World Poetry Day

World Poetry Day is recognized every year on March 21. This is the day in which UNESCO recognises the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture. To honor World Poetry Day, take some time to read and explore writers from around the globe and bring their works into the classroom.

Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante, was a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. “The Art of Imitation” invites students to craft verse-narratives that mimic the character, plot, and stylistic devices of Dante, as well as Chaucer.

Alastair Reid was a Scottish poet and a scholar of South American literature. Author Naorni Shihab Nye, in “Globos = Balloons“, shares the power of translating poems using a piece from Reid.

India’s Rabindranath Tagore authored a timeless poem, “The man had no useful
work.” “Classic Connections: Aiding Literary Comprehension through Varied Liberal Arts Alliances” explores using that poem as the inspiration for dramatic interpretation.

Rose Macaulay was an English novelist and writer. “Mimesis: Grammar and the Echoing Voice” uses an example by Rose Macaulay to show how she selected her words, as all the adjectives work hard in her description.

Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. This article from English Journal used a work from Ibsen to investigate students’ attitudes about

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era, popular in Britain and the United States during her lifetime. This lesson plan from invites students into “Finding Poetry in Prose: Reading and Writing Love Poems“.

What are your plans for celebrating World Poetry Day?


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.


Teaching for Responsibility and Independence

Terry Thompson @TerryTreads leads an #NCTEchat on Teaching for Responsibility and IndependenceJoin Terry Thompson @TerryTreads this Sunday for a conversation around “Teaching for Responsibility and Independence.”

Terry is an author, teacher, and consultant living in San Antonio, Texas. He provides staff development for teachers of readers and writers in grades K–8. Currently a reading interventionist, Terry has served as a classroom teacher, basic skills teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, and literacy coach. His most recent book is The Construction Zone: Building Scaffolds for Readers and Writers.

Here’s what we’ll discuss during the chat:

Q1: What challenges do you face when it comes to shifting students toward independence in literacy?

Q2: What evidence do you look for that show students are reaching independence? What assessment practices seem most valuable?

Q3: Despite our best intentions, how might we get in the way of students working at optimal levels of responsibility and how can we monitor for this?

Q4: What are some ways we can invite our students to share the responsibility for learning and to move toward independence?

Q5: How can our feedback help students take responsibility for their own learning?

Q6: After reflecting on tonight’s discussion, how will you be more mindful of teaching for student responsibility and independence tomorrow morning?

No Homework…Beneficial?

This is a guest post written by Katie Cassavaugh. 

katiecassavaughHomework as defined by Merriam-Webster means “preparatory reading or research (as for a discussion or a debate).” When I was a student, it meant hours of stress and hair pulling after having having already spent eight hours cramming knowledge into my head. It was also a point of tension in my house as I who lacked math skills tried to get help from my parents who were not hip to the new methods. And my brother didn’t want to read anything other than sports magazines. Not only was homework a painful time for me, it was more than exhausting for my parents, who had a full work day followed by making dinner only to then battle us for homework.

That is why when I started this year as a student teacher in a fifth-grade classroom at Orchard Elementary, I was overjoyed to learn that the school had instituted a no-homework policy. I, along with some of the other teachers, immediately became worried that our already jammed schedules would become more cramped, but after the first two or three weeks, that concern faded away and we got into a steady rhythm. We found ways to fit all the subjects into the school day and knew that whatever we did not finish, we could do tomorrow.

Now, no homework does not mean no reading; the stipulation is that students are still always working on becoming lifelong readers. We expect them to read their “just right books” for 20–30 minutes a night and do not consider a book they are choosing to read out of interest to be homework. This is learning to enjoy reading rather than dreading it,  which would have been perfect for my brother who only read magazines. And, along with choice reading, we expect students to spend more time playing and not sitting in front of a screen!

As a student teacher, I was excited to see this policy in play. Earlier in my school career, I had interned in a first-grade classroom. The students there had only one math sheet for homework every night, but this was enough to cause them stress. Not getting it done and missing morning meeting to complete it made them sad. The school and students were great, but if one worksheet made children this stressed, I could only imagine what 30 to 60 minutes of work would do!

Of course, we cannot forget the benefits of homework, such as helping those who struggle to get extra practice and holding students accountable for all their work. One drawback to to  a no-homework policy is that students do not have any accountability for their work. Before, if students fooled around and did not finish their work, they would have to finish it at home. Now with the new policy, teachers either let go of the assignment and move on or have to carve out more time during the school day for the students to finish.

Overall, I support a no-homework policy. Students are so scheduled between school, sports, musical instruments, and other extracurricular activities and chores. Taking away one thing such as homework can free the students to be kids again. It can give them an extra one to three hours to play and be free. They already spend so much time studying and learning new information; they should have the opportunity to leave their work behind for the day and relax. When kids hit sixth grade and beyond, they will once again have homework. From age 5 to 10, they need to focus on being kids, growing their creativity, and learning through play!

Katie Cassavaugh is a senior at Champlain College. She currently interns at Orchard Elementary and works at Kids and Fitness in Burlington, Vermont.

Where Do We Draw the Line?

The line between intellectual freedom and censorship is sometimes a fine one. Especially in schools.

Certainly, we are all free to hold our beliefs. But, it’s quite possible that what we believe cannot be part of the school curriculum.


Take two recent state bills concerning the teaching of science in the schools: one in South Dakota and one in Oklahoma.  NCTE signed on letters standing against passage of both of these bills.

In South Dakota, Senate Bill 55, entitled “An Act to Protect the Teaching of Certain Scientific Information,”  targeted the teaching of evolution and climate change. The description of the bill reads innocuously enough: “No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.” However, its intent is that counter-arguments to climate change theory and evolution could be presented on equal footing with the teachings on those topics outlined in the state’s science standards.  The House Education Committee defeated this bill.

In Oklahoma, SB. 393,  titled the “Oklahoma Science Education Act,” calls for “providing for the creation of a school environment that encourages the exploration of scientific theories; allowing teachers to help students analyze certain scientific strengths and weaknesses; prohibiting the promotion of religious or non-religious beliefs; providing for certain notification…” This bill has not yet moved.

In both cases, the bills claim to protect academic freedom and each does represent the presentation of different points of view. But, in schools we rely on more than points of view in our teaching. As a National Coalition Against Censorship article notes:

“Academic freedom is a vital pillar of both our education system and our democracy. However it does not entitle teachers to reject the professional standards governing education. Students and teachers must have freedom of inquiry and the freedom to scrutinize scientific, historical, and literary writings. But this freedom does not permit teachers to say whatever they would like in the classroom or promote what educators and experts consider to be misleading, incomplete or false information. Rather than protecting free inquiry, the bill would simply allow teachers to deviate from approved curricula, at the expense of high quality education.”