Category Archives: Literature

The Summer Reading Collage: A New Approach to Relevancy

This post is written by member Brittany Collins.

 As disparate experiences cohere and craft a single identity, so do collages comprise the varying parts of a “whole.” On a January morning in 2016, a roomful of first-year students stared at me eagerly, if skeptically, with papers heavy from glue-stick smudge and Scotch tape. My being at the front of their classroom was a change in their routine. I was invited to present a guest lecture and lesson on intersectionality in The House on Mango Street, which they had been reading for the past week, and my presence was preceded by a request for them to create a “collage of home” prior to our time together. “A collage?” they had whispered, “Like, the kind we made in elementary school?” With amusement and an appreciation for metaphor, I asked the following of students:

Please create an 8.5×11 inch collage that represents “home” to you. Feel free to draw, write, cut pictures out of magazines, or print from the internet—get creative and have fun! While creating your collage, consider the ways in which your home extends beyond your physical living space (though you may choose to include pictures of that, too), and do your best to portray those notions of home on paper. Ex: What does “home” smell, taste, or sound like? Who is “home” to you? What emotions represent home for you? Think of a time when you felt “at home”—what were you doing? Please do not put your name anywhere on your collage, as we will keep these pieces of artwork as anonymous as possible.

Creativity class

After a rumble of giggles spread around our room, students became serious as they tacked their creations to the whiteboard; without conversing, we toured our “Gallery of Home,” and when students settled back into their seats, I structured our debrief with a five-minute, guided free-write:

What did you notice about these collages—similarities, differences?

What can we learn about “home” from these collages?

How did it feel to create your collage? What was challenging?

 “I like to think of Cisneros’s novel as a literary collage because each vignette is like a snapshot or picture that can be appreciated on its own and in relation to the text as a whole,” I shared with students as they looked up from their pages. “What connections, if any, do you notice between your collages and The House on Mango Street?”

Because this was an international boarding school, students had varying perspectives on family and culture, tradition and expectation, that they shared in relation to Esperanza’s negotiation of those topics in Cisneros’s novel. The collages no longer seemed trite; instead, they seemed the vehicles through which students shared and reconsidered their lives; they provided a “way in” to differences and similarities.

Drawing from students’ comments, scribbled in purple Expo-marker in my hurried whiteboard penmanship, I shared closing remarks with my students-for-the-day:

All of us, as we grow, are faced with messages about who we are as individuals. It is important to consider the factors that shape us so that we can be more intentional and self-aware through our own processes of maturing—recognizing societal messages and beliefs that we may have internalized about our own identities and considering the ways in which our actions might subconsciously affect somebody else’s idea of themselves. What goes on outside of our homes has a direct impact on how we feel inside of our homes, both literally and figuratively, and this story inspires us to think critically about these internal and external worlds.

The discourse that permeated our classroom catalyzed close reading and community building, explicitly acknowledging the internal and external. Some students considered anew the identifiers that comprise their identities: “Can I say carrot lover?” one girl asked with a smile, while others shared caregiver, Korean, lacrosse player, and daughter and noted the multiplicity and inseparability of all that their “home[s]” and selves contain. Our depth of conversation seemed dependent on the aesthetic “ice-breaker” of collage—the controlled contemplation of the personal in public.

Relational and social-emotional learning are embedded in opportunities where the subjective enters the academic, and collage assignments are one way to scaffold this combination. As January snowstorms give way to sun rays, the spirit of my assignment endures. Whether in sixth grade or twelfth, returning to collage as an accessible art form freshens traditional literary pedagogy and provides another way to connect students with texts. To deepen summer reading and recall the classic (if banal) “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay, educators might use collaging as an analytical practice, asking students to identify key themes, conflicts, and characters in a novel before collecting, during their summer adventures, materials that relate to those identified topics. For example, if I were to fulfill this assignment for The Odyssey, I might collect pieces of my own summer “journey”—a road trip, or even my drive to work—and exhibit a road map, examples of “hospitality” (pictures from a hotel pamphlet, perhaps), a picture of my dog (my own Argos), or a picture of my grandmother, herself a great orator. The purpose of this assignment is not to discern how our times resemble a given book, but rather how that book resembles our times, no matter its date of publication. What of great literature endures? Is the human condition one of stasis or change? How do you connect with your summer reading? What in your life resembles its sentiments? These are the questions behind glue-stick smudge and Scotch tape.

Brittany Collins is the editor-in-chief of Voices & Visions, the only online literary journal to publish the visual and written works of students who attend women’s educational institutions worldwide. She studied English and education at Smith College, has experience teaching literature and writing in educational and extracurricular settings, and is a freelance writer with a focus on English education.

“Should We Censor What Teens Read?”

“NO!” responds Peter Brown Hoffmeister in his recent HuffPost blog. He took up the subject after another teacher questioned his assigning his students Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, a book NCTE has defended many times. The teacher, like many challengers, thought the book to be “too dark” for teens to read. Hoffmeister disagrees and he ought to know.

