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Attention NJ ELA teachers: Would you like to write for the NJCTE blog? We would be happy to publish your ideas and insights about your practice or resources you’ve had success with, etc. We welcome original pieces or those that have been posted elsewhere. Please send queries and contributions to njcteblog@gmail.com.

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Summer reading, having a blast …

by Susan Chenelle, NJCTE blog editor

While many look forward to their first beach trip of the summer, for me, especially this year, it was my first trip to my local library in more than a year(!) that marked the start of summer. It felt so good to walk through the stacks, carry away an armload of books, and dive into them. Ah, bliss!

So far, Danielle Evans’ The Office of Historical Corrections is the standout of my summer reading. I’ll definitely be recommending Evans’ story “Boys Go to Jupiter” or the titular novella to the English teachers at my school. And I’m thrilled to finally be joining the N. K. Jemisin fan club, even while I’m only half way through the first volume of her Broken Earth trilogy.

And of course, I’m not alone in my summer reading revelry. NJCTE board member Nicole Warchol writes that she recently finished Jeff Zentner’s forthcoming In the Wild Light (August 2021): “As a musician with an appreciation for poetry, readers will find a certain lyricism in Zentner’s prose. Similar to his other novels, this story focuses on what teenagers care about most: the depths of friendship, trying to navigate circumstances that are many times out of their control, and exploring who they are and who they want to be. Cash Pruitt’s story reminds me of the line from Anaïs Nin, ‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’ I’ve had a difficult time reading during the pandemic. Cash’s story about deciding whether to cling to the safety of home or leap toward his future is one of the few books I have been able to finish and enjoy.”

NJCTE membership chair Denise Weintraut shared these recommendations: “When one thinks of fairy tales, we often recall the sanitized versions that comforted us in our childhoods. In The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country by Melissa Albert, fairytales take a dark turn with some magical realism. Set in the modern-day, urban location of New York City, the story examines the extremes that one will undertake in order to save one’s family, and possibly one’s self. Seventeen-year-old Alice is thrust into a series of strange events after her estranged grandmother, an author of a cult-classic book of dark fairytales, dies alone on her hidden estate. Driving the story is the kidnapping of Alice’s mother, supposedly by a character who claims to be from the Hinterland, the cruel world where her grandmother’s stories are set. The only clue left behind is a message from her mother to stay away from the Hazel Wood, the estate where her grandmother lived. One need not be familiar with any of the classic fairytales in order to enjoy this story. If you like adventure, intrigue, and a fast-moving plot, this story will do the trick!”

NJCTE president Valerie Mattessich reports that she “just finished Shiner by Amy Jo Burns and was blown away by the beautiful language and heartrending storyline. I am also currently enjoying World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, which also features beautiful turns of phrase and captures the natural world as it relates to the author’s life.”

Finally, NJCTE board member Joe Pizzo has “been reading A Suitcase of Seaweed & more by Janet Wong. It features poems about Wong’s three cultures: Chinese, Korean, and American. The poems are brief, and there is a backstory and discussion questions accompanying each poem. I’ve also been reading Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 (second edition) by Dr. Debbie Silver. She has updated her original book to include Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and more.”

We’d love to hear what you’re reading and enjoying! Please share your summer reading reviews and recommendations below in the comments. We are also looking for recommendations for our next Muriel Becker Award for Literary Excellence winner. If there’s an author of young adult literature you’ve recently discovered and would like to recommend, please send your suggestion to njctepresident@gmail.com.

And don’t forget to sign up for our Summer Learning Virtual Sessions, which kick off tomorrow, July 8, at 4pm, with “Love & Literacy: Developing Student Voice and Agency in Discourse,” led by 2015 NJCTE Teacher of the Year Stephen Chiger.

Summer reading, having a blast …

New Issue of New Jersey English Journal Is Live!

We are proud to share the 2021 issue of New Jersey English Journal (NJEJ). This year’s theme is, “Course Correction: The Adaptive Nature of English Language Arts.”

