Category Archives: Literacy

jeffreywilhelmreading

Promoting the Pleasures of Reading: Why It Matters to Kids and to Country

This post is written by member Jeffrey Wilhelm. 

Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them was this past year’s winner of the NCTE David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in English Education.

The research findings that we report in Reading Unbound have profound implications for us as teachers, for our students, and for democracy.

 In our book, we argue that pleasure reading is a civil rights issue. Why? Because fine-grained longitudinal studies (e.g., the British Cohort study: Sullivan & Brown, 2013; and John Guthrie’s analysis of PISA data, 2004, among many others) demonstrate that pleasure reading in youth is the most explanatory factor in both cognitive progress and social mobility over time.

Pleasure reading is more powerful than parents’ educational attainment or socioeconomic status. This means that pleasure reading is THE way to address social inequalities in terms of actualizing our students’ full potential and overcoming barriers to satisfying and successful lives.

We think that our data explain why pleasure reading leads to cognitive growth and social mobility.

 The major takeaway for teachers is to focus on pleasure in our teaching. Pleasure has many forms: play pleasure/immersive pleasure, when you get lost in a book—this is a prerequisite pleasure and we can foster it in various ways, such as teaching with an inquiry approach, using drama and visualization strategies, etc.; work pleasure, where you get a functional and immediately applicable tool for doing something in your life; inner work pleasure, where you imaginatively rehearse for your life and consider what kind of person you want to be; intellectual pleasure, where you figure out what things mean and how texts were constructed to convey meanings and effects; and social pleasure, in which you relate to authors, characters, other readers, and yourself by staking your own identity. Kids (like all other human beings!) do what they find pleasurable. You get good at what you do and then outgrow yourself by developing new related interests and capacities.

wilhelmgraphicchart

Play pleasure develops the capacity to engage and immerse oneself, to visualize meanings and relate to characters. It is the desire to love and be loved. Work pleasure is the love of getting something functional done. Work pleasure is about the love of application and visible signs of accomplishment. Readers engaging in this pleasure cultivate transfer of strategies and insights to life. Inner work pleasure involves imaginatively rehearsing what kind of person one wants to be. As our informant Helen asserted: “It’s not really learning about yourself, it’s learning about what you could be . . . .” and “Characters are ways of thinking really . . . They are ways of being you can try on.”

Inner work is the love of transformation—of connecting to something greater, of striving to become something more. When our informants engaged in this pleasure, they expressed and developed a growth mindset and a sense of personal and social possibility.

Intellectual pleasure is pursued for the joy of figuring things out; it develops the capacity to see connections and solve problems. Our informants developed resilience, grit, and proactivity through the exercise of this pleasure. Erik Erikson argued that staking one’s identity is the primary task of early to late adolescence and that this is achieved through evolving interests and competence.

Social pleasure involves this human developmental project because it involves relating to authors, characters, other readers, and the self in ways that stake identity. Social pleasure is the love of connection—to the self, others, community, and to doing significant work together. This pleasure develops social imagination: the capacity to experience the world from other perspectives; to learn from and appreciate others distant from us in time, space, and experience; and the willingness to relate, reciprocate, attend to, and help others different from ourselves. In other words, it promotes cognitive progress, wisdom, wholeness, and the democratic project. In fact, all of the pleasures were found to do this.

Our data clearly establish that students gravitate to the kinds of books they need to navigate their current life challenges, and that many ancillary benefits accrue in the realms of cognition, psychology, emotional development, and socialness. So much so that we developed the mantra: Kids read what they need!

This finding led us to be more trusting of kids’ choices and to ask them about why they chose to read what they did, and eventually to championing these choices. We likewise found that each of the marginalized genres we studied (romance, horror, vampire, fantasy, and dystopia) provided specific benefits and helped students navigate different individual developmental challenges.

Our data also establish that young people are doing sophisticated intellectual work in their pleasure reading, much of it just the kind of work that the Common Core and other next generation standards call for. So making pleasure more central to our practice is not in conflict with working to achieve standards. Standards and all the other significant goals described here can be achieved if teachers value interpretive complexity as much as they do textual complexity, if they create inquiry contexts that reward entering a story world and doing psychological and social work in addition to more traditional academic goals, and if they provide opportunities for choice and meaningful conversation.

Given the benefits of each pleasure, we are convinced that pleasure reading is not only a civil right, it is a social necessity of democracy.

