Register Today for NJCTE Summer Virtual Professional Development Sessions

Beat the heat this summer with lots of learning options to inspire you — our presenters are offering condensed, virtual versions of their spring conference sessions to benefit NJ educators this summer.

Join one, a few or all of the sessions — they are free to NJCTE members and only $5 for non-members! You can register for the sessions at the links below. Note that sessions will only run with five or more participants, so please be purposeful in your responses so that presenters can plan accordingly. We welcome your participation and enthusiasm at some or all of these awesome sessions this summer!

Thursday, July 16, 3pm, Janice Alvarez: This presentation will use various pieces of culturally responsive literature to demonstrate various lesson activities that will increase student motivation and achievement. Cornelius Minor’s book, We Got This, will be referenced and teachers will leave with tangible lesson ideas and a bibliography of culturally responsive and appropriate mentor texts.

Monday, July 20, 10am, Kristie-Anne Opaleski: There are a myriad of effective SEL programs available for the elementary and the middle school classrooms. However, options are limited for high school teachers though teens need this instruction equally, if not more. As the District SEL coordinator and instructional coach, I created SEL in the Secondary English Classroom for my high school colleagues encouraging them to try feasible and simple ways to integrate social-emotional learning in their English classes. Our district had a felt need at both high schools that all students, regardless of their academic level, needed coping skills; consequently, I created this Google Slide presentation as a springboard to start teaching SEL skills, specifically self-awareness and self-management to teens. The focus is on what teachers are already doing and capitalizing on ways to do it better. Most teachers care about their students, therefore some of these techniques are more of reminders than methods. I presented this to 40 high school English teachers and 95% of those surveyed felt like they could employ at least one of the strategies presented the next day.

Wednesday, July 22, 10:30am, Kate Overgaard: During this session, I will discuss the outline for implementing First Chapter Friday in classes, from elementary through college. The idea is to provide students with exposure to various texts and potentially open them up to different types of readings. I will share the list of readings used thus far and, provide sample lists for each grade level (elementary, middle, high school, college), etc.

Tuesday, July 28, 10am, Joe Pizzo: ELA Meets SEL 2.0 inspires ELA teachers to combine various strategies that infuse the fundamentals with fun wrapped in an envelope of SEL principles encouraging voice and choice. Participants will learn ways to connect with their students right from the first day of classes. The featured project is Character Comfort, an activity being featured in Shelby Witte’s new book for NCTE. The chance to create a Professional Learning Network (PLN) designed to continue the workshop experience will be offered. Bring your device, your energy, and your creativity!

Wednesday, July 29, 4pm, Mr. & Mrs. Krapels: As teachers, we all can probably recognize that student stress and anxiety levels seem to be increasing every year—especially when it comes to their grades. While this stress may be related and exacerbated by a number of factors, it’s evident that more and more, some students see their identities and their grade point averages as one and the same. Often, learning and reflection can take a backseat to the letters on their report card. This session aims to help teachers in the ELA classroom combat the obsession over grades by providing three replicable methods for teachers’ own classrooms. Because many of us teach in traditional schools that still rely on traditional grading methods and reporting, this session does not aim to help teachers “throw out grades.” Instead, its aims are to provide teachers with ideas that can help them challenge the traditional grading system while still providing the traditional letter-grade reporting that is required of so many of us. More importantly, this session will introduce participants to practices that if employed in their own classes, may help positively change students’ mindsets around grading and assessment.

Monday, August 3, 10am, Emily Meixner: In this session, the presenters will introduce the idea of reading “frames” and provide examples of how these frames can guide teachers’ use of whole class texts. Despite changing school demographics as well as an intensified awareness of the increasing social emotional needs of secondary students, the way in which English teachers “teach books” looks very much like it has for decades. The goal in this session is to model for teachers how they might identify and teach reading “frames” to provide students with not only greater purpose, but also with increased autonomy over how they read. Come prepared to reconsider texts you currently teach and/or imagine how you might approach new texts you’d like to explore with your students.