In this issue, we hoped to create an opportunity for reflection on how the pandemic has changed the course of teaching English Language Arts. In our call for submissions, we asked authors, 

  • How did teaching and learning change during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did teachers and students adapt, both personally and academically? What lessons will we carry with us into future teaching and learning?
  • How did the shift to remote instruction raise awareness of inequities within and across our schools? In what ways can educators create more equitable learning opportunities?
  • In what ways do teachers respond to curveballs—both large and small—from their students, in their own lives, at their institutions, in their communities, or on a national level?
  • In what ways has the ELA classroom or the role of ELA teachers evolved during 2020, and how might it continue to change in the future? How can ELA teachers adapt their methods—for example, by considering issues such as social-emotional learning, social justice, and/or new technologies—to respond to students’ evolving needs and make space for new voices, texts, and approaches?

This issue features work in three genres: poetry, reflective pieces, and research articles. Our authors include current teachers, teacher educators, and literacy leaders. 

One set of articles from teacher educators focused on the importance of preparing pre-service teachers to adapt to quickly changing circumstances (Emily Wender, “Training Adaptive Teachers”) and to be “flexible” (Elizabeth Leer, “Learning to Teach in a Pandemic: Qualities Contributing to Success”). 

During a time of great turmoil and danger to our physical selves, several of these articles remind us that it is ok to “let some things go” (Sheila Benson, “Maybe Elsa’s Right: We Need to Let Some Things Go”) and instead, that it is critical to care for our own and our students’ mental health and social/emotional needs. (See, for example, Latasha Holt and Teesha Finkbeiner’s piece, “Uniting in a Reading Education Course to Support Mental Health Awareness During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Kathleen Adler’s “Reading: The Key to Addressing Students’ Social Emotional Needs in the Time of COVID-19,” and “In Praise of Poetry: Using Poems to Promote Joy, Community, and SEL During the Pandemic” by Jordan Virgil and Katie Gallagher.) 

Additionally, many of our pieces offered guidance and reflection on how to use technological tools to foster student connection and engagement during remote teaching, such as Annie Yon’s piece on Padlet, “How Padlet Encouraged Student Collaboration and Engagement in My Virtual Classroom,” and Maria Geiger’s piece on the flipped classroom, “Flip Your Way Into the Future of Learning.”  

To read the full 2021 issue and access back issues, visit: https://digitalcommons.montclair.edu/nj-english-journal/

New Issue of New Jersey English Journal Is Live!

Teachers Needed for Research on Conceptions of Dis/ability

Please see the following call for research participants from NJCTE member Ashley Pollitt:

I am writing to let you know about an opportunity to participate in a research study about teachers’ conceptions of dis/ability. To participate, you will complete a questionnaire about your professional experiences, teaching background, and conceptions of dis/ability. The questionnaire should take between 20-30 minutes of your time to complete. If you are a high school special or general education literacy teacher who is over 18 years of age, you may be eligible to participate. If you have any questions about the study, please contact the principal investigator, Dr. Nicole Barnes, Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, at barnesn@montclair.edu. Thank you for considering participation in this study. This study has been approved by the Montclair State University Institutional Review Board, Study no. IRB-FY20-21-2204.


Please click here to access the questionnaire.

Sincerely,

Ashley Pollitt

Doctoral Candidate: Teacher Education and Teacher Development
Montclair State University
rilloa1@montclair.edu

Teachers Needed for Research on Conceptions of Dis/ability

May News: President-Elect Valerie Mattessich, NJEJ Seeks Co-Editors

The NJCTE Nominating Committee, chaired by Susan Reese with members Joseph Pizzo and Nichol Warchol, congratulates president-elect Valerie Mattessich (Pascack Valley Regional High School)!
 
