and in the Classroom speaks to the curricular choices, textbooks, assignments, and teaching strategies that harm Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in classrooms. Detailing how Whiteness can be enacted in classrooms through silence, saviorism, white privilege, and white fragility, Picower asserts that an inaccurate and racist curriculum is shaped by emphasis, omission, and/or outright lies. Her research provides specific, recent examples of systemic racism, as well as specific assignments and classroom activities.
The foreword by Bettina L. Love is followed by an introduction that connects Picower’s work to current research explaining how “oppression operates on four overlapping levels: ideological, institutional, interpersonal/individual, and internalized” (p. 11). In Chapter 1, Picower examines curricular Whiteness by providing specific examples from current classrooms, such as when a fifth-grade teacher in Bronxville, NY, had white students bid on Black classmates in a mock slave auction. Chapter 2 shares perceptions of Whiteness and racism through case studies of four white teachers who come from varying backgrounds (Picower’s former students).
By reframing understandings of race within teacher education, Chapter 3 provides more examples of teachers who show their bias through words and actions, such as when teachers in Idaho dressed up for Halloween as stereotypes of Mexicans behind a border wall with a sign saying “Make America Great Again.” In Chapters 4 and 5, the book concludes with possible designs for teacher education programs that disrupt Whiteness, reaching from admission to induction. Throughout, Picower’s examples urge readers to look at their own practices.
This book was mentioned to me as part of a book study through the Diversity, Inclusion, Justice, and Equity (DIJE) group of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English. We have read and discussed How to Be an Antiracist (Kendi, 2019) and Cultivating Genius (Muhammad, 2020), as well as other texts that disrupt Whiteness. In my work as a doctoral graduate assistant teaching English education courses, Reading, Writing, and Racism has provided an additional foundation for preparing my preservice teachers to stop the cycle of harm. Teachers, teacher educators, and preservice teachers must examine their own identities and recognize their own potential to further marginalize their future students.
This book leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of the connections between recent research on antiracism, Whiteness, and the educational system and explains the urgency of providing effective teacher education programs that instill an undeniable belief that “regardless of how Whiteness manifests in classes, it must be disrupted” (p. 120). Teacher educators must provide opportunities for their students to examine their own identities and the relationship between individual teachers’ racial beliefs and their instructional practices, since “teacher education is one such institution that has the capacity to disrupt the racial ideology of large numbers of teachers before they enter the field poised to cause damage” (p. 62). It is essential for “teacher education to explicitly address and transform racial ideology as part of the curriculum design” (p. 82).
Kendi, A. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One World.
Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.
June 23, 2022
Shelley L. Esman is an English education doctoral student at Western Michigan University. She began her education journey as an elementary school teacher (twenty years) and then an instructional coach (ten years) with a master’s in reading and literacy with the K–12 literacy endorsement. Her research focuses on instructional practices that support diversity as well as understanding of the Holocaust through literature and writing. She is the Elementary chairperson of MCTE; an active member of the DIJE subcommittee’s work on diversity, inclusion, justice, and equity; and co-director of the Third Coast Writing Project at WMU. She has been a member of NCTE for two years.
Inquiry and Empathy with Young Adult Literature
Alisha M. White
Western Illinois University
Book review of Hays, A. D. (2021). Engaging empathy and activating agency: Young adult literature as a catalyst for action. Rowman & Littlefield.
As a teacher educator, I am always searching for engaging ways to blend social justice topics and social-emotional learning with skill instruction and concept development. Alice D. Hays has provided one such approach in Engaging Empathy and Activating Agency: Young Adult Literature as a Catalyst for Action (2021) by presenting a curriculum for using young adult (YA) literature to teach empathy and develop students’ agency for active problem-solving in their communities and society.
I was curious about this book for use with my undergraduate English education students because I assign contemporary YA titles, representing a variety of author and character identities (e.g., in terms of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and mental health status) to engage them in discussions of inequality, critical literacy, and social action. I was particularly interested in how this book might expand the social action aspect of my curriculum.
Hays presents a curriculum that develops language arts skills and social-emotional learning through YA literature circles and inquiry into social justice topics. In Chapter 1, she describes lessons for introducing concepts related to identity, privilege, and inequality—for example, inviting students to brainstorm topics they are interested in reading about and researching. In fact, each chapter offers concrete steps and ideas for implementing the curriculum, such as activity overviews (what the teacher does and what students do), student work templates, and teacher resources.
Chapter 2 provides a rationale for using contemporary YA literature with characters experiencing the inequalities that students chose, then outlines how to set up literature circles in the classroom and provides a sample calendar to illustrate helpful structures for those literature circles. While traditional research papers often focus on skill development, the inquiry project described in Chapter 3 builds students’ empathy by having them conduct research related to their YA novel reading and share the inquiry of their chosen social justice issue with school community members and stakeholders. Chapter 4 outlines how to guide students in developing and implementing an action plan while offering flexibility in assessing student learning and holding students accountable for accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.
The voices of teachers and their students are highlighted throughout the book in sections titled Putting Theory into Practice. In Chapter 5, Hays presents interviews with two teachers and a student who experienced the curriculum. The book concludes with an appendix containing annotations of suggested Books for Social Justice Issues organized by topic.
Teacher educators will find this book an accessible way to introduce critical literacy, culturally responsive teaching, and anti-racist curriculum through studying contemporary YA literature, building research and writing skills, and developing social-emotional learning. Through sample projects and descriptions of instructional practices, as well as educational theories and scholarship that support the curriculum, Engaging Empathy and Activating Agency serves as a resource for beginning (and experienced) teachers who want to help students “consider and discuss their own positionality, identity, and their society around them so that they might thoughtfully consider how they can and would want to positively impact the world” (Hays, 2021, p. 2).
April 4, 2022
Alisha M. White brings critical literacy and young adult literature to her English education courses at Western Illinois University. She has been an NCTE member since 2007 and has served as co-chair of the NCTE/ELATE Commission on Arts and Literacies. Her most recent works have appeared in English Journal, The ALAN Review, and A Symphony of Possibilities: A Handbook for Arts Integration in Secondary English Language Arts (edited by Katherine J. Macro and Michelle Zoss).
Toward a More Inclusive Diversity: Critical Considerations of Living, Being, and Teaching Rural
The University of Texas at Austin
Book review of Petrone, R., & Wynhoff Olsen, A. (2021). Teaching English in Rural Communities: Toward a Critical Rural English Pedagogy. Rowman & Littlefield.
Eckert and Petrone’s (2013) call for the field to devote more attention to rural English language arts (ELA) teaching and teacher preparation hit really close to home. Even though I have attended and taught in rural schools, it was the first piece of scholarship I had ever read that explicitly mentioned rural ELA teaching and considered the specific affordances and constraints associated with it. Since then, rural-focused ELA scholarship has still been hard to come by, so Petrone & Wynhoff Olsen’s Teaching English in Rural Communities: Toward a Critical Rural English Pedagogy (2021) provides a much-needed opportunity for teachers and teacher educators to consider and challenge the dominant narrative that positions rural people as “Rednecks. Inbred hicks. Toothless hillbillies. Racists and homophobes clinging to guns and Bibles” (Kruger, 2020).
Petrone and Wynhoff Olsen’s text provides both the theoretical underpinnings for critical rural English pedagogy (CREP) and examples of how to employ the theory in practice. The authors outline CREP as a pedagogy designed to help students (a) analyze and critique discourses and ideologies related to rurality and (b) create texts that disrupt dominant deficit notions of rural people and places—something I struggled to do in my own rural classroom. Further, it offers “a ‘from the ground up’ and accessible approach to insert, humanize, and recalibrate the place of rural teachers and contexts within English Education” (p. 3).