Thursday, August 6, 4pm, Bryan Weber: This presentation will introduce teachers to creative ways to build empathy in their students. Bryan will demonstrate how the use of critical lenses and creative assessments can foster greater understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences. Bryan will provide examples of actual activities he has used in his high school ELA classroom that assist students to feel and show empathy for others, especially with regards to women, individuals on the autism spectrum, and refugees.

Friday, August, 21, 10am, Colleen Potter: In our new hybrid world, digital portfolios are becoming an increasingly relevant tool for educators looking for ways to empower their students to communicate evidence of learning anywhere, anytime. Student-driven digital portfolios serve to document student learning and are a valuable space for prompting student reflection to integrate more thoughtful SEL education into the classroom. By capturing learning as it happens with audio, video, files from the cloud, readings, and artifacts from the ELA classroom, teachers can challenge students to reflect on their learning, feelings, and areas of improvement. This session will give a technology-agnostic overview of how digital portfolios can be used to capture learning and demonstrate social and emotional learning.

Wednesday, August 19, 10am, Berit Gordon: How do we get to more joy and less struggle in a profession where people put in such tremendous effort and do such essential work? No matter what supports you might have in your school or district, you can take charge of your teacher growth and craft your own learning journey. This workshop will show that the expert is already in you, and will offer you some hands-on strategies/guidance you need and crave in order to become the high-impact teacher every student deserves. This workshop will provide a structure to help K–12 teachers reflect on your own professional development needs, set goals that work for you and your students, and access a host of practical strategies that will help you meet that goal. We will look at self-assessment checklists to help you find your own entry point. Once you have determined which goal you want to start with, you will look at the list of strategies and choose one to try.

Register Today for NJCTE Summer Virtual Professional Development Sessions

NJCTE Educator of the Year and High School Writing Contest Award Winners Honored at New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education 2020

Talented educators and students from throughout the state of New Jersey were virtually honored on June 26 with the Governor’s Award in Arts Education. Usually held at the Trenton War Memorial, the 40th anniversary year was livestreamed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education (NJGAAE), the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English honors an English Educator of the Year and the High School Writing Contest winners for their service and accomplishment in English Language Arts.  

Broadcast live on the NJGAAE website, YouTube, and Facebook simultaneously, the 40th anniversary awards ceremony was a gala event that opened with a pre-show virtual red carpet interview livestream hosted by student honorees and featuring various 2020 award winners. The main event opened with a slide show of award-winning visual art from New Jersey students. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy then addressed the attendees and celebrated the importance of arts education, noting that last year New Jersey was first in the nation to offer universal arts education in all of our public schools. This year, according to Governor Murphy, New Jersey is again first in the nation to incorporate climate change education into all of our K-12 standards. Governor Murphy congratulated all New Jersey teachers and students receiving awards in arts education. 

Past award recipients spoke about how the award has influenced them personally and professionally and answered the question: “Why are the arts more important now than ever?” The program featured performances from alumni and this year’s student award winners interspersed with short video selfies of each winner in multiple categories, including creative writing, dance, instrumental music, public speaking, theater, visual arts, and vocal performance.

Dr. Darlene Russell, Professor and Fulbright Scholar in the College of Education at William Paterson University, was honored as the NJCTE English Educator of the Year. Dr. Russell teaches undergraduate and graduate English methods, literacy, and educational foundation courses. Dr. Russell is the founder of the Nurturing Culturally Responsive Equity Teachers (NCRET) Research Project, which focuses on implementing a culturally responsive and pro-social justice curriculum in secondary classrooms. She is also the founder of My Sisters’ Nest, a mentoring group for female college students from underrepresented groups. Her research agenda orbits around critical literacy, critical race theory, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Dr. Russell’s acceptance speech was featured in the education portion of the livestream award ceremony. In her remarks, Dr. Russell noted that her parents were her first teachers, and though they never received an award, they taught her “how to care, how to love, how to listen, how to be heard, how to fight, how to persist, how to focus, how to labor, and how to lead.” Dr. Russell expressed appreciation for how the award recognized all aspects of her professional work with teaching and scholarship. “I am grateful and joyful for this honor, this award, and I will continue to live up to being the educator of the year every year,” said Dr. Russell.   