“In terms of vision, I’m thinking of a theme of ‘connection.’ I’d like to explore ways in which we can partner with a variety of people and other organizations, and ways to connect more teachers to each other regionally, to increase member engagement and provide fulfilling professional learning experiences.“

New Jersey English Journal Is Looking for New Co-Editors

Want to help edit the scholarly and creative journal of the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English? This is a great opportunity to do great work and collaborate with current editor Lauren Zucker. Please consider applying. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, but we will begin to consider submissions after June 15.

May News: President-Elect Valerie Mattessich, NJEJ Seeks Co-Editors

NJCTE Congratulates 2021 Writing Contest Winners and Teachers

Congratulations to the many winners of our 2021 Writing Contest! This year, we had 231 entries! Forty new teachers submitted their students’ work (59 teachers in total). Thirty-one high schools participated.

Five first-time teachers had winning submissions. There was heavy participation in the essay and poetry divisions.  A total of 20 judges assisted through multiple rounds.

Thanks to all the amazing students and teachers who submitted work, to the incredible volunteers who gave of their time in judging the contest, and to NJCTE Writing Contest Chair and Board Member Lynn Kelly!

Please join us in congratulating our winners!

1st Place- Essay
Title: “There Is Promise of Light Even in Darkness”
Student Name: Heather Roselle                  
School: Point Pleasant Borough High School
Teacher: Mrs. Lynn Thompson

2nd Place- Essay
Title: “More Than a Hashtag, More Than a Movement”
Student Name: Allanah Mednard               
School: Pascack Hills High School
Teacher: Jamie Marootian

3rd Place- Essay
Title: “A Tumultuous Time”
Student Name: Kieran Cunningham             
School: Morristown High School
Teacher: Claudine Priola

1st Place- Poetry
Title: “Elegy for My Stupid Brother in College”
Student Name: Catherine Park
School: Bergen County Academies
Teacher: Richard Weems

2nd Place- Poetry
Title: “Foraging”
Student Name: Kristen Park  
School: High Technology High School
Teacher: Kristy Agazarian

3rd Place Poetry
Title: “on the brown couch”
Student Name:  Rebecca Guzman
School: Bruriah School for Girls
Teacher: Rachel Zylberman

1st Place Fiction
Title“Mirror From the Past”
Student Name:  Celeste McKenzie            
School:  North Brunswick Township High School
Teacher: Carolyn Hassenkamp

2nd Place Fiction
Title: “Two Days, One Step”
Student Name: Tessa Rothman
School: Glen Ridge High School
Teacher: Allison Gallo

3rd Place- Fiction
Title: “Two Truths and a Lie”
Student Name: Gian Lee                  
School: Academy of the Holy Angels
Teacher: Nancy Schneberger

NJCTE Congratulates 2021 Writing Contest Winners and Teachers

NJCTE Elections and Open Board Meeting – May 10

The Nominating Committee, chaired by Susan Reese with members Joseph Pizzo and Nichol Warchol, wishes to submit the following slate of officers for board positions.

President – Valerie Mattessich (Pascack Valley Regional High School)

“In terms of vision, I’m thinking of a theme of ‘connection.’ I’d like to explore ways in which we can partner with a variety of people and other organizations, and ways to connect more teachers to each other regionally, to increase member engagement and provide fulfilling professional learning experiences. “

Recording Secretary – TBA
We welcome nominations from the membership.

Treasurer –  Audrey Fisch (New Jersey City University) and Katie Nieves Licwinko (Sparta Middle School)

This election will take place on May 10, 2021, at 5 p.m. on Zoom and is open to all NJCTE members. Join us to nominate yourself or any other person and to vote on these positions. In particular, we are eager to find a recording secretary from the membership. If you are willing to come to our monthly online meetings and take notes, please consider nominating yourself for this role.