Hoffmeister states

“these would-be book censors believe the following:
1. We need to protect young people.
2. Teenagers can’t handle gritty material.
3. Teens won’t understand what’s going on if the material is too complex.”

He then takes each of these three beliefs and refutes it.

One of my favorite points are those from his

“favorite librarian, Julie Vignol of South Eugene High School, says, ‘If teens are going to be able to vote at 18, shouldn’t they be reading the most controversial and interesting books as teenagers so they learn to think and discuss and debate and change minds? Isn’t thinking a big part of becoming a responsible voter?’”

Good thoughts for the day after the 4th of July!

Putting Citizenship in Global Perspective in the ELA Classroom

drvivianThe following post is by Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, professor of education at Penn State Univeristy. This is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

Global Citizenship “is a way of living that recognises our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussion for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally” (Ideas for Global Citizenship).

This concept is of particular interest to us as we celebrate our nation’s independence on the Fourth of July. It allows us to ponder how our ancestors had managed to secure our freedom as a nation from the British, and how we had to wrestle with the contradictory content of our Constitution that celebrates the right to be free while still holding others in bondage.

Therefore, we should take this time to contemplate deeply what it means to be an American citizen, and who should be considered an American. As we reflect on this nationalistic notion of citizenship, we should also consider engaging in dialogues of what it means to be a global citizen, especially in a world where leaders are constantly rethinking physical boundaries in order to hold tight to their national identities, and the tension such nationalistic views might create. In so doing, they undermine major aspects of our collective humanity that allow us to cultivate a nurturing world for everyone. Many do not realize that what we do within our local communities can and does impact communities in other regions of the world, for we are interconnected in this way, even when we engage in charity work that touches many across the globe, or participate in political rallies to make democracy possible elsewhere.

Ronald C. Israel, co-founder of the Global Citizens’ Initiative, observes that,

Most of us on the path to global citizenship are still somewhere at the beginning of our journey. Our eyes have been opened and our consciousness raised. Instinctively, we feel a connection with others around the world yet we lack the adequate tools, resources, and support to act on our vision. Our ways of thinking and being are still colored by the trapping of old allegiances and ways of seeing things that no longer are as valid as they used to be. There is a longing to pull back the veil that keeps us from more clearly seeing the world as a whole and finding more sustainable ways of connecting with those who share our common humanity.

If fathoming how one can be an American citizen and yet be able to perceive oneself as a global citizen may seem challenging, perhaps we should start by examining how we serve our local communities on a regular basis.

Community Services: Local and Global Connections

Many educators are already engaged in practices that impact global communities and reflect their global citizenry even if they are not aware. At a spring 2017 professional development school conference in State College, PA, I attended a session where a teacher presented about a partnership with a school in Africa where they collect books and send them to students. This session was of particular interest to me because I know firsthand how difficult it is for schoolteachers in several public schools across the continent to find basic educational resources for their classrooms.

Also, having served as a member of the Children’s Africana Book Awards committee, I am also privy to book publication initiatives on topics such as The Water Project. One such publication is a picture book, Gizo-Gizo, on the Zongo Story Project that emerged from a partnership between Emily Williamson and John Schaidler from Minneapolis and the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Ghana. The back matter notes:

Working closely with local teachers, Emily Williamson carried out a series of educational workshops at [the school] to teach students about local water and environmental concerns. . . . Building on previous work at his children’s schools in Minneapolis and New York City, John [Schaidler] spent the summers . . . in the remote village of Humjibre in Ghana’s Western District.

For more on this, check out The water problem is local to that specific community, but the solution takes a collective effort that includes a global initiative involving communities from two continents. This is one way we connect at the human level.

Several picture books have documented these types of global partnerships.

Suggested Titles


Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul
The Water Princess by Georgie Badiel and Susan Verde; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Religious Diversity

Faith by Maya Ajmera, Cynthia Pon, and Magda Nakassis
Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges; illustrated by Giles Laroche


The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Pablo Finds a Treasure by Andrée Poulin; illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant


For the Right to Learn by Rebecca Langston-George; illustrated by Janna Bock


Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

More Global Citizenship Resources

Worlds of Words: Building bridges across global cultures through children’s and adolescent literature

Africa Access: Links to a variety of resources on topics related to the continent of Africa

Teaching Good Citizenship’s Five Themes, from Education World: A focus on the five basic themes of good citizenship (honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage)

Picture Books about Citizenship

Digital Citizenship: Explores the “9 Key Ps” of digital citizenship

Seven strategies to get children talking and thinking about digital citizenship

Teens and Digital Citizenship: Responsible digital citizenship can help your child have a safer and more satisfying experience online.

OXFAM’s guide for global citizenship

A free lesson plan on a global citizenship workshop

Work Cited

Israel, Roland (2012). “What Does It Mean to be a Global Citizen?” Kosmos: Journal for Global Transformation.  Accessed: June 22, 2017.

