Category Archives: Literature

kellytumy

READ the Map!

This post is written by member Kelly Tumy.

Young adult literature has earned a place in secondary classrooms, but are we doing enough to recognize the different elements in this genre, allowing students to experience the complete book?  Examining what YA authors do when they create maps to use in their narrative spaces and taking time to really read a map will open new avenues for every kind of reader in our classrooms. Have you ever really looked at a map? I mean, really looked at it, and not just looked at it, but examined it, READ it? YA authors have, and their maps have real purpose linked to their narratives that is just waiting to be discovered.

I had the opportunity to develop and present a workshop this year with a geography professor from the University of Houston-Clear Lake—Dr. Jeffrey Lash—who opened my eyes to the wonders of maps. I had always been curious about why maps were included in many of the YA books I read, but the intent didn’t dawn on me until I was in a session with Jeff, and he asked us to read a map. Read a map?  Don’t we just look at maps and draw conclusions and find our way?  I was shown such an enlightening path to working with maps that I knew I wanted to go back and re-read books with maps and make map-reading a part of the learning environment for both teachers and students.

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Credit: Jordan Saia (jordansaia.com)

Choosing books was easy as Six of Crows had just come out, and I was intrigued by the double map in the front of the book.  I then added Snow like Ashes, We Were Liars, and City of a Thousand Dolls. Starting with some popular YA sites like Book Riot, I found some articles that actually address how maps become a part of a book’s narrative.  Then, making connections between how the setting influences the narrative, why the map was included, how characters change over time, and how the maps influenced my understanding of that character and those changes, I began seeing how maps shaped each narrative.

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Miriam Forster, A City of a Thousand Dolls

But the real gem of doing this work was the collegiality and the cross-curricular connections I was able to make with Dr. Lash. He dutifully read all the books I sent him; he shared map resources from National Geographic and took all the participants, including me, on some incredibly deep map-reading exercises.  Building on the work of Phil Gershmel, we navigated the shores of Ketterdam from Six of Crows with a new lens—a geography lens. We read the map and learned how to identify and analyze patterns, regions, movement, and hierarchies.  We practiced comparing places and interpreting how elements on the map were connected or influenced each other all the while making connections back to each narrative. In We Were Liars, we explored the fictitious yet ominously real island off the coast of Massachusetts inhabited by an incredibly wealthy family. We made comparisons, we made associations with another famous family, and we examined how the island changed over time based on traditional and nontraditional inhabitants. In short, we gave the narrative dimension by examining, reading the maps. Lash shared he was not a reader until a middle school teacher gave him a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition complete with a fold-out map, and then he was hooked—all he wanted was a book with a map to explore, read, and keep him engaged in reading.

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Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo

What are we doing to keep learners engaged in reading?  I never would have believed that maps would have such an influence on me as a reader—I took the road less traveled and found something new about the YA genre that I love.  Teachers need to remember that literature will always create a sense of place—how we examine that place outside of traditional language arts study will determine the number of children we engage and how many lifelong readers we grow in our classrooms.

Kelly E. Tumy is the curriculum director for English language arts and social studies for the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, TX. She is currently the vice president for membership and affiliates for the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts and a passionate advocate of young adult literature in the secondary classroom. 

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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. 

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

This post is written by members Richard Beach and Allen Webb. This is the first of two parts.

Even with the publication of our book, Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference (co-published by NCTE and Routledge), we are still asked: why address climate change in English language arts? Isn’t climate change a subject for Earth Science, not English?

Our response is multifaceted:

  • We know global warming is happening and is caused by humans because of scientific findings.
  • We know that climate change profoundly involves
    • history, culture, society, and the social order;
    • understanding the experience of others;
    • reflecting on crucial moral and ethical questions;
    • addressing inequality, racism, and nationalism;
    • and using the imagination to better understand the past, present, and future.
  • We believe that addressing climate change requires students to
    • draw on the literary imagination,
    • critically understand mass media,
    • write creatively and persuasively, and
    • develop an ability to speak out on perhaps the most profound challenge to face the human race and life on Earth.
    • These areall practices found in the English language arts classroom.

