Virtual Summer Learning Call for Proposals — Due May 15!

Submit your proposal by May 15, 2021 at https://bit.ly/3bed2Vf or scan this QR code:

NJCTE invites educators of all types from grades K-16+ (public, private, cyber, charter, etc.) to submit session proposals for 30- or 60-minute presentations:

1) approaches for the teaching of reading and writing which amplify student and teacher voice;

2) examples of literacy instruction which develop students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically about equity and justice while adhering to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards; 

3) examples of collaborations with individuals in our diverse communities (public librarians, authors, local historians, social activists, business people, etc.) in order to enrich our students’ literacy education; 

4) methods to engage students with our world.

Kindly note that proposals should reflect educational practices and should not be product promotions or solicitations.

Sessions will run from mid-July through August 2021.

ELA instructors continually create opportunities for students to find and develop their own voice within this evolving world. 

Essential to this process is the infusion of equity and justice in our instruction.

With this in mind, and to help our presenters, there are five strands for sessions. We welcome proposal submissions on these and related topics.

  1. Cultural Responsiveness and Equity/Social Justice and Antiracist Teaching
  2. Technology Supporting Voice, Equity, and Social Justice
  3. Lifting Voices from Diverse Communities 
  4. Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) and Trauma-Informed Teaching
  5. Flexible Instructional Models to Support Equity, Inclusion, and Justice 

Educators at any level and in any phase of their career, including pre-service teachers, are encouraged to attend and/or present.

BASIC INFORMATION

New Jersey educators will gather virtually at the NJCTE 2021 Summer Learning sessions to benefit from professional programs, panels, discussions, idea exchanges, guest speakers, and shared classroom experiences.  

Additionally, many opportunities exist for educators to participate as speakers, chairpersons, recorders, and to assist with session management.

All sessions are offered free of charge to current NJCTE members. Educators will have the opportunity to join NJCTE at a discounted pandemic rate of $15 for the year ($5 student rate). 

Presenters will be notified by the middle of June. If a proposal is selected, NJCTE will work with the presenters to find a mutually agreeable day and time for presentation. All sessions will be recorded and distributed later to registrants.

As a presenter, you have the unique opportunity to influence a wide body of educators. We expect that you will join us as a registered NJCTE member if you are selected to present, and we look forward to your continued contributions to the organization. A yearly membership will be offered at a discounted pandemic rate of $15. A student membership is available for $5.

Find more information about NJCTE: www.njcte.org @NJCTENews Blog: https://njcte.wordpress.com/

Please contact the NJCTE 2021 Summer Learning Co-Chairs with any questions:

Katie Nieves, nieveskathryn@gmail.com and Twitter @Ms_KatieNieves

Denise Weintraut, NJCTEMembership@gmail.com and Twitter @SmilingTeach

Virtual Summer Learning Call for Proposals — Due May 15!

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 Clearly, 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

Passing of Dr. M. Jerry Weiss

Dr. M. Jerry Weiss

I am passing along the sad news that I received from my institution (NJCU) about the passing of Jerry Weiss. Many of you knew Jerry well and know how giving he was with his knowledge, time, and passion to the NJCTE community.

-Audrey Fisch, President, NJCTE

Dear Members of the NJCU Community,

We are saddened to advise of the passing of Dr. M. Jerry Weiss, Distinguished Service Professor of Communications Emeritus, who throughout his life made a profound influence on literacy here in New Jersey and the United States. Dr. Weiss passed away on March 12 — one month shy of his 95th birthday.

Dr. Weiss was a nationally recognized expert in the field of children’s and adolescent literature and a pioneer in the area of Whole Language. He taught at NJCU for 33 years before retiring in 1994. For many years Dr. Weiss coordinated the “Adolescent in Literature” series, a highly-regarded program he established. This series featured guest speakers composed of distinguished authors of novels for young adult and adolescent readers.

On October 5, 2006, NJCU dedicated the M. Jerry Weiss Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in his honor. This is now the Northeast’s premier review center and offers a unique literature collection that encourages the exploration of children’s and young adult literature and illustrations.

Dr. Weiss completed his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina and earned his Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University. He taught English, language arts, and reading in secondary schools and colleges in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and New Jersey.

He held numerous state and national professional offices including serving as president of the New Jersey Reading Association. He also held leadership positions in the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.

The New Jersey Reading Association presents an annual “M. Jerry Weiss Book Award,” affectionately known as “The Jerry.” Established in his honor in 1993, the distinction is given to a children’s, juvenile, or young-adult author selected by students throughout the state of New Jersey.

A long-time donor to the institution, Dr. Weiss’ gifts to the university have enriched the lives of countless students at NJCU and in the larger community.

A funeral service for Dr. Weiss was held on Monday. The family will hold a final Shiva virtual memorial tonight — Wednesday, March 17 — from 7-8:15 p.m. via Zoom.

Information on ways to donate to the M. Jerry Weiss Center in his memory will be shared at a later date. Join the Shiva service for Dr. M. Jerry Weiss.

Meeting ID: 979 1337 7316

Passcode: 1818

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Link to prayer book

Passing of Dr. M. Jerry Weiss

Last Call for March Madness! Renew your NJCTE membership for $10 until 3/10

It’s that time again. NJCTE membership runs from March to February, so it’s time for all of us to renew our commitment to the New Jersey affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English. This year, we are happy to announce that, in light of the pandemic, 2021-2022 membership will be $15 for regular members. We still have so much to offer you, so please join us.

