Category Archives: The Movement

Putting Students in Charge of Building the Classroom Community

As teachers, we usually go into the first weeks of school assuming full responsibility for building the learning space. But what happens if we put some of that responsibility in our students’ hands instead? Our new students come to us full of ideas, stories, expertise, and curiosity. These are the essential materials for a strong classroom community. Here are a few ideas for how to put those raw materials to use:

Have you tried these or other community building activities? Tell us what works!

Broadening Perspectives with Multicultural & Multivoiced Stories for Adolescents

This post is written by members Kelly Byrne Bull and Jacqueline Bach, guest editors of the September issue of English Journal. 

In this issue, we explore how multicultural and multivoiced young adult literature engages classroom communities in meaningful discourse and broadens adolescents’ perspectives. Our cover artwork, Iris-Between-Worlds by Colleen Helie, embodies the poignancy of adolescence and the fluidity of conversations that encourage growth. Contributors to our themed issue bring to light stories that connect students with the personal and the global. As a result of our Call for Manuscripts, we noted that three categories emerged: bias and empathy; power and equity; and gender and sexuality.

Alluding to Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of mirrors and windows, several contributors carefully illustrate how empathy can break down biases. We appreciate Grice, Rebellino, and Stamper’s celebration of challenging the narrative status quo. In their article, they showcase lived experiences that have historically been overlooked but are explored through recent award-winning verse novels and graphic narratives. Building on this idea of diverse representation, Gilmore’s “Saying What We Don’t Mean” argues that teachers are responsible for offering students a variety of characters and situations so that students can grow and learn to recognize implicit bias. Similarly, Van Vaerenewyck’s “Aesthetic Readings of Diverse Literary Narratives for Social Justice” asserts that cultivating empathetic global citizens relies on all of us becoming better readers of diverse stories.

We noted how this call prompted contributors to explore issues of power and equity that are developed in YA texts. Malo-Juvera’s “A Postcolonial Primer with Multicultural YA Literature” illustrates how he introduces postcolonialism so that students can hone their abilities to interrogate normalized oppression and begin to read the world critically. Ginsberg, Glenn, and Moye also examine issues of power and equity in their article, “Opportunities for Advocacy.” The YA texts they feature center on identity denial and afford rich discussions about which identities are privileged or denied, affirmed or suppressed. Such exploration of power and equity is also central to Lillge and Dominguez’s thoughtful article, “Launching Lessons.” In it, they address incorporating divergent points of view in the English classroom and offer readers ideas for projects addressing social inequity and injustice.

Our contributors also challenge readers to include global and multivoiced expressions of gender and sexuality (if they are not already doing so) with contemporary texts. Hayne, Clemmons, and Olvey’s “Using Moon at Nine to Broaden Multicultural Perspectives” analyzes their experiences reading this love story between two young women in post-Shah Iran with their university students, while in “‘I Don’t Really Know What a Fair Portrayal Is and What a Stereotype Is’” Boyd and Bereiter remind readers of the importance of listening and learning from their students and trying new pedagogical approaches based on those relationships. Finally, Kedley and Spiering look at how voices and form convey multiple experiences of gender and sexuality in ELA classrooms.

Articles such as these are conversation-starters. We invite you to continue these conversations with your colleagues and students. Send us your ideas so that we may continue to broaden and deepen the conversation: Kelly Byrne Bull (kbull@ndm.edu), Jacqueline Bach (jbach@lsu.edu).

Works Cited

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.

 Kelly Byrne Bull is an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University, chair of NCTE’s Commission on the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature, and Maryland state representative for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.

 

Jacqueline Bach is the Elena and Albert LeBlanc Professor of English Education at Louisiana State University, a former editor of The ALAN Review (2009–2014), and a former high school English teacher. http://www.alan-ya.org/publications/the-alan-review/

“Words with Friends”: Creating Collaborative Writing Spaces for Girls and Women of Color

This post is written by 2017-2018 NCTE Lead Ambassador Raven Jones Stanbrough and her colleagues, Tuesda Roberts, Theda Gibbs Grey and Lorena Gutiérrez.

