Category Archives: Teaching

everdayadvocacywebinar

Every Member an Advocate (Live Web Seminar)

On Thursday, April 27, NCTE members will gather on Capitol Hill for the 2017 NCTE Advocacy Day.  Whether you are in Washington, DC or your home district, you, too, can participate.

Join fellow NCTE members this Sunday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. EDT for a live webinar, Every Member an Advocate, to learn the following:

Together, we will discuss key priorities in the US Congress and issues at home, where your attention, your expertise, and your unique perspective can make a critical difference. We will also share simple and concrete ways for you to engage in person, at home, and online in our policy agenda so that your experiences can influence policymakers and grow NCTE’s credible voice and visibility this year!

The webinar is FREE for NCTE members.

Although this event is free for members, you still need to register through the online store [click Add to Cart in the top-right corner]. You will receive a follow-up email Sunday afternoon with login information.

Why is your voice important now?

At the Federal level, President Trump has recommended that Congress eliminate critical (Title II) formula funds that flow annually to states in support of teacher professional development in schools and districts. If Congress adopts the President’s proposal, then that elimination of funding will compromise the recruitment, training, and ongoing professional learning for teachers where you live and work.

At the State level, your state is making decisions about ESSA implementation that will affect your classroom, such as:

  • how much annual testing will factor into a school’s ranking/rating within the state accountability system;
  • how to better measure and calculate English language proficiency; and
  • where to target improvement funding so that schools and districts get much-needed financial and technical support.

At the Local level, your school board, state and federal legislative representatives, and others need to hear from you to help influence budgeting, new legislation, research, and to assure schools and districts provide equitable access to rich and compelling learning opportunities and transformative curricula for all students.

Teachers are a credible and integral resource and must influence these important decisions! We encourage you to join us Sunday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. to learn how.

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about Web seminars.

lindsayillich

You Mean She’s Alive?

This post is written by member Lindsay Illich. 

I get this question from students often when I share a poem in class by a living writer. For some students, poems are historical, discrete things that come to them by way of textbooks,  anthologies, or riddles of dead writers come to haunt them. Or worse, poems are inflicted on them as assessment instruments in standardized tests where students are asked to dissect the poems’ meanings (you can read about Sara Holbrook’s horror after discovering two of her poems were used on standardized tests in Texas). It does not always occur to them that the poet might be a contemporary who could be writing poems on this very day, or even right now.

The poems writers are sharing right now are beautiful and devastating, shimmering in their perfect singularity. Poets ask us to consider what it must be like to love a brother who is an addict (Natalie Diaz), to see a flower that might have been planted by the hands of Eric Garner (Ross Gay), to love someone more than all the windows in New York City (Jessica Greenbaum), or to be getting an MRI to monitor the spread of your cancer (Leilla Chatti). Not only do these contemporary poems and poets show students how poetry is uniquely suited to address emotional complexity, but also they demonstrate how it is poems build invisible bridges that connect people across time, space, and experience.

Poems overcome our separateness.

“Good Bones,” a poem by Maggie Smith, garnered a worldwide readership after it was published just after the Orlando Pulse shooting. Although the poem was not written in response to the tragedy, its sentiment resonated. Many felt that it gave a collective voice to how hopeless we feel in the face of violent tragedy. The poem was named poem of the year by Public Radio International and was featured on the April 9 episode of the CBS TV series Madam Secretary.

So where do you find these alive poets? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Subscribe to the “Poem-A Day,” sponsored by the Academy of American Poets, and get new (and some old) poems delivered to your email.
  2.  If you have the resources available to you, request institutional subscriptions to a few print poetry journals (like Gulf Coast, 32 Poems, or Prairie Schooner).
  3. Follow online poetry journals like Waxwing or The Shallow Ends on Twitter, where they post links to newly published poems.
  4. Finally, find some poets you like and follow them on Twitter. Poets love poems; they will share links and even pictures of poems daily (you should start with @KavehAkbar, a prolific lover, sharer, and writer of poems).

Another reason to read and connect with contemporary poets is to offer your students the opportunity to ask writers questions about their work. After reading a poem by Adrian Matejka, my students wondered why the poet identified with the boxer, Jack Johnson. It occurred to me that with Twitter, we could just ask him. So we did, and he graciously replied.

Yes, the poet is alive, and students will love her work if you share it with them. And, perhaps, reading the current work of living writers will serve as reminders to students that writing as a way of expression is a thing that people do, that even they could do.

Lindsay Illich is an associate professor of English at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts. Her first book, Rile & Heave, won the Texas Review Press Breakout Prize in poetry. 

English Teachers as Contemporary Shamans

I am always behind in my reading, so today, I finally picked up the Winter 2017 edition of The ALAN Review. The issue’s theme is “Story and the Development of Moral Character,” and it begins with the printed words of Jandy Nelson’s 2015 ALAN Workshop Keynote Address.

