Category Archives: Literacy

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?

POST TRUTH? POST TRUST? Why Students Really Need a Civics Education

This post is written by member Susan Ellenberg.

The emphasis on core academics has seen a steady increase over the past number of years, but a discipline that has disappeared nearly entirely from our students’ curriculum is an education that emphasizes an understanding of citizenry: not only how government works at each level, but why engagement with the political process is critical. Students, as well as the rest of us, need to understand what social and economic interests are addressed by different levels and branches of government and the implications of a lack of engagement. Related valuable skills to hone include the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, discern the validity of sources, and engage in civil dialogue with those who hold divergent views.

Pundits and others claim that we have moved to a “post truth” era. Of course, there can be no such thing. Truth simply IS. I argue we are in a “post trust” era, wherein it is acceptable to dismiss facts simply by asserting that one doesn’t believe them: the concepts, the sources, or the implications. Without a doubt, the curious intellectual can be hard pressed to find truth. Much of the “news” on traditional and social media has a clear bias and intentionally—by inclusion, omission, or emphasis—creates a narrative in line with a particular predetermined worldview. Stanford University researchers recently released a study, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning,” that found that students from middle school through college had a difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction. Middle school students had trouble distinguishing advertisements from news stories. High school students reading about gun laws did not notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee. And college students failed to look beyond a dot-org URL to inquire about the potential biases of authors of a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. In every case and at every level, the researchers “were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.”

The link between digital literacy and citizenship is strong: it is imperative that students learn to read and think critically and analytically. In order to teach those skills, they must have a lens through which to analyze information they read: they must have a strong understanding of how government works and comprehend the duties and responsibilities of citizenship* with regard to each other as members of a political body and to the government that is supposed to represent them.

How can we accomplish this? Public school instructional minutes are nuggets of gold and counted just as carefully, so simply adding a civics class to grade level curricula is not the best option. Fortunately, Common Core does allow for some flexibility in content and proscribed skills can be mastered through a wide variety of content. School districts might consider any of the following options to promote civic engagement and related digital literacy.

  • Integrate aspects of civics at every grade level through social studies and history classes.
  • Adopt critical analysis as an interdisciplinary skill and integrate it within every area of study.
  • Focus student government and leadership classes on a civics curriculum as part of the work they do in school leadership.
  • Incorporate digital literacy across subject disciplines.
  • Award community service credits for participation in extracurricular civics lessons or internships in government offices.
  • Develop and offer elective credits for participation and completion of a summer civics program.
  • Expand opportunities for student participation in programs such as mock trials and Model United Nations.
  • Ensure that student government organizations are empowered to make decisions that have impact.
  • Focus on the intentional development of empathy as the cornerstone to civil, respectful conversation

Finding a way to increase civic engagement and digital literacy among our youth is quickly gaining favor. Currently, the nonprofit organization Civics Education Initiative is leading a grassroots effort to encourage state legislators to enact, as a condition for high school graduation, a requirement that students pass a test on 100 basic facts from US history and civics culled from the United States Citizenship Civics Test. Other organizations such as Center for Civic Education offer sample curricula. The Stanford History Education group is also creating civics resources for educators.

The experience of the 2016 election, not just the result, but the lack of meaningful conversation and factual accountability, as well as the very low voter turnout and lack of understanding of the implications of not voting, galvanizes me to work for meaningful change in this arena, both within my school district and across my broader community. Our future depends on this.

*In this context, I do not mean “citizenship” as the formal, legal description of status, but as an engaged member of a community.

Susan Ellenberg has worked as an attorney, an educator, and a community advocate. She is committed to strengthening her community and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to succeed. Susan currently serves as Vice President of the San Jose Unified School District Board of Trustees. 

2017 NCTE Annual Convention Updates

This week the Convention Preview started hitting everyone’s mailboxes, and it has been so exciting to watch the enthusiasm grow for our upcoming event. We’re only 12 weeks away! In the days to come, you can expect regular updates; today Jocelyn Chadwick and I wanted to tell you about some of the behind-the-scenes things we’ve got underway.

