Tag Archives: Writing

Literacy and Culture: Are We Rising?

The words in this blog belong to NCTE member Jeff Wilhelm. Jeff Wilhelm

I spent today in Berlin and then took the train to Magdeburg where I had a dinner meeting and where I will be working with English teachers (teaching English to German students) for the next two days.

Some observations about literacy: the Leipzig Buchmesse (book fair) is taking place and every newspaper I saw from around Germany (Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich) had a front page story about it. Then a page two story about a reading or some such related literacy event in that city.

36% of Germans say they have picked up and read more than one book of literature in the last week. Compare that to 3% of Americans. What’s up with that and what could we do about it? Is this a failure of teaching? A lack of social imagination? Our emphasis on immediate functional work?

Check out the stone tablet! Now we have the Kindle! Where to next? Wilhelm stone tablet

I went to the famous Pergamon Museum on the World Heritage Museum-insel (museum island) in Berlin and the exhibits were filled with scribe statues (a very big deal in ancient Assyria and Babylonia since scribes allowed for record keeping and trade and legal documents and many other things that promotes power and culture), stone and clay tablets, and even a “golden hat”, a rare kind of 19-year calendar that could be used to do various calculations and placeheld astronomical knowledge.

The rise of culture always parallels the rise of literacy. What does that say about us?”

Jeff Wilhelm is Distinguished Professor of Boise State University, Director of the Boise State Writing Project, and an internationally-known teacher, author, and presenter, and author and co-author of many books including “You Gotta BE the Book”: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents for which he won the NCTE Promising Research Award in 1995,  and Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change  Right now Jeff is teaching in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar and you can follow his experiences on Facebook.

Methods, Non-methods?

This post is written by James Davis, NCTE’s P12 policy analyst from Iowa.

JamesDavis1At the 2015 NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis, immediately after a morning session on writing for the Conference on English Education’s Writers Who Care blog, I ran into a former student. Reminded that I had not worked with him in the Teaching Writing methods course (which I usually teach), I asked Brian about how our work in Creative Nonfiction contributed to his teacher preparation. I found his initial response intriguing: “It was a major source of mentor texts – my own writing – to use with my high school students.” We discussed instructor and peer responses to his drafts and subsequent revisions polishing those texts he now uses as “mentors”; these responses and workshop practices contributed to his current practices and allow him to share the processes behind mentor texts. Our use of nonfiction readings in the course, which deliberately expands students’ awareness of a less familiar genre, reinforced the potential of using reading to fuel writing, including in a writing workshop – timely for him, considering the recent emphasis on including nonfiction in secondary schools. Experiences in and products from this non-methods course enrich the apprenticeships into which Brian can and does invite his students.

Three weeks later I met with English teaching majors who had attended the NCTE Convention, in part to encourage them to write for the CEE blog, especially about the convention experience as part of their teacher preparation journey. I shared points from the chat with Brian. One student leader pointed to her Creative Nonfiction course portfolio as pivotal, coming as it did at a crucial decision point in her career and enabling her to process her choices through writing. Her writer’s notebook, started in Creative Nonfiction and continued daily for more than a year now, along with posts on the course eLearning site contributed greatly to her sense of self as a writer, a characteristic we should encourage in each of our English teaching candidates. Others among the five students in this course echoed the importance of the relationships they developed with writing itself, and with a writing group, as preparatory to becoming teachers, integrating a growth mindset into their sense of teacher-as-writer. They were also transitioning into an understanding of writing-as-teacher in field experiences, initially through reflections on practices observed and applied, but also through recognizing larger arenas of school practice and policy in need of teacher attention, even advocacy. Some students appreciated seeing “bumps” in our workshops and how I addressed them, such as peers not preparing for response sessions or responding in ways inconsistent with the spirit of the workshop – or not responding at all, including the reflective postings expected on eLearning. One referred to these frustrations as offering “advanced experience” with workshop pedagogy.JamesDavis2

Such discussions with fine future teachers provoke questions, especially since our secondary English teacher preparation occurs in an English department in a college of humanities, arts, and sciences in a medium-size regional university with a prominent state service mission. We often seem to interface awkwardly with the College of Education preparation our students report. We know future teachers critique, at least silently, the pedagogy they experience in their preparation program; they also scrutinize practices encountered in courses in their disciplines. That “teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach” has long held some currency, so perhaps we should ask some questions more publicly. For example:

  • What fit might we expect—or fear—between college literature course pedagogy and the experiences that middle and high school students have with literature?
  • What kinds of student writing are called for by the practices of literature professors, and how does that writing subsequently affect the writing that secondary students are asked to do about literature?
  • What uses of electronic access to information infuse college students’ learning, and how do those uses translate into subsequent practices in secondary schools?
  • Can blog “threads” (for example, the recent online renewal of contention over grammar instruction, or definitions of argument and persuasion) engage methods students in current discussions of pedagogy and with issues they will encounter as new teachers?
  • Does their program as a whole position future English teachers as informed self-advocates rather than as compliant followers of scripted programs and users of status quo practices?
  • What if our pedagogy across all courses in our department reflected our conscious intent to transform teaching in the secondary schools from which we receive 90% of our students?
  • What if we engaged in a serious conversation about why and how to do so?

