Tag Archives: Inquiry

#NCTE19 – Spirited Inquiry

The National Council for Teachers of English held their Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD with over 8,000 English teachers, librarians, reading specialists, authors and illustrators in attendance. The theme of “Spirited Inquiry” was about stopping to note, notice, wonder, question, and ponder pressing topics in the field. The range of workshops covered all aspects of literacy from reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking. The workshops that I attended focused on social justice, advocacy, diversity, and student voice. Here is a summary of the powerful topics covered throughout my time at the conference.

The Conference kicked off with a key note speech from actor, author, and activist, George Takei. Takei’s graphic novel, They Called Us the Enemy, is about his experience as a child during the Japanese incarceration after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He spoke of the parallel stories that he experienced during that time in comparison to the story his parents experienced. He addressed breaking stereotypes as the first Asian American Actor on Star Trek during the 1960s. He shared with the audience that ‘Star Trek’ was a metaphor for earth and the diversity that is required to successfully go beyond where no other person has gone before. ‘Star Trek’ is about acceptance, and the strength of the Starship Enterprise is that it embraces diversity in all its forms.” Civil responsibility was one of the themes of his speech and the speaking up when we see injustice.

NCTE Keynote with George Takei

Teaching Beyond Fear: Inquiry around Gun Violence in the English Language Arts Classroom was a round table session that included a dozen round table discussions on topics ranging from “empowering students to examine gun culture through rhetorical analysis,” “Teaching Beyond Fear,” and “Writing Through Pain.” This was one of the most powerful sessions that I attended hearing the ideas and research presented by researchers, professors and teachers about how they use mass shootings as a catalyst for student writing, research, and discussion.

Jonathan Bush shared a rhetorical analysis methodology used in his introductory composition course as “a means to empower students to gain an understanding of the purposes, ideologies, and ethics of the rhetor to make informed judgements about its value and place in cultural and political discussions.” He encourages students to do an ideological analysis and a logical fallacy watch to look for logical fallacies and then discuss them. He uses commercials from the NRA as an entry point to teach analysis. Consider the effectiveness of the following NRA advertisement.

I also attended the workshop Resisting Through Inquiry: Cultivating a Spirit of Resistance through YA Literature and Digital Media. Presented by 8th grade ELA teacher, Sarah Bonner and YA author, Samira Ahmed, this interactive sessions included a joint collaboration among teacher, students, and author to unpack the discoveries and learnings within a multimodal, inquiry-rich unit of student resulting in work that occurred within their communities. Students participated in a 3 week book study reading Ahmed’s Internment, a dystopian novel “set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.” Ahmed said that all of the events that take place in the novel are based on historical events including Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and Japanese Internment. The book challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today as the protagonist follows in the footsteps of young adult activists like Malala, The White Rose Organization, and even Greta Thunberg. After the students read the book they engaged in a research project to uncover injustice in their community.


The Middle Level Section Luncheon showcased YA author and speaker, Ibi Zoboi. Zoboi is the author of two novels for young adults including Pride and American Street, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her newest novel, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich is about a twelve year old girl who loves space and science fiction. The story is filled with graphic novel elements from the protagonist’s imagination. The novel celebrates Harlem in the 1980s with the music, dance, and hip hop culture that emerged from this time period and has shaped popular culture. 

What I’ve heard a lot of people talk about at NCTE: getting the right books in the hands of students, engaging students in the learning process, and teaching writing as opposed to assigning and grading writing. Thinking weaves its thread through each session at NCTE. Authors, teachers, leaders are growing through conversations around inquiry. There is still more to come.


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How do the choices we make impact the world? Blending Science and English in an Investigative Writing Unit of Study

Saturday, April 8th is the #EdCollabGathering, an free online conference addressing innovative ideas in education.


The Educator Collaborative, LLC, is a think tank and educational consulting organization working to innovate the ways educators learn together.

Founded by internationally recognized educator, author, and consultant Christopher Lehman, we aim to serve children and the adults who teach, learn, and grow alongside them.

I will be presenting, “How do the choices we make impact the world? Blending Science and English in an Investigative Writing Unit of Study.” The presentation will address inquiry based content area writing with investigative science research and feature articles. Grounded in informational text and research, students write their own science based investigative journalism article with the guiding question: How do the choices we make impact the world?

Below are the slides for the presentation.

Check out an archive of the presentation here.

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Photographs as a Teaching Tool


Image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/buildings/litlrck2.JPG

“What do you see?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Who do you think they are?”

“What are they doing in the photograph?”

“Write down what the person is thinking in the photograph.”

“What might they be thinking but would never say?”

*   *   *   *

Historian and author, David McCullough was asked in an interview, “If you could give teachers one piece of advice, what would it be?”  His response was, “use pictures when teaching history.”  Whatever your content area, images and pictures are vital to students’ learning and deeper understanding.

Using photographs in your classroom repertoire help students synthesize, infer, connect, evaluate, understand point of view, rethink and revise.

Here are a few different activities to make using photographs more meaningful.

1. Photo Reveal – Cover photographs with sticky notes and reveal one sticky note at a time.  Students focus on the details and predict what the story of the photo will reveal.  Students write down observations of what they see looking closely at the details of the images to uncover the story in the photograph.

2. Photo Scavenger Hunt – At the beginning of a unit of study I offer my students a basket filled with images and I ask students to choose the pictures that capture their attention.  On sticky notes students catalogue observations and questions.  In small groups students share the images they have collected and begin creating categories for the photos.

3. Image Gallery Walk – Leave pictures on student desks with a blank sheet of paper.  Students to go around and leave responses of what they see, notice, think, and wonder.

5. Become the Person in the Picture – Have students volunteer to create a tableau (frozen picture) that mirrors the photograph and then have the picture come to life.  Students have to go beyond the literal image and infer a scene that conveys the story presented in the picture. Students can do this as an improvisation or write out the scene in their journal.

6. Compare and Contrast two images.  Students might look at the pictures in different ways when two images are presented next to each other.

7. Photo Connections – After the reading a text, students select a photograph that best supports the reading.  In their journals, students write additional details to support and extend the ideas presented in the text.

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