Three students were honored for their exceptional writing ability, as demonstrated through the annual NJCTE High School Writing Contest. Catherine Park of Bergen County Academies won first place in the poetry category for her poem “Today,” Caitlin Brannigan of The Academy of the Holy Angels won first place in the short story category for her story “Calamity of Freedom,” and Joyce He of Livingston High School won first place in the personal essay category for her essay “The Glory of Gym Class.” In addition to our own NJCTE awards for their superlative accomplishments, these individuals were also honored among the best of all arts educators and students in New Jersey through the NJGAAE. 

In the 2020 NJCTE High School Writing Contest, remarkable creative work was also received from Rikki Zagelbaum of Bruriah Girls High School, who won second place in the short story category for her story, “A Bucket of Youth and Boat Full of Dreams,” and Grace McGory of Pascack Valley Regional High School for her story, “Heart to Hart.” The short story category of the writing contest was organized by Beth Ann Bates. 

Outstanding work responding to this year’s theme for personal essays, “Hindsight,” was submitted by Alyssa Laze of Northern Highlands Regional High School. Her second-place essay was entitled “Saying a Prayer that’s Not Ours.” The third-place essay, submitted by John Jabbour of Morristown High School, was entitled “The Value of Impermanence.”

Finally, wonderful poetry entitled “Ninety one” was received from Katherine Vandermel of Bergen County Academies and won second place; Livingston High School’s Eden Quan’s poem “Golden Boy” won third place in the poetry category. Both the poetry and the essay categories were organized by Lynn Love-Kelley. 

Congratulations to our talented, successful educators and students! NJCTE and the state of New Jersey are very proud of you!

NJCTE Educator of the Year and High School Writing Contest Award Winners Honored at New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education 2020

Cocktails in Crisis!

Calling all ELA educators, K-16! Let’s come together virtually, with your favorite cocktail or mocktail.

We did it before, and we are doing it again because it was such a success! If you came before, you know it was great. If you missed it, join us this time around. You’ll be glad you did.

Date/Time: Thursday, July 9, 2020, 4:00 PM Eastern Time

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 957 8036 2429
Password: 59175101

Our thanks go to the American College of Education for graciously sponsoring this event and providing our generous door prizes! If you’d like to continue your education while still teaching, be sure to check them out by contacting our representative below.

Kerry Delaney

Field Enrollment Specialist

American College of Education

101 W Ohio, Suite 1200, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Phone: 833.230.6585


Cocktails in Crisis!

Remembering and Honoring Pat Schall

NJCTE recently established the Patricia L. Schall Visual Literacy Award. Please join us in remembering and honoring Pat by reading the following lovely remembrance, and, if you are able, by making a donation in her honor and in support of this award.

The author and Pat at the March for Science in New York City

by Lisa Mastrangelo

The last time that I saw Pat Schall in person, she was wearing a floral headband and representing Mother Earth as we marched at the March for Science protest in New York City. By then, I had known Pat for nearly 20 years as one of my colleagues at The College of St. Elizabeth. That day at the march epitomized Pat for me—she was filled with both energy and drive and the desire to see people learn, to be educated, and to do what was right and good. We weren’t close friends at work, but I always valued her input, and had missed her when I moved on to a new teaching position. On the way home from the march, I remembered thinking that I had forgotten just how smart, how observant, how keen of mind, but also how funny Pat could be. She was also amazingly thoughtful. While she had an amazing sense of ethics, and truly believed in right and wrong, she considered many sides before making a decision. This was one of the main lessons that I learned from Pat as a new doctoral student just beginning to teach: listen, learn, decide, and if you see injustice, absolutely speak.

