Category Archives: Literacy

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.

handsonglobe

Honoring Trailblazing Women

Global Citizenship Campaign for March

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

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave—to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

—Malala Yousafzai

As the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship continues to consider ways in which teachers, students, and community members can increase our knowledge of what it means to be a global citizen, we turned to the status of girls and women for the month of March. In the United States, March serves as Women’s History Month, and the theme for Women’s History Month 2017 is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”

There are many trailblazing women to admire, and thus on a personal level, girls might be encouraged to consult biographies of women who have made a difference in the world of business and labor. Understanding what encompasses both business and labor would be a great start for girls in elementary and middle school, while addressing explicit ways young women might enter the world of business and labor would make for great teaching at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

The National Women’s History Project website is a great resource for learning more about female leaders throughout time. Nominations for this year’s honorees include Kate Mullany, who, in 1845, began the first all-women labor union, and Lucy Parsons Gonzales, who founded the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905.

In discussions about women’s history, exemplars of strong voices who disrupt the status quo can be found in clips from biographies on series such as PBS’s “American Masters”. This month ABC’s “When We Rise,” addresses issues of gender and gender advocacy and offers another great way to encourage students to become familiar with positive avenues for equity.

As transgender equity seems threatened, emailing congressional representatives as well as school board representatives and school district administrators about supporting transgendered students is one action students can take. Talking about such issues and the historic actions taken in the past to protect other underrepresented groups is equally important.

Using biography projects (see Pinterest and Scholastic) or encouraging innovations through inquiry projects that would make a change in people’s lived experiences (see The Better India and edTechTeacher), young people have a path to action. Inviting students to become participants in organizations such as Girl Up or Disrupt and Innovate can help them see that they can be the change we want to see in the world.

march2017englishjournal

Preview of English Journal: Black Textual Expressivities, Guest Edited by David Kirkland

The following post is by Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, NCTE members and editors of English Journal.

Finding love in a hopeless place. This is an inversion of a post by Tressie McMillan Cottom, who blogged about the November 2016 election that resulted in Donald J. Trump being named president of the United States. The post, titled “Finding Hope in a Loveless Place,” reveals the deep knowledge that oppression and racism impart, a kind of knowledge that yields erasure, decimates hope, and yet inspires continuous struggle. How can we find love in a hopeless place? How can we seed hope in a national soil saturated in the blood of the oppressed?

We must ask such essential questions before they can ever be answered, but the asking is hard, lonely, uncomfortable yet courageous work. As English teach­ers, we understand that language and text are embod­ied tools that can serve either oppression or freedom. Spoken and written words reflect power and foment resistance, and schools—as political institutions— can proliferate oppression or nurture hope.

Hope, however, is not an innocent concept. As an expectation to those for whom hope in our existing system is irrational, hope is hypocritical. It becomes what Cottom calls “transactional hope,” and she argues that hopelessness is superior to transactional hope:

My hopelessness is faith in things yet seen and works yet done. Hopelessness is necessary for the hard work of resisting tyranny and fascism. It is the precondition for sustained social movements because history isn’t a straight line. It is a spinning top that eventually moves forward but also always goes round and round as it does. Those erasers applied post-mortem confuse us to this, blind us to the defeats that will come and ill prepare us for the reality that most of what we believe in will not come to pass in our lifetimes. A transactional hope is anathema to social progress.

In this issue, guest edited by David E. Kirkland, we seek to continue the struggle for hope. We are honored to share the work of authors who gener­ate and engage with texts that have risen from the soil of bondage and execution. These texts invite us to rethink the myths of meritocracy and inclu­sion. They are written with the blood and bones of people who forged their own ways to read and write, while being prohibited from literacy learn­ing, and for whom school achievement has required rejection of cultural values. In this issue, we aim to raise questions and to listen for questions that are not raised, because often the binding of a text excludes perspectives. We aspire to scrutinize the margins, give voice to the silenced, and read deeply between the lines. We plan to press the “undo” key until erasures are visible on the page and voices of students, families, and ancestors are amplified. And we dig into difficult texts to cultivate hope through language and action, and through the action of lan­guage. Hope grows as we struggle together.

As English teachers who will help students discover and hone the tools of literacy that will ei­ther oppress or empower, we ask that you open your heart to the challenges of this issue, and we hope that you will find love there.

Work Cited

Cottom, Tressie McMillan. “Finding Hope in a Loveless Place.” tressiemc. 27 Nov. 2016. https://tressiemc.com /uncategorized/finding-hope-in-a-loveless-place/

JulieGorlewskiJulie Gorlewski is chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

DavidGorlewskiDavid Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on literacy and professional dispositions.  Both are former English teachers and members of NCTE, Julie since 2004 and David since 2001.