Category Archives: Teaching


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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



“Struggling Reluctantly”

This post is written by member Peg Grafwallner.

It’s become a personal quest of mine, something that I repeatedly profess in professional meetings, in presentations, on twitter, and on my own personal blog.

The terms “struggling” and “reluctant” cannot be allowed to reference readers who need our support.  Those terms come from a deficit model of thinking, in which somehow these students will never become the readers we want them to be but, rather, will continually fail according to some district initiated benchmark or criterion.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the term “struggling,” means to “proceed with difficulty or with great effort,” and reluctant means “feeling or showing aversion, hesitation, or unwillingness.”  Imagine showing these definitions to a student and explaining that they referred to the student’s reading talent? Of course the student would feel disgruntled and frustrated.

I’ve modified these terms to “developing” because we simply are not there – yet.  If I were labeled a “struggling” runner, the idea is that no matter how hard I try, no matter the small bursts of progress I make, the label would become so engrained in who I am that it could actually define me.  In truth, I have been progressing at running and while I may (notice the use of the qualifier) never run a marathon, I continue to make gains in my running.

Now imagine explaining to a student that he/she is a developing reader. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “developing” means “to acquire gradually.”  That’s a definition a student can live with and grow into.  It means we can work together for a successful outcome.

So the next time you’re tempted to refer to a student as “struggling” or “reluctant,” please consider eliminating that deficit thinking, and instead, replace with the word, “developing.”  In that way, all students will have a chance to proceed, progress, and promote!

Peg Grafwallner is an Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large urban high school. Peg draws on her nearly 23 years of experience and expertise to focus on engagement, motivation and interventions to create student opportunities of learning and inquiry.  


“Say It Loud . . . ”: Preparing Children to Be Leaders through Playing and Storytelling

This post is written by member Raven Jones Stanbrough.

Parent-Teacher Conferencing with a One-Year-Old

Like most new mothers, I used to sometimes attempt to get my daughter to silently play (as if that even makes sense) when I’m on “important” phone calls, at meetings, or out in certain public spaces. I pretty much failed each and every time because Zuri Hudson wasn’t born to “be quiet,” and I’m so here for her purposeful verbal insertions, regardless of the setting.

During my pregnancy, my partner Darryl—also an educator—and I read to, talked to, and sang to Zuri Hudson. At seven months, her first word was “book.” As educators with almost 20 years of collective teaching experiences with K–16 students, we conference each and every day about what we want to teach our students and our child. In fact, Darryl and I first met as classroom co-teachers in Detroit. When asked, we happily share advice and suggestions with our family and friends about the educational practices we engage in with our daughter and students in our classrooms.

One of our main pieces of advice for others is to begin to build a library for their children— whether it’s filled with books, art, pictures, flashcards, music, blocks, coins, notebooks, or other artifacts that interest them. When we drove to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia—we had all of those things for our 23-hour roundtrip car ride and for our time in Atlanta with Zuri Hudson.

On the morning of Saturday, November 19, when I sat at the table with Darryl and our ready-for-the-wor(l)d baby girl (who was 18 months at the time) to accept the 2016 Early Career Educator of Color (ECEOC) Leadership Award, we did not seek to silence her. So when her louder-than-a-whisper shouts of, “1,2,3,4,5” K,” and “T” filled the room with smiles, laughter, and affirming head nods from others, I picked her up from the floor where her toys were spread,  pulled her closer to me, and said, “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you” as I hugged her and removed one of her half-torn alphabet stickers from her afro.

During her emphatic outbursts, I could’ve said, “Shhhh” or “Be quiet, Z,” but I didn’t have the desire to do so. I strongly believe that children and students need the freedom and opportunities to be curious and exploratory—even when it may be an inconvenience for their parent-teachers and other loved ones. Considering this, it was no surprise to me, when I walked across the stage to accept my plaque that Darryl had to release a squirming Zuri Hudson from his arms because she wanted to run to and love on her mama, near the stage.

In that moment, I was reminded that my roles as a parent and teacher are to continue to assist children and students with finding their voices and using them to be loud when necessary.

Zuri Hudson at 18 months reciting ‘NCTE’ letters, near the stage of the 2016 NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Awards Ceremony.

Counting Children in Seven Days a Week

As a former K–12 educator, it has brought me tremendous joy to teach other people’s children. I always told myself that whenever I had my own child,  I’d be conscious and deliberate about teaching her or him some of what I taught my previous students.

