Category Archives: Inquiry

Building Bridges between Readers and Authors

This post is written by member Amy Estersohn.

One way to help students connect with books is to engage with the authors who write them. Here are five easy ways for the readers and writers you see every day to learn more about the names on the spines in the library.

Look up an author’s website.

This is not only good for fun facts about authors, but it’s also an opportunity to learn about an author’s past and future books, professional life, and upcoming author appearances.  If authors are active on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, their websites are a good place to start.  Did you know that teen author e. lockhart and nonfiction picture book author Emily Jenkins are the same person?

Connect with independent bookstores and libraries.

Independent bookstores and libraries are terrific resources for learning about author events.  Some bookstores and libraries may hold major author events and author panels, while others may have programs like “Comic-Con,” where comic book fans and creators congregate.

Do you want books signed by YA celebrities like John Green, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black?  That’s easy if you know where to look.  Check out the signed book inventory from Odyssey Bookshop in western Massachusetts and Books of Wonder.  You can also call these bookstores to see if a favorite author has stopped by to sign books!

Become part of the fan community and make an online presence for your reading life.

Write fan letters, create fan art, and make fan fiction based on favorite books and series. Some fans use blog platforms like Tumblr to talk to authors (check out Maggie Stiefvater’s tumblr as an example of an author engaging with fans) and other authors will post fan art to their website, like Gina Damico.

I’ve also experienced authors reaching out to readers.  Some authors have offered via Twitter to Skype with book clubs where their book was a selection, and one award-winning author offered to Skype with our book club after she saw an announcement online that we were reading her book!

Attend festivals and conferences.

If you have ever been to a national conference like NCTE or ALAN, you already know that it’s an enormous author party, drawing authors from around the globe together for a few days. There are also smaller events, like the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival or a #nErDcamp event.  Some of my favorite author memories include attending #nErDcamp Long Island eating a turkey sandwich in a middle school cafeteria next to one of my students’ favorite authors.  A conference doesn’t have to be big or far away to be rewarding.

Use what you learn in lessons with students.

Authors can be honest about their writing process in front of a crowd, and a lot of what I learn from listening to authors becomes part of the wisdom I pass on to students.For example, Jason Reynolds watches a lot of movies when he is writing. Steve Sheinkin wrote an entire book because he saw a photograph of a filing cabinet and started asking questions. Janet Taylor Lisle writes by sound rather than image. Kelly Barnhill writes in her head as she runs and can remember up to two pages at a time. The author of a book that won two major awards mentioned how painful the writing process for the book was, that it constantly felt like the book was going to kill her before she finished a draft. These writers remind us that there is more than one way to write and no one right way to do it.

Make engagement personally meaningful to you and your students.

If I am going to an event, I look at the author list carefully, plan out the authors I know I want to see and talk to, and think about what I want to say before I get starstruck or too nervous.  I also have little games.  For example, I collect signed copies of books that I think will win a Printz or a Newbery Award.  If an autographing line is short, I will sometimes ask authors to include an encouraging note to young writers in their personalizations. I have some lovely notes from Newbery medalists that were written just to my students.

If you’re taking students to an author event, consider passing along the following bits of advice: Bring a sticky note so you can handwrite your name neatly and an author can personalize it.  Depending on the event, the line might be 100 people long or it might be zero people long.  Some authors will ask lots of questions and engage in conversation with every reader in a line, while others might be more efficient in keeping the line moving.  Asking for a selfie is okay, but don’t ask for free books or free stuff—that’s not the author’s job to give out stuff for free!

Authors are the silent partners in helping our readers grow.  By helping students know them better, we are adding to the conversations we are having with students and the conversations that students are having with the world.

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York. She blogs at Teaching Transition and is on twitter @HMX_MSE.

Fostering Dialogue in the Classroom: Lessons Learned While Teaching Cultural Literacy

This post is written by member Ruth Li.

In teaching, I aim to cultivate in students an understanding of literacy as a form of civic participation. Yet in my daily interactions with students, creating a balance between engagement and control has been a constant challenge.

To invite a space for generative, yet genuine intellectual inquiry, it is important to balance guidance and freedom in equilibrium: to offer a foundation for ideas, yet open up multiple possible pathways and positions for students to pursue. In navigating these tensions, I have constructed journal topics based on essential questions that are sufficiently broad to allow a variety of entry points as well as backgrounds and experiences; for example, while teaching Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch: “In what ways do our cultures affect who we are?”