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” ―Octavia E. Butler

The above quote by the prolific Black writer Octavia E. Butler reminds us that creating a habit is an art that leads to persistence and progress. For us, as scholar-practitioners, one habit we have in common is writing. Despite the many people in our lives who affirm and support our ideas and thinking, there have been moments and times when we’ve struggled to believe in our own voices and writing abilities. Having first met and befriended one another as women of color who were doctoral students at Michigan State University (MSU), we understood that we needed to support each other’s lived experiences, narratives, and voices. Individually, we’ve experienced overwhelming moments that (un)intentionally allowed us to retreat to places and spaces where our relationship with writing ended, like a bad and emotional breakup—the kind in which we turn to our favorite flavor of ice cream or reckless shopping to cope with our loss. Like most breakups, sometimes it takes the wise counsel of a loved one to speak life over our situation(s), before we remember and remind ourselves, “Wait, I got this!”

We, the Fresh I.N.K. (Inspiring New Knowledge) Collective, offer this collaborative piece as a way for us to honor ourselves, each other, our families, our students, and our communities by becoming better women of habit through our writing and desires to hold one another accountable— even when challenges occur. In an effort to achieve this accountability, our goals are as follows: (1) to offer suggestions on why participating in writing support groups is beneficial, and (2) to outline ways in which other teacher-educators can encourage and support other female writers of color.

Tuesda

There are many different “spaces” in our schools—safe spaces, affirming spaces, drug-free zones, bully-free zones—the list goes on and on. But which protected spaces exist for educators? Where do educators assemble to create, connect, and explore what is possible?  Educators need spaces where they can communicate and create without the gaze of supervisors so they can authentically engage their selves and their work.  The writing collective to which I belong, Fresh I.N.K., is a space we have jointly created to serve the purposes we have deemed critical to our ability to thrive as cultural, intellectual, and powerful beings in the world of education.

Depending on the context, I am perceived as a woman sans culture, a token cultural representative, a means to an end, or an unexpected guest in contested territories.  The value this space holds for me is that it merges and amplifies aspects of who I am.  The sisterhood we have forged in Fresh I.N.K. works because our race, ethnicity, culture, language, what we have, and even what we have lost are not risk factors.  They are guideposts and lighthouses.  They are the worlds we explore and the worlds we share.

Writing groups benefit K–12 educators who are interested in creating transformative learning opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse girls because they can serve as think tanks and labs where knowledge becomes wisdom.  The intentional curation of group members who share a commitment to confronting their own biases and gaps of knowledge in relation to the intersectional identities of these girls impacts teachers and students alike.  Here are my tips to forming successful writing groups among educators:

  1. Allow yourselves to be impacted by your writing, reading, dialogue, and introspection before determining how the products of your efforts could impact culturally and linguistically diverse girls.  Practice writing about the topics you have avoided.  We know students instinctively sense when adults feign care, so take the time to be and to become more authentic in relation to this particular group of students.
  2. Be purposeful and accountable.  Give yourselves permission to be vulnerable and then help each other develop purposeful next steps.  Name your individual and collective goals, needs, strengths, and weaknesses.  Maintain lists of resources and identify who/what can guide you towards meeting your goals.  Share your progress and that of your students so the group can avoid descending into random talk and deficit-based narratives.

Theda

My relationship with writing began to blossom at an early age from the encouragement and love of my parents and many great teachers. My parents introduced me to Black excellence in writing inclusive of Langston Hughes, Jamaica Kincaid, and Nikki Giovanni. Teachers affirmed my voice by giving me the tools to strengthen my writing and providing platforms to share my writing at school events, for which my parents happily helped me practice. This love for writing and my understanding of the historical and contemporary significance of writing and literacy in the Black community became the focus of my praxis and provided fuel throughout my doctoral program. However, at times doubt entered my relationship with writing, and I struggled with feelings of disconnection. Does what I have to say matter? In these moments my family, friends, mentors, and sister circle of writers brought me back. As I now enter my third year as an assistant professor, my village, including Fresh I.N.K, has provided nourishment in the form of affirmation that my voice does indeed matter. My sister writers also offer constructive feedback rooted in love that serves to make my writing stronger.

Writing collectives are not only important for faculty and researchers, but they are also important for girls in K–12 spaces. We wish for young girls of color whose voices are often unheard to be able to build and sustain positive relationships and identities as writers. As educators, it is paramount to their self-esteem and academic success to help girls of color build and sustain strong individual and collective relationships with writing. In order to do so:

  1. Support girls of color to build relationships and become familiar with women of color who are writers. Provide texts across genres that connect girls of color to the powerful writings of women of color (nonexhaustive author suggestions: Sandra Cisneros, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Sharon Flake, Jacqueline Woodson*(see note), Zora Neale Hurston).
  2. Allow girls of color to experience and engage in supportive writing groups. Help them seek and find refuge and friendship with other girls. Foster classroom communities where they can safely “share out” their writing, “shout out” and identify the strengths in other girls’ writing, and support each other by offering constructive feedback on areas for growth.

