Notes from NCTE Business Meeting

printprogramcover-235x300by Audrey Fisch

As part of my responsibilities as President of the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, I attended NCTE in Baltimore, and the Annual Business Meeting of NCTE on Friday evening of the convention. Below, find some of my notes from the meeting, which I offer in the hope of keeping NJCTE members informed about NCTE.

Our own NJCTE Board Member Joe Pizzo, NCTE Historian, offered a moment in NCTE history, a signature feature of the NCTE Annual Business Meeting. We hope to publish his comments shortly on the NJCTE blog.

President’s Report, Franki Sibberson

  • 5 revised policy statements, 5 sunsetted
  • 2 new task forces to study mentoring and the convention
  • 2 new leadership awards – people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ award
  • Advocacy and Leadership Event in DC – 22 travel awards offered by NCTE to participants
  • The 2020 convention will feature scholarships – folks can donate
  • Funding from NCTE this year paid for placards highlighting LGBTQ+ and anti-racist statements posted throughout the convention center
  • Funding will continue for at least another two years for the early career educator of color leadership award

Emily Kirkpatrick, Executive Director Report

  • First year of positive membership growth in 18 years
  • 9% growth in books program revenue
  • Financial audit – highest possible ranking
  • Convention – 3163 presenters, 8600 attendance, 86% K-12, 48% first-time (overall high-water mark)
  • Increase in proposal submissions
  • NCTE Reads – 2019: 805 participants, summer book study, Workshopping the Canon
  • Summer Institute – Continuing the Journey, attendance grew by 21%, veteran and mid-career teacher focus
  • TYCA first national convention – 327 attendees
  • Leadership and advocacy – record attendance, meetings with legislative offices, keynote Laura Wides-Munoz
  • James Squire Center – policy research moving to Notre Dame under Ernest Morrell
  • Registration now open for the 2020 Leadership and Advocacy Summit – April 6-7, 2020
  • Partnerships with Library of Congress – releasing artifacts from Walt Whitman collection, largest attendance for any LOC event for educators
  • Teaching with primary sources, grant-funded $273,442
  • Affiliate leadership meeting Summer 2019 – 31 states (NJCTE was there!)
  • 2020 affiliate leadership meeting – July 17-19, Omaha, NE, to recognize affiliates in rural states and west of the Mississippi (NJCTE hopes to be there!)
  • 2019-2020 new ambassadors – 2-year term, elementary to community college
  • Webinar on Little Women
  • Partnered with Nimbus, a multicultural agency, worked on 2019 National Day of Writing, design for 2020 convention
  • Emily Kirkpatrick – attended Harvard Kennedy School program on leading diverse organizations

NCTE Convention 2020 – Nov 19-22, Denver, CO, Theme: ¡Confluencia! Songs of Ourselves. Call for proposals now open. Submit at convention.ncte.org by January 15, 2020.

And congratulations to the NJCTE Board and membership on recognition by NCTE for four 2019 affiliate awards: 2019 Website of Excellence Award, 2019 Newsletter of Excellence Award, 2019 Kent D. Williamson Affiliate Membership Award, 2019 Affiliate of Excellence Award!

Thanks also to Michelle Haiken (@teachingfactor) for hosting NJCTE for our second annual NCTE/NJCTE Convention Breakfast. We enjoyed yummy treats at the Bun Shop in Baltimore. And we were particularly grateful to see our own NJDOE representative, Erika Leak, at the meetup as well as NJCTE Spring 2020 Conference co-chair, Valerie Mattessich.

Meanwhile, I hope everyone enjoys a few days of family, food, and reading over the Thanksgiving break.

Notes from NCTE Business Meeting

Review: Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

kidslikeuscoverby Audrey Fisch

At the NJCTE Fall 2019 conference, we inaugurated a new tradition – the authors’ breakfast. More than 10 local and regional authors gathered to socialize and share their work with NJCTE members and conference attendees. It was a wonderful new event, initiated by NJCTE Board Member and Fall Conference Co-chair Denise Weintraut.

At the event, I had the great privilege to speak with Hilary Reyl, author of Kids Like Us, published in 2017 by Square Fish/Macmillan. She gifted me a signed copy of her novel, which I had the great delight of finishing on a recent cold evening. I know that many NJCTE members share with me the feeling of wonder and delight of meeting an author and marveling at their ability to create a moving, compelling universe in the words of their text. Beyond the pleasures of the classroom and the work we do with our students, surely this is one of the great delights of our roles as teachers of English.

Let me recommend to you, then, the world of Kids Like Us, the brilliant and deeply satisfying work of Hilary Reyl. The novel revolves around Martin Dubois, a bilingual, autistic young teen who finds himself navigating a “general-ed” school and a constellation of neurotypical kids in France while his filmmaker mother does her work and his sister prepares for medical school and navigates a break-up. Martin is also processing the loss of his father to prison and navigating a long-distance friendship with Layla, his best friend from the Center, the special school for kids on the spectrum they attend together in Los Angeles.