In a similar sense, while experimenting with various formats for discussion prompts and procedures, I have found that planning and posing each question for the class to discuss in turn can be stifling in its structure. On the other hand, providing a few potential issues for exploration can be liberating in enabling learners to delve into unexpected topics and ponder unique perspectives. As a discussion flows organically, the most rewarding moments have arisen when students posed original questions to each other in a dynamic dialogue, blurring the lines between the roles of teacher and student. In opening up opinions and weaving new webs of ideas and insights rather than following a predetermined path, learners are able to attain agency and contribute constructively to the conversation.

Students are, after all, social creatures, agentive and interactive beings, whose combined consciousness coalesces into constellations of complexity. In contrast with a framework of passive reception, in the Freirean sense, learners transform their own experience as much as they are transformed by it. In a process of actively constructing knowledge through collaboration in the Piagetian sense, students navigate the negotiations between the self and the other as pluralities proliferate, ideas intersect, and contentions collide. Dialogue, therefore, liberates the pedagogical praxis.

To engage and empower our own and others’ voices, to welcome a diversity of perspectives within the context of civil discourse, to encourage civic participation in the Ciceronian ideal of democracy for which Hirsch has argued, to resist conclusiveness while opening up to the complexities of experience: these are the aims toward which we as citizens must continue to live and strive in the classroom and in the world.

Ruth Li has taught high school English for the past three years in charter schools in Utah and Florida. She will join the Ph.D. program in English and Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the fall.

The Naylor Workshop in Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies

This post is written by members Joyce Kinkead and Jessie L. Moore.

We believe passionately in the transformative power of meaningful, authentic research for our students. Both of us are aware that students in English often don’t tend to think of themselves as researchers. Rather, they see themselves as rehashing others’ scholarly works. Part of the fault in their perception lies with us. We, as faculty members, may not have articulated to our students the methodology of inquiry in our fields. But we are working to change that. Joyce has written the first textbook for undergraduate students on how to undertake research in writing studies: Researching Writing: An Introduction to Research Methods.  In collaboration with the CCCC Committee on Undergraduate Research, Jessie oversees the annual CCCC Undergraduate Researcher Poster Session, where students have the opportunity to participate in a national, professional conference. Students also can publish in the innovative Young Scholars in Writing, a journal that was created over ten years ago, among other places.

Student Megan Knowles presenting her finished research project poster at CCCC in 2016.

While opportunities for undergraduates to present and, to a lesser degree, publish their work exist, opportunities for undergraduates to gather and share research in process are rare.  That’s where the Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies, initiated at York College in Pennsylvania by Dominic DelliCarpini, comes in. The two of us have served as plenary speakers and mentors for the annual workshop. This weekend boot camp for students is exhilarating, energizing, and exhausting.

About 30 students are selected for the workshop from applications filed in the spring. Many of them are generously funded through the Naylor Endowment. The endowment also funds faculty mentors—like us. The weekend is organized so that participants arrive in time for an opening plenary on Friday evening that outlines the process: finding and narrowing a research question; reviewing the literature; determining appropriate methods and tools; drafting a plan and a timeline; and preparing for an initial report.

Prior to this date, mentors have been assigned a small group of student researchers and have communicated with them long distance about their projects. The intensive workshop experience continues on Saturday with small group sessions in which mentors listen to students’ individual research questions and begin providing feedback. Students write their research questions on whiteboards and revisit them consistently throughout the workshop, as the questions may change considerably as the students re-envision their projects. Yes, research is recursive—just like writing.

As faculty mentors, often collaborating with Naylor alumni, we lead a series of workshops that highlight tools and methods to conduct research and provide information about research processes, beginning with an overview of qualitative and quantitative methods and extending through resources for reviews of literature and advice on dissemination. Let’s face it: English majors can be frightened of numbers. Quantitative methods like coding can be daunting. The undergraduate researchers begin gathering tools needed to undertake research: participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and focus groups as ways to gather information. They learn about the difference between causal and correlational relationships and standard coding scales. By the end of the day, they have drafted a revised research plan.

Student Megan Knowles with her draft poster at the Naylor Workshop in September, 2015.

Sunday morning is, well, exciting. Students present their work. Their posters are printed for a gallery walk, and they deliver elevator pitches about their projects. One student presented on his research on middle school writers, which was so advanced and professional that Joyce told him, frankly, that she could see him as a future president of NCTE. In fact, our crystal ball on these students’ futures is quite clear: they are engaged in meaningful questions about writing. These are our future literacy educators.