After reading a chapter from Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, one of Allen’s English students remarked this past week, “We are in serious trouble. It appears that global warming is much, much, much worse than I originally thought.” For most Americans, including most English teachers, the impact of climate change has not yet really sunk in. The corporate media is not informing us about the problem. Yet, what we do in the next few years will make the difference between the Earth warming 2ºC–the target set by the Paris Agreement—and 4ºC or more.

One of the world’s leading climate scientists has said that the difference between 2ºC and 4ºC is “human civilization.”  In 2016 alone, the earth warmed 0.12ºC so that at that rate, two full degrees can happen in less than 20 years. Although the earth has only warmed 1ºC so far, climate change is already having profound impacts. Massive droughts around the world including in the US and Europe, heat waves, sea level rise, unprecedented human migration, devastating megastorms, and much more is already underway. 20 million people are currently in famine in Africa because of climate-change-related drought, leading to what the United Nations has described as, “the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Serious scientific predictions are that beyond 4ºC, dangerous climate feedback loops threaten the extinction of all life on Earth.

Science without the imagination fails to recognize these impacts of climate change on society, and what can be done to address it. In his endorsement of our book, leading climate-change expert, Bill McKibben (2010), notes the relevance of climate change to English language arts:

The scientists and engineers have done their work, providing a timely warning on climate change and producing the technologies like solar panels that would help take it on.  It is the rest of us that have so far failed, and it’s largely a failure of . . . imagination, precisely the reason we have English class. This book will help many teachers understand their craft in light of the planet’s great crisis.

Responding to Literature

Even though the effects of climate change—rising temperatures, warming/acidification of oceans, sea rise/flooding, droughts, and extreme weather events—are increasingly evident, many people still do not understand the profound implications of climate change, nor do they perceive the need for immediate action. In responding to Romantic poetry and contemporary environmental writers as well as literary works often taught in the secondary curriculum—from The Grapes of Wrath to Lord of the Flies and from The Tempest to Frankenstein or Huck Finn—students are experiencing portrayals of the relationships between human beings and nature.

In reading more contemporary “cli-fi” literature, students are transported into the near and more distant future in which characters are coping with even more extreme adverse climate change effects. For example, in responding to Memory of Water (Itäranta, 2014), students enter into a world in which climate change has led to droughts and wars over water. They empathize with Noria Kaitio, the main character who is a seventeen-year-old living in a Scandinavian country. Noria has studied to become a tea master like her father, so she knows the location of hidden water sources. When her father dies, she acquires knowledge of a secret spring, but the army also learns that there is a spring and seeks to imprison her unless she reveals the location. Through the novel, students experience a future world coping with drought, a condition already impacting much of the Mideast, Africa, and India and forcing people to migrate to other parts of the world.

There are also many accessible, impactful works of climate fiction appropriate for secondary students, including three recent short story collections:

– Martin, M. (Ed.) (2011). I’m with the bears: Short stories from a damaged planet. New York: Verso.

– Milkoreit, M. (2016). Everything change:An anthology of climate change fiction. Tempe: Arizona State UP.

– Woodbury, M. (Ed.) (2015). Winds of change: Stories about our climate. Coquitlam, Moon Willow Press.

Many of these stories have teenage protagonists or raise crucial questions that young people can further explore.

References

Itäranta, E. (2014). Memory of water: A novel. New York: Harper Voyager.

McKibben, Bill. (2011). Eaarth: Making life on a tough new planet. New York: St. Martins Press.

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. 

juliafranks

Save Reading, Save the Country

This post is written by member Julia Franks. 

One of my students, a high school senior on his way to Georgia Tech, told me he loved to read as a child and then, as a teenager, began to hate it. He blamed school, and the way his teachers “overanalyzed” literature. (Just to remind you: it’s not unusual for a class to read Hamlet, a four-hour play, and then spend thirty hours talking and writing about it.) Other disaffected readers blame schools’ “terrible books,” including one Stanford graduate who recalls the exact book that made him hate fiction—forever: A Tale of Two Cities.

Some give up sooner. Some have intuited that it’s not the actual reading of Dickens that matters to their grades, but rather familiarity with Dickens’s major themes. And it’s so very tempting to get that information online rather than spending twelve hours reading a book and then constructing your own meaning from it.