I need to stop here and say that I hope you’ve heard of ALAN (the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE), NCTE’s first assembly and the sponsor of that two-day book and author extravaganza on the Monday and Tuesday after the NCTE Annual Convention each year.  If you teach adolescents, you’ll want to join this group, and if you’re lucky, one day you’ll be able to join 499 other book and author loving English teachers for the ALAN Workshop, schmooze with YA Authors, and build your muscles carrying that 40-pound box of YA books you’ll receive.

But back to Jandy Nelson who started off her address by explaining “this belief I have that English teachers are our contemporary shamans: the wakers of sleeping souls, the planters of dreams in heads, the imparters of some of life’s most valuable gifts: compassion, empathy, humanity, ambiguity, wonder, joy.” She went on to describe a few of her own deep learning experiences with English teachers.

There was her 14th year of

“Man’s Inhumanity to Man”…books that explored genocide, poverty, oppression, racism, human cruelty and brutality, existential angst, social alienation, loneliness, moral bankruptcy, spiritual impoverishment…

“Audre Lorde said, ‘The Learning process is something you can incite, literally, incite, like a riot.’ This is what happened that year. We read and talked and disagreed, and the world, so very much world, began to shake inside us as we found our humanity in all this inhumanity, found empathy and compassion, found moral compasses, as we learned to hold history accountable, to hold the newspaper headlines accountable, to hold each other accountable. And all this in English class, not at home, not at church or temple or mosque, but from reading novels with Ms. W. In one year, she turned us into thinkers. I began to understand reading and writing as a revolution, thinking as being a profoundly active verb. I began to understand that a person writing quietly in a room might be burning down the world. And then rebuilding it, word by word, into something magnificent.”

Words worth contemplating this week before NCTE Advocacy Day, and all the weeks of your years as shamans for students preK-16+.

By the way, please enjoy the columns from this issue (and others) of The Alan Review. To read the full and future issues, join ALAN.

alan

christinagil

What Does Cherry Picking Have to Do With Literary Analysis?

This post is written by member Christina Lovdal Gil. 

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot recently about the various ways that people convince themselves that what they believe is true, in spite of whatever evidence might contradict those views.  Now that I seem to live in a time of fake news and alternative facts and hyper- partisan politics, it has become increasingly important to me to figure out how to help teenagers to avoid following in those deep-rutted tracks of flawed thinking.

Analyzing poetry might not seem like the best way to deal with current situations, but in fact, whether students are talking about America’s greatness, or about death and old age, or about the immigration experience, I believe that teaching them to analyze poetry by looking at all of the evidence is a great way to help them develop their critical thinking skills.

Here are a few terms that I have learned in my research:

Confirmation bias or cognitive bias is the tendency of human beings to ignore any evidence that refutes already-held beliefs.

The backfire effect is the name for what happens when human beings hold those possibly flawed views even more strongly when they are presented with evidence that refutes them.

The illusion of explanatory depth is the belief that we know more than we really do.

The fallacy of the single cause is the belief that there is one, simple reason for a phenomenon when it might have been caused by number of factors.

The cherrypicking fallacy is the tendency to choose evidence that supports an argument while ignoring that which disputes it.

I have recently learned these terms, but I have been fighting these biases and flawed ways of thinking for years—in the way that I teach my students to analyze poetry.

The steps that I instruct my students to follow when analyzing a poem are the same ones that they can follow when attempting to understand any kind of complex idea or issue.  My biggest goal here is not for students to create a smooth-sounding thesis or for them to identify poetic elements by name.  What I most want is for them to embrace the parts of the text that are confusing or ambiguous or contradictory.  Those are the pieces that scare the human brain the most, and they are also the places where the meaning happens.

This process could be followed for any kind of examination or analysis.

First, you examine the evidence.  Notice that I didn’t say that you start with a thesis or an idea that you want to prove.  Doing that will only encourage cherry picking and flawed ideas.  Instead, you look at what’s there and notice everything you can.  For poetry, this might mean that you annotate all of the interesting words or images, for a science experiment it might mean that you take notes on the effects of a catalyst, and for a history analysis it might mean that you read multiple accounts of an important event and analyze data about the outcomes of that event.

Then you come up with an idea based on the majority of that evidence.  Looking for trends or causes or reasons is a good way to make sense of complicated information, but we also have to watch out for the old fallacy of the single cause.  I like oversimplification as much as the next person, so this is one that I have to be especially cautious of.  But a good first step towards understanding evidence is to come up with a way to explain the majority of what you’ve found.

Then, you look specifically for the pieces of evidence that contradict that idea.  When you’ve lumped together data in order to make sense of it, there will always be something left out.  Rather than see that as a minor drawback to your thesis or as a piece to quickly identify in a short paragraph about the counterclaim, you’ll need to recognize that evidence is very important.