Safe Travel

Travel safety is one project I’ve been hard at work on with the CEO of Explore St. Louis (the city’s convention & visitors bureau).  Last week they agreed to underwrite a hefty portion of the fees for shuttle service for all attendees to and from the St. Louis airport. All 2017 NCTE Convention attendees will be offered the opportunity to book an insured shuttle service for $10 one way, $20 round trip. Reservations must be made by 11/13 for adequate fleet planning. The negotiated shuttle provider is GoBest, and you can secure your ride here.

Additionally, Explore St. Louis plans to have volunteers stationed at the largest convention hotels to offer local information and share walking directions. Volunteers will also be stationed at the St. Louis Airport to welcome arriving attendees and offer orientation information.

Explore St. Louis is working closely with us, understanding our concerns. Here’s a message from their president, Kitty Ratcliffe: “We’re committed to making sure NCTE convention attendees feel safe and welcome in our city.”

Local Engagement Committee

NCTE members responded affirmatively to the call for volunteers to serve on the local engagement committee. The NCTE Executive Committee held a special meeting this week, online, to collaborate on next steps. The Presidential Team has created a draft of the committee’s charge and, after EC review, will move forward. Smart, holistic, and deliberate ideas have been brought forward for consideration. We can anticipate this committee coming up with strategies for engaging with local schools, addressing the policy issues at play in the state, and more.

We’re happy to have Aldophus Pruitt, the president of the St. Louis NAACP, on the committee. Last week he said, “The more we get to know NCTE, the more important we believe it is that you come to St. Louis, Missouri. We have a lot to offer one another. This is the beginning of an important partnership.”

Through this process, it has become clear that having a local engagement committee should be a regular feature of all future convention sites, and the Presidential Team is working to formalize that commitment.

Here is what Jocelyn has to share: 

As Program Chair and part of the leadership within NCTE, my work is driven by NCTE’s mission and strategic plan. In preparation for this Convention, I’ve leveraged this work with the Council, as well as work I’ve done through Harvard, to support members and students with a focus on inclusion and empowerment. Here is what that looks like in action.

I’ve been visiting and collaborating with ELA teachers (MS/HS/College) and working with students in their classrooms—in person and digitally—in preparation for November.

One partnership I’m very excited about is with Lift for Life Academy in St. Louis. You can read more about that work in this blog post. I have promised the students at this school that I will visit in November prior to Convention, and I look forward to doing so.

While some of this work has focused on Missouri, this map shows all the other states (and one Canadian province) whose classrooms I will have worked with by the Convention:

My projects with these classrooms represent a blending of on-the-ground and digital collaboration and teaching—all of which epitomize NCTE’s aim to provide support, resources, research, and examples to teachers and students to foment lifelong literacy. You can look forward to seeing the fruits of these collaborations on display in November.

I have also begun a new project with Jimmy Santiago Baca, American Book Award–winning poet, and two directors of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on a literacy pilot in El Paso, Texas. This work focuses on literacy not only for the incarcerated individuals in the pilot program, but also provides similar conversations and gatherings for their families and especially their children.

As program chair, a priority for me this year has been seeking the involvement of members who have never been “tapped” before to volunteer their time, expertise, and effort to committees, panels, and the work of NCTE. I am joined by the Executive Committee and Executive Director in this pursuit. Our aim has been and continues to be that membership knows NCTE belongs to them and leadership supports them and their students. It has been energizing to see so many new voices step forward to be part of this work.

All of this is replicable, and it is my hope that the foundations laid at this Convention set the stage for more work of this nature moving forward. Stay tuned for more good news. We can’t wait to see you all in St. Louis!

Leveraging Librarians

This post is written by member Oona Abrams, editor of English Leadership Quarterly

 When I was seventeen years old, my (not so) secret wish was to be cast as Marian the Librarian in New Trier High School’s 1992 production of The Music Man. Really, what was there not to love about Marian Paroo? She was the stunning beneficiary of all the books in River City’s library, single, self-sufficient, uncompromising, and unapologetic about her high standards—in short, my heroine.

Par for the course in my high school theater career, I was cast as Marian’s mother. Meh. Mrs. Paroo wasn’t a fan of Marian’s high standards. She wanted her daughter to “manage her expectations” when it came to both books and romance. But Marian was stubborn. She could see through all the pretense of her persistent gentleman caller, Harold Hill. And in the end, by keeping both her standards high and her heart open, she helped Harold discover the most authentic and successful version of himself. While I never got to play the role of Marian the Librarian, I will always share her passion for books and high standards.