Register in advance for this meeting. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

NJCTE Elections and Open Board Meeting – May 10

Tell Me Who You Are: Windows and mirrors for our students and ourselves

Originally posted on the Using Informational Text to Teach Literature blog

by Susan Chenelle, NJCTE blog editor, and Audrey A. Fisch, NJCTE President

Thinking of the works we read with our students as “windows and mirrors” has become a popular way of conceptualizing why and how we diversify our curriculathanks to Emily Style who named the concept in 1988. In “Curriculum as Window and Mirror,” she wrote:

“… [S]tudents’ educational diet is not balanced if they see themselves in the mirror all the time. Likewise, democracy’s school curriculum is unbalanced if a black student sits in school, year after year, forced to look through the window upon the (validated) experiences of white others while seldom, if ever, having the central mirror held up to the particularities of her or his own experience. Such racial imbalance is harmful as well to white students whose seeing of humanity’s different realities is also profoundly obscured.”

Through the work of individual teachers, teachers working collaboratively with colleagues, groups like DisruptTexts and ProjectLit, and professional organizations like NCTE, our curricula are becoming more diverse. In addition, we continue to ask ourselves how we use texts in our classrooms, given the disparate teaching contexts each of us faces, the students we are teaching, and the events of the world swirling around us. 

While we turn to works of fiction and their characters to humanize past, present, and visions of the future, our students still can struggle to connect with stories about times, places, and people that are far off from their own experience or to realize that fictional stories are derived from the experiences of real people. 

As we have found, informational texts can help students connect fiction back to and enrich their understanding of the real world. We experienced this when discussing Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun with Susan’s sophomores. Until we shared with them excerpts from a report by the City of Chicago on acts of violence and harassment toward African-American families who had moved into previously white housing developments in the 1950s and 1960s, many of them believed Hansberry’s play was just a made-up story.

Style’s article is helpful again in understanding this:

“In considering how the curriculum functions, it is essential to note the connection between eyesight and insight. … no student acquires knowledge in the abstract; learning is always personal. Furthermore, learning never takes place in a vacuum; it is always contextual.”

The remarkable array of voices collected by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi in their 2019 collection, Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity, can provide just such personal context for a wide range of works, both fiction and nonfiction. Following their graduation from high school(!), Guo and Vulchi traveled the United States, starting in Anchorage, Alaska, in July 2017, and completing their journey in Charlottesville, Virginia, in February 2018. Along the way, they interviewed more than 500 people and recorded their stories in their own words. Bound together, these stories, each with a photograph of its teller, present a beautiful encyclopedia of the people of the United States, featuring unique experiences, histories, and perspectives that many readers – both adults and students – will not have heard before and/or will recognize themselves in.

Particular excerpts readily lend themselves to connections with texts frequently taught in ELA classrooms. Butler, a man from Montgomery, Alabama, tells the story of his mother, Aurelia Browder, who was the lead plaintiff in the federal court case that overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and legally ended desegregation. This story would provide valuable context for students reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice; while Guo and Vulchi’s interview with present-day students at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, provides powerful connections with Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry

Louise from Seattle tells of being interned with her family, and all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, just six months before she was supposed to graduate from high school. While she shares her experience of the concentration camps, she also talks about her life afterward and how she feels about being an American now. Louise’s story is an obvious complement to Farewell to Manzanar. The story of Claudette, a rising chef from Chula Vista, California, meanwhile, provides a real-life role-model similar to the heroine of Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High.

Tell Me Who You Are provides a wealth of windows and mirrors that allow readers to see aspects of ourselves in others and to see how each of our identities shapes our views and experiences of the world. Each story is short, usually 2-3 pages, so it can be easily accessed once a week or so, allowing students to meet new people and consider their way of living in the world. This collection is also a very human and accessible illustration of intersectionality, a concept Guo and Vulchi return to frequently as they narrate their journey as two young BIPOC women talking to people all around the United States. (The website of CHOOSE, the racial literacy organization they founded, also provides a rich array of resources, including profiles of teachers and K-12 lesson plans across all disciplines.)