That is why we urge you to promote pleasure reading in your classroom and school, and it is why our book is filled with practical ideas for how to do so while promoting each of the five pleasures. It is monumental work—and it is work we must undertake with the greatest urgency—particularly at this moment in history.

Works Cited

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.

Guthrie, J. T., Schafer, W. D., & Huang, C. W. (2001). Benefits of opportunity to read and balanced instruction on the NAEP. Journal of Educational Research, 94, 145-162.

Kirsch, I., de Jong, J., LaFontaine, D., McQueen, J., Mendelovits, J., & Monseur, C. (2002). Reading for change: Performance and engagement across countries: Results from PISA 2000. Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved May 29, 2015 from http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33690904.pdf

Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. (2013). Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

Wilhelm, J. and Smith, M.W. (2014). Reading Unbound: Why kids need to read what they want and why we should let them. New York: Scholastic.

Jeffrey D. Wilhelm is Distinguished Professor of English Education at Boise State University who teaches and co-teaches middle and high school classes each year.  He is the author or co-author of 37 books about literacy teaching, the winner of the NCTE Promising Research Award, and two-time recipient of the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in English Education

climatechange2

Why Address Climate Change in the English Language Arts Classroom? Part II

This post is written by members Richard Beach and Allen Webb. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

Studying Language Use

The study of climate change is also an ideal topic for understanding the use of language, argumentation, and creative and persuasive writing. Though some politicians have succeeded in making climate change a partisan issue, climate change will impact people regardless of their politics.

English students can examine the use of language in public discussions, news reports, and the mass media. For example, in a CNBC interview, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, stated, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

In critiquing such statements, students could explore the larger social and political agendas behind Pruitt’s rejection of scientific research. Through critical inquiry, students can analyze Pruitt’s use of language, his climate denial, his interpretation of scientific “disagreement,” and investigate his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Given that our current lexicon for describing the experience of climate change effects may be inadequate, students could also create new concepts for describing climate change by noting examples from The Bureau of Linguistical Reality.

Critiquing and Transforming Systems Impacting Climate Change

Addressing climate change entails not only the transformation of individuals’ beliefs and attitudes regarding the need for change, but it also fosters the transformations of energy, economics, agriculture, and transportation systems dependent on fossil fuels. Making changes in these larger systems requires that students gain an understanding of the forces driving these systems as well as strategies and tools for arguing for changing these systems. For example, students can study the economic benefits of moving toward renewable energy and transportation options in their community to then make the case to their communities regarding increased use of renewables, increased development of bike lanes and mass transits, and subsidies for purchase of electric cars.

Students can also examine issues of climate justice related to the impacts of climate change on people of color and those living in poor countries who have little to no responsibility for causing the problem. Americans, who make up 4% of the world’s population, are responsible for 27% of all greenhouse gasses, and they continue to be the greatest polluters per capita. Students can address how this inequality and racism impacts the causes, impacts, and solutions related to climate change by accessing testimonials of survivors of climate change calamities, from Katrina to Syrian refugees, as well as how people in indigenous cultures engage in sustainable living.

Students can write, develop presentations, and use social media in their schools and communities to address these issues by examining their own, their school’s, and their community’s carbon footprint. As they gather evidence to support their claims for change or development of policies, students might use the Writing 4 Change platform that includes a collaborative whiteboard space and a media asset library for collaborative writing and feedback.

Summary

More than any other discipline, English language arts can help students think critically about climate change stories in personal, social, and moral contexts. The stakes for ourselves, and for our students, are too high to ignore climate change or leave consideration of it to others in less comprehensive disciplines.

We provide examples of English language arts teachers engaging their students in addressing climate change in our book, on our wiki website and in the ongoing blog, English Teachers Concerned about Climate Change. We invite your ideas and input to this wiki and blog. Join in to foster student understanding, engagement, and action on the greatest challenge facing the human race.

richard-beachRichard Beach is Professor Emeritus of English Education, University of Minnesota. He is author/co-author of 25 books on teaching English, including Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference (Routledge) and co-distributed by NCTE, that includes a resource website. Twitter: #rbeach

 

webb-allen-2Allen Webb is Professor of English Education and Postcolonial Studies at Western Michigan University, USA. He was a former high school teacher in Portland, Oregon. Allen has authored a dozen books, mostly about teaching literature for secondary teachers published by NCTE, Heinemann, and Routledge.  He has also been studying, teaching, and involved in political organizing on climate change for the last five years.  Currently, Allen teaches about climate change in literature, environmental studies, and English teaching methods classes. 

robertmeyers

Linguistic Prejudice and the Ultimate Public Good

This post is written by member Robert Meyer. 