Pat’s impact on me seems minor in comparison to her impact on the many future teachers that she sent into the education world. She was a true teacher and mentor. She shaped the world of education for her students, and more importantly, she believed in them, mentored them, and remained their friend long after they graduated. She encouraged them to do their best as teachers, supported them in their teaching careers, and continued to mentor them as they moved into other career paths, in education and beyond. She celebrated their weddings, their children, and their pets (particularly their cats!). Nel Noddings once wrote that, “Education, by its very nature, should help people develop their best selves.” I cannot think of any educator who was more able or willing to do that than Pat.

Perhaps the greatest insult of Pat dying during the coronavirus pandemic has been our inability to gather to celebrate her life. Pat touched so many lives—so many teachers, so many students. So many of us were thrilled to see that NJCTE announced the Patricia L. Schall Visual Literacy Award, and we are equally as pleased to be able to donate to sustain it.

Remembering and Honoring Pat Schall

Limited-Time $5 NJCTE Membership Offer

Given the current COVID-19 situation, NJCTE is offering special, limited-time discounted membership to all! If you are a new or a returning member, 2020-2021 membership is available for $5. 

If you aren’t sure whether it’s time to renew, it’s easy. Did you register for the spring conference and agree to let NJCTE keep your registration and/or membership? If yes, you don’t need to do anything. You are already a member for 2020-2021. Thank you so much for your generosity at this time and for your amazing support of NJCTE!

If no, it’s time for you to renew!

Please support your New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE. Your $5 membership gives you access to the many online activities we have planned for you for summer renewal. You’ll also be supporting the organization that supports you with 

  • webinars geared to the needs of ELA educators,

  • the NJCTE blog,

  • the NJCTE newsletter,

  • the New Jersey English Journal,

  • the NJCTE High School Writing Contest,

  • NJCTE pre-service, early career, educator of the year, and teacher for the dream awards,

  • the early career teaching mentorship program

  • spring and fall conferences (hopefully in the post-COVID future),

  • networking, virtual social hours, connections with colleagues and authors, and so much more.

There’s one catch – this super low price is only good until 4 p.m. June 15 so that we can meet our NCTE membership deadline! Act now, please! After this, the price will increase to $15 for the remainder of 2020-2021 (still discounted from our normal $25 membership fee).

If you can afford to renew at a higher price, please consider a donation to help cover our affiliate costs.

Limited-Time $5 NJCTE Membership Offer

NJCTE Supports S2455

The board of NJCTE has voted to join with Make the Road New Jersey and other professional and labor organizations, educators, and community groups to support S2455: to remove barriers to occupational licenses so that all qualified individuals, regardless of federal immigration status, can pursue their respective career paths. As New Jersey faces an unprecedented public health crisis, and a dearth of health care professionals to meet the need, it is all the more critical that this legislation moves forward.

Thousands of immigrant young people across New Jersey are studying to become nurses, physical therapists, teachers, or accountants, all occupations that require an occupational license – yet citizenship requirements currently block their pathway to licensure. Removing barriers to professional and occupational licenses for qualified individuals can help fill urgent state labor shortages and retain skilled immigrants.

Already, New Jersey has made enormous strides in welcoming immigrants. Because of legislative action, undocumented students who attend New Jersey high schools are eligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid if they go to New Jersey colleges and next year they’ll be able to apply for driver’s licenses. As a result, thousands of immigrants attend New Jersey colleges and universities with dreams of becoming nurses, physician assistants, and English teachers. However, these same students are currently not eligible for occupational licenses.