Finally, as we began writing this, we shared in the widespread tributes to Beverly Cleary, who passed away this week, at the age of 104.
 In her honor, let us continue to give our students opportunities to read stories they can see themselves in, to encourage them to “embrace their too much-ness,” and to write the books that they want to read. And let’s continue to create the ELA classrooms we and our students need and want.

Tell Me Who You Are: Windows and mirrors for our students and ourselves

NJCTE Announces Teacher for the Dream Award Winners

NJCTE is thrilled to announce the two winners of our 2021-2023 Teacher for the Dream Award: Alexandria Lefkovits and Deborah Bartley-Carter. This award is a collaboration between the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Alexandria Lefkovits is currently a middle school Gifted & Talented teacher in New Jersey, transitioning from many years as a teacher of English Language Arts. Alexandria holds a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and an MS in Education focusing on Adolescent English Instruction from St. John’s University. She has spent 15 years nurturing her love of working with students — whether tutoring, launching an English-immersion summer camp in China, building a preschool Mandarin immersion program in Colorado, or delivering dynamic, literature-focused lessons.  She has taught across grades 6-12 and delivered instruction to Integrated —i.e., mixtures of ELLs, students with disabilities, and students on-level— and Honors-level classes; additionally, she has held the position of AP English Literature and Composition Teacher and prepared students for the AP English Language and Composition exam.

Though her official teaching career began in New York, Alexandria returned to her home state of New Jersey to pursue her passion for equity in education. Since her return, Alexandria has often found that she is the only teacher of color either on staff, in the English department, or in the general education setting. She believes that it is imperative to have teachers of color in general education and higher-level environments in order to avoid subconsciously affiliating high-need environments as being the natural domain of people of color; moreover, she insists that it is the duty of a robust academic program to ensure that multicultural perspectives permeate all areas and levels of learning. Authentic access to these perspectives demands the inclusion of the people holding them. Alexandria has already begun to address these concerns in her own school: serving on the Equity and Inclusion committee, developing an enrichment cluster complementary to the Gifted and Talented program that more accurately represents the demographics of the student body, and guaranteeing all students access to special opportunities irrespective of the perceived barriers of level or language. Alexandria is thrilled to be a recipient of the Teacher for the Dream Award and welcomes the opportunity to share her voice, experience, and ideas with the NJCTE and beyond.

Deborah Bartley-Carter’s lifework has been in education for 20 years. She advanced in her career from primary classroom teacher to district level leadership roles. As a Regional Instructional Specialist in Literacy K-12 in New York City and then District Supervisor of Language Arts K-12 in New Jersey, she worked to find innovative and sustainable ways to impact teaching and learning literacy. As an Assistant Principal in grades 6-12 in New York City, she worked with teachers and fellow administrators to design curriculum, support professional growth and build a thriving school community. 

Deborah continues to learn throughout her professional career. She has always been invigorated by her inquisitiveness and her quest for improving learning experiences for all students. She has been awarded grants to enhance and improve her skills as an educator through the Fund for Teachers, The National Endowment for Humanities, The Moth Teacher Institute and The Gilder Lehrman Foundation. In 2020, she received the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching and conducted her inquiry research at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. 

Deborah stays connected to the international education community by volunteering her time in programs for visiting Fulbrighters and organizations that support student exchange. She has served as a Board Member for several organizations in New York and New Jersey. She currently serves as a Board of Director for Valley Arts NJ in Orange, New Jersey and One to World in New York City. She was previously a Board member of Dancewave Dance School in New York City and Paulo Freire Charter High School in New Jersey. 

Deborah currently works at JH Brensinger School in Jersey City. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Binghamton University and a Master of Arts from Teachers College at Columbia University. She is an active member of several committees and associations. She served as a local graduate chapter Committee Chair for the National Commission for Arts and Letters as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is a member of the National Council for History Education, Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education,The National Council for Teachers of English and New Jersey Education Association. 