We know that non-readers don’t develop the same mental muscles, but there are other reasons why reading isn’t just for the nerds of the world. Our republic provides free education to its citizenry because an informed and intelligent electorate is a public good. Part of getting educated is experiencing other people’s stories. I’m not a Christian, but I identified strongly with the Congregationalist pastor in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Likewise, I aspired to Pi Patel’s transcendent view of suffering in Life of Pi and was moved by Mark Beaver’s conflicted adolescent feelings about Jesus in Suburban Gospel. Because of those books, I have some tiny understanding of the very many ways there are of being a Christian. I could draw similar parallels about being a combat soldier or about being Muslim. By immersing myself in someone else’s story, I’m inhabiting his or her life a little. I’m practicing a different vantage point.

One night last summer, below a dingy Atlanta underpass, a police car pulled in front of mine and stopped, the blue lights flashing into the tunnel. An officer sprang from the car and ran forward into the blackness. Then: sounds of wrestling, moaning, a large soft mass being slammed against the car, the voice of the officer saying, “Stop moving.” He said it four times, each time sounding more as if he were begging. Moments later a tall wiry man sprinted toward my car, blood pouring from a head wound, his eyes dazed with either terror or drugs. The police officer, who was stockier and younger, tackled him, and they both slammed onto the pavement, not five feet from where I sat. The officer wrested the other man’s arms behind him and closed the handcuffs. Then he met my eye for a long moment, his gaze full of uncertainty. He looked Filipino. The man in the cuffs was White.

At first, I tried to square this incident with one of our national narratives, trying to shape my own experience to fit a story I’d already heard. Was it the brutality story? The resisting-arrest story? Racism? Which one was the bad guy?

But, life is not an action movie or a video game where good guys fight evil. There are many other stories out there. And if you’re a reader, you remember Malcolm X’s accounts of police profiling in The Autobiography of Malcolm X or the brutality in American Boys, written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. But here’s the thing: sitting right there in your brain next to those stories are also Edward Conlon’s accounts of NYPD responding to the events of September 11 and Trudy Nan Boyce’s novels of a female officer navigating complicated relationships in the neighborhoods of downtown Atlanta. If you’re a reader, you have a lot more practice holding all those conflicting stories in your imagination at one time. And perhaps you’re more prepared to see nuance.

Recent data show that readers are also better at controlling their own stories, which is an integral part of constructing identity and has given rise to an entire field called bibliotherapy. Think about it. Stories are the way we make meaning. Take any personal crisis you’ve ever weathered, even something as prosaic as a break-up. When it was all over, you built a narrative around it: “First he did this, then I did that.” Cause, effect, cause, effect. You needed that narrative in order to feel as if you understood what had happened—in order to move on.

As a nation, too, we need these narratives. Election results end in an upset, and we spend a whole lot of time trying to answer the question why? Or a man walks into a church and opens fire on the congregation. We as a country respond by trying to make a narrative: cause, effect, cause, effect. When we can’t do it, we feel adrift, even despairing. And yes, we’re tempted to oversimplify the story. But the more practice we have at story-making, the more we’re able to construct a nuanced national story.

In my own classroom, I wanted a change, so one spring I offered my AP students a choice. They could read the books on the syllabus, or they could set up reading groups and read twice as many books selected from a list of some 300 great titles. We voted. Forty-nine students out of forty-nine chose to read twice as many books. And—surprise!—they chose door-stoppers they’d long wanted to read (Lord of the Rings! The Fountainhead!) and alternated them with shorter reads (The Road, The Bell Jar, Me Before You). By May, every kid in the class, with one exception, had read twice as many pages as I’d originally planned, and many had read four or five times as  much.

At the end of the year, my seniors’ grades on the national exam were exactly on par with the other AP students in the school. Research data on choice reading, particularly those from linguist Stephen D. Krashen, support this anecdotal evidence.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon the classics or the communal reading experience. But kids who have personal reading habits are far more likely to broaden their tastes than those who don’t. They’re also more likely to be reading ten years after graduation.

We have to offer more choice, and we have to set actual time aside in the school day for reading.  (Maybe fewer hours, say, discussing Hamlet?) In this moment in American culture, we need reader-citizens more than ever. Because of that, English departments have the opportunity to be especially relevant in civic life. Some of them are already taking up that challenge.

’Tis a far, far better thing they do.

Julia Franks is a former teacher and an award-winning novelist (Over the Plain Houses from Hub City Press). She now runs a Web application that helps schools track independent reading from grade to grade (loosecanon.com). 