Passing S2455 will strengthen opportunities for undocumented students instead of forcing them to find other work or move to another state. For more information about this campaign, please contact Nedia Morsy at Make the Road NJ,

Consider 1) making a call or 2) filling out this link which will send a pre-written email to your representative:

Calls can go out to Senator Pou, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin:

Senator Pou (2544 sponsor): (973) 247-1555
Senate President Sweeney: (856) 339-0808 

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin: (732) 855-7441

Call script for Senator Pou: “Hi, my name is ________ and I am an educator in _______/member of NJCTE. I am reaching to thank Senator Pou for introducing S2544, which would expand access to licenses to all qualified New Jersey residents, regardless of immigration status. As New Jersey faces a severe nursing and healthcare worker shortage and teacher shortage, it is critical that the state step up. Thank you for your leadership and we are eager to see S2455 make it through the Senate and onto the Governor’s desk.”

Call script for Senate President Steve Sweeney: “Hi, my name is ________ and I am an educator in _______/member of NJCTE. I am reaching out to call on the Senate President’s support for S2455, which would expand access to licenses to all qualified New Jersey residents, regardless of immigration status. As New Jersey faces a severe nursing and healthcare worker shortage and teacher shortage, it is critical that the state step up.”

Call script for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin: “Hi, my name is ________ and I am an educator in _______/member of NJCTE. I am reaching out to call on the Assembly Speaker to introduce and support an Assembly counterpart to S2455,  which would expand access to licenses to all qualified New Jersey residents, regardless of immigration status. As New Jersey faces a severe nursing and healthcare worker shortage and teacher shortage, it is critical that the state step up.”

NJCTE Supports S2455

NJCTE High School Writing Contest Winners

Congratulations to all the winning writers and fantastic teachers and mentors who participated in our annual high school writing contest. We are so proud of the good writing and good teaching of writing in New Jersey. As you can imagine, these winners represent the tip of an iceberg of quality writing happening in schools throughout New Jersey. NJCTE is so proud to be able to recognize these winners and their teachers.


1st Place: Calamity of Freedom:
Student: Caitlin Brannigan
Teacher: Nancy Schneberger
School: Academy of the Holy Angels, Demarest, NJ

2nd Place: A Bucket of Youth and Boat Full of Dreams
Student: Rikki Zagelbaum
Teacher: Rachel Zylberman
School: Bruriah, Elizabeth, NJ

3rd Place: Heart to Hart 
Student: Grace McGory
Teacher: Virena Rossi
School: Pascack Valley Regional H.S.


1st Place: Today
Student: Catherine Park
Teacher: Richard Weems
School: Bergen County Academies

2nd PlaceNinety one           
Student: Katherine Vandermel
Teacher: Richard Weems
School: Bergen County Academies

3rd Place: Golden Boy
Student: Eden Quan
Teacher: Jennifer Torres
School:     Livingston High School


1st Place: The Glory of Gym Class
Student: Joyce He
Teacher: Michael Sunga
School: Livingston High School

2nd Place: Saying a Prayer That’s Not Ours
Student: Alyssa Laze
Teacher: Danielle Walsh
School: Northern Highlands Regional High School

3rd Place: The Value of Impermanence
Student: John Jabbour
Teacher: Allison Janosy
School:  Morristown High School

Thanks also to our Writing Contest Co-Directors, Lynn Love-Kelly and Beth-Ann Bates, and to Katie Nieves for providing some critical technical with our new contest format this year.

NJCTE High School Writing Contest Winners

Focusing on the Gains: Explorations and Creative Approaches In a Time of Loss

Originally published on NCTE’s Engage Now! Secondary Section blog

by Valerie Mattessich, NJCTE board member

These past few weeks have changed almost everything we typically experience about our days, and particularly, for those of us in education, our school days. The unwanted disruption caused by the nationwide Coronavirus pandemic can often feel like a loss for educators—a loss of our face-to-face time with our students; a loss of our time with our colleagues in which to discuss our craft and our challenges; a loss of routine, control, and intellectual and creative engagement throughout our day.