Last week, I shared a photo of Zuri Hudson on Facebook during our storytelling time. We purchased a podium for her that sits in the center of our living room and we all use it to share stories. This is something that’s very important to for us as parent-teachers and debate coaches. Since Darryl and I have flexible teaching schedules, Zuri Hudson is home with us every single day and has not had to be enrolled in a daycare facility. While I understand that every household is different, I want to offer a few tips that may be helpful when teaching or working with your child(ren) throughout the week.

  • Talk to your child(ren) throughout the day. Sometimes, they may have a lot on their minds, especially if they’re in school. Ask them open-ended questions, offer affirming words, and embrace them to remind them that they’re important and are loved.
  • Allow your child(ren) to play in a designated area and clean it up later. This used to be difficult for me, given that I’m very clean and dislike for things to be out of order. However, allowing our daughter to play without too many restrictions teaches us as her parents what her interests are and how she comprehends what we teach her.
  • Turn the television off. While there are great television shows that provide educational value for young people, don’t be afraid to turn the television off from time to time. Instead, take a walk around the house or outside and name various objects you see along the way. Create index cards that correspond to the items in your home and discuss these with your learners.
  • Create a growing library. Take advantage of secondhand stores and libraries that sell books for cheap, in an effort to build a library for your child(ren). Ask loved ones to donate books to your cause or, in lieu of toys for birthdays, ask for books.
  • Make every day fun! Tell your child(ren) stories, sing to or with them, and dance with them. Show them that you can have fun too. Have weekly talent shows that allow them to showcase their talents and interests.
Image 2 shows Zuri Hudson at her podium, counting and telling a story to her stuffed animal friends about her pink triangle.

Raven Jones Stanbrough, Ph.D., is a Detroit native and a K–12 product of Detroit Public Schools. Dr. Jones Stanbrough is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University and is the co-founder of the The Zuri Reads Initiative, an effort to provide and organize literacy-related events and resources for Detroit-area children, students, and families. 


A Passion that Never Dies

This post is written by member Chawanna Bethany Chambers.

I’m nearly ten years removed from the freshly minted, aspiring teacher that I was in December 2007 after graduating Magna Cum Laude from Texas Lutheran University’s teaching program. I had major plans to change the face of education and bring fun back to learning for children. Education was serious business in my eyes, and I wouldn’t be complacent in what seemed to be a growing focus on exam accuracy and a stagnating view of child development. Didn’t kids need to know more than how to fill in the bubble without stray marks?

While I hadn’t yet narrowed down what my professional focus would be in the field, I knew that to gain credibility with my peers, parents, students, and community, I needed to produce some results and demonstrate my abilities. To lay the groundwork for what would become my educational legacy, I served faithfully in a variety of teaching positions. I was a Head Start prekindergarten teacher, an 8th- and 9th-grade public school English teacher, a department chair, a 7th-grade US history and 8th-grade humanities international school teacher, a grade 6–12 online English teacher, a curriculum developer, an instructional coach, a university adjunct instructor, and more. In 2010 I was selected as one of NCTE’s Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipients.

I kept that flame ignited through the years and worked diligently to gather a depth and breadth of knowledge of the field so that I would be as prepared as possible to one day found my own educational nonprofit and public charter school. In November 2016, I took the next step and established Single Seed Enrichment School, Inc., which serves as a nonprofit organization that provides free tutoring services to children in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas. In addition to hoping to expand our influence in 2017, I will apply for an open enrollment charter in the state of Texas and start a preK–12 public charter school that uses competency-based education and blended learning to expose San Antonio children to international and service learning in August 2019.

In the meantime, I curate a blog in which I provide parents and educators with various resources and musings on topics in education. I hope to be a valued source of information for anyone interested in supporting children’s educational experiences. Currently, I’m excited to be engaging in research on K–12 online learning, as this avenue of education can provide greater access to quality instruction for children around the world. I’m also looking forward to speaking at conferences and providing even more professional development to fellow educators who want to learn more about competency-based education, blended learning, student voice, or dynamic teaching.

I value the work of teachers around the world, especially those who do their best to support every child in public school classrooms. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that our greatest successes often come when we have a solid support system in place. Our families need support. Our students need support. Our teachers need support. I am not the same novice educator that I once was, and my passion has grown along with my skills. As I’ve honed my craft, my desire for change has intensified. I’m eternally thankful for the like-minded individuals who’ve encouraged my growth along the way.  The time has come for me to return those favors to the world around me.

Dr. Chawanna Bethany Chambers is a national award-winning and board certified preK–20 educator committed to the enhancement of American public school education. She serves in a variety of capacities that contribute to education advocacy and family empowerment. 


