Tag Archives: NCTE

#NCTE 2021:  4 Resources & Takeaways

NCTE 2021 was virtual this past fall and although the in person experience of the conference feeds my creativity and teaching practices, there were still many gems online that I am still musing over. Below are the top four take aways that interest me right now.

1. Opening Session with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Americanah, and much more, offered a hopeful beginning to this year’s Convention at the opening general session. Here are some of the amazing quotes and ideas she shared:

“To be a good teacher is often not just about teaching the curriculum. It is also about those things that are harder to quantify: teaching confidence; making a child feel seen as an individual. Because when we value a student, we teach that student to value herself.”

“I want to argue that it’s important for us to make peace with discomfort. That there’s something perverse about expecting always to be comfortable. Life is messy. Sometimes discomfort opens us up to growth and to knowledge and to meaning.”

“There’s a certain kind of excessive ‘safeness’ that concerns me about what we think children should read or not read. We don’t need to be overly safe. We can afford to be uncomfortable.”“There’s something wonderful and affirming about reading about your own reality and reading what is familiar to you. And that particular pleasure should never be denied anyone. But it is equally important to read about people who are not like you.”

2. Story Telling Through Art with Bisa Butler & Dr. Gholdy  Muhammad

One of my favorite artists today is the fabric artist, Bisa Butler. She participated in an engaging webinar with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. These women spoke about teaching culturally and historically responsive education through 5 pursuits:

  • Identity – teaching students to know themselves and others;
  • Skills – teaching students the proficiencies needed across content areas;
  • Intellectualism – teaching students new knowledge;
  • Criticality – teaching students to understand and disrupt oppression; and
  • Joy – teaching students about the beauty and truth in humanity.

Muhammad recently wrote a curriculum for Butler’s work available on webpage linked above. You can also make a copy of this activity I created based on one of Butler’s Quilts and segregated baseball in America.

3. Poetry with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher
Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher just published a new book which is a MUST READ for all English teachers. The new book, 4 Essential Studies covers essay writing, poetry, book clubs and poetry – discussion of this book is for a different department meeting. Kittle and Gallagher spoke on a poetry panel and here is a list of their favorite poems to check out. Why poetry? It’s short and accessible for students. Don’t just teach students to read and analyze poems but to write their own poems and emulate/imitate craft moves and styles of poetry. Here is what Kelly learned when Penny challenged him to write a poem.

4. Using Digital Texts to Deepen Understanding: Elevating Critical Thought

It is not about digital vs. print text, teachers need to read and create a variety of texts. Let’s consider multimodal texts for our English classrooms that include podcasts, digital text, and visual texts. Brandon Abdon (@BrandonAbdon), Alice Wu, Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn), and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) discuss how to use “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” from The New York Times as a multimedia mentor text, as ways to give students a choice in topic and approach. Although this was geared for APLit and APLang teachers, it is relevant for all teachers to help students prepare for the thinking process. Communicate ideas in digital ways to diver audiences beyond the walls of our classroom for civic engagement.

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NCTE Verse: Sekou Sundiata

For the past month, National Council of Teachers of English has been sending its members a poet a day celebrating more than 20 poets, the majority of them contemporary and up-and-coming. The last one share for 2020 National Poetry Month was one that I wrote about the poet Sekou Sundiata. As a first year teacher in New York City twenty years ago, I saw Sekou Sundiata perform live at the New School University and still today, he influences my teaching and writing poetry with my students. For more information about past poets and teaching poetry check out NCTE.