And guess what? Mark your calendars because for the first 10 days in March, get a discounted rate for your annual membership: $10 for the 2021-2022 membership year and only $5 for students and retirees!

Last Call for March Madness! Renew your NJCTE membership for $10 until 3/10

NJCTE Meeting with Erika Leak, NJDOE – February 2 at 4

We invite you to join us for a special NJCTE open meeting with Erika Leak, Office of Standards, New Jersey Department of Education, on February 2 at 4. Erika is eager to check-in and discuss experiences that ELA educators are having in this current climate. 

Please register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEldeGurTwpHdM7eFpXsVs9nF4F2uTpEw2O

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

NJCTE Meeting with Erika Leak, NJDOE – February 2 at 4

The benefits of joy and gratitude

by Joseph S. Pizzo

At the initial NCTE SCOA meeting, the theme was “Joy.” It was defined as “the feeling that acknowledges satisfaction in oneself and in others as well.” During this pandemic, the main direction was identified as a critical component of both the personalities and the lives of all educators and families. 

We wrote about the topic of joy. We discussed our writings in both breakout rooms and a full meeting. Here is my note.

“Joy is reflected in the woman raising the child. We uplift as we mentor, but we gain from those we mentor as well. We experience confluencia as joy flows inward, but the experience is even greater when the confluencia follows its natural course and flows outwardly to share that which it has gained previously.”

At the second SCOA meeting held later in the day, we examined an article entitled, “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Breakout rooms were again used so the article could be discussed in assigned sections. The notes from my group are as follows:

  • Positive emotion words, negative emotion words, and “we” words (first-person plural words) that participants used in their writing have an impact.  
  • The gratitude writing group used a higher percentage of positive emotion words and “we” words.
  • The lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive—explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group.
  • Gratitude letter writing produces better mental health by shifting one’s attention away from toxic emotions.

Having a positive outlook and avoiding toxic thoughts and situations was found to lessen the use of toxic words in one’s daily lexicon. According to the authors Joshua Brown and Joel Wong, “many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” The experimental group in the study wrote letters of gratitude while the control group did not.

The research study that was conducted by Brown and Wong involved “nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. We recruited these participants just before they began their first session of counseling, and, on average, they reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time. The majority of people seeking counseling services at this university in general struggled with issues related to depression and anxiety.” 

The main findings made in the article are as follows:

  1. Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
  2. Gratitude helps (the individual) even if you don’t share it (in some form with others).
  3. Gratitude’s benefits… (emerge slowly over) time.
  4. Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. (“…when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.”)

The authors of the article conclude that “practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”

I shall conclude my report by sharing the note of gratitude that I have written to my colleagues at NJCTE. 

Dear Friends,

I am grateful to all of you, my colleagues at NJCTE. We consistently have a range of different tasks to address and complete. It is important to know, however, that we gather our talents and combine our efforts to help any of us who may be in need. We acknowledge the commitments made to our organization and our membership by readily offering to help any member who may be in need. The unselfish nature of our organization makes me proud to be a member.

Thank you, NJCTE for your kindness of heart, your generosity of spirit, and your willingness to give of yourself to help others in need. 

Sincerely,

Joe Pizzo

The benefits of joy and gratitude

NJCTE High School Writing Contest 2020

The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English invites New Jersey students in grades 9-12 to participate in its 2020 Writing Contest:

“Social Breath 2020”

Deadline: January 11, 2021

Categories

  • Poetry (one poem, 50-line max)
  • Short Story (5 page max, double-spaced)
  • Personal Essay (5 page max, double-spaced; MUST respond to prompt) 

PERSONAL ESSAY PROMPT

Write a personal essay or narrative about taking a Social Breath in 2020

In 2020, we have heard a clarion call for social change. Names such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have become familiar to all who read or listen to the news. Many columnists, politicians, and everyday citizens are calling for change. In a personal essay or narrative, consider the call for social change as you experience it. Have you actively participated? If so, how has your participation manifested itself? If not, why have you chosen another path? What other factors impact your thinking about being a responsible citizen and engaging in actions and activities that result in a socially and emotionally secure world?

Entry Criteria

  • Only New Jersey high school students (public or private) are eligible to enter
  • Students may submit a maximum of one entry in each category (i.e., one poem, one short story, and one personal essay)
  • Teachers may submit up to ten entries for their students in each genre. Surplus entries will be disqualified in order of submission date.
  • The file submitted must be anonymous. Essays, short stories, and personal essays with a name, school, or class typed on them will be disqualified.

Submission Links: 

Questions? Contact njctewriting@gmail.com

Congratulations to the winners of our 2019 contest!

NJCTE High School Writing Contest 2020

NJCTE OFFERS GRANTS FOR NCTE 2020 Virtual Convention

In recognition of and response to what has been a tumultuous year of teaching, NJCTE is offering one-time grants in the amount of $100 to five NJCTE members so that they may attend this year’s NCTE Annual Convention.

You must be a current member of NJCTE to be eligible. If you joined or renewed your membership after March 1, 2020, you are current. If you can’t remember, please consider re-joining. Membership is only $15 this year.

We will announce the winners, drawn at random, on November 9 at 8 P.M. The application form will be open until then. Please be considerate of the financial needs of others if your district or institution is already supporting your attendance at NCTE.

NJCTE OFFERS GRANTS FOR NCTE 2020 Virtual Convention