Jim Davis began teaching in southwest Missouri as an NCTE and affiliate member, attending his first annual convention in Milwaukee in 1968. Now in his 50th year in our profession, he teaches English education and directs the Iowa Writing Project at the University of Northern Iowa.

Why Journalism Matters #1 Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Thesis vs. Lede

This is the second in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome. 

Alana RomeHow to teach essay writing: it’s one of the biggest struggles as an English teacher. Crafting a well-written thesis, organizing and prioritizing information, backing up claims with textual evidence and many more subtle skills students need to master before they leave our classrooms. . . .

Wouldn’t it be nice if those skills were reinforced in another class, as well?

Enter journalism classes.

Although any journalism teacher will tell you that article writing is vastly different from essay writing, both share many of the vital skills students need to effectively communicate through the written word.

Through this “Why Journalism Matters” mini-blog series, I will highlight several similarities between essay and article writing, and by extension, show how journalism programs can be utilized to help foster and reinforce strong writing and communication skills among English students.


The heart of the essay, the “so what?,” the author’s main argument or claim. Whatever you call it and however you define it for students, the basic premise is the same: students need to know how to frame their ideas clearly so their readers know what is being argued.

A lede (pronounced “lead”) serves the same purpose in article writing; it is a brief (often 35-40 word) introduction considered to be the most important part of the article. The lede presents the reader with the “5W and H”: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Although ledes have always been considered the most crucial part of a story, readers’ dwindling attention spans, thanks to bite-size news found in SnapChat and Twitter, have made grabbing their attention an even bigger challenge.

Teaching journalism students to write effective ledes helps reinforce effective theses in English classes. Ledes teach students how to present the most salient information first, helping to frame the rest of the text for the reader. Moreover, both effective ledes and theses must utilize active voice and help the writer clarify the angle, or purpose, of their writing.

For more information on writing ledes, see the following links:

How To Write a Great Lede for Your News Story (About.com) — Goes over what a lede is and breaks down several effective ledes into their parts.

A Lede Should . . . (College Journalism) — Lists and explains various types of story ledes.

How To Write a Lede (OWL Purdue) — A very comprehensive resource for different kinds of ledes, with examples and do’s and dont’s.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Recognizing the Importance of Scholastic Journalism

This blog post is by NCTE member  Alana Rome. It is the first in a weekly series

Alana RomeMost successful and passionate educators consistently advocate for a particular issue or philosophy. I’m currently reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and her pedological crusade involves creating passion, stamina and autonomy in students’ reading, creating lifelong readers that are prepared for the rigor of college and beyond.

Over the past four years, my goal as an educator has evolved into advocating for scholastic journalism, by promoting its value in schools and its ability to enhance and enrich English study. In an age where No Child Left Behind still reins supreme as The Every Student Succeeds Act; states grapple with adopting PARCC and SBAC assessments; and districts nationwide continue to cut budgets, aspects of education that do not expressly deal with core content areas seemingly become expendable.

I am here to prove that turning away from “elective” programs like journalism will not benefit students in our apparent goal to make them “college and career ready.” In fact, several conducted studies indicate the opposite: Involvement in scholastic journalism and newspaper programs correlate with higher standardized test scores and better college GPAs. These programs also improve students’ critical thinking, research, communicative and writing skills; but that’s a much deeper conversation for another blog post.

My initiative to promote scholastic journalism came alive last year with a proposition from my supervisor and superintendent: to teach a part-time class load, and dedicate the rest of my time to renovating our journalism and newspaper program. With no end goal or desired result communicated, I was left to my own devices to find ways to improve and advance our program.

In order to chronicle my journey, document my progress for administration, and help out fellow journalism teachers and advisers tasked with the same initiative, I created my blog, The Trials of Trailblazing, a play on our newspaper name, Trailblazer. On a weekly basis, I discuss our successes, failures, goals, fears and ideas. My hope is that advisers and teachers will read my blog, learn from my journey, or at the very least, become inspired and empowered to execute their own ideas.  

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

National Poetry Month: Writing Poetry

rebusHelp students recognize the elements of a poem and explore different ways of writing poetry, and you’ll also enable the students to become more familiar with the meaning of words and sentences, sentence structure, rhymes, and vocabulary. Plus, in writing poetry, students will discover a new, limitless world of expression that’s just as fun to share with others as it is to create. Try out some of these lesson plans and resources from ReadWriteThink.org.

Encourage creativity and word play by helping a child recognize the elements of a poem and explore different ways of writing one in this Tip & How To written for families.

Writing Poetry with Rebus and Rhyme” encourages students to use rhyming words to write rebus poetry modeled on rebus books, which substitute pictures for the words that young students cannot yet identify or decode.

Students create poetry collections with the theme of “getting to know each other” in this ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan. They study and then write a variety of forms of poetry to include in their collections.

After reading a book or magazine, children and teens can choose a section and transform it into what’s known as a “found poem” in “Finding Poetry in Pleasure Reading“.

In “The ABCs of Poetry” students examine a letter of the alphabet from all angles, creating image pools of original metaphors that they then turn into poems.

Using an online tool, students summarize papers they have written using the traditional format of a haiku in “Summarizing with Haikus“.

What poetry writing activities do your students enjoy?