Congratulations to Teacher for the Dream Award Winner George Salazar

Please join NJCTE in congratulating George Salazar, one of two winners of this year’s NJCTE Teacher for the Dream Award.

George is a British English speaker navigating the complex landscape of American English education. Born and raised abroad, his experiences have made him acutely aware of myriad philosophies to the teaching of literacy and literature, and how students—especially students of color—are empowered or marginalized by them. When he’s not fighting the spell-checker over the spelling of his words, he loves to write about the literary canon, technology in the classroom, and trends in education policy. Outside of teaching, George is a professional calligrapher, displaying his love for words by marrying both their form and function so others may also fall in love at first write.

As a recipient of the Teacher for the Dream Award, George is honored to join NJCTE’s community of dedicated and inspiring professionals. He is excited by the opportunities granted to share his insights, research, and best practices in local, state, and national conversations being held about teaching, especially in English Language Arts. He believes the perspectives and insights of people of color are necessary to our critical examinations of our content and practices. And with the platform provided by this award, George advocates for more people of color to become educators, so students see themselves represented in our profession, and see their experiences acknowledged, respected, and celebrated in what we do as English teachers.

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


Congratulations to Teacher for the Dream Award Winner George Salazar

Tech Tuesdays: Girls Who Code — Bringing STEM to ELA

by Kathryn Nieves

This week I’m going to take a quick break from the introduction of a new technology tool to cover a technology-based program with an interesting perspective to bring to the teaching of ELA.


Girls Who Code is an organization with the goal of bringing more female computer programmers into the world. According to the organization’s website, in 1995, 37% of people in computer science were women, whereas today that number is only 24%. Since technology is a continuously growing field, the number of computer science degrees will only continue to increase.

The organization has established free clubs based on teaching computer science to young girls. According to the organization’s website, they have at least one club in every single state in the United States. The organization offers a variety of options for clubs based on different age groups. Educators can get involved by applying to start a club in their area or for their students.

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With the push for STEM education, the question is always where ELA fits into the mix. Girls Who Code is offering the perfect opportunity for students to pair coding with language arts. The organization is offering the chance to participate in a book club. Girls can combine an interest in coding with an interest in reading.

The organization is offering a book club for grades 3-5, where students can read and discuss the nonfiction book Learn to Code and Change the World. Girls Who Code provides five free books for each club to use. The book can help to bring interested young girls into the world of computer science.

unnamed (1)There is also a 6-12 free club, where students receive hands-on experience learning to code. The only requirements are access to computers and the internet, as well as someone over 18 to supervise and a sponsor, such as a school. Clubs receive free access to the computer science curriculum and use these skills to create a project out their community.

Teachers can apply to bring this club to their school for interested girls. An interesting idea would be to pair the concept of coding with different English literature activities, such as connecting their newly learned skills to a project or assignment that related to a book or story they were reading in class. It would be a great way to show how ELA can be integrated into the computer science world.

In order to start one of these clubs in your school, you could visit the Girls Who Code website and complete the online application. Any additional questions or requests of specific information can be sent to the Girls Who Code New Jersey representative, Eve Balick, at

Girls Who Code is the perfect way to bring computer science to a group of students who need these resources the most while also appealing to the current educational focus on STEAM.


Tech Tuesdays: Girls Who Code — Bringing STEM to ELA

NCTE Coffee Meetup for NJCTE Members and Friends – Saturday, Nov 17 @ 7am

Are you attending NCTE in Houston? Some of us are too!

Grab some coffee and join us on Saturday, November 17, bright and early at 7am. Connect with your NJCTE friends with an early morning convention conversation. We’ll meet at the Starbucks in the lobby of the Hilton, directly across from the convention center.

NJCTE board members will also be attending the affiliate breakfast on Sunday, November 18, and the secondary luncheon on Saturday, November 17. We’re excited that NJCTE board member and NJCTE 2017 Educator of the Year winner Susan Chenelle will be honored at the latter as one of the winners of the NCTE 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award.

We hope we see you in Houston! See below for details about sessions involving NJCTE members. The NCTE 2018 Convention program is available online.

Thursday, November 15

  • (B.06) Literacy Leadership — Thursday, November 15, 2:30 p.m.-3:45 p.m., 352 A

Panel presentation featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams.

