All posts by Lisa Fink


About Lisa Fink

Lisa Storm Fink is the Project Manager for ReadWriteThink at NCTE. After teaching grades K-4 for almost 9 years, she brought her varied experiences (multi-age classrooms, looping, cooperating teacher for preservice teachers, plus a specialization in Remedial Reading) fulltime to the ReadWriteThink site. Lisa feels lucky to have worked on all parts of the ReadWriteThink site as a writer and reviewer, curriculum developer, and now as Project Manager. She enjoys sharing the site with others during professional development opportunities as well as with her preservice students at the University of Illinois.

Banned Books Week 2017: Resources from NCTE

“Censorship is like the monster
under the bed. You never know what
will trigger it, and you’ve got to be
ready.” —ReLeah Cossett Lent

Banned Books Week, which runs September 24-September 30 this year, is the annual celebration of the freedom to read. For this year’s celebration, NCTE and the coalition of organizations that sponsors Banned Books Week will emphasize the importance of the First Amendment, which guarantees our inherent right to read . NCTE’s Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers and schools faced with challenges to texts or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools.

The NCTE Principles for Intellectual Freedom in Education were approved by the NCTE Executive Committee in February 2014. These state, “All students have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others. Denial or restriction of this right is an infringement of intellectual freedom.” NCTE encourages school communities to generate, implement, and follow policies and procedures for defending intellectual freedom at the classroom, institution, and system/campus levels to limit and/or address attacks on free expression. The following principles support the inclusion of agency, fairness, and multiple perspectives in the process of defending intellectual freedom in education. Each of these principles has been linked with resources that may help in your classroom.

The preservation of intellectual freedom in education depends upon the fostering of democratic values in the classroom, critical thinking stances and practices among teachers and students, open inquiry methods and access to information, and the exploration of multiple points of view.
The lesson plan A Case for Reading—Examining Challenged and Banned Books introduces students to censorship and then invites them to read a challenged book and decide for themselves what should be done with the book at their school.

As trained professionals, educators are qualified to select appropriate classroom materials and resources from a variety of sources given their teaching goals and the needs and interests of the students they serve.
The Language Arts article “Focus on Policy: Intellectual Freedom” outlines details on banning incidents from this decade, the importance of selection, and suggestions for overcoming text challenges. The article includes sidebars that list additional resources.

The Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs presents criteria and procedures that ensure thoughtful teacher selection of novels and other materials.

Professional educators, drawing upon their training and content knowledge, should play an integral role in the curriculum design process at the district and school levels.
NCTE crafted a Resolution on the “Critical Role of Teachers in the Selection and Implementation of Reading Programs and Policies.” This resolution reasserts the authority of teachers as professionals who make substantive decisions regarding literacy materials and instruction.

Educational communities should prepare for challenges to intellectual freedom with clearly defined policies and procedures that guide the review of classroom materials and resources called into question. In the creation and enactment of these policies and procedures, educators’ knowledge and expertise should be solicited as integral, valuable, and necessary.
As defenders of the right to read, today’s teachers find themselves navigating both new and old challenges to the intellectual choices available to this generation. “Defending the Right to Read: A Modern Tale” shares a contemporary story of two educators who put their students’ freedoms first.

“Any book with any ideas of value
is probably going to be challenged
because somebody doesn’t like what’s
being said.”
—Kim Chism Jasper

Putting Students in Charge of Building the Classroom Community

As teachers, we usually go into the first weeks of school assuming full responsibility for building the learning space. But what happens if we put some of that responsibility in our students’ hands instead? Our new students come to us full of ideas, stories, expertise, and curiosity. These are the essential materials for a strong classroom community. Here are a few ideas for how to put those raw materials to use:

Have you tried these or other community building activities? Tell us what works!

Planning for Back to School

Now that Labor Day has passed, it’s time to think about back to school resources.  Here are a few things I am planning to do to get a head start now to help to make this a fabulous school year!

  • Creating/Maintaining a Classroom Library
    To help my students get motivated to read, I try to have timeless favorites in my classroom library as well as add new titles. has two podcast series that provide book suggestions. Several NCTE journals also review new texts in every issue.
  • Staying Current with Trends in Education
    By reading other’s posts and participating in discussions on the NCTE Connected Community and on the Literacy & NCTE blog, I feel like I can gain easy access to each other’s best ideas.
  • Finding or Become a Mentor
    Being provided with a mentor as a teacher is a wonderful benefit. Sometimes, teachers may need to find their own mentor or teacher with whom they can work and learn. The English Journal column “Mentoring Matters” has a focus on effective ways to support new English teachers and student teachers and is a great resource to all teachers. Check out this column!
  • Plan for Professional Development
    Now would be a good time to register for the NCTE Annual Convention! Join thousands of educators, experts, authors, administrators, publishers, and others in St. Louis, Missouri, for the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention! November 16-19, 2017

What else are you doing to plan for the upcoming semester?


