Category Archives: Literacy

#NCTEchat: Teaching Controversial Works of Literature

Hosted by: Jim Brooks, @TeachGoodThings


#nctechat: Teaching Controversial Works of Literature Feb. 19 8pm ET

Join us for a lively conversation about the challenging texts we choose to use in the classroom. Here are the questions we’ll discuss:

Q1 How do you select the texts you teach your students?

Q2 When is a text “controversial”?

Q3 What strategies have you found useful for exploring these texts in class?

Q4 How have you seen students benefit from grappling with controversial texts?

Q5 What supports do you find you need to teach such texts well?

Q6 How do you talk with parents / guardians / admin about the texts you use in class?

Q7 What’s one text that you’d like to learn how to teach and why?

Jim Brooks, host of #NCTEchat "Teaching Controversial Works of Literature" Jim Brooks is the language arts department chair at West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek, NC.  Among his many teaching accolades, he was the 2008 recipient of the NCTE Media Literacy Award.

NCTE Citizenship Campaign, February Focus: Black History Month

handsonglobeThe following post was written by members of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

February—Black History Month—offers an opportunity to encourage good citizenship when it comes to issues surrounding race while still meeting your content standards. To encourage personal citizenship1, discuss with students how they can be friends with and support peers from backgrounds different from their own. Their everyday interactions with people are a way of being a good citizen.

To help students be participatory citizens, have them look at the history of laws and/or current laws and policies that may be unfair to people of color or of different faiths. When it comes to justice-oriented citizenship, students could be asked to analyze and think critically about the laws and policies they looked at before and come up with a variety of solutions.

Grades K–5

For students at this younger age, we think it’s important to encourage them to maintain friendships with children outside their race or religion. Have class discussions about what it means to be a good friend and why it can be a good thing to have friends who are different from you.

Books to consider: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson or Across the Alley by Richard Michelson

Grades 6–8

Middle school is an age where friendships can be complicated. It’s a great time to discuss with students how they choose friends. At this age they can start to think critically about whether or not their friend group is diverse and why. In addition to thinking about friendship you can have students conduct a mini research project. They can look through their curriculum and see how many black or nonwhite authors they have read in class, or people they have learned about in history, science, or math. This is a great way to look at your own curriculum and see who is represented and to consider why. Students can continue with the research project from the participatory citizen activity above and discuss and analyze their findings. They can determine whether or not they think there is an issue and write an argumentative paper as to why there is or isn’t. Perhaps if they all think there is an issue, they can come up with ways to fix it.

Book to consider: Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper

Grades 9–12

In high school students are being asked to do more critical thinking and analysis. Consider having your students examine your school’s dress code. Is it fair to people of all races? Genders? Why or why not? Can they write a proposal for a revised dress code if it isn’t? A research project looking at a person of color would be a great project too. You can use a nonfiction anchor text to help students write the paper while still working on reading skills.

Books to consider:

Other Ideas from


  1. As in our previous post, we draw on the three types of citizens proposed by Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne in their article “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy” (American Educational Research Journal, Summer 2004, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 237-269): personally responsible citizens, participatory citizens, and justice-oriented citizens.


They Can, but They Don’t.

This post is written by member Mark Condon. 

markcondonI read this morning in Lu Ann McNabb’s NCTE blog about an effort in Michigan to sue the governor and state educational officials. The plaintiffs argue that the governor and the state’s education officials had “denied students their constitutional right to literacy.”

The habits, skill sets, and inclination needed to take on the challenges in Lifelong Learning is the overarching goal of the good education. That’s at least the spirit to which so many Americans pay lip service. That grand set of human capabilities, not a test score above a certain number, really should be our target.

 Literacy is then the foundation for children building such a life of learning and participation in the personal, civic and academic issues of their times. Educating children in such a way that kids drop-out or grad-out without being fully and actively literate is arguably a breach of contract between the schools and the populations they claim to serve.

Let’s be clear. Teaching reading and writing, which is what we do, are not the same as teaching children TO READ and TO WRITE. To read and write are to fully embrace all of the possibilities of literacy and actually and actively DO personally fulfilling reading and writing. So, patting ourselves on the back for educating children when so few continue to read and grow in breadth and depth of understanding of the complexities of life on earth after their formal schooling has ended is self-delusion.

We place shackles on teachers, requiring them to spend all their time teaching children reading and writing. We do this without even bring up the expectation that we’ll teach the children TO READ or TO WRITE, meaning to fully understand the WHY of literacy. To read and write is to actively inquire, to pursue answers to their own questions throughout life, and then to proudly share their discoveries and perspectives. It seems that even once we establish that a child can read and write, we utterly disregard whether the child is inclined to ever do so, resulting in a growing population of aliterates.

They could if they wanted to. They just don’t. We call that an education?

I’m not sure that declaring literacy to be an inalienable right is the answer to getting out of the corner into which we’ve painted ourselves, but it might be a start.

Mark Condon has classroom experience in elementary, middle and high schools. He has prepared new teachers and reading specialists for 31 years at the University of Louisville. Mark has consulted in Malawi and South Africa and with five native American tribes’ schools. He works with bilingual translators creating narrations of English books for the free, online Unite for Literacy library of picture books for new readers.

Is Literacy a Fundamental Right?

On September 13, 2016, a group of Detroit parents filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Michigan Governor Richard Snyder and state education officials claiming that the “State of Michigan denies children their constitutional right to literacy.”

According to the suit, “Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to the Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy. Literacy is fundamental to participation in public and private life and is the core component in the American tradition of education. But by its actions and inactions, the State of Michigan’s systemic, persistent, and deliberate failure to deliver instruction and tools essential for access to literacy in Plaintiffs’ schools, which serve almost exclusively low-income children of color, deprives students of even a fighting chance.”

Co-counsel Kathryn Eidmann noted that this is the first case in federal court to argue that there is a “right to access literacy under the US Constitution’s 14th amendment.” The lawsuit lists crumbling buildings, the proliferation of charter schools, school closures, insufficient staff, books, and resources, and the hiring of noncredentialed teachers as contributing to students receiving the most basic education. The lawsuit asks the federal court to provide “evidence-based literacy instruction in every grade level.”

The State of Michigan has declared that “no fundamental right to literacy exists” for Detroit students, finding that “literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution.”

According to Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, a law professor at the University of Richmond specializing in education equity, that should the plaintiffs prevail, a fundamental right to literacy would extend to all public school students in the United States. She continued, “The biggest challenge will be establishing what the scope of the right should be. If you say there’s a right to literacy, is it right to 12th-grade literacy? It’s important to set a robust right. If they set the floor low, it will be a very limited right.”

The lawsuit raises fascinating questions, and we welcome your thoughts. Do you believe literacy is a fundamental right? If so, how would you define literacy or a literate student? Do you believe literacy crosses all subjects and all grade levels? How would you define literacy in early childhood? The middle grades? Secondary? Post-secondary? Does it include diversity in scope of geography? Gender? Race and ethnicity? Sexual orientation?

We invite you to offer your perspective, either through comments posted on this page or in a blog submitted to We look forward to the dialogue!