Friday, November 16

  • (C.32) Finding Their STEMinist Voice: How Informational Texts Can Inspire Girls — Friday, November 16, 9:30 a.m.-10:45 a.m., 372 C

Panel presentation chaired by NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross.

  • (D. 16) Teaching Climate Change in English — Friday, November 16, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 340AB

Roundtable session featuring NJCTE board member Patricia L. Hans.

  • (D.53) GatsbyA Raisin in the Sun, and Inequality Today: Nurturing Student Voices About Equity and Justice — Friday, November 16, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 330A

Workshop presented by NJCTE president Audrey Fisch and board member Susan Chenelle.

  • (G.17) Empowering Teachers, Empowering Learners: Technology and Transformation — Friday, November 16, 3:30-4:45 p.m., 372DE

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Joseph Pizzo.

  • (G.44) Creating a Climate of Social and Environmental Justice in the English Classroom — Friday, November 16, 3:30 p.m.-4:45 p.m., 350 E

Panel presentation featuring NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross.

Saturday, November 17

  • (H.37) Reclaiming Conversations: Avoidance, Engagement, Advocacy in ELA Discourse Communities — Saturday, November 17, 8:00 a.m.-9:15 a.m., Grand Ballroom C

Roundtable discussion featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams, along with Tricia Ebarvia of #DisruptTexts and many other educators.

  • (I.43) Exposing the Truth: Empowering Students to Thrive and Advocate for Themselves Through Journalism and Public Writing — Saturday, November 17, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 330B

Panel session featuring NJCTE board member Patricia L. Hans.

  • Secondary Luncheon — Saturday, November 17, 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.

NJCTE board member Susan Chenelle will be honored as New Jersey’s recipient of the 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award.

  • (K.26) Choice and Challenge: Designing and Implementing Successful Literature Circle Experiences for High School Upperclassmen — Saturday, November 17, 2:45 p.m.-4:00 p.m., 330 B

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board members Oona Marie Abrams and Sarah Mulhern Gross, along with YA authors A.S. King, Brendan Kiely, Nic Stone, and Gae Polisner.

  • (L.02) Literacy Instruction Worth Fighting For: What Do We Advocate and Why — Saturday, November 17, 4:15 p.m.–5:30 p.m., Grand Ballroom A

NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams will serve as a roundtable leader along with NJCTE member Emily Meixner.

CEL — Sunday, November 18

This year’s Conference on English Leadership is chaired by NJCTE board member Kate Baker.

  • (B.2) Melding Tradition and Innovation in the 21st–Century Literacy Classroom — Sunday, November 18, 5:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m., 320B

Session presented by NJCTE president Audrey Fisch and board member Susan Chenelle.

Monday, November 19

  • (I.2) Tapping Local Talent — Monday, November 19, during opening session 8:00 a.m.-9:45 a.m.

Five-minute Ignite! session led by NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams.

  • (F.5) Tech Tool Showcase — Monday, November 19, 3:30 p.m.-4 p.m.

Session presented by CEL convention chair and NJCTE board member Kate Baker.

NCTE Coffee Meetup for NJCTE Members and Friends – Saturday, Nov 17 @ 7am

An opportunity for teachers and 5th-8th grade students: Eco Diaries and Contest

NJCTE Members- Participate at No Cost! 

Panasonic Corporation of North America and the Foundation for Impact on Literacy and Learning are offering all subject area 5th-8th grade NJ teachers resources to guide their students to be eco-minded and to engage with their community to create environmental change.

This experiential learning process (PBL) is composed of lessons aligned to education standards (including anchor standards for writing).   Students will:

Define environmental issues.

Create actions to help solve the issue.

Apply actions in their community to help solve the problem.

Evaluate actions conducted and share the results.

Student teams will then write and draw in their Eco Diaries the outcomes of the lessons above. All Eco Diaries can be submitted into the Eco Picture Diary contest for prizes. Prizes also awarded to participating teachers!

Each registered teacher will receive a Welcome Box the week of November 26th with a teacher guide, student workbooks, eco diaries, and a tote bag!