Being the Book! More Important Now Than Ever

This post is written by member Jeffrey Wilhelm. 

The third edition of You Gotta BE the Book!” Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents ( YGBB) was recently released (NCTE/Teachers College Press).  It’s been 20 years since the first edition appeared, and I was struck with how the findings of the book are even more important to me—urgently so—as a teacher today than they were when the book was first published.

Here is the central takeaway to me, particularly as we are living in the era of next generation standards: reading is much more and much greater than a repertoire of strategies.  The most engaged reading involves imagination, joy, relationship, and even transformation.

Here is the major payoff and what is most at stake: personal development, social imagination, and the evolution of democratic ways of living.

I happen to like—as far as they go—most of the next generation standards (like the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards) with which I have worked over the last few years.  However, these certainly do not go far enough. That means that extending these standards and filling their gaps is up to us as teachers.  YGBB is highly relevant in this regard: the book explores the participatory, visual, emotional, psychological, embodied, imaginative, connective, and reflective stances and strategies of expert readers and discusses how to promote and support these with students. These dimensions are prerequisite to and supportive of the cognitive dimensions highlighted in current standards documents.

My research found that disengaged readers do not understand and have not experienced what real engaged reading is, nor how they can practice it. Teaching approaches that exclusively promote or even privilege decoding or cognitive strategies exacerbate the problem of disengagement because such approaches miss the wonder of the lived-through experience of reading. These slighted dimensions of the reader’s repertoire make this wonder, the joy and the transformation, possible.

Often in school, we ask students to answer questions and reflect about an experience that they have not had and that instruction has not supported them to have.  Of course, they might think, as my case study student Marvin asserted, “Reading is STUPID!”

Now, more than ever, we need to promote purpose in reading (both in terms of functional application and pleasure), high expectation of text, participation in creating and living through textual worlds, and the visualization and embodiment of these secondary worlds.  In the intervention research that followed the research describing the dimensions of engaged readers’ response, I found that strategies to promote participation, like drama in education strategies (see Wilhelm, 2013a for a full treatment), and to promote seeing what one is reading through visualization strategies (Wilhelm, 2013b) led disengaged readers to a richer construal of reading and to the capacity to construct rich and personally significant meanings with text.

Nevertheless, perhaps the most important finding was that these collaborative meaning-making approaches were both prerequisite and foundational to cognitive connective, inferential, and reflective kinds of reading and to the cultivation of what might be called social imagination. Social imagination can be defined as the capacity to see the world from a variety of perspectives, and to experience and learn from cultural situations and worlds that are distant from one’s own experience, time, or place.  Social imagination is what moves us beyond looking in the mirror and allows us to learn from text and to apply what we learn in our lives.

For learners to become engaged and democratic citizens and workers, they need to practice skills that develop social and ethical imagination and agency.  Without this cultivation of social imagination, there can be no personal development, no outgrowing of the current self, and no social transformation of the networks of which one is a part.

Social imagination is also developed when students collaboratively connect, discuss, and reflect on the meanings of text, particularly regarding what texts mean about how we should be and live in our world. The text, in effect, is a secondary world that helps us to imaginatively rehearse how to be in the primary world.

It is a Vygotskian insight that thinking together helps us think in new ways, and thinking well together is prerequisite to thinking powerfully in ways that are more independent.

If we care about the development of our students as individuals who can relate to and appreciate and care for others; if we care about the development of the democratic communities our students will participate in; if we care about democratic living and work; if we care about attention to one’s own growth and to the needs of others, then we need to teach engaged and reflective reading.  The third edition of YGBB explores why this is of paramount importance now, why teaching to standards is not enough, and how to teach for the bigger purposes of joy, imagination, love, and transformation.

Works Cited

Wilhelm, J. (2016). “You gotta BE the book!”: Teaching engaged and reflective reading with adolescents (3rd ed.).  New York: Teachers College Press.

Wilhelm, J. (2013a). Deepening comprehension with action strategies  (2nd ed., including DVD).  New York: Scholastic.

Wilhelm, J. (2013b). Enriching comprehension with visualization strategies  (2., including DVD).  New York: Scholastic.

Jeffrey D. Wilhelm is Distinguished Professor of English Education at Boise State University who teaches and co-teaches middle and high school classes each year.  He is the author or co-author of 37 books about literacy teaching, the winner of the NCTE Promising Research Award, and two-time recipient of the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in English Education.