Martin processes life through the angle of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; his friend Layla has an “affinity” to Downtown Abbey. They and their peers at the Center use affinities as a “portal into real life,” and so Search, as Martin calls it, functions as a kind of ur-text, the prism through which he makes sense out of everything and everyone.

It’s a marvelous conceit, and it functions perfectly well even for those who don’t know (or have forgotten, like me) their Proust. We watch as Martin falls for a girl who to him is Proust’s Gilberte, and we see him navigate how Alice (Gilberte) is and is not a magical Proustian character. Martin makes his way in this world, coming to recognize his strengths and weaknesses as an autistic person, and to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the people around him as they do and do not successfully navigate the complex social interactions of the world.

Along the way, Reyl gently raises some fundamental questions about whether the therapeutic model in relation to people on the autism spectrum needs to move away from cures and normalization. Martin, at one point, asks his mother if she would be okay if he were gay and then spells out the analogy for her: “I think the point is that we don’t need to be cured, like gay people don’t need to be cured.” This thoughtful, provocative moment in the novel, however, is in no way strident or pedantic. Instead, what makes the novel so charming and moving is how it allows the reader to journey alongside Martin, and in so doing celebrate his growth and success at making friends and finding love at his general-ed school.

Kids Like Us will, of course, be compared with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Reyl’s novel, however, unlike Mark Haddon’s, is young adult literature at its finest. The novel is first and foremost focused on the young man at the center of the novel. Reyl needs no greater drama than the struggle of a young man working to find his voice and place in the world. Martin, like the protagonists of many great YA texts, comes to understand and appreciate what makes him unique and to connect with and empathize with his peers.

Along the way, of course, readers do the same: We come to understand and appreciate what makes Martin and Layla unique and special, but also what they have in common with their neurotypical peers, also struggling with anger, emotion, and a complicated world of class, adults, beer, and kissing.

Thanks, Hilary Reyl, for bringing me into that world for the space of the novel (and beyond). Thanks to all the wonderful authors who so generously came to the Fall 2019 NJCTE conference and shared their work with us. And thanks, Denise Weintraut and NJCTE, for making all of this happen and bringing me together with more great authors and books.

Review: Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

Summer Reading Recommendation: A Glimmer of Hope

Glimmer of Hope coverby Audrey Fisch

For many of us, teachers and students alike, it’s summer reading time. And, for many of us who are teachers, we worry because we know those summer reading books can be just one more miserable chore to be neglected or ignored by our students. Alas.

I want to call out one title that is being used in at least one university in the U.S. as its summer reading selection: Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked Movement, written by the founders of March for Our Lives.

It’s a book of essays, with some poetry, lots of pictures, excerpts from speeches, and so many vibrant student voices. Reading the volume, we hear from the students themselves about their experiences and responses to the event, their work in the aftermath, and their navigation of the media and politicians.

We hear, not just from survivors, but others touched by the moment, including, for example, Naomi Wadler, who, as a fifth grader in Alexandria, Virginia, responded to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting by organizing the walkout at her elementary school on the day of the national school walkout. As Wadler writes, “I think it’s important to inspire other black girls and to reach out to other black girls and to encourage them, and for them to know that they have worth” (143). Her response to being told by her principal that the walkout wasn’t appropriate for young people her age: “I politely enlightened him to the fact that students don’t have parental supervision when they are being shot in their own classrooms” (142).

The volume constantly reflects that push-and-pull: students trying to seize the moment and instead being put in their place. Delaney Tarr, in “Our First Trip to DC:” February 25,” for example, contrasts her optimism – a “feeling of possibility” – and the reality of meeting a California politician who, hearing that the students were there to advocate about gun reform, “immediately started to treat us like kids and was rude to us . . . . [leaving her] feeling a bit hopeless and disenfranchised” (95).

But it’s hard to sustain hopelessness and that feeling of disenfranchisement as you read the stories of these young people – of their vision, their energy, their resilience, and their collaboration.

Most of us, it’s inspiring to hear them raise their voices. Jammal Lemy writes, “I know it’s our duty as the youth of America to never stay quiet. And we won’t” (198).

Indeed, along the lines of the youth of America seizing their voices and refusing to stay quiet, one particular moment in the text stands out to me in terms of why I think this would make such a powerful summer reading selection. In the essay, “Creating a Social media Movement: Mid to Late February,” John Barnitt, Sarah Chadwick, and Sofie Whitney write: “Our generation is so much more aware of what’s going on around us than people may give us credit for” (41). So often, in school, students are told how little they know, how inadequate their skills are, and how they aren’t ready to do “real” work. They are told to follow the rules, maintain order, and conform to expectations.

This volume of essays is about a group of young people who seized the horrific moment and showed the nation that they were knowledgeable, skilled, and ready to work. Want to stop summer slide? Let the students of America learn from their powerful peers. What could be more inspiring and educational to other students, regardless of politics?

I hope more districts and universities adopt this daring and important text as summer reading – sending a clear and powerful message that they expect their students to seize their voices and exert their power.

Summer Reading Recommendation: A Glimmer of Hope

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.”

whyiwrite

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.

mrspasqtweet

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

Join NJCTE at NJEA, NCTE and CEL Conventions

Are you planning to attend the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City? Share your experiences with us using #NJCTE18 and tag us @NJCTENews.