Lorena

As I basked in the warmth of southern California and the welcoming arms of family and friends, I faced numerous challenges post-breakup with graduate school, including difficulty in finding a job where I could use my expertise; needing to write and publish; and figuring out who I was beyond the doctoral program. And the list goes on. I was overwhelmed by feelings of failure and disappointment day after day as I filled out another job application and attempted to writeIt was not until I began writing with the Fresh I.N.K. crew that I was able to work through these challenges.

During our weekly meetings, we prioritize the first 20 minutes for personal check-ins. We take turns sharing about our lives and families, accomplishments and challenges of that week. Without judgment and fear.  We understand the importance of checking in about our personal lives because who we are (mind, body, and soul) and what we experience are deeply woven into our writing. In those meetings after graduate school, my Fresh I.N.K. sisters did not let me dwell on the hopelessness of my situation; rather, they showered me with words of encouragement (and prayer), reminded me that the challenges I faced were exactly where I needed to be, and claimed my success for the future in their loving, charismatic, and no-nonsense way. All of this translated into writing and academic success.

Having a joint space for us to write as women of color has meant bringing my whole self: the Latina mother, hermana, daughter, partner, academic, and writer in me to my writing and scholarship. In our writing group, we keep each other accountable for uplifting each other, owning our greatness, and speaking truth to power in our writing, teaching, and research.

Lastly, in the midst of a world full of selfies, look-alikes, and wannabes, girls of color are often socialized and taught to be the people other people want them to be. Messages about what they should wear, how thin they should be, how straight their hair should be, and what they should do with their bodies abound in social media. Below I offer tips for K–12 teachers to consider when encouraging girls of color to write.

  1. Those who teach writing to girls of color need to be examples of collaboration, worthiness, advocacy, and support for women of color.
  2. Those who teach writing to girls of color need to teach them how to own their greatness and walk in their purpose.

Raven

If it were not for Theda, Lorena, and Tuesda, I would have gone insane in graduate school. Period! They were all in the same cohort and a year ahead of me in our doctoral program. Their advice, hugs, and conversations kept me from dropping out and poppin’ off at a few colleagues and professors, especially since I was the only Black woman or person in a lot of my courses. During one of our conversations as we were carpooling back to our hometown of Detroit, I told Theda about one of my professors not grading one of my assignments because she said my writing “does not meet the academic standards for the course” and that I should “make an appointment with the writing center.” This same professor also accused me and another person of color in the class of “forming a clique.” She tried it! After I emailed the professor to discuss the writing assignment and derogatory comments, she never met with me. Instead, she had her co-teaching colleague schedule an appointment with me. I was devastated and deflated. For several weeks that followed, I lost my voice. I lost Raven. I broke up with writing. I did not speak in class because I did not trust my professors or colleagues. It took my Fresh I.N.K. sisters, family, and other close friends to remind me that I was and am a wonderful writer and that I deserved to be in graduate school.

For me, connecting with my Fresh I.N.K. sisters is not just about writing, it is about advocacy, community, and love. It is about seeing them interact with my two-year-old daughter, Zuri Hudson, and ask her about what is going on in her busy and curious life. It is also about recognizing that, as women of color, we have the ability to rise above severe adversities and triumph over challenges. Furthermore, it is about discussing how we can show up and show out for other girls and women of color. In closing, I offer my suggestions for K–12 teachers and others to support young girls of color with their voices and writing.

  1. Provide opportunities for young girls and women of color to make writing a habit. Octavia Butler reminds us that “. . . habit is persistence in practice.” In order for young girls and women of color to make writing a habit, they need time and space to tell their stories and use their voices.
  2. Teach young girls and women of color to “reclaim. . . [their] time.” Recently, Rep. Maxine Waters (a.k.a. Auntie Maxine) (D-California) made several people proud with yet another verbal victory (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mwcCZq1gcE). During a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, Waters questioned Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin regarding a letter she sent him in May that he did not respond to. When Mnuchin failed to directly address her inquiry, Waters repeatedly stated, “Reclaiming my time!” Young girls of color and women of color in K–12 classrooms do not deserve to have their time wasted with teachers who do not care about them, their lived experiences, or writing prowess. Instead, K–12 teachers should create spaces and opportunities for young girls of color to write about an array of topics that are of interest to them—even  bad break-ups.