In its balanced organization, the book features three theory-building chapters that frame three practice-focused chapters, each of the latter co-written with rural ELA teachers and including unit structures, lesson plans, and examples of students’ work. To open, Petrone and Olsen outline CREP’s major tenets, discuss the need for it, and situate it within current academic scholarship. After introducing CREP as pedagogy, Chapter 2 situates CREP in practice, discussing a unit designed to question and disrupt notions of rurality, while Chapter 3 centers Indigenous ruralities, asking who is included and excluded when we say “rural.” In the final practice-based chapter, the authors offer a broader view of activities used by teachers to specifically address topics that teachers find challenging to bring into their rural classrooms (e.g., notions of land ownership; LGBTQIA+ identities; poverty; alcohol and drug abuse and addiction).
The last two chapters broaden their considerations to address specific affordances and challenges of teaching and using CREP in rural ELA classrooms. Chapter 5 gives particular attention to race and addresses the invisibility of Native, Black, and Latinx rural populations and the importance of making their experiences visible across rural and sub/urban places. In the final chapter, Petrone and Wynhoff Olsen imagine a way forward for CREP, exploring possibilities for incorporating it into all levels and places of ELA instruction, as well as policies that impact education.
Because there are precious few texts like it, Teaching English in Rural Communities is an important book for the field. However, its focus on rurality does have limitations. Rural teachers need professional literature like this to help them bring a critical place-based lens to their rural students. Throughout the book, including Valerie Kinloch’s foreword, CREP is situated as an important read for educators across all geographic classifications; however, and perhaps understandably so, there is very little attention given to how CREP could be used in urban classrooms to further decenter urbanity in a way that can make rural experiences more visible than they currently are.
There are more than 9 million rural students in the US (Showalter et al., 2019), but most educational scholarship is metrocentric. As a former rural student and rural ELA teacher, I wish I would have had the learning and teaching opportunities this book offers—namely, to both appreciate and critique rurality and my experiences of it. With this book, Petrone and Wynhoff Olsen offer a critical disruption to an overwhelmingly metrocentric field and invite current and future scholars to take up this work alongside them.
Eckert, L. S., & Petrone, R. (2013). Raising issues of rurality in English teacher education. English Education, 46(1), 68–81.
Kruger, P. (2020, April 9). What don’t most liberals realize. Quora. https://www.quora.com/What-dont-most-liberals-realize
Showalter, D., Hartman, S. L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B. (2019, November). Why rural matters 2018–2019: The time is now. Rural School and Community Trust. http://www.ruraledu.org/WhyRuralMatters.pdf
April 4, 2022
Chea Parton is a farm girl and former rural student and teacher. She currently teaches future English teachers, researches the role of place in teacher preparation, and advocates for the teaching of rural young adult literature through her website Literacy in Place. She has been a member of NCTE since 2008.
Co-Opting the World to Cultivate the Word: On Place-Based Writing Pedagogy
North Carolina State University
Book review of Montgomery, R., & Montgomery, A. (2021). A place to write: Getting your students out of the classroom and into the world. National Council of Teachers of English.
I’d like you to think back to your own classroom writing experiences. Which do you remember most—and why? It’s likely that your most memorable written products were authentically inspired from your own emotional and experience-based connections to the content and context. The most rewarding classes encourage construction of your own knowledge, learning how to think for yourself, and how to share your knowledge with others. A teacher cannot simply transmit known information; authentic knowing isn’t created from simply absorbing another’s knowledge (Blau, 2011).
As an educator, I often question how we might offer such an experience to our own students. Rob and Amanda Montgomery’s A Place to Write: Getting Your Students out of the Classroom and into the World provides a theoretically grounded yet pragmatically oriented discussion of what it means to use space and place as fulcrums to cultivate authenticity in the teaching and learning of writing.
Montgomery and Montgomery present the transformative potential of place-based writing to “save traditional writing from itself” (p. xii) and allow students “to do authentic and meaningful work in a way other writing struggles to achieve” (p. xiii). The book begins with an initial roadmap of what can be accomplished with a place-based writing approach (e.g., strengthening self-worth through identity-centric environments). Specifically, the first chapter problem-poses traditional pedagogical practices for writing, explains how place-based writing encourages the concept of authenticity in student writing, and provides a framework teachers may adopt for creating place-based writing activities that are valuable for their individual learning communities. By way of evidencing the framework’s practical application, the second chapter provides two complete units, including activity materials that the chapter’s author (a fourth-grade teacher) successfully implemented with her students.
In line with Dewey (2005), who argued that students can truly learn only through experience and contended that an experience arises out of, and is distinct from, our many everyday experiences, Montgomery and Montgomery call for educators to situate writing activities as part of students’ sense of identity. Speaking to what makes a given location meaningful, the authors challenge us to consider how its particularities impart “the emotional attachments that make them resonate with people” (p. 10). Thus, this book is set apart from other place-based writing guides in that it does not center an environmentalist standpoint; rather, it details how this approach can be used for a variety of instructional purposes.
Chapters 3 through 8 are each dedicated to different locations that help teachers consider the range of students’ possible experiences. From in-school locations (e.g., the cafeteria), to community sites (e.g., playgrounds), and even virtual spaces (relevant and timely, given the navigation of COVID-19 policies), this section of the book illustrates how each place can foster inclusivity and become a site of authentic inquiry. Each of these chapters is complemented with adaptable lesson ideas and practical examples of activities and assignments that target unique purposes for writing (e.g., writing argumentative narratives).
This theoretically aligned how-to guide for place-based writing bridges complex literacy skill development and aesthetic fulfillment. In an era when public schools often marginalize the abstract and revere that which can be held to accountable standards, the book scaffolds the knowledge and dispositions necessary for empowering students to actively encounter and impact real-world situations. As a former teacher determined to motivate my students to delight in writing, and presently a teacher educator abruptly charged this past year with helping my student teachers negotiate the health and safety implications of working within various spatial conditions, I view this work as a valuable support for student engagement and the use of outdoor and alternative learning environments. Suited for use in professional development situations and methods courses alike, the authors’ writing style will capture and sustain the attention of any who are searching for a succinctly structured, yet substantial, toolkit for progressive best practices in the teaching of writing.
Blau, S. (2011). Fostering authentic learning in the literature classroom. In J. O. Milner & C. A. Pope (Eds.), Engaging American novels: Lessons from the classroom (pp. 3–17). National Council of Teachers of English.
Dewey, J. (2005). Art as experience. Berkley.
March 24, 2022
Jessica Eagle is a doctoral candidate in English education and literacy in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences at North Carolina State University. Her research interests include the use of computational methods in English language arts, subscreenic literacies, writing pedagogies, secondary English teacher education, and the role of emotion in learning contexts. She has been a member of the NCTE since 2015.
Planning with Purpose: A Comprehensive How-To Guide
University of South Florida
Book review of Roseboro, A. J. S., & Marschall, C. A. (2021). Planning with purpose: A handbook for new college teachers. Rowman & Littlefield.
Roseboro and Marschall’s Planning with Purpose: A Handbook for New College Teachers reads as a how-to guide for the first year of teaching college students even as it advises new teachers of challenges they may face as they start in their profession. It is full of easily accessible, step-by-step lesson plans, allowing teachers of any course to bookmark a lesson to teach on the spot. The authors emphasize the need for flexibility as a college educator; accordingly, while providing how-to lessons, they also discuss ways to adapt and fit them to the needs of all students.
The book’s layout presents as an easy-to-follow handbook for new college teachers entering into teaching. The authors offer sample assessments, tips for selecting relevant texts, homework suggestions, and, of course, engaging lessons to use in the classroom. The activities provided throughout the book often allow students to write and receive feedback on their writing, which is vital to a student’s growth as a learner and a writer.