In her recent New York Times Magazine article “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools? Nikole Hannah-Jones frames the current fight over school governance in the history of public education as the ultimate social contract and, at the same time, unending efforts by some of America’s wealthy to disengage from it. She cites the segregation academies of the 1950’s as the origin of today’s voucher movement and as an example of how, for many, racism undermined the public good.

Racism has long undermined equality and justice in public education for far too many people, as has, in a much more insidious way, linguistic discrimination. In her landmark book, English with an Accent, Rosina Lippi-Green defined it eloquently: “Accent discrimination can be found everywhere in our daily lives. In fact, such behavior is so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door stands wide open.” Dr. Wayne O’Neil also described “linguicism” in a 1997 Rethinking Schools article as the last “legitimate” prejudice and as a “thinly veiled racism.”

This form of racism is still prevalent today throughout our education system and in every part of the country. It expresses itself in the form of low expectations for children who are Standard English Learners (SELs). It is made manifest through correctionism, which has crippling consequences for students at every academic level, perhaps especially so for the more than five million SELs who either read at a below basic level or who are floundering their way through the primary grades now on that trajectory. This situation was essentially the same twenty years ago, and it will be the same twenty years from now unless something changes pedagogically.

Academics have investigated the relationship between SEL language differences and literacy outcomes for fifty years. They have implored educators (e.g., Lily Wong Fillmore and Catherine E. Snow’s “What Teachers Need to Know about Language”) to incorporate this knowledge into the classroom, yet linguistic understandings are still only just beginning to inform instruction. One would think that by now school district administrators would have the legal protection necessary to support SELs in educationally sound ways, certainly in the form of an SEL definition in education policy. But this has not occurred. And without that protection, district administrators seem powerless to do anything.

Linguicism has also not been explicitly confronted by groups advocating for education as a civil right. This is in effect helping prevent many of the students most underserved in literacy from becoming capable of fully participating civically and economically in the great American experiment. I believe the reason for this is that most adults, regardless of ethnicity, have been conditioned with some form or another of bias about the way SELs speak, write, and communicate, and that this makes conversations about language differences extraordinarily difficult to initiate.

If policymakers, school district administrators (and boards), and organizations won’t address this untouchable subject, who can? Who will? Hannah-Jones concludes in her article that a democratic response to Betsy DeVos’s policies has the potential to reaffirm the public ideal – individual by individual. Perhaps institutionalized linguicism will end only as each educator explores his or her own personal biases. Promisingly, this grassroots movement is in evidence at NCTE. This is the only place in regular education where it seems to be happening. ELA teachers are discovering (and reporting at conferences) educationally sound ways to better meet the instructional needs of SELs. School administrators need to know about this because linguistically responsive teaching is essential to academic success for SELs – the students most underserved in literacy. Only such innovations in pedagogy can help educators finally close our long-standing achievement gaps.

Robert Meyer is publisher of Ventris Learning of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. 

literacy

Connecting Families to What Is Happening in Schools

literacyAs educators, we understand the shifts we are making in our own practices. It’s important to think about how these changes are being communicated to families. What is essential to share? It seems best to keep it simple. Better yet, our challenge is to show not tell as we involve families in the literacy learning happenings within our schools on an ongoing basis.

Here’s a group of educators that didn’t need to tell families about the importance of reading and writing more complex texts across the disciplines because they are showing it:

  • Meet third-grade teacher, Bev Gallagher. She made notebooking a regular part of her instructional practices. These notebooks will become a treasured part of each child’s school career long after third grade.
  • Julie Wollman, a ReadWriteThink.org and NCTE author, shows us how to get started with family message journals as a means for students to write to an authentic audience about their learning.
  • Because the ways we teach writing are often quite different from the ways most of our students’ parents learned to write, it is important to think about productive ways to get families involved as strong allies for excellent writing instruction. The authors of “Inviting Parents In: Expanding Our Community Base to Support Writing” describe workshops and other methods for getting parents productively involved in their children’s literacy development.
  • Watch as a parent who is in a Community of Practice with teachers shares what it means to learn, talk, and design activities as a full CoP member with teachers.

Join us over at ReadWriteThink.org on the Parent & Afterschool Resources site for engaging ways to introduce children to reading or to encourage teens to write. Need some age-appropriate book suggestions or rainy day activities? These materials are your answer—all of them created by experts to be fun, educational, and easy to use outside of school.