Why are we so keen on undergraduate research? It has been deemed one among a small set of “high impact educational practices.” According to George D. Kuh, “The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.” Another researcher, David Lopatto cited the many benefits of undergraduate research: “Research experiences enhance intellectual skills such as inquiry and analysis, reading and understanding primary literature, communication, and teamwork. . . . Undergraduate researchers learn tolerance for obstacles faced in the research process, how knowledge is constructed, independence, increased self-confidence, and a readiness for more demanding research. These benefits are an advantage in any career path.”

The students we worked with drew their own conclusions about how they grew professionally, suggesting that the Naylor Workshop helped them

  • Learn inquiry strategies
  • Grapple with interesting questions
  • Develop professional relationships
  • Construct knowledge
  • Pursue disciplinary interests
  • Gain self-knowledge
  • Find new questions
  • Challenge themselves
  • Pursue their passions
  • Build self-confidence

The Naylor Workshop provides its scholars with an opportunity to move from intuitive understandings of their work as writing fellows, tutors, and/or writing majors toward a deeper knowledge of the methodologies of our discipline. They are joining the conversation through a supportive and challenging learning environment. We are so pleased to be part of this transformative experience.

About the Authors:

Jessie L. Moore served as the inaugural plenary speaker for the Naylor Workshop in 2014. She is the director for the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University (@CEL_Elon) and Associate Professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric.

 

Joyce Kinkead, Professor of English, Utah State University, was invited in that role for the 2015 Naylor Workshop. In addition to the leadership of Dominic DelliCarpini, we also acknowledge collaborator Megan Schoettler, who has assisted with the Naylor Workshop, beginning as an undergraduate at York and continuing as a graduate student at Miami University.

Broadening Perspectives with Multicultural & Multivoiced Stories for Adolescents

This post is written by members Kelly Byrne Bull and Jacqueline Bach, guest editors of the September issue of English Journal. 

In this issue, we explore how multicultural and multivoiced young adult literature engages classroom communities in meaningful discourse and broadens adolescents’ perspectives. Our cover artwork, Iris-Between-Worlds by Colleen Helie, embodies the poignancy of adolescence and the fluidity of conversations that encourage growth. Contributors to our themed issue bring to light stories that connect students with the personal and the global. As a result of our Call for Manuscripts, we noted that three categories emerged: bias and empathy; power and equity; and gender and sexuality.

Alluding to Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of mirrors and windows, several contributors carefully illustrate how empathy can break down biases. We appreciate Grice, Rebellino, and Stamper’s celebration of challenging the narrative status quo. In their article, they showcase lived experiences that have historically been overlooked but are explored through recent award-winning verse novels and graphic narratives. Building on this idea of diverse representation, Gilmore’s “Saying What We Don’t Mean” argues that teachers are responsible for offering students a variety of characters and situations so that students can grow and learn to recognize implicit bias. Similarly, Van Vaerenewyck’s “Aesthetic Readings of Diverse Literary Narratives for Social Justice” asserts that cultivating empathetic global citizens relies on all of us becoming better readers of diverse stories.

We noted how this call prompted contributors to explore issues of power and equity that are developed in YA texts. Malo-Juvera’s “A Postcolonial Primer with Multicultural YA Literature” illustrates how he introduces postcolonialism so that students can hone their abilities to interrogate normalized oppression and begin to read the world critically. Ginsberg, Glenn, and Moye also examine issues of power and equity in their article, “Opportunities for Advocacy.” The YA texts they feature center on identity denial and afford rich discussions about which identities are privileged or denied, affirmed or suppressed. Such exploration of power and equity is also central to Lillge and Dominguez’s thoughtful article, “Launching Lessons.” In it, they address incorporating divergent points of view in the English classroom and offer readers ideas for projects addressing social inequity and injustice.

Our contributors also challenge readers to include global and multivoiced expressions of gender and sexuality (if they are not already doing so) with contemporary texts. Hayne, Clemmons, and Olvey’s “Using Moon at Nine to Broaden Multicultural Perspectives” analyzes their experiences reading this love story between two young women in post-Shah Iran with their university students, while in “‘I Don’t Really Know What a Fair Portrayal Is and What a Stereotype Is’” Boyd and Bereiter remind readers of the importance of listening and learning from their students and trying new pedagogical approaches based on those relationships. Finally, Kedley and Spiering look at how voices and form convey multiple experiences of gender and sexuality in ELA classrooms.

Articles such as these are conversation-starters. We invite you to continue these conversations with your colleagues and students. Send us your ideas so that we may continue to broaden and deepen the conversation: Kelly Byrne Bull (kbull@ndm.edu), Jacqueline Bach (jbach@lsu.edu).

Works Cited

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.