Finally, and this is the hardest as well as the most important part, you create a new thesis that incorporates the evidence that seems to refute your idea.  The best way that I know to train your brain to let go of all those tendencies to ignore evidence or alternative ideas is to embrace the stuff that is subtle or ambiguous or hard to fit in a nice neat mold.  Ideas that incorporate it all are far superior to ideas that are based on cherry picking evidence.

It’s not that every human being is subject to these tendencies towards biases in our thinking all the time, but we have them in our brain chemistry.  And when you put all those fallacies and beliefs together, what you get is a room full of people, screaming their heads off about their own ideas, listening to no one except themselves and those who repeat their thoughts, and refusing to acknowledge any evidence that doesn’t support what they already think.

I want to do anything that I can to get those people to quiet down and start listening to each other.

Christina Gil was a high-school English teacher for sixteen years, but she recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. When she is not hauling water to her tiny home, she can be found homeschooling her two kids or meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village.

peggrafwallner2

Of Teacher Shortages and Licensure Regulations

This post is written by member Peg Grafwallner. 

Recently the State of Wisconsin proposed new license regulations to curtail teacher shortages (see State of Wisconsin Proposing New Teacher Licensure Regulations to Curtail Teacher Shortage by NCTE Higher Education Policy Analyst Donna Pasternak). In theory, it makes sense to review the license regulations to see what can be done to alleviate this dilemma. However, we know that theory, while important, hardly works in the real world. What then are we supposed to do?

Like all of you, I worked hard to earn each of my teaching licenses. I wrote reams of lesson plans, read through volumes of research, stayed up late collaborating with study teams, learned new technologies, sought professional development opportunities outside the university, observed classroom teachers in the field, and put theory into practice during student teaching. I deserved every license I earned and am proud of the work I did to earn them.

Therefore, when I read words like reduce, softening, and allowing regarding the possible changes, I was apprehensive. I wondered what all of it meant.

After reading Donna Pasternak’s policy analysis report, I have grown more concerned. The teacher shortage issue has been created through a series of political circumstances. But to respond to the politics by relaxing teacher requirements doesn’t make sense.

My English license allows me to teach English grades 7–12. I do not have the skills or background to teach journalism or creative writing. I would do a disservice to students who were expecting to be taught the fundamentals of journalism but who would have to settle for me, because, unfortunately, that’s what it would be. Students should not have to “settle” in their education. They should expect teachers who are experts in the content of their field and experts in conveying that content.

When I think back to my student teaching days, I needed the time, experience, and opportunities to fail in order ultimately to be successful. Student teaching gave me all the experiences of being a teacher—but with a safety net. That “net” meant that while I was responsible for planning, instruction, grading, paperwork, and other details, an experienced teacher “had my back.” I wasn’t driving alone; my co-pilot offered advice, expertise, and modeling of best practice. I was not qualified to be the “instructor of record.”

According to Wikipedia, “the term pro forma [as referenced in the policy analyst report] is most often used to describe a practice or document that is provided as a courtesy or satisfies minimum requirements.”  Therefore, teachers from other states could teach without having to meet Wisconsin’s level of requirements; as a matter of fact, their out-of-state license is all that would be necessary to placate the “minimum requirement[s].”  Our children deserve more than the “minimum requirements.”  They deserve teachers with 21st century skill mindsets who are passionate about leading them and their learning.

I cringe when I think that a standardized test or meeting a certain GPA could determine whether I qualify to be a teacher. Standardized testing measures my test-taking abilities on that particular day. How can a standardized test measure my level of empathy, or my ability to create engaging lessons, or my ability to collaborate with colleagues? A standardized test will measure my knowledge at one point in time. That is not enough to teach children; knowledge is merely part of a complex puzzle.

Finally, giving school districts the “authority to validate teacher competency” gives too much power to individuals who don’t understand or know the specifics of every license. As an example, if a school district lacks a reading specialist, will it try to substitute an English teacher? A reading specialist requires a diverse set of skills that are different from the skills required of an English teacher. Once again, to compare the two licenses is to minimize the other. Who would make these decisions and does this individual have the expertise to make that decision?

Altering the requirements for teachers is an insult to our profession and a travesty for our students. Insinuating that pedagogy—the art and science of teaching—can be somehow magically bestowed diminishes the important work all of us did to get where we are. Students deserve consummate, expert educators in the classroom, not “certified-lite” interns who are grappling to learn the profession while students are struggling to learn the content. Let’s work together to maintain the highest quality of professional educators who continually better themselves for the sake of our students.

Peg Grafwallner, M.Ed., is an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist at a large urban school in Milwaukee, WI.   She is a blogger, author, and national presenter with articles appearing in ASCD, Edutopia, Exceptional Parent, Literacy Daily, Literacy and NCTE, WSRA Journal and Illinois Reading Journal.  Peg can be reached at peggrafwallner@hotmail.com or at https://peggrafwallner.com