Questions? Contact us: or (718) 689-2972

For more information about the program, click here


An opportunity for teachers and 5th-8th grade students: Eco Diaries and Contest

Tech Tuesdays: Collaborative Annotation with Prism Scholar Lab

by Kathryn Nieves

Annotation tends to be an individual task. Unless students discuss their ideas and notes, students usually reserve this as a solo assignment. In order to pair educational technology with the idea of collaboration, teachers can use Prism Scholars Lab.

Prism Scholars Lab is an older website but still has a lot to offer for teachers and students today. Created as a small project, the website has expanded to include many more users, specifically students, who use it as a way to collaboratively analyze a text with their peers. Since it is a website, all devices with an internet browser, including mobile devices, can utilize the tool.

Both teachers and students need to have an account in order to use the website, though the site does allow for an automated Google sign-in in lieu of creating a username and password. On the website, there are three pages on the top: About, Browse, and MyPrisms. The About section offers information about the development of the website. Browse allows you to view public Prisms to collaborate with others or to get ideas for your own Prism. MyPrisms are the collaborative experiences that you have already built.

Prism Scholars Lab allows you to upload a text and provide opportunities for students to highlight and collaborate to analyze the text. For example, a user might post a poem and have students identify specific types of figurative language. Each Prism is equipped with three different color highlighters, each connected to a specific category of criteria of the user’s choice. The category of analysis depends on the individual class and the lessons being taught. Other examples could include identification of rhetorical devices or different schools of thought.

When you click on “MyPrisms,” you can create a new Prism, view your previously created ones, or view any public ones where you have made highlighted contributions. Selecting “New Prism” will allow you to create a brand new one for students. You will be brought to a new page where you must fill in the necessary information in order to create your collaborative Prism. You must fill in the content, such as the poem, song, article, or short text. Then you must fill in the requirements of each of the highlighter colors. A title must be given to the Prism, which should likely include some variation of the title of the original piece. The original author of the text must be provided, along with the date of publication.

The final requirements are selecting a language for the text, providing an optional description, such as giving directions for the participants in the Prism and indicating the license option for the text. The license relates to whether or not the text chosen is available for reuse. The website fully breaks down the levels of licenses for different types of use for easy identification.



One important feature of the creation of the Prism is the “Unlisted” button. By checking off that box, it signals that the Prism may only be accessed by people with the link. This indication means that outside members may not find it in the “Browse” section of the website. Choosing Unlisted will allow a teacher to just provide the link to the students so that collaborative annotation is just between peers.

Sharing the URL with your students will allow them access to contribute their highlighted annotations to the Prism. Students should select the highlighter color they want and then click on the words they would like to highlight. The eraser tool allows the student to get rid of any highlights that they want to revise.

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Students should hit “Save Highlights” once they are finished annotating the text.

Once they have highlighted their parts based on the directions provided, everyone will be able to visualize the selections of all of their classmates. Along the sidebar, there is an option that says “Font Size Visualizations.” When that is selected, students can see a change in the font size based on how many students selected the same answer they did. The larger the word, the more times it was selected. Students can choose the different highlighter colors to see each category.


The final product serves as a great point of discussion among a class. Students can discuss whether or not they agree with the final outcome of the Prism and it can serve as a jumping off point for larger class conversations about a particular text.

Tech Tuesdays: Collaborative Annotation with Prism Scholar Lab

Tech Tuesdays: Technology Options for Reading on the Web

by Kathryn Nieves

With the increased emphasis on incorporating nonfiction texts and articles from real life to help support teaching literature, teachers may face certain obstacles. While assigning texts from news websites or other professional pages allows students to read content relevant to their world, it also can be challenging to make these pages accessible. News sites and other websites are often cluttered with ads, comment sections, streaming videos, or other distractions that detract from the text itself. When a student is accessing these resources from a laptop, as opposed to a smartphone, it can be cumbersome to read.

The following are tools that teachers could use to help make web content less distracting before assigning a text to their students.

Just Read

Just Read is an extension that works on a Chrome Browser. Once downloaded and added, the user can remove the clutter of a webpage with just one click on the extension logo. On the logo itself, a red icon with the word “on” will appear, indicating that Just Read is currently working on the website.


In addition to removing advertisements and comment sections, it also has the option to adjust other readability elements of the text. Users can change the font size, text color, background color, and link color to meet their preferences. Once the “Just Read” extension has been activated, users will have three icons in the top right corner of the screen. Selecting the first icon, the paintbrush, allows for these options to appear. Once the readability functions have been selected, users must click “Save and Close” for these changes to remain active on the site.