Note: Did you find this post interesting? You may like to read this post by Hannah Sislo whose college project focused on ways teachers could include reading choice in the classroom.

christophremargolin

How Students Helped to Discover the Relevancy of Poetry in the 21st Century

 This post is written by member Christopher Margolin.

Teachers tend to teach poetry because they feel it has supposed to be in the curriculum. They believe that students need to be familiar with sonnets, haikus, and acrostics, but what they neglect to do is allow their students the freedom to simply explore — and write poetry themselves. They spoon-feed old, outdated pieces that have not been relevant in decades, focusing on the dead white guy, or the poets they feel will strike a chord. They teach lessons from rote memory or out of textbooks. They do not watch for the yawns. Instead of partnering with their students to find out what might actually be of interest, they stifle their creativity and ruin poetry for the majority of students.

I am guilty of all the above.

I came out of college as an expert in sixteenth-to nineteenth-century British poetry, and when I started teaching, I thought these were the necessary poems for all students. I wanted them to hear the rich language, dive into the hefty topics, and talk about the importance of blah blah blah. I was excited about it, as were a few random students, but they didn’t really understand what I was talking about. Showing them poems by John Donne, or William Blake, or Samuel Coleridge didn’t inspire any real emotions, but I taught them all the same — because I liked them. The choice of texts had absolutely nothing to do with my students, and it showed on their faces — which I only noticed after a handful of years of digging through the obscure.

A few years ago, one of my students asked me to prove the relevancy of poetry in the twenty-first century. That’s when I realized I didn’t really know any current poets. I knew the laureates and a handful of current pieces I had read in different journals, and I could cite reasons why I found poetry to be important, but the challenge left me questioning how important the poems I had been teaching were in today’s world. Therefore, I stopped. And did some research. I had heard about Button Poetry, and I spent time sifting through YouTube videos of performance pieces and slam poetry competitions. I watched through five seasons of Def Poetry Jam and fell in love.

My students and I started a Twitter account (@poetryquestion) and began to send tweets to literally thousands of artists, poets, musicians, actors, authors, and anyone else we felt might offer 140 characters on how they felt about poetry in the modern world. Then our campaign started to work. We received more than 300 responses. Not only did we get responses, but we also had people reaching out to talk with my students. This was inspiring. This was what my students needed. Instead of staring at words they did not understand, they had real people talking to them — people they knew, people they enjoyed, and people who were relevant.

I had my students open up their Chromebooks, go to YouTube, type in “Button Poetry,” and hit play on whichever video popped up first. I told them to click on every poem they could find. They watched countless videos and wrote down what hit them the hardest. Then they filled my whiteboard with 183 names of poets. After that, they began to write their own poems. They wrote about the abuse they suffered, or family vacations, or fears, or joys, or teenage life, or school, or whatever made sense to them in the moment. They wrote, and they did not stop.

In addition to Twitter conversations with a number of the poets they had discovered, my students Skyped with Joel Madden of Good Charlotte and with Saul Williams. We held Twitter interviews with Marc Maron, Taylor Mali, and so many more. Alexander Dang and Clementine von Radics visited our classroom to perform.

And the students kept writing. They kept putting their emotions on paper and crafting them into performance pieces. I did not teach them how to format anything. Instead, I just told them to write. I told them to watch more poetry. I told them that we, as a class, valued their words and their lives, and that this would be a comfortable, judgment-free environment, — and they listened. They were one another’s allies and shoulders to cry on, and people with whom they could laugh and cheer on throughout the process. By the end of the unit, every student in every class had shared their poems with their peers, and some even went to a local poetry slam to share with complete strangers.

If we pay attention to the needs of our students, if we give them the freedom to explore and talk and watch and listen and teach themselves, they become excited. They want to learn. They want to write. They want to collaborate. But they only want these things if teachers stop giving the rote-memory rubbish and instead partner with them, enjoy their content, facilitate rather than lecture, and help to prove the relevancy of words in the twenty-first century.

Chris Margolin is the Vancouver Public Schools’ Curriculum Specialist for Secondary English Language Arts, Advanced Placement, College in the High Schools, and Running Start. He spent 12 years as a high school English teacher, working not only with students, but also as a member of the district curriculum design team, developing the district’s Creative Writing course. He currently resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife and daughter.