Using Literature to Shatter Our Entrenched Views, Part II

Pulitzer-Prize–winning journalist Sonia Nazario was the keynote speaker at NCTE’s 2014 Annual Convention. What follows is her reflection three years after the publication of Enrique’s Journey. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

I’ve always focused on those not getting enough ink – women, children, the poor, Latinos. The journey of these children, of Enrique, had to be told. Amid all the noise, information, and rhetoric, and regardless of where one lies on the political spectrum, these children are still migrating. Their stories have forced me to rethink my own entrenched views, challenge the narrative we’re fed, and find new solutions. As I stressed in my NCTE keynote, stories penetrate where stand-alone facts do not. They inspire common values and purpose. Immersive nonfiction can bring change. We have seen it time and time again through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle. These stories help us better understand our collective reality and ignite a fire for improving our communities and the world.

Enrique’s Journey is doing that. This one boy, this one story is humanizing immigrants in the United States.

Since the publication of Enrique’s Journey, I have been contacted daily by students and teachers about how this story has changed their perspective about immigrants. I get emails from students raised by white supremacists and skinheads in Arizona. From African American students in south Chicago who shared that black and Latino students did not interact but now relate better—after all, so many African American families were torn apart as part of the great migration out of the south during Jim Crow.

And I hear from so many Latino students. These students finally see themselves in a story, feel a sense of pride at being part of the fabric of this nation’s story. Many also begin to understand they are not alone in the resentment so many hold towards parents who made the difficult decision to leave them for so long. A rage like that is so consuming that their education suffers. Teachers share stories of finally connecting with students that they were previously unable to relate to. For the first time, some students don’t want to leave class at the end of the period– they aren’t done listening; they aren’t done sharing.

This engagement is critical for children landing in classrooms across the country. Children of undocumented parents are growing seven times faster than others. The current crop of kindergartners will see the number of Latinos grow from 17% to 30% of the population by 2050. These children will fill the void as we “baby boomers” fade away. Unfortunately, this same group has the lowest educational attainment of any group.

Unlike when I started to study child migration two decades ago, today many immigrant children landing in American classrooms are running from threats, from governments that cannot or will not protect them. These children are refugees. I used to believe immigration was an issue that had to be addressed in the US. Now I know the solutions must be focused on addressing what is pushing children out of a handful of countries—El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. The most effective funding will be spent on US programs that are showing promise in reducing violence in Enrique’s home country of Honduras.

For better or worse, I will continue to be these migrant children’s voice and advocate so they do not have to return to a country where many face danger and even death.

I invite you to keep sharing Enrique’s story and to view my TEDx talk to help bring new solutions to your students.

Thank you for continuing to educate others about this country’s newcomers.

Sonia Nazario is an award winning author and journalist who writes about social and social justice issues. Enrique’s Journey, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, is among the most assigned nonfiction books as a common or summer read at high schools and middle schools in the U.S.


Read NCTE’s Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth here.

Also read an interview with Sonia Nazario in the November 2014 Council Chronicle: Sonia Nazario Believes It’s an Educator’s Role to Expand Students’ Horizons.

Sneak Peek: July 2017 English Journal

This post is written by members Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, editors of English Journal.

The work of teaching illustrates the adage that change is a constant. Teaching is framed by many constants: schedules, rhythms, routines, and expectations based in national memory and local nostalgia. And teaching is also marked by change: different groups of students every year, not to mention every 42 minutes or so; different texts and expectations driven by technological and social innovations. Teachers practice in spaces of praxis, spaces of simultaneous constancy and change.

In our daily lives, we may become accustomed to living in flux while fixed in amber, but for many educators, summer offers a chance for reflection. Away from the days divided by bells and evenings filled with student papers to grade, teachers may have time to think about what to keep and what to change. With quiet space and time to read, teachers can consider new methods and explore new texts.

Authors in this issue stretch our imaginations and offer opportunities to reflect on what works. Themes featured involve enduring aspects of English classrooms, for example, teaching writing, which is examined from five perspectives. Authors in this issue emphasize authenticity in student writing, investigate teacher and peer responses to student writing, and analyze student and teacher perceptions of argumentative writing in the context of the Common Core. While all of the articles share the topic of writing, this constant is complemented by the lenses through which it is viewed. This issue offers a new approach to literature circles as well as articles that highlight the arts. Poetry, another staple of English classrooms, is amplified through spoken words, and video games extend our definitions of texts.

This issue, which is situated in decades of previous volumes of EJ, is focused on interactions of students and teachers as our lives intersect with one another and with classic and contemporary texts. We hope that the combination of constancy and change helps you find new perspectives on established practices, and imagine how democratic classrooms can prepare today’s learners to lead tomorrow’s world.

juliegorlewskidavidgorlewski2Former English teachers, Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski work with preservice and practicing educators, and with educational leaders, to create instructional opportunities that empower students with language.