While many of these lessons center on writing, they can also be used to build community in the classroom by allowing students to network and collaborate. The authors offer suggestions for how to pair students and enhance class engagement—concepts that might be challenging for a first-year college teacher. When I first began teaching at the high school level, I avoided pairing my students for writing activities due to fear of losing control of the classroom. Letting high school students loose from teacher-led instruction to critique each other’s work seemed quite intimidating to a first-year teacher fresh out of undergrad. I worried they would give overly harsh feedback, get off topic during discussion, or act out with their peers. I eventually worked past these concerns and realized how much they could learn about their own writings by talking to one another. Had I had this book in my first years of teaching, I would have used the techniques in Chapter 4 right away.
Planning with Purpose further extends the teaching of writing by offering lessons on creating multimodal presentations (as shown in Chapter 8) that allow students to showcase using media and public speaking to make their writing come to life. The authors provide examples for new educators that can help students see the relevance in writing by using what might be considered more “real-life” examples, such as understanding bibliographies and examining scientific procedures in writing. Roseboro and Marschall also provide guiding techniques for student–teacher writing conferences. Even as a veteran teacher, techniques like those in Chapter 6 were interesting for me as they demonstrated how conferencing before grading would make students more focused on the critiques and thus further engaged with their writing.
While Planning with Purpose provides helpful examples and techniques for teachers, it is limited by its lack of justification for different activities. Notes at the ends of chapters contain citations for research, but they would have been more effective if implemented throughout the text in order to offer additional resources and scholarly references for new teachers. Overall, however, this book provides an easily accessible guide for beginning (and even veteran) teachers to explore or expand ways of teaching. The detailed lesson plans and consistent explanation of expectations create a wonderful toolkit for educators to modify for their classroom. Though the book is geared toward new college teachers, I found the lessons and tips beneficial for teachers of any grade level with a bit of adaptation. I look forward to taking this handbook into my high school classroom and revamping my lessons to better assist my students.
December 29, 2021
Erika Watts is a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, studying curriculum and instruction in English education. She has been a member of NCTE since 2019 and is currently a high school English teacher in Florida.
Netflix, Headlines, and Street Signs: Practical Lessons for 10 Grammar Concepts
Penn State Altoona
Book review of Crovitz, D., & Devereaux, M. D. (2020). More grammar to get things done: Daily lessons for teaching grammar in context. Routledge.
In More Grammar to Get Things Done: Daily Lessons for Teaching Grammar in Context (2020), Darren Crovitz and Michelle D. Devereaux model how to teach grammar in a way that focuses on function over memorization, an approach they describe as “reality-based grammar in context” (p. 27). The book is split into two sections: three chapters that provide an overview of why and how to teach grammar—a term they acknowledge they use to encompass conventions of style, usage, and mechanics—and one chapter with 10-day lesson plans for 10 grammatical concepts. These lessons demonstrate how playing with language can give students more control over the meaning and purpose of their writing.
The core of this book consists of the 10-day lesson sequences on grammar concepts. Topics range from conjunctive adverbs to noun phrases and nominalization. Every lesson includes an explanation of each concept’s rhetorical purpose, a script for teaching lessons, and a guide for student assessment. The authors make it clear, however, that teachers should revise, remove, and rework lessons to meet the needs of their students. The lessons are short, taking 5 to 15 minutes to complete, so teachers can connect them to ongoing classroom instruction. This recursive design lets students return to work completed in previous lessons and units. The lessons’ texts for students to analyze come from the authors’ own writing as well as out-of-school texts, such as Netflix movie summaries and newspaper coverage of current events.
This book would be helpful for preservice teachers who are unfamiliar, or perhaps uncomfortable, with including grammar instruction in their teaching practices. Teachers new to language analysis might struggle to understand the content of the first three chapters, which includes the difference between grammar, usage, and mechanics; why instruction should focus on how language is being used; what standardized English means; and how language is power. This is a lot of material to dig through alone, but Crovitz and Devereaux’s writing is playful and concise, making the content accessible, even for a novice.
As the authors stress, writing is an active process. This book provides preservice teachers with exemplars for how to teach grammar concepts so students can make grammar a part of that process. In addition, the book can serve the dual purpose of modeling recursive lessons and teaching grammar concepts with which preservice teachers may be unfamiliar. What I found most appealing about Crovitz and Devereaux’s lessons was the focus on the why of grammar. Why might I use a fragment? Why might I use an appositive instead of a dependent clause? The lessons in this book provide a way to teach grammar so it appears no longer as a collection of random rules, but rather as choices in language and sentence structure that give students more control over the meaning and impact of their writing.
As a former high school English teacher, I wondered whether students would be able to transfer many of the grammar concepts to writing literary analysis essays and research papers, the genres that dominated the curriculum where I taught. When teaching college undergraduates this past year, however, I found ways to address some of the grammar concepts in my instruction more easily than I thought I would. For example, while writing research papers, my students learned how conjunctive adverbs, dependent clauses, complex sentences, and subordinating conjunctions could be used to show the relationship between facts when students synthesized content from multiple sources. While I could not implement all of the activities, because of limited class time, the lessons provided a common language for us to discuss how small grammatical choices can have large rhetorical effects.
December 29, 2021
Karen Morris, a former high school English teacher with a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Penn State, currently teaches in Penn State Altoona’s English department. Her research focuses on preservice teacher education and the teaching of writing. Karen has been a member of NCTE since 2016.
Swimming in Story and Writing for Truth
California State University, Stanislaus
Book review of Stewart, M. (Ed.). (2020). Nonfiction writers dig deep: 50 award-winning children’s book authors share the secret of engaging writing. National Council of Teachers of English.
My seven-year-old daughter lives for books about animal predators. Each morning, she rattles off a list of facts; as our family soaks up this new information, she importantly raises her pointer finger to say things like, “Mom, did you know wolf pups have babysitters?” and “Great white sharks use about 50 teeth in a single chomp!”
My daughter’s obsession with books about predators has shown me the impact of a passionate writer. Her books hold stories about real life, crafted by writers who find motivation through their own wonderings about the world. Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep, a collection edited by Melissa Stewart, presents essays from 50 award-winning nonfiction children’s authors who share their writing processes and what inspires them to explore the topics found in their books. The essays in this collection show how authors craft true, and often very personal, stories, brilliantly modeling for young writers how to tell true stories infused with wonder.
Through both reading selections and writing lessons, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep serves as a multidimensional resource for teacher educators. In organization and content, this collection is highly accessible, especially for teachers who want to reach for a text to find the tool or sample they need. Each chapter includes teaching methods and a Teacher Timesaver table for teachers to select the essays most pertinent to their topic and grade level.
In the first chapter, authors model their processes of selecting and researching a topic, effectively expanding traditional notions of nonfiction writing instruction to share the feelings and memories that draw them to the topics they select. This thread is woven through every mentor essay: crafting nonfiction stories requires an emotional connection because nonfiction writing is a deeply personal task.
Chapter 2 illuminates the writing process as unpredictable and fluid while demonstrating how professional writers take their next steps to chisel out an area of focus. The brief narratives in this chapter give voice and realistic approaches to the writing process through the stories that lead each writer down their unique path toward a final product.
The final chapter addresses plagiarism, an issue expressed “again and again . . . on teachers’ lists of significant roadblocks” (p. 118). Because students often simply copy down facts from the nonfiction texts they read, forgetting their obligation to storytelling, Stewart encourages teachers to embed a few critical steps into the prewriting process. This approach includes designing activities in which students “evaluate, assimilate, analyze, or synthesize the information they’ve gathered” (p. 172), which invites young writers to “add a piece of themselves to their drafts” (p. 172) rather than regurgitating encyclopedia-style informational texts.