This past April, I chaperoned a field trip to the New York Public Library. The CHS Book Club went on a tour with one of the docents there, and it struck me how enraptured the students were. They were stunned by the volumes of periodicals, by the amount of information that is physically stored in one place. And, like most book lovers, they adored the gift shop. It was tough to get them back on the bus, but the enticement of visiting two NYC bookstores did the trick. Of course the architecture and design of NYPL are awe inspiring, but in addition to those details, our students were in awe of the quiet places held sacred there. It reminded me of some of those scenes in the River City library when Harold Hill is scolded for raising his voice, and it certainly stood in contrast to our school library, where students rush in droves during their study hall periods to collaborate—often loudly.

In addition to following rock-star librarians like John Schumacher, Elissa Malespina, and Joyce Valenza on social media, I’m fortunate to have two librarian friends with whom I have regular contact. Mike Curran, who is my school’s LMS, and Susie Highley, a science teacher turned LMS from Indiana. I talk with Susie almost every day on Voxer. She is my first resource for everything from the latest tech tips to a book recommendation for myself, a student, or a family member. I see Mike almost every day as well—he is a steward of learning and a navigator of change in our LMC. As I write this, our library is being redesigned. At the beginning of every marking period, I send Mike a list of titles I’d love to see the school library carry, and he always manages to get them. And they don’t go up on a shelf—he has them displayed in the front hallways and at the entrance of the library. Every time I begin a new unit (memoir, argument, narrative nonfiction), Mike has a cart of books at the ready for my students to peruse. He brings it down to my classroom, allows students to check them out from there, and keeps a running list of titles on our library database for my future reference. This past spring, Mike spread the word about the 2017 NerdCampNJ among his community of librarians, which resulted in a strong cohort coming to share their expertise with literacy leaders. And then, of course, there are my town librarians. I often joke that I’m as popular with them when I walk in the door as Norm is on Cheers (“Oonz!”)

Librarians play several roles, but the most important one is modeling the inquiry and curiosity that we most want to see in our students and in ourselves. And here is the part where I feel like a bit of a fraud, because there are many years in my career when I simply did not take my students to the library at all, when there was either “not the time” to do it or I settled for a source that came up in a Google search instead of encouraging students to take a deeper dive into databases; when a newborn at home and too many papers to grade meant that I did not take the high road like Marian and instead took the path of least resistance, like Mrs. Paroo; when the librarian in the high school I worked in was just not someone as warm and invitational as Mike or Susie and as such was not someone with whom I wanted to “play nice.” Have you been in this spot too? I sure hope I’m not alone in my confession here.

Throughout the August issue of ELQ, you’ll see that the authors of the articles, like Marian the Librarian, have kept their standards high and their hearts open. They have passion for helping educators and learners on their journeys, and they are “future-ready.” I hope you enjoy the issue as much as I have as I’ve worked on it. As a new school year approaches (or, in some states, begins!), may we all be inspired to collaborate in the ways we see modeled in these authors’ stories.

Oona Marie Abrams has been a high school English teacher since 1996. Editor of English Leadership Quarterly, Abrams has also been selected as an Emerging Leader Fellow by the Council on English Leadership (CEL). She resides in Bergen County, New Jersey with her husband and four sons.

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: The Last Word

Before I begin my tour of the museums here in DC, I want to take a minute to extend my utmost gratitude to a few people. First, the NCTE team in the DC office, Jenna Fournel and Lu Ann McNabb, for being gracious and welcoming. I will miss our little office camaraderie. Second, my family. I was only able to have this incredible experience only because of the support of my amazing mother-in-law, who came down to DC to watch the kids for three weeks, and my sweet parents, who flew out for grandparent duty for the remainder of the time. Finally, my darling husband, who has been alone at home with a screaming cat for over a month. My deepest thanks to you all.

