NJCTE President reflects on the 2018 Student Writing Contest Awards

Audrey headshot
NJCTE President Audrey Fisch

by Audrey Fisch

Thanks in particular to the gracious hospitality of Sister Percylee Hart, Principal, and NJCTE former board member and teacher, Julius Gottilla, NJCTE was able to hold our annual Writing Context Awards Reception at Union Catholic High School on April 24, 2018. As in many years past, teachers, students, family, and friends gathered to celebrate the poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction prose of some of New Jersey’s finest young writers.

The writing contest is coordinated by NJCTE board member Michele Marotta, with the help of curators Kathy Webber (short story), Karen Davidson (poetry), and Kristen Angelo (personal essay). This year, NJCTE piloted our first middle school contest, coordinated by Gina Lorusso. Many, many judges volunteer their time and energy reading submissions, a task made pleasurable by the wonderful submissions we always receive. Indeed, the contest is the success that it is also because of the support of many teachers in classrooms across the state who guide and develop the young writers in their classrooms and schools.

NJCTE board and judges
Michele Marotta, NJCTE Writing Contest Director; Beth Ann Bates, Judge Liaison; Audrey Fisch, judge; Patricia Schall, judge, and Julius Gottilla, host.

See the list of winners and the sponsoring teachers and schools here.

The awards ceremony is a particular joy because of Julius’ work with Union Catholic HS’s Forensics Team. These young people, Molly Bonner, Cameron Guanlao, Audrey Davis, and Nick Mehno, took time out of their busy schedules to prepare and perform selections from the winning entries in each genre. Their spirited and entertaining renditions allowed the student writing to come alive for a grateful and rapt audience. (We will also be publishing, with permission, some of the winning entries from the contest, so stay tuned for those on this blog and on our NJCTE website.)

garcia 3The ceremony always includes an engaging and inspirational keynote speaker, and this year Roberto Carlos Garcia, was no exception. He spoke about his passion for writing, his journey as both a student and a professional writer, and his confidence about the difference writing makes in our world. I can think of no better message for the next generation of New Jersey’s writers of poetry and prose.

Garcia read to us from his collection of poetry, Melancolia. He also spoke to the young writers in the audience about his experience as the publisher and founder of Get Fresh Books. Perhaps one day Garcia will find himself publishing the work of one of the young people he inspired with his presentation. I know that everyone at the celebration was touched by Garcia’s investment in bringing new voices to the public and in using writing as a vehicle for bringing about positive change and social justice.

If you have never encouraged your students to submit work to the contest, please consider this opportunity to help your young writers find greater recognition for their voices. We typically announce our prompts in the late summer (check the website – www.njcte.com), and submissions are usually due December 17. We hope to include at our fall conference a panel of teachers whose students have had success in the contest; they will share tips, tricks, suggestions, and activities. (If you are one of those teachers, please submit a response to our Call for Presentations — http://bit.ly/NJCTEFall18Call.)

Finally, if you want to support the writing contest as a judge, or wish to participate as curator or writing contest committee member, we welcome your contribution.  This year we are reaching for the writing stars in urban districts and are seeking an assistant writing contest director to help us make this ambitious expansion. Reach out to Michele Marotta at michele.marie.marotta@gmail.com.

Photos by Susan Reese

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

NJCTE President reflects on the 2018 Student Writing Contest Awards

Tech Tuesdays: Stackup — A Chrome Extension for Independent Reading

by Kathryn Nieves

With the push for more independent reading and student choice in selecting their texts, how can technology be successfully integrated? Students are reading more on their devices than ever before. Whether they’re scanning articles on their phone or ebooks on their laptops, students are all starting to bring tech into their reading practices. It can be tough for a teacher to determine how to match these new reading practices with their classroom. With the Chrome extension, Stackup, all those questions and concerns can be answered.

As an extension, Stackup functions within the Chrome browser. Once downloaded from the Chrome Web Store, it automatically begins tracking everything a person reads while on the browser. Proclaimed as the “Fitbit of Reading,” the extension allows teachers to track the amount of time students are reading, look at the categories of what they are reading, and issue gamification badges. The extension appears on your Chrome toolbar alongside any other extensions. The purple “S” logo can be clicked on when you are on any website in order to provide you with information about what you are reading, including grade level and category of the text.

Stackup 1

The “level” that Stackup provides when seeking information about a website indicates the frequency that the user reads that genre of text. Once a designated amount of those texts are read, the level rises. If a user selects “Go to my Dashboard,” they have an even greater breakdown of reading data. The total amount of reading time since installation of the extension is included, as well as the number of websites read and the average reading level of the texts. Users can also view their top categories and the amount of time they have spent reading each genre.

Stackup 2

The badges offered by Stackup include a built-in gamification approach to reading. While it does not provide rewards and prizes for simply reading, it does award students for the different genres they attempt. The more the student reads a particular genre, the higher the level rises.

Stackup 3

One of the most interesting features of Stackup is the ability to create challenges. Teachers can create different reading challenges and invite their students to participate, monitoring their progress as they read.

Once in your dashboard, select “Challenges” from the left sidebar. The page will allow you to either “Create” or “Find” a challenge. Creating a challenge will allow you to customize the information based on your individual class or needs. A title must be given and there must be a specified duration of time that the challenge will occur. You can then select the number of hours or minutes students are aiming to achieve. Advanced options to include a leaderboard or to participate yourself are available. Teachers can choose to work alongside their students and can opt for friendly competition by allowing a challenge leaderboard for readers with the most time to be displayed. The option to hide the leaderboard is available, however, if one does not feel comfortable. Regardless of whether or not you choose to display a leaderboard, the teacher will always be able to see the data on student progress.

After the challenge is created, a code is provided for other users to join the challenge. This code could be given to students for easy access. The students would follow the same process as their teacher for accessing the challenge section of the dashboard. However, instead of choosing “create a challenge,” they will select “find a challenge” and enter the code provided by their teacher.

Stackup 4

Students also have suggested websites for reading and their corresponding categories available to help encourage their reading. The most popular websites read by their peers will also be included so they can see what is popular. Students can even search through Stackup’s library to find articles of interest. By clicking “Library” on the left sidebar, they can filter articles based on category and reading level and then open the article to read.

Stackup 5

Once students are enrolled in the challenge, teachers receive graphs and charts of student progress both as a whole group and individually. The amount of time read can be tracked, as well as the growth or decline in reading level. All of this information can be accessed and searched through the “Groups” tab on Stackup’s dashboard.

In the classroom, Stackup could be used as a way to motivate students to read and to encourage different types of reading. Many students do not see their internet article browsing as “reading” since it isn’t a novel, but using this app could change that. With the ability for teachers to participate in challenges with their students, it could also be a way to build a community of readers in the classroom. While the 40 Book Challenge is popular for novels, an alternative could launch simultaneously in classrooms focusing on reading different article genres. Stackup is very easy for teachers and students to use and with the increasing number of 1:1 districts, it could be a great tool to track student reading and interests.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Tech Tuesdays: Stackup — A Chrome Extension for Independent Reading