In celebration of NCTE’s Advocacy Day 2017, we are publishing a collection of blog posts from CEL members and fellow blog readers. They all responded to this question: how do you engage, or engage students, in literacy advocacy, or advocacy through literacy? What resulted are three incredible snapshots of the types of advocacy work teachers do with secondary students across our readership. We’d love to hear your comments or more stories of literacy advocacy, both in and out of the classroom.
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#1: Getting Our K-12 Students Involved in Advocacy
by Erinn Bentley and Madison Workman
Every single day in this country people are advocating – from protesting racism, to fighting for or against legislation, to holding large scale marches in Washington D.C., to posting a simple Tweet. Yet, many of our K-12 students today seem uninterested and unaffected by such acts. As teachers, how can we help our students view themselves as advocates?
Nearing the end of a 10th grade literature unit that embodied the theme of “Hard-Won Liberty”, the perfect opportunity arose. In my school, every 10th grader is required to produce a research paper, but every teacher has the flexibility to make it creative, and that’s just what we did. I am currently a student teacher and am constantly encouraged by my mentor teacher to take risks in the classroom. Thus, with her assistance, we crafted a research paper project as a culmination to our “Hard-Won Liberty” unit, giving our students the opportunity to experience advocacy on a small scale for themselves and to better understand the value of advocating and fighting for what they believe in. The research component remains the same; a research paper is still our main objective. However, the students choose their topics, and they do so based on what they are interested in protesting against or advocating for. The option is theirs. The days leading up to the introduction of this research project, students viewed and dissected various types of protests in today’s society, from the lyrics of Macklemore’s “Same Love,” to tweets on Twitter, to Dr. Seuss’ political art.
In addition to the research paper, the students will also complete an additional multi-genre component for this research project. These 10th grade students will be given the opportunity to create their very own protest sign, spoken word, poem, song, short story, etc. There are no limits, and we are encouraging them to get creative and be passionate about whatever topic they have chosen. We are still in the early stages of the research project. The students have decided on their topics and are continuing to research in depth. From improving energy conservation and mandating religion in schools to ending cyber bullying and deconstructing the Black Lives Matter movement, the students have selected a wide range of intriguing topics for their projects. After working with these students all year, I have never seen some of them so authentically excited to write before. We are eager to see their results.
Author’s bio: Mrs. Madison Workman is enrolled in Columbus State University’s Masters of Teaching program and will graduate in the summer of 2017. She is currently student teaching at Northside High School in Columbus, Georgia and is being mentored by Dr. Tabitha Ginther and Dr. Erinn Bentley).
#2: Classroom Advocacy, Cultural Curiosity, and Community Involvement
by Matthew Morone
Not to upset any of the Curricular Originalists out there, but I am a firm believer in the classroom as a living, breathing organism, influenced by societal change and subject to the concerns and issues of the moment. Classroom advocacy, then, becomes synonymous with cultural curiosity and community involvement: How did we get to this point? What can we do about it? Why should we care?
A skill-based assessment model focusing on transferable reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, as I incorporate in my classroom, is an ideal framework for supporting student advocacy. The particular text, rather than the central pillar of the course, becomes secondary to the reading skills demonstrated therein, and as a result can take the form of last month’s speech, last weekend’s editorial, or last night’s tweet.
As the texts reflect the immediacy of the present moment, the assessments continue this trajectory. Over the past four years, students in my sophomore English classes have engaged in community action in diverse ways: a school-wide assembly on human trafficking, a day as middle-school teachers presenting guest lessons on drones in warfare and commerce, an awareness fair for teen dating violence, an overnight sleep-out on the school’s football field to expose students to the realities of teenage homelessness. These campaigns demonstrated both skill acquisition and the advocacy needed to truly understand the complex world that surrounds the four walls of our classroom.
It is time we progress beyond viewing advocacy instruction and community engagement as tangential to the Language Arts classroom; it is central to the values we associate most closely with our educational philosophies, and those that are most essential to the development of our students. I am so fortunate to join NCTE and CEL as they boldly pursue this goal.
Author’s Bio: Matthew Morone teaches high school English at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, New Jersey. He also serves as a Member-at-Large for the Conference on English Leadership. Connect with him on Twitter @MrMorone.
#3: Independent Reading: “It’s just what we do!”
by Christina Nosek
“Reading is not homework, it’s just what we do!” I’ll miss this little end-of-day chant that naturally came about a couple months ago in my fifth grade classroom as we discussed homework.
At the beginning of the school year, I told my fifth graders that my one hope for them was to leave our classroom at the end of the school year as happy, engaged, lifelong readers. It’s fair to say that at 10 and 11 years of age, it’s hard to tell if any of them have developed lifelong habits. However, I’m doing everything in my power to increase the odds that my fifth grade readers will have books at the ready for their entire lives.
I’ve spent the year giving and hearing book talks, fiercely protecting our daily independent reading time, handing books to my readers saying, “I think this one may just be something you’ll love,” engaging in deep conversations with colleagues around the practice of independent reading, and conferring with each and every one of my fifth graders around their choices, thoughts, ideas, and theories in their reading. In addition, I’ve also spent the year rejecting worksheets, dismissing meaningless projects, and speaking up every time something came around that threatened reading choice and time. I’ve advocated for independent reading this entire school year with anyone who will listen, and perhaps somewhat with those who won’t.
When the end of our school day comes around each afternoon, my students’ chant of, “reading is not homework, it’s just what we do!” affirms that advocating for them as readers has worked. It is my hope that their belief of reading being a way of life will continue as they leave my four walls to begin their middle school journey next school year.
As I welcome my new fifth graders in August, the advocacy for independent reading will continue!