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Firefox Reader View

Unlike Chrome browsers, which require a third-party extension to make texts easier to read and view, the Firefox browser has that function built in. Once an article is opened, users will have the option to convert to a readable format. The article will reappear, looking more like an e-book reader and less like a website.


On the sidebar of the converted webpage, users have a few options to make the text more accessible. The “Aa” button allows the user to customize the text size and font type of the article and even allows for the opportunity to shrink or extend the length of each line in the article. It also allows for a change in background color and justification of the text.


The button immediately below the “Aa” font icon is for text-to-speech. Users can control how fast or slow they want the computer to read and has two options of voice. The final icon is “Save to Pocket,” which allows the article to be saved in a database to read at a later date.

Microsoft Edge’s Reading View

For those who use Microsoft Edge as their browser of choice, it is similar to Firefox in its inclusion of a readability function. Users can click on the open book icon on their browser, next to their URL, and immediately be sent to an e-book setup for their article. No advertisements are included or comment sections available. Unlike Firefox and Chrome, there is no option for customization and users can only read the clutter-free article.


There are always a variety of readability tools popping up online to help to make texts more accessible online. By removing the ads and comment sections, it increases the focus on the text and the text’s features and allows for the elimination of distraction. These tools make it easier for teachers to assign outside texts and resources to their students for review.

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

Tech Tuesdays: Technology Options for Reading on the Web

Finding purpose and politics in Gatsby at PCTELA18

by Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle

(Originally posted at the Using Informational Text to Teach Literature blog.)

