The journal of English Language Arts Teacher Educators (ELATE)
(Re)Viewing the Field: English Education Book Reviews
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. If you are interested in writing a review or extending the conversation on a published review, please contact Melanie Shoffner, editor of English Education, at EnglishEd@ncte.org.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.