Rather than highlighting the negatives of our current situation, however, I choose to focus here on the gains that we have made as we recalibrate expectations, revise curriculum, and revamp the way in which we teach and learn. As a supervisor of instruction for English teachers, I have a birds-eye view of how my teachers have altered their approaches and begun to perhaps see things in a different light, either by allowing more space for student voice and choice in their courses or by giving themselves permission to try pedagogical moves they may have been reluctant to undertake in synchronous learning environments.

Here, I highlight the ways in which my teachers have been exploring “virtual learning” with their students.

Teachers have gotten creative, with one starting a virtual read-in with her students and another refining her “‘Music Monday” feature in her AP Language and Composition class. One teacher has shifted instruction from purely curricular, whole-class novel study to a student-driven reading identity exploration alongside a study of The Great Gatsby. Finally, a veteran AP Literature and Composition teacher has explored the virtual learning space around AP analysis and explication exercises to bring in more student response to poetry as it relates to the topsy-turvy world around us.

Learn more about these approaches below:

Keeping the Independent Reading Tradition Alive through a Virtual Read-in

From Pascack Valley High School English teacher Kate Overgaard 

A Virtual Read-In


Because it’s fun and community building. Hopefully.

Pick a day. Maybe a Wednesday? Optional attendance.

What happens?

Everyone reads.

Students should try to commit to 20 minutes.

Teachers read with video for the chosen duration. It feels awkward at first, but you’re modeling real reading.

What does it look like? How do people participate?

Through a muted video chat, Zoom, or Google Meet.

Participants add the book title and author to the chat.

  • “I’m here and I’m reading . . . (title and author).”
  • “Here’s where I am picking up (say something about the text).”

If students have Twitter, they can also post a Tweet that says “I’m joining the virtual read-in. I’m reading ____, plus good hashtag and @teacher name(s).”

Thank students for joining you!

If everyone agrees, take a screenshot with your books, because these are unique times that we’ll want to look back on and remember.

Here, Ms. Overgaard seeks to replicate a practice that already exists in her classroom, a set amount of time for independent reading to begin each class period, but in the virtual space. This allows for students and teachers to come together, see each other, and be in community around literacy practices. Overgaard and her co-teacher had only two students take her up on this initially, but she anticipates more students joining in as the weeks of virtual learning turn into months and students crave more contact with their peers and teachers.


Reader Identity Exposed and Explored

From Pascack Valley High School English teacher Brett Conrad and student teacher Daniel D’Amico

These two teachers of American literature to juniors had recently begun exploring the concept of reader identity in their work with students, as they move toward a workshop approach based on our departmental study of Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s 180 Days and integrated this with their standards-based approach to assessment.

The approach worked for a fairly seamless transition into the virtual space, as students were still able to work at their own pace toward proficiency in various skills. What came as a surprise, however, was what some students revealed about their reading practices when asked to discuss them. Mr. Conrad and Mr. D’Amico, in switching to the virtual space, saw the opportunity for more reflection time for students and wanted to prioritize that as they worked through The Great Gatsby.

They created this short writing prompt as a discussion board post for their students to complete and then reply to their peers about:

“Over the past few weeks we have read/watched The Great Gatsby in class, but this will be your first time reading the text independently. Reading a text independently presents a new array of challenges, and I want you to reflect on your reading process after completing chapter seven. Please respond to the following questions:

What is your reading process? (Did you perform an interrupted reading to stop and take notes? Did you read the chapter start to finish? Did you take breaks while reading? Did you use a supplemental reading tool like playing an audiobook while reading? Did you read in a certain spot in your house? Did you talk about the chapter with a family member? Did you refer back to chapters we already finished?)