Poet of the Day: Sekou Sundiata
Sekou Sundiata’s poetry touches on issues of race and identity. A poet and performance artist, Sundiata’s poetry performances infuse jazz, blues, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. He wrote the plays Blessing the Boats, The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop, The Mystery of Love, Udu, and the 51st (dream) state. Sundiata was the first Writer-in-Residence at New School University where he taught literature and poetry classes. In 2001 he toured with Ani DiFranco, whose Righteous Babe record label released LongStoryShort. Sundiata was featured in Bill Moyer’s PBS series The Language of Life and the PBS series United States of Poetry, created and produced by Bob Holman. Sundiata said of his work, “This is poetry-as-living-word. That’s the tradition I come out of . . . the spoken word as a celebration of life, as expression of consciousness through the power and glory of language. Poetry not as monologue, but as dialogue; a chant, a call, a response, a riff, a refrain and whatnot.”
This poet belongs in our classrooms because . . .
Poetry is music and music is poetry. Sundiata’s poetry has a political edge and speaks of black culture and tradition. The topics he presents about race and identity are part of an ongoing conversation about America’s identity, citizenship, and individuality. Sekou Sundiata is considered one of the grandfathers of the spoken-word movement. Poetry in our classroom is not just for literary analysis, but for performance too. Poetry is meant to be spoken and heard. It evokes emotions, reactions, and is a catalyst for critical conversations in the classroom.
A Poem by Sekou Sundiata
Blink Your Eyes
I was on my way to see my woman
but the Law said I was on my way
thru a red light red light red light
and if you saw my woman
you could understand,
I was just being a man.
It wasn’t about no light
it was about my ride
and if you saw my ride
you could dig that too, you dig?
Sunroof stereo radio black leather
bucket seats sit low you know,
the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.
Ride when the hard time come, ride
when they’re gone, in other words
the light was green.
I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in
Up to the window comes the Law
with his hand on his gun
what’s up? what’s happening?
I said I guess
that’s when I really broke the law.
He said a routine, step out the car
a routine, assume the position.
Put your hands up in the air
you know the routine, like you just don’t care.
License and registration.
Deep was the night and the light
from the North Star on the car door, deja vu
we’ve been through this before,
why did you stop me?
Somebody had to stop you.
I watch the news, you always lose.
You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.
This is serious, you could be dangerous.
I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in
New York City, they got laws
can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,
in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets
near and around certain types of people.
They got laws.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in.
Other Poems & Performance Pieces by Sekou Sundiata
New American Theater (Dodge Poetry Festival)
Teaching Connections
“Blink your Eyes” can be used for text comparison or text pairing with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, or Nic Stone’s Dear Martin. Additionally, this poem can be part of a discussion about Jim Crow laws and racism throughout history. This poem was written in the mid 1990s addressing racial profiling and stereotypes, but provides context and connections to history and today. Looking at craft and structure, students can examine how Sundiata’s figurative language and repetition provide meaning and emphasis.
Discussion Prompts & Text-Dependent Questions
  1. What is the author’s message about racial injustice?
  2. How does the author use irony to describe his feelings for his readers?
  3. The poet uses details to guide our emotional response. What emotions do you believe the author intended the reader to experience and why?
  4. What is the significance and symbolism of “red light” emphasized throughout the poem?
  5. How does the personification of the law contribute to the poem?
As Jay-Z writes in Decoded, “Rhymes can make sense of the world in a way that regular speech can’t.” Listen to the poem multiple times; when we only deconstruct the poem on paper, it loses its full capability. Recognize how the music and rhyming adds an additional layer with the sound of language to make meaning. Check out Bryce Ware’s reading of Sundiata’s poem as well as Sundiata performing his poem.
All of Sundiata’s poetry can be used as a model and mentor text for students writing and performing their own poems about social injustice and oppression.
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#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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All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.


Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

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NCTE#17 TakeAways


I am in St. Louis, MI to attend NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and it is always empowering to be among thousands of English Teachers, Literacy Coaches, Researchers, and Authors. From 7:00 AM through the wee-hours of the night we are listening, learning, networking, collaborating, discussing, sharing, and inspiring each other. This annual convention is one of the best in-person professional development opportunities for someone in the English Language Arts and Literacy field.

Yesterday the kickoff included a meet up for Middle School Teachers with Ignite Keynotes from Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Chris Lehman, and author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich addressing the role of Middle School and literacy in shaping student identity. This morning the power of poetry was the theme with Jimmy Santiago Baca and youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.

The first session I attended was with Penny Kittle on “Creative Structures for Organizing Writing: Beyond the 5 Paragraph Essay.” She mentioned that the five paragraph essay is nothing that students have to complete in college so why are we using this limited writing structure to teach writing. Breaking free of the 5 Paragraph essay structure allows for more authentic writing like Op-Ed pieces, reviews, profiles and Public Service Announcements. Show students the models and mentors to help them succeed in writing these types of texts and build their writing repertoire. Her handouts are available on her website under NCTE.

Kelly Gallagher spoke about Fake News and helping our students develop world knowledge and being critical readers. Too many people accept information for what it is where a website, news story, or text and don’t ask questions about who is writing the story? What is their purpose? What is being left out? Who is the audience? Does it pass the CRAP Test – Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose? He argued that maybe we need to put literary analysis aside in order to bring to the forefront the value of the reading experience.

I was one of the presenter in the next session on Igniting Wonder in the Classroom along with Laura Robb, Kristen Ziemke, Carol Varsalona, Blanca Duarte, Laura Purdie Salas, and Wonderopolis. I presented on Quest Based Learning to spark wonder and play in the classroom. My slide deck is below.

Since there are so many amazing authors at NCTE, I could not forego seeing a few outstanding YA authors including A.S. King, Somon Chainani, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Andrew Smith, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. Let’s just say, these are a few of the badass authors who write great YA fiction. They addressed social justice, humor, and tackling tough topics with their readers.  For all of them writing has been “freedom, power, and voice.”

Dropping into the exhibit hall, a few ARC copies of soon to be released books were shared and cannot wait to start reading. New titles that tackle historical fiction and zombies, dystopia, and poetry.