As a textbook that supports teaching methods, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep provides important theoretical perspectives as well as specific moves made by professional writers. I look forward to using this text in my Writing for Teachers course to model nonfiction writing instruction by inviting my preservice teachers to work in stations. Each area will contain a poster board for collective note-taking, a mentor essay displayed in a sign holder, and two nonfiction books written by the same author. Teams will read each text aloud, and as they move from station to station, they will add notes on a poster board, creating a list of strategies the authors used in their writing. After each team has visited every station, we will come together as a class to decide on the most critical strategies for teaching students to engage in nonfiction writing. This activity allows students to collect a wealth of instructional strategies from the Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep text, while inviting them to critically examine these strategies for their future classroom settings.
December 29, 2021
Kate Hope began her journey as a high school English teacher in Queen Creek, Arizona, where she taught for seven years. Today, she teaches English education courses at California State University, Stanislaus, in Northern California. She joined NCTE in 2005.
Real-Life Writing: Encouraging Students to Use Their Words to Make the World Better
Western Michigan University
Book review of Witte, S. (Ed.). (2020). Writing can change everything: Middle level kids writing themselves into the world. National Council of Teachers of English.
Shelbie Witte’s edited book Writing Can Change Everything: Middle Level Kids Writing Themselves into the World offers glimpses into writing classrooms where teachers and students are doing important work. Each teacher-contributor uses parts of NCTE’s position statement Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing (2016) in their chapter to explain how their examples support the beliefs presented in the statement and aim to bring the statement to life in classrooms. The teachers describe units, lessons, activities, and conversations that happen when students’ creations promote active participation in the world and writing promotes agency. The contributors also describe how their students create poetry, public narratives, blogs, comfort notes, board games, and other real-world writings that foster student empowerment and community engagement.
Writing Can Change Everything contains examples of student work, such as memoir poems that explore identity and board games that reflect collaboration. These examples demonstrate how teaching ideas are implemented in practice. While the book offers examples that could be put to use immediately, it also emphasizes the importance of taking time to reflect. Each chapter includes examples of how teachers reflect on their practice and the needs of their students before implementing new writing ideas. For example, a teacher using public narratives describes how he tried to incorporate matters that were important to students in his curriculum, but, upon reflection, realized his students needed to be cocreators of the curriculum. Readers are encouraged to reflect in similar ways to consider their practices and what their own students need.
While the book provides many real-world writing examples, it could focus more on informational or research writing. Students will likely encounter this genre in their world, as well as in Common Core State Standards, which focus on informational writing and research. Although the text includes some examples, such as a student researching bat boxes and proposing that his community purchase them, it focuses mainly on the genres of poetry and narrative writing. The teacher-writers do, however, make clear how these genres fit into everyday writing that can change the world. For example, Chapter 3 explains how poetry can be used to create social change, and Chapter 6 describes how public narratives can motivate people to take action.
Writing Can Change Everything provides a guide for preservice teachers who want to encourage students’ voices. Each chapter incorporates ample research to support the practices being used in the classroom, as well as specific lesson ideas, examples of student work, and reflection to demonstrate how these concepts unfold in real classroom settings. Reading about this process of implementing real-world writing provides opportunities for preservice teachers to see how they might implement similar ideas.
In my work with preservice English teachers, I try to offer many classroom scenarios to make the theories presented throughout the course as relevant as possible. This book would provide my students with scenarios of teachers implementing real writing instruction strategies in their teaching. Our methods class often talks about helping middle and high school students learn to write for the real world; using examples from this book would help preservice teachers see what middle and high school student work might look like when they are learning writing skills. Preservice teachers often talk about how they can make their curriculum meaningful, and Witte’s Writing Changes Everything serves as a model for how they can make a difference through teaching writing.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2016, February 28). Professional knowledge for the teaching of writing [Position statement]. https://ncte.org/statement/teaching-writing/.
August 3, 2021
Beth Spinner is a doctoral student at Western Michigan University, and her research focuses on secondary English teachers encouraging social action in the classroom. She has been a member of NCTE since 2019.
Reading Conversation Journals: A Strategy to Inspire
University of Florida
Book review of Rose, D., and Walsh, C. (2020). Talking through reading and writing: Online reading conversation journals in the middle school. Rowman & Littlefield.
Rose and Walsh’s Talking through Reading and Writing: Online Reading Conversation Journals in the Middle School presents online reading conversation journals (RCJs) as a tool for the modern literacy classroom. Daniel Rose, a middle school literacy educator with twenty years of classroom experience, and Christine Walsh, a literacy researcher and educator, see RCJs as tools for igniting the love of reading within middle school students. RCJs help teachers save classroom time, promote instructional differentiation, and create space for ongoing assessment. For students, RCJs provide opportunities for engagement in a low-risk environment, self-progress monitoring over time, and personalized book suggestions and feedback from teachers.
This text is composed of twenty-two chapters organized into four sections. The authors devote Part I to describing the benefits of RCJs, which include efficiency, privacy, and differentiation. In Part II, they explore how RCJs enhance teacher-student relationships by establishing rapport through authentic conversations on literature. The authors then depict, in Part III, how RCJs promote expanded definitions of text, highlighting the possibilities for poetry, art, and Snapchat to invite student participation in literacy practices. Finally, in Part IV, they outline how RCJs can increase reading engagement and self-awareness through mindfulness. Rose and Walsh conclude with a discussion on the use of RCJs for ongoing assessment. Several themes are woven throughout the book, including opportunities for differentiation, record keeping, and authentic teacher-student relationships.
The authors present RCJs as a strategy for inspiring all students to engage with texts, even those who do not choose to read on their own. This work is supported by extensive and frequent excerpts from RCJs that demonstrate the potential of the strategy. By presenting a how-to guide on digital reading conversation journals for practitioners and providing extensive examples of how teachers use them to connect and engage in texts with students, the authors describe how RCJs can be leveraged to promote literacy learning in well-equipped brick-and-mortar classrooms, although the strategy is relevant in remote learning settings as well.
However, there are a few notable weaknesses in the book. First, it describes technology use by students as “second nature” (p. 4), which frames students as digital natives (Prensky, 2010) even though this perspective has been demonstrated as problematic (see Bennett et al., 2008). In addition, though RCJs require use of technology, this book does not explore existing inequities concerning access to technology across educational settings (Morrell & Rowsell, 2019). Rose and Walsh also indicate that RCJs offer students access to a multitude of resources via the Internet, but they do not acknowledge contemporary concerns around 21st century literacies, such as Internet navigation and information literacy skill sets.
Additionally, the book claims the online nature of RCJs provides a “level playing field academically, socially, and emotionally” (p. 4) for English language learners (ELLs) without exploring the constraints and affordances of online literacy engagement for ELLs—a complex topic in my experience. As a teacher of ELLs and now a researcher, I have witnessed firsthand many ELL students’ frustrations surrounding the navigation of technology and the Internet using English. RCJs require proficiency in reading and writing in addition to knowledge of computers, word processors, and the Internet.
From reading this book, I view RCJs as a high-quality option for students who possess the technological tools and literacy skills to engage in them, but I cannot ignore the difficulties RCJs present for students who do not. Yet, the authors present a strategy that could work well in both face-to-face and online settings, along with helpful features to promote easy implementation for practitioners, including an appendix responding to teachers’ frequently asked questions about digital RCJs, suggested resources by current educators, and reading recommendations for students. As a result, this book is a timely addition to the field.
Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The “digital natives” debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775–786.
Krashen, S. D. (1993). The case for free voluntary reading. Canadian Modern Language Review, 50(1), 72–82.
Krashen, S. D. (2011). Free voluntary reading. ABC-CLIO.