Some student responses that struck these teachers are seen below:

  • My reading process is pretty normal (at least it seems so). I typically open the book or ebook and start reading until I’m either bored or until I’ve filled my reading requirement. I also don’t read every word on the page. I like to go through every page of the book and pick up important ideas. If need be, I do re-read the passage because sometimes I miss important stuff. Overall, my goal is to make reading a short event, instead of taking up a large portion of the day.
  • The REAP graphic organizer did help me understand the reading because it made me summarize the chapter, then back it up with quotes. The part with the quotes really helped me the most because it made me really know my stuff with the summary. I was skeptical at first but I think it actually worked quite well.
  • When reading The Great Gatsby, I used different methods depending on the chapter and the day. If I feel that I am having a hard time concentrating or understanding the flow of the chapter, I will listen to a recorded reading on the Internet. I personally feel that this helps me see the chapter as part of a story rather than words on a page when I am struggling. Otherwise, I just read the chapter in one sitting from beginning to end and take notes afterward. Regardless of how I choose to read the chapter, I always take a few minutes before I read to think about what happened in previous chapters and my predictions on what is going to happen.
  • I read in my room because that’s the only room where I can be somewhat alone. While reading Gatsby I jumped around the chapter. I started at the beginning, jumped to the end, and piece-mealed the rest of the chapter together by jumping around in the middle bits. It is the only way I can focus sometimes because I get so bored being locked away. I didn’t really like the REAP organizer because of the way it was formatted because I always felt like I was doing something a little wrong. When I read I like to read for enjoyment and absorb the information to share without the notes. I only think quotes are useful to support yourself in your paper.

Conrad and D’Amico realized that students’ reading processes were highly varied and idiosyncratic, something that isn’t readily apparent in high school English class, where students congregate in the same room to either read independently at a student desk or listen to a chapter of a curricular text read aloud by the teacher.

As Conrad and D’Amico now have a window into students’ habits of mind when reading, they can plan interventions, graphic organizers, and other supports to aid students as they make their way through an online version of Gatsby.

They also plan to have students create an entire synthesis project based on their reader identities as a culminating assignment for the year. Thus, the “disruption” of moving to virtual learning actually deepened these teachers’ knowledge of their students as readers, and allowed them to use this knowledge to not only plan future instruction differently, but also asked students to begin to iterate their own literacy practices, likely not something they had been asked to do in the past. 


The Power of Music and the Discussion Board

From Pascack Hills High School English teacher Alexandra Pfleging

When I first started teaching AP Language, I found that reading speeches with students was important, but I wanted them to understand the rhetorical strategies without also navigating some of the more difficult texts.

I had the idea to choose a Taylor Swift song (“Love Story”) to teach logical fallacies. Moving forward, every Monday I chose a song that we would first listen to, write about, then discuss in regards to rhetoric. I would anchor the song in another text or world event, and try to push students to draw their own conclusions. For example, we read a text about stress during the holidays, and how this may be related to family. We then listened to When You Love Someone by James TW, a song about divorce. By this time, I asked students to start picking their own songs, and assigned the remaining Mondays left in the school year to groups.

I could have easily kept those dates and had the remaining students upload their work, but that did not feel right. So, while keeping with the tradition of Music Monday, I am asking the class to choose songs individually each week. Last week they chose a song and had to explain how the lyrics related to how they were feeling. Through this assignment, I was able to understand what students were going through, while students were able to reinforce what they already learned about rhetoric. They had to cite specific lyrics, which also helped their skills in writing claim-based arguments.

This week students had to choose a song playing in the background of a scene from a movie or television show. Everyone is watching a lot of Netflix; this assignment helped keep them focused on the beauty of analysis, even when they are streaming their favorite shows.

I hope to continue with Music Monday for the rest of the school year, adding variation towards different purposes or occasions.

What is gained through continuing this assignment?

  • More introverted students can and do express themselves more freely than in f2f class
  • Better relationships grow with students who can ‘get lost’ in other classes
  • Peers learn more from each other this way too because more voices are heard


Poetry to Pursue Reflection on Our Times

From Pascack Hills High School English teacher Virena Rossi

Of her choice to not only have students in her AP Literature and Composition class analyze poetry the “AP way” but also reflect upon its meaning to them in this precise moment, Rossi writes that teaching virtually is “not necessarily either/or. I just felt like now there’s time for AND. They can respond to this but also read and analyze metaphysical poets. Carpe diem has a different meaning today than it would have a month ago.”