 Authors

Tuesda Roberts is an assistant professor of Multicultural Education at Missouri State University.  Her research engages the sociocultural roles and impacts of teachers with a focus on urban schooling.  She is a fan of red velvet cake, hails from the proud lines of Roberts and Chappells, and will always be Carol’s daughter.

Theda Gibbs Grey is a proud Detroit native and currently an assistant professor of reading in the Ohio University Department of Teacher Education. Through her teaching, research, and practice, she is committed to creating more equitable learning spaces that embrace the literacies of Black middle and high school students.

Lorena Gutiérrez is a postdoctoral scholar in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Her research highlights the ways Latinx migrant and seasonal farmworkers survive and thrive in their educational pursuits in spite of the inequities they face in K–12 schools. Her research is rooted in learning with migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Midwest, her own experiences in growing up bilingual in Colton, California, and the heritage of farm work that her abuelo cultivated in El Agostadero, Jalisco, Mexico. Twitter handle: @Lore_Gutierrez 

Raven Jones Stanbrough 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 the co-founder of The Zuri Reads Initiative, an effort to provide and organize literacy-related events and resources for Detroit-area children, students, and families. Twitter handle: @RavenForevamore

 Note: Jacqueline Woodson will be the keynote speaker for the Saturday General Session at the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention. 

“I Have a Dream” 54 Years Later

A crowd of more than 200,000 people assembled at Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”—though most of us think of it as the date that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech was the culminating event of a day of singing, talking, and political activism. Here are a few ways you can incorporate that speech into the classroom.

How Big Are Martin’s Big Words? Thinking Big about the Future
Inspired by the book Martin’s Big Words, students explore information on Dr. King to think about his “big” words, then they write about their own “big” words and dreams.

Entering History: Nikki Giovanni and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nikki Giovanni’s poem “The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.” is paired with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, taking students on a quest through time to the Civil Rights movement.

Exploring the Power of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Words through Diamante Poetry
Students explore the ways that powerful and passionate words communicate the concepts of freedom, justice, discrimination, and the American Dream in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts
Students will identify how Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of nonviolent conflict-resolution is reinterpreted in modern texts. Homework is differentiated to prompt discussion on how nonviolence is portrayed through characterization and conflict. Students will be formally assessed on a thesis essay that addresses the Six Kingian Principles of Nonviolence.

How else can you highlight this historical speech?

The Paradox of Tolerance

This post is written by member Shea Kerkhoff.

When I opened Twitter on the evening of Saturday, August 12, my feed was full of educators’ responses of outrage at what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the aftermath. I quickly closed my app. The rest of that night, I ignored Twitter, Facebook, even direct personal messages about the event. I didn’t turn on the TV. I couldn’t . . . or, more accurately, wouldn’t. I didn’t want to feel the deep sense of loss and sadness that was sweeping over me. I realized that I was acting out of white privilege, but I continued to shut out the news and my feelings. I could ignore these sad feelings, because for me the feelings would diminish as soon as the headlines found a new interest. For my friends of color, racism isn’t a 24-hour news cycle, but a daily reminder of the hate in our world.

It’s time to stop ignoring what’s going on. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to help my students make a better world.

I’ve heard too many of my students use the same rhetoric as that coming out of the White House: “Both sides are to blame” or “it’s my job to de-escalate the situation, to keep the peace.” But an educator’s job is not that of peacekeeper. It is that of peacemaker. Peace is not made through a lack of violence, but through social justice, when the righteous are declared and the evil condemned.

Tolerance is a moral stance, not a neutral stance, calling for acceptance of difference but not of evil. Let us not fall prey to the paradox of tolerance; let us teach intolerance of intolerance.

Let us not teach critical literacy and poststructuralism to the point where students trust no one and nothing. Let us teach them to question what they see in order to seek truth. Their history textbooks may read that Rome had peace for 200 years, but a country wracked with oppression, even slavery, is not at peace. Let us teach our students that blanket condemnation of violence does not lead to peace. Peace is living in equality and harmony with others.

In light of recent tragic events in Charlottesville, it’s time to double down on our commitment to education for social justice. To give you the tools to follow through on your commitment to social justice this school year, here is a link to an English Education special journal issue guest edited by April Baker-Bell, Tamara Butler, and Lamar Johnson dealing with racial violence: From Racial Violence to Racial Justice: Praxis and Implications for English (Teacher) Education.

Shea Kerkhoff received her PhD in literacy from North Carolina State University. She now teaches adolescent literacy and young adult literature at Purdue University and is assistant editor of English Education.