Morrell, E., & Rowsell, J. (Eds.). (2019). Stories from inequity to justice in literacy education: Confronting digital divides. Routledge.
Prensky, M. R. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Corwin.
August 3, 2021
Amber Deig is a PhD student at the University of Florida studying curriculum and instruction with a specialization in ESOL/bilingual education; before beginning her doctoral studies, she worked as an elementary school teacher and as an ESL teacher. Her research interests include emergent bilingual learners in US K–12 settings, multimodality, multimodal composing, and activity theory. Amber joined NCTE in 2021.
Leveling Up Literacy: Games in the ELA Classroom
North Carolina State University
Book review of Garcia, A., Witte, S., & Dail, J. S. (Eds.). (2020). Playing with Teaching: Considerations for Implementing Gaming Literacies in the Classroom. Brill Sense.
As a student, I dreaded the inevitable end-of-year board game project: a hastily colored contraption of cardboard, with low-level novel facts bleeding through the back of construction paper cards. Perhaps if my teachers had used the theory-based practice found in Playing with Teaching: Considerations for Implementing Gaming Literacies in the Classroom, they would have better leveraged the instructional power of gaming to improve literacy. Editors Antero Garcia, Shelbie Witte, and Jennifer S. Dail have curated a series of chapters that illustrate possibilities for critical literacies through play that will appeal to both novice and experienced educators seeking to bring gaming into their classrooms.
Assembling seven diverse chapters that highlight the strengths of both design and fun found in games, the collection interrogates the interconnectedness between literacies, pedagogies, and play. The goal is clear: share specific strategies to help classroom educators use games effectively. The editors explain their framework of playful pedagogical content knowledge (p. 5), asking readers to consider the ways in which gameful, playful engagement with complex systems can help teachers rethink curriculum, the conversation surrounding games, and how games can be used as texts. The chapters engage with a broad range of specific examples, from video game construction to tabletop activities and live-action role-playing, efficiently demonstrating the breadth of possibilities of gaming as a literacies framework. Representing K–16 classrooms, the authors share their expertise and demonstrate how the narrative elements of games can extend inquiry and criticality. Furthermore, the authors add legitimacy to the joyful engagement that games garner among students.
The chapters, consistently well-sourced and referenced, are each unique in topic and mode of gaming implementation. All authors are transparent in their data, with rich figures adding depth and feasibility to enacting the practices. These authors implement literacy practices that highlight how a games-based pedagogy can be useful in a classroom. For example, Rachel Kaminski Sanders intentionally redesigns the end-of-year board game activity that haunted my childhood; her research provides thoughtful, theory-centered analytic and creative instruction, treating students to the criticality and design principles inherent in games (p. 31).
Too often, research on engaging literacy practices is positioned in out-of-school, supplemental spaces. Of all the chapters here, however, only one takes place outside the classroom, and even then, the rich descriptions, artifacts, and analysis clearly show how an educator could implement those processes with their own students.
While the first half of the book shows gaming literacies in practice, the second half of the collection focuses more on the theoretical implications of a games-based pedagogy. If you are already game positive, you might not need the framework for applying a critical lens to your practice. Whether you are experienced in implementing gaming or starting at Level 1, this book is an excellent addition to the library of any literacy educator. Although it is primarily framed as a hands-on resource for teachers and teacher educators, it also serves as justification for the inclusion of games to administrators and curriculum specialists, as well as a perfect starting point for literacy researchers.
Playing with Teaching: Considerations for Implementing Gaming Literacies in the Classroom is the book I needed when my middle schoolers were justifying where they put the characters from Lord of the Flies on the Dungeons & Dragons character alignment chart. My principal did not understand the theoretical background or the pedagogical potential that came from incorporating games into literacy practices. With this book, I could have advocated for my instruction with well-supported, trustworthy examples of how to implement an array of gaming literacies in the classroom and how teachers can prepare themselves for the task of engaging students with the fun, critical inquiry found in gaming.
June 23, 2021
Caitlin Donovan is a doctoral student in literacy and English language arts education at North Carolina State University and has been a member of NCTE since 2012. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DonovanTeacher.
Advocacy Knowledge: Moving beyond Content and Pedagogical Knowledge in Teacher Preparation
Nicole Ann Amato
University of Iowa
Book review of Fleischer, C., & Garcia, A. (2021). Everyday advocacy: Teachers who change the literacy narrative. W. W. Norton.
For some, the word advocacy invokes images of marching, protesting, and grand legislative action. It can, at times, elevate teachers’ fears about performance evaluations and job security. Cathy Fleischer and Antero Garcia offer teachers and teacher educators a revision of the images and dread frequently framing advocacy work in Everyday Advocacy: Teachers Who Change the Literacy Narrative (2021). Fleischer and Garcia define everyday advocacy as “the day-to-day actions teachers can take to change the public narrative regarding schools, teachers, and learning” (p. 9). Drawing attention to statistics of teacher burnout and declining enrollment in teacher education programs amidst a backdrop of deprofessionalizing curricula and assessment mandates, the authors argue for a “new golden rule” (p. 3) in teacher education that looks beyond content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge by explicitly preparing teachers with advocacy knowledge.
Fleischer and Garcia strive to construct clear, concise, and accessible discussions of literacy and ELA practices rooted in advocacy, its empirical and theoretical grounding, and its instructional implications. They argue there “is no one way to do advocacy” as it is “never formulaic or exacting” (p. 33). Advocacy must “constantly be made and remade depending on the context of particular communities, the comfort level of teachers, and the politics surrounding the specific issues of concern” (p. 33). Everyday Advocacy offers a variety of pathways and models for weaving theories and practices of advocacy into classroom curriculum, professional development, and teacher education programs.
A slim and accessible volume at just under two hundred pages, Everyday Advocacy is organized into three parts: defining everyday advocacy, centering advocacy in secondary ELA instruction, and centering advocacy in English teacher education. The introduction, Chapters 1 and 2, and the conclusion outline the historical and theoretical frameworks that warrant attention to advocacy as a type of knowledge necessary for teachers. The remaining thirteen chapters feature vivid and engaging essays written by secondary ELA teachers (Part II) and English educators (Part III) sharing moments of everyday advocacy through assignments, projects, and personal reflections. This structure underscores that everyday advocacy is teacher-centered, teacher-driven, and already happening every day, with and without the language of advocacy.
These chapters also illustrate the three core values the authors unpack in chapter 1: the importance of story, the importance of identifying and framing an issue, and the importance of grassroots, situational approaches to change. Each teacher-written essay concludes with a reflection written by Fleischer and Garcia that includes bulleted lists of takeaways and observations highlighting how the work of these teachers can serve as models for advocacy knowledge. After each bulleted observation, they pose questions to help readers consider how to engage and extend the work offered in the chapter. In the context of professional book clubs, department meetings, or methods courses, these questions are rich and layered, prompting critical thinking and generative talk.
As a former high school English teacher, I appreciate that this book offers the necessary language and tools for seeing content and pedagogy as intimately bound to the school-based issues and national news cycles affecting students. Early in my career, I was reprimanded harshly for challenging a misogynistic, transphobic dress code policy that impacted students walking at graduation. A few years later, I was reprimanded again when my students performed a series of spoken word poems about police brutality at a faculty meeting. In both instances, I lacked the framing language and skills to foster community engagement that would have helped me think about how to plan for and carry out these moments of advocacy. Appealing, engaging, and accessible, Everyday Advocacy makes a strong addition to the corpus of materials available to literacy, ELA, and teacher educators who seek to develop advocacy skills.