NJCTE Announces Teacher for the Dream Award Winners

Diversifying curriculum through choice book clubs

by Sarah Reynolds, Secondary Teacher of English, @MsReynoldsELA

Through hashtags, conferences, book clubs, and educational movements, diverse books have become a forefront in the creation and rethinking of English curriculum. As white, male-centered curricula come under scrutiny, the question then becomes how and what voices to integrate into the curriculum–not just to increase student engagement, but more importantly to provide representation and visibility to our most marginalized students. 

Like many teachers, I have designated and required whole-class texts through curriculum; also, like many high school teachers, I guide students through Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird during the year. This novel serves as an opportunity to address and engage students with talk of race and of inequality within the justice system. However, this novel–as noted by many #DisruptTexts threads on Twitter–falls short in many ways of truly teaching and inspiring an anti-racist classroom and providing a full view of injustices and systemic opression of the present day.

In order to combat this and to provide narratives written by those marginalized voices, my grade level team is implementing and preparing to have a diverse book club added to our curriculum. Throughout our Mockingbird unit, there is an emphasis placed on historical context and using nonfiction sources in order to develop a deeper analysis and understanding of character, setting, and conflict. We include sources that discuss the time period from Black perspectives as well as complete pre-reading research on segregation, the justice system, and racist practices of the time. However, there is still a need to bring these issues into the present as opposed to leaving them as conflicts of days past; racism did not die as Atticus Finch gave his closing argument.

With this novel in mind as a piece of our curriculum, my grade level team selected novels that highlight injustice and prejudice within the justice system’s history, development, and practice, not just toward the Black community but also including the LGBTQ+ experience. Our response is to create a choice book club that will occur after our whole-class reading of Mockingbird with titles that include All American Boys (Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds), 57 Bus (Dashka Slater), and The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas). Each of these stories has an injustice at its center–police brutality, hate crimes–but they also serve to highlight more than the action itself and focus on reaction and restoration while remaining focused on the marginalized community.

While reading Mockingbird, Scout’s observations and perspective guide the reader through the events of the Robinson trial. Similarly, Star (The Hate U Give) provides a window into the perspectives of predominantly white and black communities, dual perspectives of Rashad and Quinn (All American Boys) give insight to the reactions of the community, and Dashka Slater (57 Bus) gives a third-person perspective on the story of Sasha and Richard through non-fiction reporting. In an age of media commentary, arming students with the ability to dissect context and perspective on reactions to injustice is more important than ever. Students will see reactionary reporting, writing, and posts anytime an injustice occurs–we witnessed this throughout the Spring and Summer of 2020 with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations post George Floyd’s murder. Not only is it essential that students hear these stories and engage with diverse perspectives, but the selected novels also provide an opportunity to ask “why might this response be occurring” and “how does a history of marginalization inform this view.” 

In addition to the initial reactions, all of these selections move beyond Mockingbird by providing restoration and maintaining focus on the Black and LGBTQ+ communities in each story. Unfortunately, Tom Robinson’s story ends in tragedy, and the remainder of the novel centers on Boo Radley, Bob Ewell, and the Finch family. The selections we made follow the marginalized voices and communities through to the end–the one that stands out of the group is Slater’s 57 Bus and its emphasis on Sasha, a nonbinary teen, and their recovery. These novels never sacrifice the narrative of injustice to resolve prior conflicts or character arcs, as those conflicts and characters are at the center of the novel. 

Books have been regarded as both windows and mirrors: a look into another’s life or a reflection of oneself. The stories of Star, Richard, Sasha, Quinn, and Rashad serve these functions. All students deserve to see their identities and experiences reflected, acknowledged, and validated through the literature in our classroom; while some may find this in Scout Finch, others will not. It is a responsibility of educational institutes and educators to seek out and amplify those voices that have been left out of curriculum before.

Diversifying curriculum through choice book clubs