Building Confianza

This post was written by Trisha Collopy, a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

When I spoke to Steven Alvarez in June, he had been watching videos of recent racist rants caught on cell  phones, most directed at people speaking Spanish in public spaces. The incidents left him shaking his head.

“In my research, I’ve never met a family of adults who didn’t want to learn English,” he said. “Parents understand the pressure” to help their kids with homework and ensure they aren’t stuck on a low-wage job track.

Alvarez is the author of a new book for NCTE, Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs, in which he discusses his work with two programs for English language learners in Kentucky: the KUL after-school club for high-school students and Valle del Bluegrass library, which offered extensive bilingual programming.

Alvarez’s own family history is a time capsule of the English-only approach and its effect on families. His father, growing up in the 1950s in Arizona near the Mexican border, had teachers who would hit him when he spoke Spanish in class. As a result, Alvarez and his siblings were raised speaking English—and Alvarez had to relearn Spanish in college.

“In my own family, we went from Spanish-dominant to English in one generation, and that’s the emerging trend,” Alvarez says.

“There are lots of arguments about why immigrants don’t learn English, but immigrants are learning English faster now than they ever have.”

“Historically it has been a three-generation process,” he says. But now the transition is happening so rapidly that immigrant parents struggle to talk to their English-only children.

“Taco Literacy”

Alvarez, who now teaches at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and coordinates the college’s first-year writing program, has distilled his work with after-school programs to a classroom approach that leans heavily on ethnography and personal writing.

A “Taco Literacy” course he taught at the University of Kentucky took off in a big way, attracting national media attention from the Huffington Post and Univision. The upper-division writing class explored the region’s changing demographics through research into local food culture. It sent students out in the community to meet owners of food trucks and taquerias, and brought journalists, food critics, and the owner of a tortilla factory into the classroom as guest speakers.

“It was the coolest class I ever taught, mostly because students in class got to know each other,” Alvarez says. “They got to eat together, got talking about food, looking at the local community, learning about their local environment.”

The class got students out of their dorms and into the community, sometimes in Latinx neighborhoods where English was no longer the dominant language.  Students blogged and shared a common Instagram hashtag #tacoliteracy (students had individual accounts) so they could follow each other’s food adventures during the semester. They slipped between languages when learning how to order from Spanish-language menus. They talked to professional food writers about branding and social media and how a food writer got his first job at the local newspaper.

Alvarez says a similar class on local foodways could be adapted to any community. And he says this kind of ethnographic research allows students to complete lots of low-stakes writing, interviewing, field notes, and other research, and build, revise and edit that into more polished projects in English.

“The reality is that academic language is not anybody’s home language,” Alvarez adds. “It takes years to learn.”

Telling Stories, Building Community

“High-stakes standardized testing,” says Alvarez, “really fractures ways of building community.”

His work in the classroom and with after-school programs is an antidote to that, a way of bringing students and teachers back into relationship with each other.

He admits that the relationship-building takes time. In Community Literacies en Confianza, he suggests small steps teachers can take: holding parent-teacher conferences in community spaces, bringing in outside speakers, assigning students to create oral histories and ethnographies.

“The most important thing to think about is the communities that students build outside of the classroom, build around shared experiences,” he says.  Because it’s in those spaces that the real learning begins.

Read more about Alvarez’s work in the article “Building Confianza—Trust—Outside the Classroom” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle.

Read a sample chapter or order the book.

Check out Alvarez’s On Demand Web seminar: “Confidence in Community Literacies: Bilingual Writers Reading the World

Alvarez discusses his book in Community Literacies en Confianza, Part I and Community Literacies en Confianza, Part II. 

Literacy in a Digital World: International Literacy Day 2017

Each year, International Literacy Day is celebrated across the world on September 8th. The theme for this year is “Literacy in a digital world”. The goal is to look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate “increasingly digitally-mediated societies”. International Literacy Day is a UNESCO global event.

In preparation for International Literacy Day, NCTE recommends the following resources to help you integrate technology in instruction in ways that are meaningful and authentic.

Kristen Turner and Troy Hicks, in Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World, offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students. Also read “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait” from English Journal.

In Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students, author Sara Kajder examines ways in which teachers and students co-construct new literacies through Web 2.0 technology-infused instructional practices. See more in the sample chapter.

View the #nctechat archive “Beyond the Screen: Multimedia in the Classroom“, guest hosted by the Studies in Literacies and Multimedia Assembly of NCTE.

Lesson Plans for Developing Digital Literacies presents a set of lessons designed to help you integrate a variety of digital applications into the courses and units you’re already teaching. Read the sample chapter, “What’s on the Other Side, When You Finally Cross the Digital Divide?

Check out these resources on Digital Learning from

We encourage you to visit the UNESCO website to learn more about the organization’s theme for 2017, “Literacy in a Digital World“. How will you celebrate the day?