Her prompt and some ensuing student responses encapsulate this ethos and are seen below.

Read the poem “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda. (This poem is available online via search.)

  1. Choose 1 or 2 lines that speak to what you are thinking or feeling in the present moment. This doesn’t have to be today, but can be more generally in the present situation. Explain why you chose them in several sentences.
  2. Choose 1 or 2 lines that speak to your hope for the future. This doesn’t have to be the immediate future, but can be more generally after we have stopped social distancing and can get back to school / work / friends / family. Explain why you chose them in several sentences.

Examples of student responses:

Parker L.: “I chose the line ‘It would be an exotic moment.’ I think this line can describe an event that is either surprising or long overdue. I long to see my friends in the near future. I want to not be judged based on idio-syncracies in the future. I want everyone to be treated as equal in the future, not this cliche idea of ‘equal’ we have right now, because it’s not really working out. I want to see change in the future. But when people think a viral epidemic is justification to be outwardly racist to my people, we get nowhere. When race is a factor used in college and job admissions to ‘check me,’ we get nowhere.”

Heather F.: “Those who prepare green wars, / . . . and walk about with their brothers”—I think that these lines represent my hopes for the future. I hope that when all of this is over, when we get back, everyone won’t just pick up where they left off. I hope that everyone continues to stay connected in the sense that we all worked together and survived this. That wars won’t just continue on as usual, that people will stop to think about why we are fighting in the first place. The world right now is a scary place, with wars and fighting affecting almost every country in some way. I hope that maybe everyone learns that we aren’t so different and some good will come out of this scare event. But that might be just a bit too optimistic.

Hallie W. : “The lines that speak most to how I am feeling in the present moment are ‘What I want should not be confused/ with total inactivity.’ On a typical day, I am usually very busy and have little time to do things that I want to do. Now that everything is canceled, I finally have the time to do things for myself. A majority of people feel bored and like there is nothing to do in quarantine, but I have been using this time to my advantage to work out, eat better, sleep more, and take time for myself to relax and reflect. Even though I am not what I consider to be traditionally busy anymore, I am not just sitting around letting the days pass me by.”

Shawn S.: “I think being in isolation should show everyone how life doesn’t need to move that fast, and because it can go away at any moment, we should appreciate every moment we have. I think that ‘everything seem[ing] dead’ should teach us that sometimes we are most connected to life in these times because this is when we have all the time in the world to sit down and consider what we have to be thankful for.”

Focusing on the Gains: Explorations and Creative Approaches In a Time of Loss

Cocktails in Crisis! Round 4 — June 4

unnamed (3)Calling all ELA educators, K-16!

Let’s come together virtually with your favorite cocktail or mocktail.

Join us on Thursday, June 4th, from 4-5 pm on Zoom for a teacher social hour. We’ll share ideas, frustrations, and triumphs and be there for each other.

Date/Time: Thursday, June 4, 2020, 4:00 PM Eastern Time

Meeting ID: 957 8036 2429

Password: 59175101

Join Zoom Meeting

Cocktails in Crisis! Round 4 — June 4

NJCTE Announces the Patricia L. Schall Visual Literacy Award

IMG_2593In loving memory and honor of our wonderful friend and colleague, NJCTE announces the formation of the Patricia L. Schall visual literacy award. This award, to be presented annually at the fall conference, recognizes the significant impact of authors and illustrators who create works for young people. The inaugural award will be presented at the Fall 2021 NJCTE Conference.



It is with regret that NJCTE announces the cancellation of our annual Fall Conference for Fall 2020.

We are in the process of developing alternative online events. Please stay tuned for additional news about programming that we plan to offer in summer and fall to meet your professional needs.

NJCTE Announces the Patricia L. Schall Visual Literacy Award