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Gamification & Literacy at #NCTE16

Classrooms of the digital age are interactive spaces where literate lives are groomed through the analysis and synthesis of content. Perspectives formed during collaborative conversations give rise to innovative ideas but not every teacher is ready to be part of the digital change. How can classroom environments become havens of active learning and schools encourage students to make wise technology choices to become independent learners with authentic voices?

As part of a round table session at National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference, I presented gamification ideas and strategies for engaged, active, student-centered classrooms where choice leads to increased voice.

Here are a few of the games and activities referenced in the slides that I have created for my students that correlate with units of study.

MidSummer Night’s Dream Symbolism Connect Four

Roll the Dice or Think Dots

Here is how this activity works, using a set of dice [or have task cards Think DOTs that have assignments on one side and colored dots that match a “dice” roll on the other side], students can “roll the dice” to see which activity or question they have to complete. You can use different cubes for different students depending on their readiness, interests and learning profiles. The example that I provided below is a for reading response questions for To Kill  Mockingbird. There are two sets that are differentiated based on students level of understanding.

And for a random Dice Challenge

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Unpacking NCTE 2013

Last week I spent four days at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Boston.  The convention was inspiring, informative, and a great opportunity to address current trends in English Language Arts today.  Throughout the convention I heard from resourceful teachers and engaging authors, brought back multiple bags of books for my classroom and professional development, and reflected on my teaching. Below are the top trends I took away from the conference and ideas worth sharing.


1. Close Reading

Students do not have to read closely all the texts that we give them, but depending on task and the passage, students need to be able to read critically and closely to comprehend, analyze, and discuss text. Part of the Common Core, close reading requires students to slow down their reading and be able to make inferences and synthesize their understanding of the text. There are so many valuable professional resources that address this topic: Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp, Note and Notice by Beers & Probst, and also Lehman and Robert’s Falling In Love with Close Reading.

2. Informational Text

The Common Core requires that on the secondary level young people read 70% informational text. That does not mean throw out the literature you are teaching, rather, supplement great informational texts that connect with what you’ve been doing in class or because the texts are topically interesting. There are great resources available on the web to help teachers find relevant informational texts. The New York Times Learning Network is one resource to check out, especially their new “Text to Text” feature that pairs timely informational text with novels currently being taught in schools. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s Montagues and Capulets as Shiite and Sunni is an interesting perspective to use as a lens for reading this classic conflict ridden love story.

Another new book soon to be released spring 2014, Using Informational Text by Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle offer nine informational articles to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird. The text includes the informational articles from a thematic perspective and scaffolds the reading of the text to support students’ reading and thinking. Sample chapters include speeches, interviews, newspaper articles, and medical documents.  Sample texts are available on their website.

3. Dystopia is Our Future

The hottest trend in publishing for young adults is dystopian fiction. With the success of The Hunger Games, there is a plethora of new novels, as well as renewed interest in older ones. I attended a session on dystopian literature and social theory (Derrida, Foucault, and critical race theories) in the English classroom. The presenters addressed how social theory offers an opportunity for students to think critically about the realistic and futuristic worlds presented in the fiction. The dystopian novels presented in the session included Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to address issues of  power, Chaos Walking series to address language, and Octavia Bultler’s Parable of the Sower to address race and ethnicity. As a 8th grade teacher who will be using dystopian novels for a literature circle unit this winter, this session gave me possible book titles and an idea to help my students critically engage with the text.

Neil Schusterman, author of the dystopian series Unwind and UnWholly, was  a key note speaker for middle school teachers. He spoke about where all the ideas for his recent book series emerged from, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together to create a larger picture.  I was mesmerized by the different stories in the news that Schusterman pieced together to create a gripping tale about a world that is pro life, but between the ages of 13 and 18 parents may choose to retroactively get rid of their child through a process called “unwinding” and transplanting their organs into various other recipients. I cannot wait to read this book.

4. Common Core: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

There were teachers and workshops who embraced the Common Core and a few that were in opposition to the CCLS.  The bottom line is that the Common Core is here now and teachers must effectively address the standards to help their students succeed.  All of the workshops made connections to the Common Core addressing reading, writing, literacy, vocabulary, and assessment. I do not think that teachers need to reinvent what they are doing in their classroom right now, we need to pay particular attention to what we are doing right  and include classroom experiences that teach skills necessary for reading complex texts and tasks that require higher order thinking.

5. Technology Integration in the English Language Arts Classroom

Whether we are talking about gaming or QR codes, technology is an amazing tools to support our students as readers, writers, and creators.  I presented a poster that included more than three dozen technology based projects that I have had my students complete. Projects like creating movies, wikis, blogs, glogs, and more.  It is not about the technology, but the skills that students are utilizing when accessing technology.  Technology just adds a more contemporary and digital component to the assignment.

NCTE Poster 2013

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