June 23, 2021
Nicole Ann Amato is a former high school English language arts teacher and a current doctoral student in the Literacy, Language, and Culture program at the University of Iowa, where she teaches courses in children’s and adolescent literature to preservice teachers. Nicole joined NCTE in 2010. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Creating Curious, Enthusiastic Inventors: Maker Spaces in Middle School
F. Seyma Kizil
Book review of Fulton, S., & Urbanski, C. U. (2020). Making middle school: Cultivating critical literacy and interdisciplinary learning in maker spaces. NCTE.
There is an increased need for in-depth examples of connecting activities and practical projects in maker spaces to develop 21st-century skills such as collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills that provide access to learning for all students and transform our classrooms. Making Middle School: Cultivating Critical Literacy and Interdisciplinary Learning in Maker Spaces approaches maker spaces through concepts of critical literacy and interdisciplinary learning as a way to create space for middle school students’ creativity and focus on critical literacy and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics).
Fulton and Urbanski connect Freire’s (1997) understanding of emancipatory education and Vygotsky’s (1978) idea of learning through play to their exploration of middle school ELA teachers creating an interdisciplinary space for “curious, enthusiastic inventors” (p. 3). Drawing on the connected learning principles of Dewey (1986) and Montessori (2013), they define make as “inviting students to make things with words, with natural and human-made materials, and with their own and others’ ideas of how to make their worlds” (p. 3). The authors posit that current students need “to explore, to play, to tinker, and, most of all . . . to think” (p. 21).
Starting with Brannon and Manship’s foreword, the book consists of eight chapters. The first chapter defines terms like make, hacktivism, and tinkering for beginners, while the second chapter provides brief details about the project’s theories and history. In the third chapter, the authors explain hacktivism as students finding a way into the community through something previously unavailable to them in order to make life easier. Hacktivism has to do with repurposing and reseeing materials, as Fulton and Urbanski show by exemplifying students’ voices through their blackout poetry created from grammar texts. To develop a maker identity, the fourth chapter focuses on connecting critical literacy with maker spaces through funds of knowledge and ways of knowing and being (Moje, Collazo, Carillo, & Marx, 2001). The fifth and sixth chapters are devoted to inspirational make examples of cardboard city and pop-up books created by students as a process connecting their learning and creativity, while the last chapter offers assessments and information for educators to implement maker projects in their classrooms. The book also contains a list of recommended works, supportive examples, and useful appendices that will help enhance instruction skills and support hands-on learning.
Maker spaces’ focus on hands-on learning has been promoted for active learning in math and science for years. We as teachers and teacher educators should start to focus on literacy-oriented maker spaces to create student-driven literacy engagements. I particularly recommend using the Intersections Partnerships and World of Making websites for examples in building classroom maker spaces. Preservice teachers and teacher educators should use this book to make practice with different make examples and raise awareness on the current needs of students. They can build informal spaces for “make” in schools beyond the traditional classes. This book invites teachers and teacher educators to think about how we can transform the classrooms to engage with all students and promote accessibility through creating informal spaces in the formal life of education.
As an educator committed to culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy and conscious of a diverse society’s expectations and needs, I believe in fostering critical literacy and science with maker spaces as a unique and innovative approach. Diverse communities will benefit in terms of their critical literacy and STEAM work. In particular, maker spaces can help culturally diverse students who need a space to share their stories and teachers who want to provide spaces for these funds of knowledge that are not part of the standard curriculum.
March 5, 2021
Fatima Seyma Kizil (Sheyma) is pursuing a PhD in literacy education at Syracuse University. Her research interests include culturally and linguistically diverse students, children’s and young adult literature, and reading motivation. She has been a member of NCTE since 2020 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dewey, J. (1986, September). Experience and education. The Educational Forum, 50(3), 241–252.
Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making: Best practices for establishing a makerspace for your school. Corwin Press.
Fleming, L. (2017). The kickstart guide to making great makerspaces. Corwin Press.
Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.
Moje, E. B., Collazo, T., Carrillo, R., & Marx, R. W. (2001). “Maestro, what is ‘quality’?”: Language, literacy, and discourse in project‐based science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, 38(4), 469–498.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132–141.
Montessori, M. (2013). The Montessori method. Transaction Publishers.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.
Assignments and a Partial Map: Utilizing Rhetorical Reading to Move toward Disciplinary Literacy
Todd F. Reynolds
University of Wyoming
Book review of Wilner, A. F. (2020). Rethinking reading in college: An across-the-curriculum approach. NCTE.
In high school, I argued with my math teacher. I correctly solved a problem one way, but he wanted me to solve it a different way. I argued that there were two ways to get there; he disagreed. I mention this tale of youthful hubris because the idea of multiple journeys to the same destination applies to Wilner’s (2020) Rethinking Reading in College: An Across-the-Curriculum Approach. Her destination is laudable: a focus on rhetorical reading and disciplinary awareness for classes campus-wide. However, her journey may not convince those who would agree with the proposal.
Wilner focuses on rhetorical reading, which “helps readers construct a kind of frame around the text by imagining such contextual aspects as the persona of the author, the occasion for writing, the intended audience, and the conversation being joined” (p. 40). Rhetorical reading, taught college-wide and especially in first-year composition, can help students see, understand, and use a variety of genres from various disciplines. Wilner attacks the myth of autonomous texts, instead asking students to understand the larger context. Throughout the book, she shares quality assignments from English and other subject areas to foster students’ skills in rhetorical reading. Wilner’s argument is compelling, especially as it incorporates disciplinary literacy and the idea that every professor should be explicitly teaching disciplinary languages and strategies.
However, as my math teacher and I argued, sometimes there is more than one path to the same destination. Throughout the book, Wilner equates assignments with pedagogy. While she describes fantastic assignments, she rarely delves into the actual teaching of the rhetorical reading practices. For example, when describing a close reading assignment for reading fiction, she refers to modeling the process and utilizing group work, which are both important, especially for English educators, but she does not fully explain what that process entails, or how to recreate it.
Wilner also both criticizes students and questionably defends lists of knowledge that are “part of the intellectual capital of liberally educated citizens” (p. 72). She argues strongly and forcibly that remedial reading should be appropriately rigorous and should engage students in high-quality practices and content. However, she also seems to discount students’ backgrounds, practices, and education, praising a yet-to-be-realized ideal student who would meet all professors’ needs with rhetorical reading strategies. Additionally, she goes on an extended defense of the problematic novel To Kill a Mockingbird and lists that prioritize traditional and canonical concepts of knowledge.
Morrison (2019) writes, “[y]et of what use is it to go on about ‘quality’ being the only criterion for greatness knowing that the definition of quality is itself the subject of much rage and is seldom universally agreed upon by everyone at all times” (p. 163). Morrison’s point is useful here: If rhetorical reading can be applied to any text, there are more appropriate, valuable, and engaging texts for students than those suggested. Indeed, utilizing a windows and mirrors approach to text selection (Bishop, 1990) could help students at any level buy in to these activities and bolster Wilner’s case.
These moments aside, there is a good argument that could help impact disciplinary teaching in both secondary and college education. Rhetorical reading and disciplinary awareness, if cornerstones of every class, could help students grapple with the invisible processes of disciplinary comprehension and grow their understanding and knowledge base. For English educators, Wilner’s book could be a guide toward embracing disciplinary literacy. Even though the book lacks explanations of explicit teaching, Wilner does articulate some quality assignments, and a potential path forward to reenvision classes and help our students.
March 5, 2021
Todd F. Reynolds is an assistant professor of secondary English education at the University of Wyoming. He focuses on dialogic instruction and disciplinary literacy. He has been a member of NCTE off and on throughout his career as an educator, which began in 1998.
Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(3), ix–xi.
Morrison, T. (2019). Mouth full of blood: Essays, speeches, meditations. Chatto & Windus.