NJCTE is sponsoring two presentations at NJEA this year:

  • Joe Pizzo will present “Get a Grant the Write Way” on Thursday, November 8, 3:15-4:45 PM, in room 413.
  • Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle will present “Teaching Inequality to Encourage Students to Speak About Justice” on Friday, November 9, 9:45-11:15 AM, in room 402.

NJCTE board member Katie Nieves will also present two sessions: “Giving Into the Hyperdocs Hype” on Friday, November 9, 10:00-10:50 AM, in the Teacher to Teacher Learning Area, and “Google Tools to Help Struggling Learners” on Friday, November 9, 1:30-3:00 PM in room 317.

And NJCTE board members Pat Schall and Susan Reese will be onsite to meet with NJCTE members and prospective members. Come see us!
Continue reading “Join NJCTE at NJEA, NCTE and CEL Conventions”

Join NJCTE at NJEA, NCTE and CEL Conventions

Book Review: Personalized Reading by Michele Haiken

Personalized Reading coverby Audrey Fisch

As we enter into the final days of summer, I know I’m full of the usual feelings of aspiration and trepidation for the new school year. Weeks of course revision and planning are under my belt. Still, in these last few weeks, I’m still open to more inspiration and new ideas/tools to make my new school year more successful.

It was in this frame of mind that I turned to Personalized Reading: Digital Strategies and Tools to Support All Learners by Michele Haiken (with L. Robert Furman). I know Haiken and her excellent work on gamification (Gamify Literacy: Boost Comprehension, Collaboration, and Learning), so my expectations for Personalized Reading were high. Her newest work did not disappoint me.

Indeed, I must admit that I consumed (inhaled) her latest work nearly in one sitting. And indeed, I find the brevity, simplicity, and practicality of the volume to be its greatest achievement. Haiken has written a slim and eminently readable book on digital strategies and tools that combines references to a research base, a focus on different kinds of learners, and practical and easy-to-follow examples and suggestions. All of this is combined in Haiken’s refreshing, practical, authentic teacher voice. She is using these tools to help the young people in her world succeed and sometimes reflecting on her own journey as a reluctant reader whose own love of books and readings was not ignited until college. This book invites us to look over her shoulder, into her classroom, and learn from her. Who would turn down such an invitation?

The volume is usefully divided into chapters based on types of learners: struggling readers, reluctant readers, English language learners, and advanced readers. The final chapter, “Teaching All Our Readers at the Same Time,” reflects Haiken’s practicality and wisdom. As she notes, the “cacophony of students in our diverse classrooms benefits all student learners, because we learn from each other” (90). Classrooms are not made up of one narrowly defined group of readers, and the labels are useful only up to a point. As Haiken notes, “Bored students are at risk to become reluctant readers” (5). ELL readers can also be reluctant readers. You might select a particular idea in an attempt to support struggling readers in your classroom, for example, but Haiken reminds us that the other students may be just as intrigued and supported.

In each chapter, Haiken cites scholars in the field, but she doesn’t get bogged down in the research. She uses a choice quote or two from some of the major researchers to serve as a scholarly context for the strategies she discusses. For example, in her chapter on reluctant readers, Haiken focuses on the importance of visuals that can “serve as a bridge to print texts” (26). Here she discusses tips (from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey) for close reading and their application with visual texts, visual literacy resources like The Jacob Burns Film Center, practical tools for uploading videos and embedding questions and interactive activities, and more.

Among many ideas in this chapter, Haiken highlights her own use of Tara M. Martin’s #BookSnaps. #BookSnaps are created on Snapchat, with photos combined with annotations, reactions, decorations, which can then be shared on social media with classmates. Included is an example from a student, so we can see exactly what Haiken (following Martin) means.

And at the end of the chapter (and for every chapter), Haiken includes a simple, useful table, pairing the teaching strategy (here, using visual texts to teach reading strategies) with suggested technology tools (like #BookSnaps) and relevant links.

There’s so much information, but again, Haiken is both wonderfully inspiring and practical. Her discussion of her Twitter book clubs for her middle schoolers includes specific directions (designate a specific hashtag for students to follow) and critical templates (like a Twitter Permission Letter and Code of Conduct for parents and guardians). And again, there is a sample of the teaching tool in practice – here, a piece of a chat about Leland Melvin’s Chasing Space among Haiken’s students, herself, and her school’s Earth science teacher.

If I were a teacher educator hoping to get my pre-service teaches to think creatively about using technology to reach the widest range of readers, if I were a novice teacher looking for a few new tools to help me reach a few more students in my classes, or if I were a veteran teacher (I am!) looking for a new innovation to introduce in the new school year, I would find Personalized Reading everything I wanted and more. If you are enjoying a few more days of personal development, check out this wonderful text.


Don’t forget to register for the NJCTE 2018 Fall Conference: Approaches to Writing, K-12! Featuring keynote speaker NCTE President Jocelyn Chadwick, the conference will take place September 29 at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School in Tabernacle, NJ. Register today!

Book Review: Personalized Reading by Michele Haiken