It was very early and very dark when we began our journey to Harrisburg, PA, to present at the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English annual conference, #PCTELA18. Audrey had been to the national affiliate meeting for NCTE, where leaders of all the affiliates gather and share ideas and resources, and met some of the dynamic PCTELA board members, and we were very excited to get to hear the amazing A.S. King speak, so we knew it would be worth the trip.
It sounded good at the time, but when we had to get up at 4am and drive through NJ and PA in the dark, we began to question why we were doing this! As always, we started to feel energized as we arrived at the conference and left feeling inspired and ready to take on the world (if a little tired). Isn’t that what’s so great about NCTE and the affiliates – how they harness and focus our energies and remind us of the amazing community of educators to which we belong.
We presented our latest incarnation of our work, entitled for this forum, Gatsby: 1925 or 2018?
We opened our presentation with our newest favorite tech tool, Mentimeter. We asked our audience the following: When you think of Gatsby, what words come to mind? Mentimeter did the rest, in real time; how awesome!
We chuckled over “overrated,” bemoaned the “green light” (Audrey’s bugaboo), and noted the presence of “economic inequality,” “privilege,” and “wealth.”
From there, and invoking the conference theme, “The Stories of Our Lives,” we launched into our discussion of how The Great Gatsby, a text written and set in the 1920s and taught regularly in many, many English classrooms, can be taught as a topical, relevant text that interrogates fundamental issues — past, present, and future — about our culture and beliefs. We explored key issues in Gatsby – white supremacy and nationalism, the difficulties of economic mobility, economic inequality, anti-Semitism, and the social psychology of privilege and entitlement – and tried to unpack how to use this canonical text to create space for difficult, critical conversations.
For us, it was fascinating to talk pedagogy with PCTELA members who self-identified as people teaching in the big red state of PA. For both of us, teaching in urban Northern New Jersey, the politics are enormously different. The energy and engagement in the room was palpable; several people interjected mid-session with questions and comments (a presenter’s greatest delight!). 
We thought some of the concerns our audience raised and our views on them worth sharing, as we know that teachers across the country, particularly in the redder pockets of our nation, are grappling with how to navigate a tricky political landscape while still ensuring that our classrooms are spaces for:
1. critical thinking about big issues that matter (and not just the green light!);
2. students to think through and contextualize the drama of our particular moment through the context of literature;
3. difficult conversations.
For example, one person at PCTELA asked us whether we were worried about injecting politics into the classroom when, for example, we focus on the white nationalism and economic inequality in Gatsby. Another asked whether we include opposing viewpoints. Still another asked about whether we worried that students would just give us back what we want to hear. These are legitimate, challenging concerns that are worth careful consideration.
Our strategy is two-fold.
First, we try to think about our work as focused on extracting the politics out of the text(s), rather than injecting our politics. Of course, we focus on things we care about. And so our extraction, our focus, is of necessity going to change based on time and place. Trump, KavanaughRoseanne (some of the connections that have recently caught our attention) produce our interest in how the text navigates white nationalism, fear of non-white immigrants, white male privilege, and the anger and entitlement of those in positions of power.
Reading Gatsby in 2018 is and should be different from reading Gatsby in 1950. Isn’t that, after all, the beauty of literature? Audrey likes to think that if anything makes a text worthy of canonical status, it is that text’s capacity to generate conversation and merit scrutiny in different times and places. (But then again, that may be a function of the reader and an altogether different conversation.)
That said, no one in 2018 can underestimate the trepidation teachers (and students too) feel about these difficult conversations. Yet, as one of our PCTELA audience members asserted, based on his experience teaching at a wealthy, all-male private school with what he described as a mostly Republican student body, young people are eager to talk about these things. If we open the door and ground our discussion in Gatsby and companion texts like excerpts from Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, (inspiration for Fitzgerald’s Goddard), or social psychologist Paul Piff’s “Does Money Make You Mean,” an engaging TED Talk about behavioral experiments involving games of monopoly, driving habits, and more, we create space for dialogue in our classroom.
We don’t have to be explicit in discussing Trump or Kavanaugh; for a variety of reasons, we may not be comfortable doing so. But we can frame our discussions of Gatsby and extract the politics from Fitzgerald’s text, so that students have the space and language to think and talk about the big issues that they are seeing all around them. That’s our hope based on our experience, albeit in a very different environment.
After our talk, we had the amazing privilege to hear contemporary young adult author A.S. King address PCTELA.Wow! Her remarks about the importance of young adult literature resonated so strongly with us. King talked about how she couldn’t connect with the four novels (!) she was assigned in the entirety of her high school experience. The Scarlett Letter, she noted, seemed to contain all sorts of issues that should have been meaningful to her, but the Puritans, she admitted, “were a real buzz-kill.” And so she skipped Hawthorne.
S.E. Hinton was another story, for King. (And later, unaccountably, The Satanic Verses.)
Her broader point was that contemporary young adult literature has such an important place in our curriculum, particularly as it keeps young readers reading. King noted sardonically those gatekeepers who say that they don’t believe in contemporary young adult literature and retorted, “it’s not like fairies; it exists.” Indeed. And the passion that so many young readers have for this literature only serves to underscore the importance of our finding ways to make ALL the texts we teach meaningful, relevant, and purposeful for our students. 
Our work is cut out for us, especially for those who teach in schools where the curriculum is still dominated by mostly canonical and somewhat inaccessible texts, like GatsbyBut as we tried to show in our presentation, it is precisely Gatsby’s staid canonicity that makes it so full of insurgent and subversive possibilities. This is the work we love, and that so many English teachers do so creatively, ambitiously, and thoughtfully.

So, all in all, an inspiring and impressive PCTELA conference. We left invigorated, and on the way home stopped in Hershey for a tour of Chocolate World (Susan’s first time). Sweet!


Finding purpose and politics in Gatsby at PCTELA18

Reflection on The National Day on Writing

by Audrey Fisch

The National Day on Writing® (October 20), an initiative of the National Council of Teachers of English, was created “on the premise that writing is critical to literacy but needs greater attention and celebration.”


We at NJCTE, your New Jersey affiliate of NCTE, agree. Writing isn’t just, as NCTE notes, “pencil-and-paper assignments”; “writing is part of your life . . . . how you work, how you learn, how you remember, and how you communicate. It gives voice to who you are and enables you to give voice to the things that matter to you.”

This year, we asked our NJCTE members to share their responses to #WhyIWrite. Here are a few of the responses people posted.


srcnwk tweetafisch tweet

As we struggle with hateful and incendiary language and murderous violence, our collective voices about the power of writing are more important than ever. Let’s continue to, as NCTE says, work at “raising the volume” on writing and use our skills at writing to create an environment for civility and positive change – on our screens, in our classrooms, and on our pages.

Reflection on The National Day on Writing