Beyond the Label “LTEL”: Humanizing Pedagogy for Our Long-Term English Learners
Teachers College, Columbia University
Book review of Brooks, M. D. (2020). Transforming literacy education for long-term English learners: Recognizing brilliance in the undervalued. NCTE and Routledge.
As classrooms become more diverse, teachers are challenged to examine their positionality in choosing which narratives should be present. As bell hooks (1994) acknowledges, transformative pedagogy must be rooted in respect for multiculturalism, and for this to occur, each voice within the classroom must be honored. In Transforming Literacy Education for Long-Term English Learners: Recognizing Brilliance in the Undervalued, Maneka D. Brooks argues that students who are labeled as long-term English learners (LTELS) need to be recognized for their complex racial and linguistic identities, as well as for the knowledge they bring into the classroom, through a humanizing pedagogy. Furthermore, through rethinking and reshaping how labels are used, educators have the power to reconstruct existing deficit narratives of students and reenvision who our students are and what potential they possess.
My student’s ELL label in my English class did not do justice to the critical thinking skills she demonstrated in her native language. Similarly, my students labeled as “struggling readers” demonstrated their acute reading abilities through music videos, song lyrics, and poems. Educators must identify how students are reading outside of the classroom and acknowledge that meaning making of texts goes beyond simply comprehending the language to creating a transaction between the multiple identities of the reader to create the literary experience (Rosenblatt, 1965). As a result, literacy instruction should recognize students’ social aspects through acquired background knowledge, culture, and experiences, which encompasses Brooks’s humanizing pedagogy in Chapter 1.
This book consists of six chapters centered around the stories of five adolescent Latinx students. Through her research, Brooks highlights the importance of valuing their complex linguistic abilities beyond the label of long-term English learners through the intersections of race, language proficiency, and language abilities.
Chapter 2 reconsiders what constitutes bilingualism and practices of translanguaging and code-switching, and it suggests how students’ languages can be additive to the classroom space. Chapter 3, “Local Texts,” examines text choices through an “opportunity to learn lens,” which takes into account the students’ prior knowledge and reader goals in a setting that facilitates an environment for success (Brooks, 2020, p. 39). Brooks proposes the use of text sets to create opportunities to read different text types and build on students’ background knowledge to read more challenging texts. In Chapter 4, “Strong and Loud Readers,” she suggests ways for students to see the relevance of independent and silent reading by acknowledging ways in which students already do these activities.
Students’ identities bring linguistic capabilities and resourcefulness that we must recognize and create space for in the English classroom. My students are musicians, religious advocates, animal rights activists, translators, gamers, and so much more. Through various activities, I invite students to value their languages beyond academic English to honor the multiple facets of their identities. The importance that we place for diverse voices in the classroom can disrupt notions of power and primacy of the English language (hooks, 1994) and refute assimilation teaching practices (Ladson-Billings, 1994).
A work that reflects the humanity and multidimensionality of students, Transforming Literacy Education for Long-Term English Learners: Recognizing Brilliance in the Undervalued is pivotal in advocating for students who are labeled as LTELs to be seen beyond a singular label and acknowledged for their experiences and abilities in order to create a humanizing framework for developing reading instruction. By doing so, in the words of Delpit (1995), we can learn from our students as individuals who help us navigate among cultures and “better learn how to become citizens of the global community” (p. 69).
November 25, 2020
Diana Liu is an English education doctoral student in the Department of Arts and Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught ELA and ESL at the secondary level. Her research interests include critical literacy, queer studies in English education, Asian American students, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and what this could mean for teacher preparation. She has been a member of NCTE since 2018.
Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. The New Press.
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African-American children. Jossey-Bass.
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1965). Literature as exploration. Modern Language Association of America.
Creativity and Chaos in the Crescent City: Reflecting on a Decade of Progressivism in New Orleans
Louisiana State University
Book review of Suhor, C. (2020). Creativity and chaos: Reflections on a decade of progressive change in public schools, 1967-77. New South Books.
After Hurricane Katrina, public education in New Orleans was gutted and reformed into a system of charter schools, leaving public schools in the Recovery School District, the remnant of the Orleans Public School System. Public school teachers are now required to focus on mandated, often scripted curriculum for high-stakes testing, in opposition to previously progressive educational ideas. Charles Suhor’s Creativity and Chaos: Reflections on a Decade of Progressive Change in Public Schools, 1967–77 (2020) speaks to the progressive movement in New Orleans, shining light on a time when teachers, schools, and school districts worked together to create a public school curriculum that broadened students’ understanding of English and its related subjects.
Suhor draws on his career in education—first as a public high school English teacher, then district English supervisor with the Orleans Public School System—to analyze the progressive reform movement in New Orleans’s schools from 1967 to 1977. He worked alongside teachers, administrators, and curriculum supervisors to bring creative teaching methods, subjects, and programming into New Orleans’s public schools. Their efforts included introducing the arts, including jazz and theater, into classrooms, featuring students on local public television programming, and revising the writing and grammar curriculum. They especially focused on local culture and media that was uniquely New Orleans, such as the creation of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, known for its creative writing and jazz programs.
Suhor brings to mind a city where imaginative teaching and creative knowledge were valued at a time when other states focused on testing as an end result. These projects would regrettably be dismantled during the back-to-basics period that followed, which abandoned creative arts programs and emphasized mastery learning. New Orleans’s public schools were brought in line with the conservative trends in education, drawing them away from unique initiatives that incorporated the city’s culture to engage students’ interests.
Creativity and Chaos’s focus on the coming together of minds to create engaging curriculum and school programming for students is compelling. Suhor paints an inspiring picture of collaboration between teachers, administrators, and district personnel, quite different from today’s teachers advocating for engaging curriculum and programs for their students, and districts desperate to attain high test scores to secure funding and resources. As a teacher educator, I see these divisions play out in relationships with my student teachers as they navigate their passion to teach with the curriculum requirements placed on them and their students. I encourage them to find moments for collaboration with their mentor teachers and within their cohorts. I also urge them to find moments for creativity while still meeting curricular standards. I did not realize until reading Suhor’s text that doing so made me a progressive educator, but I am happy to take on this label.
In 1977, Suhor left New Orleans to serve as executive deputy director of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). In his epilogue, he notes, “I hope that this book will bring attention to the sound teaching practices that were adopted then but prematurely abandoned, turned into dry formulas, or pushed aside because they were not adaptable to mass testing” (pp. 225–226). The progressive movement in New Orleans showed that creative programming in English classes can and did work. These efforts were supported by the district’s central office and positively received by students. This is Suhor’s invitation to educators: to bring back progressive teaching to extend the curriculum; cross-curriculate with other content areas, especially the arts; rethink ELA instruction; and seize innovations when they come. Suhor challenges teachers, supervisors, and school districts to bring the creativity and chaos back into their classrooms.
November 25, 2020
Possible Symphonies: Creating Artistic Spaces in the ELA Classroom
North Carolina State University
Book review of Macro, K. J., & Zoss, M. (Eds.) (2019). A symphony of possibilities: A handbook for arts integration in secondary English language arts. NCTE.
In their edited book, A Symphony of Possibilities, Katherine J. Macro and Michelle Zoss (2019) challenge English education’s focus on assessment by offering the possibility of arts integration for the secondary English language arts (ELA) classroom. They argue that “the arts allow the learning experience to truly become part of the individual in ways that solely reading and writing a text cannot do” (p. xvii). In calling for arts integration, the book presents research and theory, as well as strategies and resources, for educators of all levels to take a “defiant” stance on integrating art in ELA.