 Kelly Byrne Bull is an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University, chair of NCTE’s Commission on the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature, and Maryland state representative for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.

 

Jacqueline Bach is the Elena and Albert LeBlanc Professor of English Education at Louisiana State University, a former editor of The ALAN Review (2009–2014), and a former high school English teacher. http://www.alan-ya.org/publications/the-alan-review/

What I’ve Learned about Being a Mentor

This post is written by member Karla Hilliard.

The breadth of a great mentor’s influence is immeasurable.

First there was Chuck Malone, our lead teacher and Obi-Wan. Chuck’s wisdom, wit, and intellect made him a mentor for the ages. Once during my first year of teaching, I tearfully entered Chuck’s office to say, “Ok, I taught my first novel. Now what?” Chuck was the calm blue sea in the turbulent waves of my first year in the classroom. His patience with a panicked first-year teacher deserves an award.

Then, there was Mr. Mooney, an intellectual, in-the-trenches teacher, who walked me under many, many conversational anvils. He questioned me, challenged me, and prodded me to explain my lessons, my reasoning, and my points of view. It was enlightening and it was annoying, and I couldn’t help but to become deeply reflective. Mooney was the best teacher I knew, so I emulated him, and I became an infinitely stronger, more intentional teacher because of him.

Later, there was Liz, a friend and colleague, someone I learned with and from. In our years of teaching together, it was our job to make meaning out of the reds, yellows, and greens of state assessments. We kept one another sane in the sea of spreadsheets and mandated “data driven instruction,” and we reminded one another that our students were not graphs and numbers, but the kids we loved.

And a few years ago, I met Jess, an amalgam of the best teacher mentors along the way. When we began teaching together, my own children were 4 and 2, and juggling my tiny tots and a demanding career was wearing me down. She said something I’ll never forget: “Our children watch us. We are showing them that we can make the world a better place.” Four years later, Jess and I have re-established the state affiliate for West Virginia, WVCTE, and my now 8-year-old says she wants to be just like me when she grows up. Jess was right. Cue the water works.

But now, going into Year 13 of teaching, I find myself with the shoe on the other foot. I teach in our school’s new STEAM Academy, and last summer three other teachers and I were tasked with building and implementing this academy by taking 80 students, our 4 classes of English, math, biology, and social studies, and preparing students for careers or education in STEAM fields.

I admit that when I realized that I’d been teaching for more years than my three colleagues combined, I was nervous. And it wasn’t because they lacked intelligence or charisma or empathy. They don’t—they’re awesome. I was nervous because I was suddenly in a new role—one that I hadn’t expected—that of the mentor, the sensei, the Obi-Wan.

We four STEAM Academy teachers were practically strangers, but I knew that if we were going to build this thing and build it right, we also needed to build a strong collaborative team and mindset.

But true collaboration doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and time, deep reflection, and consideration. It takes building something important together and sharing our lives with one another. It takes dealing with our problems and issues by being open, honest, and transparent. It requires commitment and purpose, and most importantly, it requires strong relationships with one another. To do all of this, I knew, would require mentoring. And what I learned last year as we worked together to build this academy is that to be a mentor I had to …

Be a friend. Just like in our classrooms, we must grow authentic relationships built upon trust and mutual respect. I needed to listen, to share, to laugh, and to be open with my colleagues.

Ask questions. We ask our students deep, probing questions to lead them to their own insights and understandings. When my colleagues sought out my help or opinion, I tried to do what was done for me—to ask questions like, “Why did you select this [text/activity/assessment]? What do you want your students to learn from this? How do you imagine this playing out? Why is this lesson important?” Asking questions helped my colleagues and I have a conversation instead of a “class.”

Model and share. Sometimes our students need to see us think through a task or hear how we might approach a tricky piece of poetry. Colleagues who turn to us for guidance need to see effective teacher habits modeled and learn how we approach a difficult student, design a lesson or activity, put up with the paperwork, or create community and inspire ownership in our classrooms. By modeling and sharing openly with our colleagues, we can all learn a little something.

Every great teacher I know learned the tricks of the teacher trade from a great mentor. Those of us lucky enough to have been mentored have had the opportunity to listen, reflect, and refine—to transform our practice and improve our craft. I owe it to my colleagues who are looking for guidance to pass along what wisdom I’ve collected over the years, and I owe it to myself and my students to continue to be mentored by the great teachers around me.

Karla Hilliard teaches STEAM Academy Honors English 10 and AP Literature and Composition in Berkeley County, West Virginia. She is the executive vice president of the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English. Connect with me on Twitter at @karlahilliard!