It’s tough to explain to a twelve-year-old the sheer power of words. Ironically, words don’t do themselves justice. As I made my way around the sights in DC, I found myself constantly in awe of the words all around me and the way in which they have shaped, and continue to shape, our country. Below is a collection of my thoughts, lesson ideas, and reflections on five museums, in the order in which I viewed them.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As a teacher of the Diary of a Young Girl, the Holocaust is a topic I discuss with eighth graders every year. The main exhibit experience begins with a large group of people packed into a steel elevator, that makes you instantly uncomfortable. When you exit, you are met with videos taken during concentration camp liberation, and a giant photograph of burnt corpses. The silence in the museum is overwhelming. Two areas in particular spoke to me. The first was the section on propaganda. This year I would like to have students analyze the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels to answer a common question: Why were people angry at Jewish people? How did Goebbels use words to confuse and deceive? The second section I found interesting was about the League of German Girls. During our unit study, we cover Hitler Youth, but I didn’t know about its female counterpart. Finally, I have tried researching contemporary genocides in the past, but I would like to revisit that this year. The USHMM website has a rich library of educator resources, including a couple of interesting professional learning opportunities.

National Museum of American History

I uncovered a few neat ideas here. Most important is Wonderplace, a super awesome play space complete with a climbing structure, and kitchen with fake fruit, and the Spark!Lab where kids can be inventors and make stuff.  Kiddos were happy for hours. The exhibit Many Voices, One Nation made me think, How do the words of many people, across time, unite to form a country? I could have my students look at the works of the authors we study, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Wright, Daniel Keyes, and whoever else gets tossed in there this year-to see how each of their unique voices became a part of the narrative of America.

Executive Order 9066 got me thinking about how words can used to strip people of their liberties.

I also saw Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, which resulted in the removal of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. Another question to pose to students: How have people used words to deprive others of their freedoms? (Check out the Smithsonian’s History Explorer for educator resources. You can search by grade level, time period and/or subject you teach.)

Folger Shakespeare Library
Life imitating art. The exhibit had cute interactive elements.

I’ve been a fan of these guys since I met them at NCTE’s Annual Convention in 2014. I’ve used their incredible resources for teaching Shakespeare, and they also offer professional learning opportunities,  including a month-long stay here in DC to study Shakespeare in depth. Of course I had to visit! The current exhibit showcased paintings of Shakespeare, the man himself and the scenes from the plays. The library is home to the largest collection of Shakespeare works, as well as other rare Renaissance works. Since I took the tour, I got to peek in the reading room. Swoon. During the tour, our guide mentioned that Shakespeare was not wholly original and that he took many of his stories from other authors. How can words be refashioned into something new and exciting?  On an unrelated note, while at Folger I enjoyed learning about Project Dustbunny, dirt from the gutters of books analyzed for past readers’ DNA – wild.

First Folio! First Folio!
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The abolitionist paper, The North Star, was founded by Frederick Douglass. My kids will love seeing the actual paper.

This museum is the newest, opening in September 2016. I noticed a few different ways in which words were important, especially for someone who teaches Richard Wright’s, Black Boy. First, Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal were on display. Both struck me, and I thought, How do people find strength and comfort in words during times of pain and turmoil? I look forward to examining this question with my students; it’s a topic that pairs nicely with Anne Frank finding solace in books.

Finding comfort in words can be a common thread throughout history.

Alongside the reading of Black Boy, my students and I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. A question for my students will be, How can we use words to fight for change? This question will be especially useful as we follow Wright on his journey of discovering how authors used words to fight against racism.


The California paper posted outside the day I visited.

The Newseum “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” Tons of great ideas here! Around the outside of the museum are front pages from each of the fifty states and around the world. What a great activity for teaching media literacy. I want to pull the day’s headlines from three papers and have students analyze the differences. How can we use the same words to paint a different picture? There was also a neat exhibit on each of the five freedoms. This might be interesting to explore as my students learn about the Bill of Rights in social studies. How are the words of the past relevant today? I want to explore the modern issues relating to each of the five freedoms.

This exhibit poses the question, what freedoms do students have at school?

There was also really cool display about the rights of students, which I know mine will enjoy talking about, especially the parts on dress code. A question I will ask is, How can you use words to fight for what you believe in?

And now I, NCTE’s 2017 Kent B. Williamson Policy Fellow, am signing off. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed the journey. Please contact me, I’d love to connect and chat. Peace.