Each chapter of the book begins with justification for integrating different art media as well as strategies and examples shared by scholars and educators dedicated to this work. It begins with music and Timothy J. Duggan’s chapter on musical adaptations and his M.A.S.T.E.R. framework, followed by Christian Z. Goering and Amy Matthews’s integration of protest songwriting with students in Arkansas. Readers then find the art of language in Wendy R. Williams’s work with spoken word projects, and in Laura B. Turchi and Pauline Skowron Schmidt’s classroom play with Shakespeare. The book moves across the “symphony of possibilities” of artistic work, ranging across music, poetry, drama, and visual art. Macro’s chapter discusses the creative entanglements of drama in the ELA classroom as the arts reveal themselves across the discipline. Toby Emert explores Dadaism and found poetry, translating theory into practice, and Alisha M. White presents specific steps and strategies for implementing visual responses to literature.
The culminating chapters of the book from Michelle Zoss and Stephen Goss reflect ways of bringing the public into the classroom. Zoss shares work with large-scale visual projects, exploring murals and wall-length images, and Goss discusses the power of audiences for students’ creations. In its conclusion, the book thoughtfully provides an extensive list of resources organized by these different artistic forms (drama, music, poetry, and visual art), and concludes with a glossary of terms to help illuminate the argument that ELA classes should embrace “what students create” (p. 177) as a core part of the curriculum. Chapter 8’s authorial team of educators consisting of Pamela M. Hartman, Jessica Berg, Brandon Schuler, and Erin Knauer lays out aesthetic strategies that they found meaningful in integrating artistic responses as a way to share their pedagogical practice with readers. As a former secondary ELA teacher, I appreciate how this book highlights helpful resources and serves as a guide for arts integration without feeling scripted.
In my current work with preservice teachers, I can draw from this book to set the stage for why I too believe ELA teachers need to integrate the arts. The frameworks and strategies the book provides in each chapter are both specific enough to be implemented, but broad enough to reach a wide audience of educators. As a teacher, I often seek more concrete or explicit steps to teaching strategies, so the amount of text in this book may feel overwhelming to others who want clearly structured lesson plans. However, the authors offer a research-based and thoughtfully explained overview of arts integration with examples from actual classrooms. Instead of a step-by-step process, this book leaves room for classroom teachers to play with the arts in the new and innovative ways that will work for them. I found that how this book showcases the different forms and shapes the arts may take in the classroom helps to highlight how we can each distinguish ourselves as unique ELA teachers. For educators wanting to defy the testing culture, this book is a vital resource for creating the space necessary to offer artistic possibilities for our teachers and students.
September 25, 2020
Nina Schoonover is a doctoral candidate studying literacy and English language arts education at North Carolina State University. Her research focuses on arts integration, arts-based pedagogy, and visual literacy. She has been a member of NCTE for three years.
Reality Shapers: Teaching Adventurous Thinking to Co-Construct a Revolution
James Joshua Coleman
San José State University
Book review of Blackburn, M. V. (2019). Adventurous thinking. Fostering students’ rights to reading and writing in secondary ELA classrooms. NCTE.
“Youth is the Age of Revolt” writes Blackburn (2019), echoing the 1981 and 2009 iterations of NCTE’s The Students’ Right to Read (p. 2). A provocative assertion, this fundamental belief in young people’s revolutionary potential drives Mollie V. Blackburn’s new Principles in Practice text Adventurous Thinking: Fostering Students’ Rights to Read and Write in Secondary ELA Classrooms. An edited volume, the text highlights pedagogical approaches to English education that center how reading and writing can ignite a social revolution led by the young.
Because of my own commitments to youth-centered education, I found myself enticed by the invitation to center young people’s acts of revolt, doing so, as Blackburn asserts, “to deny, oppose, and resist” (p. 2) the racism, sexism, xenophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, and ableism that continue to structure US schooling. However, the relegation of revolt to a youthful endeavor raised new concerns for me: aren’t we educators, as adults who share today’s realities with our students, equally responsible for revolting against oppressive systems? I worried that such a statement might be read as justification for inaction, for relegating justice to the provenance of young people in ways that elide English educators’ own complicity in maintaining oppressive educational systems. Adventurous thinking, however—defined as a form of critical inquiry that exceeds “indoctrination” (NCTE, 2018, p. ix)—challenges such systems through the cultivation of “criticality, community, and connections” that heal, humanize, and forge solidarity (Blackburn, 2019, p. 109).
Each of the teachers spotlighted in this text as “reality shapers” highlights the importance of co-constructing revolution, of holding close the responsibility of building a more just reality through incisive English language arts (ELA) pedagogy. Arianna Talebian, for example, in her chapter “Black Lives Matter: Disrupting Oppression by Identifying Hidden Narratives in the English Language Arts Classroom” demonstrates how personal narratives can reshape a literary canon. Nestled within a larger unit on racial justice, Talebian invites students to pick an index card that, on one side, holds the name of a Black or Brown person and, on the other, an “outcome” (p. 48). Circulating around the room, students begin to share those names and stories and soon face the hard reality that each has been lost to police brutality. Weighted by pain, shock, and sadness, the stories do, however, keep moving, gaining speed and movement in pursuit of revolutionary change.
As a white, queer educator committed to antiracist pedagogy, I found in Talebian’s story a kindredness and, more important, a locus for solidarity building. In the first years of my own K–12 teaching in the Deep South, I was expressly forbidden from teaching queer texts. I came to understand this recommendation—no, mandate—from a caring department head as protection from an administration that would rather fire me than allow me to teach about any queer life, including my own. A point of connection, my and Talebian’s situations were neither equal nor the same, each shaped by their own historical weight and present realities; however, they resonate. Talebian drew upon personal narratives with pedagogical expertise to honor painful histories of her community of BIPOC individuals; I, however, allowed the histories of my community to remain hidden in the marginalia of curriculum (Coleman, 2019). Cultivating adventurous thinking, Talebian engaged alongside her students in a “praxis” of reading and writing, infusing an all-white ELA curriculum with silenced stories and with the joy of Black and Brown life (Love, 2019) and, in so doing, foregrounded the revolutionary truth that “[h]ealing and humanizing classrooms matter most” (Talebian, 2019, p. 52).
Addressing xenophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment, rural conservatism, queer exclusion, and the erasure of disability, each featured educator in Adventurous Thinking harnesses pedagogical tools to invite adventurous thinking to reshape oppressive relatives: together, student and teacher revolt! The book concludes with two final revolutionary sparks: an interview with Angie Thomas (the author of The Hate U Give) and Millie Davis’s “protection plan” for students’ rights to read and write, both of which provide further strategies for English educators to harness “the teaching and learning of writing and reading as not just a right, but also an art, a revolutionary art” (Blackburn, 2019, p. 9). A work of revolutionary art itself, Adventurous Thinking provides pedagogical approaches needed for ELA students and teachers to co-construct revolution, reshaping past and present realities into a future defined by justice.
September 25, 2020
James Joshua Coleman (Josh) is an assistant professor of English education at San José State University. His research interests include critical literacy, queer studies in education, affect studies, and children’s literature. He has been a member of NCTE since 2016 and can be reached at email@example.com.
Blackburn, M. V. (2019). Adventurous thinking: Fostering students’ rights to read and write in secondary ELA classrooms. NCTE.
Coleman, J. J. (2019). Digital innocence: Queer virginity, painful histories, and the critical hope of queer futurity. Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, 2(1), 1–18.
Love, B. (2019). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (2018, October 25). The students’ right to read. https://ncte.org/statement/righttoreadguideline/
Petrone, R. (2015). Learning as loss: Examining the affective dimensions to learning critical literacy. NCTE Annual Convention, Minneapolis, MN.
Talebian, A. (2019). Black lives matter: Disrupting oppression by identifying hidden narratives in the English language arts classroom. In M. V. Blackburn (Ed.), Adventurous thinking: Fostering students’ rights to read and write in secondary ELA classrooms (pp. 42–56). NCTE.