What role do parents and families play in your school?

jonnaperillofakenews

Real Teaching in a Time of Fake News

This post is written by NCTE historian Jonna Perillo. 

You may have noticed the attention that fake news is receiving in the English classroom. A 2016 Stanford study revealed that today’s K–12 students, while digitally literate in many senses, lack the ability to distinguish fake news from real, instead trusting whatever source confirms their existing beliefs. Motivated by classroom experiences that echo the Stanford findings, educators are rethinking many of the traditional methods and mantras of teaching students to evaluate news sources and developing more sophisticated means of teaching media literacy and the evaluation skills that will benefit students in many aspects of their lives in and outside of school.

Fake or misleading news is nothing new. Nor is teachers’ advocacy around the issue. In the midst of World War II, NCTE took on Reader’s Digest for what some journalists and teachers saw as the magazine’s unspoken rightward bent. The stakes were high: the magazine’s circulation jumped from 4 to 9 million during the war.  In addition, it sold millions of copies of its school edition to classrooms across the nation.

Critics of the Digest, including teacher and NCTE member Samuel Beckhoff, reproached the journal for republishing conservative news sources far more often than liberal ones, including a high percentage of articles that were anti-New Deal, anti-labor, and anti-United Nations.[1] The NCTE Committee on Newspapers and Magazines was charged with investigating the Digest further.  It seconded many of Beckhoff’s findings, but the NCTE Executive Committee overrode its report in November 1944, in part because the magazine by that time had responded to the organization’s criticisms.  In the months since the investigation began, the school edition changed to include a more balanced selection of articles and a more complete list of further recommended readings. The Digest had become a better resource for “an education program which aim[ed] to develop fair-mindedness and straight thinking on controversial questions.”[2]

What the Executive Committee did not address was what made the Digest so attractive to many teachers and problematic to others: its abridging and republishing of primary news sources.  It assembled a wider collection of readings than any other news publication in the pre-Internet age, but it also offered, in Beckhoff’s terms, “precooked and predigested” news that allowed readers to “relax into a comfortable groove.”[3] This may have been the experience millions of Americans were looking for in their recreational reading, but it could present a challenge to teachers trying to form more alert and thoughtful students.

The story of NCTE and Reader’s Digest anticipated what teachers struggle with today: students who read only partial versions of stories or events without fully realizing it, who forget to question what is left out of any account, and who approach their sources with unearned trust rather than a critical eye. NCTE’s strategy then was to change the source; today we look to change the reader.

The good news is that studies have shown that teachers who invest time working on media literacy with their students produce readers who are 26% more likely to be able to discern fake news from real. Sources that end in .edu or .gov always can be trusted, right? Wrong. Teachers are working on ever more specific ways of thinking about how information gets reported and circulated, how evidence gets used or exploited, and how Internet search engines organize news stories in ways that can mislead passive readers. If the percentage of students who gain from these lessons is still lower than many of us would like, the quality of instruction teachers have developed around the issue is to be applauded, adopted, and further adapted.

As in the 1940s, there is a need for broader NCTE action against fake news.  NCTE has already begun to advertise teachers’ best work in this area.  It can be additionally helpful in connecting teachers to the resources news organizations are producing. But NCTE must also stand as a collective voice and advocate for media literacy. Most academic standards address media literacy, but often in ways that are too cursory for the challenge at hand. Too often teachers limit instruction in evaluating sources to a single research assignment rather than a regular practice, something that is unlikely to make an impact. Teachers must have the room, resources, and, perhaps most important, preparation to address fake news in the English classroom, and NCTE is well-suited to argue why this is and how to get there.

At a time when the curriculum is narrowing, arguing for more is no small achievement, even if we understand that the end result will yield better readers and writers. But if a political and media culture in which seemingly anything goes has shown us anything, it is that we must argue for more instruction in media literacy with conviction all the same.

[1] Samuel Beckhoff, “The Rainbow,” English Journal 32.6 (June 1943), 325–330.

[2] Board of Directors Meeting Minutes, November 1944, p. 293, Series 15/70/001, National Council of Teachers of English Archives.  Other documents related to the Reader’s Digest debate can be found on the NCTE archives webpage: https://archives.library.illinois.edu/ncte/about/december.php#1944.

[3] Beckhoff, 325.

Jonna Perrillo is associate professor of English education at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of Uncivil Rights: Teachers, Unions, and the Battle for School Equity.