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