The Curriculum Seesaw: Finding the Balance of Canon and Contemporary Books in Curriculum Design

In curriculum design, sometimes I feel like we are seesawing between two extremes:  the kids’ need for choice in contemporary literature and teachers’ need to provide rigorous, traditional, and complex texts. This blog highlights how we attempted to find a balance.

by Karen Reed-Nordwall


Student researching women’s issues after reading I Am Malala.

Is Huck Finn relevant to this generation? Is it important to teach the canon?  How do we continue to allow student choice in book selections and avoid fake reading? How do we include diverse authors and which ones? Should we include graphic novels?  How do we preserve teacher choice in our curriculum?

These are a just a few of the questions that have ricocheted around my brain for the past two years during my English department’s curriculum cycle. What we teach directly affects our students. Our students aren’t stagnant–as they change their world is also changing. And so we teachers always wonder, both before we begin a unit and as we end, if we gave them what they needed. Here is a central set of questions that our department battled with this past year during our curriculum redesign:

Is it important to teach the canon, and how do we add in diverse authors?

Our answer:  Yes, we agreed the canon should be taught, and we settled on 50% of the time. That ratio is what worked for our students AND teacher’s needs as content experts. The canon matters; it is relevant and complex and the foundation for English literacy.  By limiting ourselves to 50% of our time, we had to make VERY difficult decisions.  The other 50% of students’ time needed to be grappling with contemporary writers. We chose pieces that resonated with kids (relevant and engaging), allowed them to step in another’s shoes, and taught them about the human experience.  As our students are facing a globally connected future, it was crucial to find books that represented more than just one race, economic status, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity.  For engagement, students were looking for their own life experiences to be reflected back at them so they could learn about themselves and validate their own experience. We also know the power of empathy through books and wanted to make sure students were exposed to as many alternative perspectives as possible throughout their education.  Furthermore, like the canon, the books we chose for our curriculum also needed to be complex text: challenging and causing students’ literacy to grow.  

Ninth Grade Example

We kept 50% of the cannon and added in 50% of contemporary/diverse voices. We also still allowed students to choose their own books, but we had some whole-class reads, too. For example, in English 9, we read The Trojan Horse: The Fall of Troy, The Odyssey (excerpt), The Woman Warrior (excerpt), Romeo and Juliet, I Am Malala (YA version), Gettysburg Address, Night (excerpt), I have a Dream, and March:  Book One and/or March: Book Two.  Students also chose their own books, and we read short stories, blogs, articles, and poems.

Our ninth grade students loved the graphic novels we chose this year. My students loved reading about Congressman John Lewis in the March series and were interested to learn about the Freedom Rides and how many protesters were like them. They all loved the idea that young people like Malala and the Freedom Riders could make a difference in the world.  I highly recommend adding in some graphic novels (March: Book One, March: Book Two, and The Trojan Horse: The Fall of Troy) and giving time to read choice books in class, even if it’s only ten minutes each day. It was the time the students most looked forward to every day.

This list is not revolutionary nor perfect, and I recognize that some schools do not have the budget to purchase new titles. This is our attempt at finding a balance, and the students appreciated the new books and chance to explore themes that interested them this year.


Karen Reed-Nordwall is an English Department Chair at Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills, MI where she currently teaches ninth and twelfth grades. She serves as a Member-at-Large for the Conference of English Leadership (CEL). You can follow her on Twitter at kr09bps.


Studying comics and setting students up to be thoughtful and creative composers

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

by Ashley K. Dallacqua, PhD

As a small group of seventh-grade students sit down to a working lunch, they immediately peer over each other’s shoulders, admiring the work on the desks. Walking by the room one might see students hunched over paper with colored pencils or pointing at another’s work exclaiming “Oh wow!,” “I like that too!,” “How long did that take you?,” or “I like your faces!” There is an energy to their composition practices and a thoughtful and supportive attention to detail. During a year-long inquiry around comics and graphic novels, these students were invited, regularly, to be composers. As they worked to create both informative and aesthetic comics responses, students made choices as writers and as artists. This was work that students valued. As one middle school student shared with me, reading and composing comics “was like a weight off of my shoulders to be able to…

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Teachers’ Writing Matters

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

As we leave the school year behind, many teachers will finally have long-awaited time to relax and sit outside with a good book. Others will return to the classroom as students themselves. Our hope is that teachers will use the summer months to begin (or finish!) writing projects of their own.

Meg Petersen discusses why teachers should write, particularly about themselves and their experiences, and share that work with their students. In this way, they may work more confidently with student writing.

“There is a deeper reason, however, for teachers of all subjects and levels to write about their lives and share these stories with each other.  Writing and sharing narratives of our own experience helps us understand how our lives in and outside of the classroom are shaped by our identities and cultures.  We can come to see our way of understanding the world as only one of many…

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My Kid is Creating YouTube Videos?

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

Jonathan Rochelle, project manager of Google Apps for Education and co-founder of Google Docs and Sheets, considers the role of YouTube in his son’s life.

Within the past year, my 13-year-old son, Jeremy, started showing a deep interest in making videos. He was mostly inspired by other young talents he saw on YouTube and by a friend of his, who had started a business making videos for local sports and events.

When Jeremy jumped into online publication, I asked myself the same questions many parents do:  If my kid starts a YouTube channel, or a blog, or some other creative outlet online, should I support it or kill it? Will it take time and attention away from school work, just increasing their already over-spent “screen time”?

Find out the answer to these important questions in Jonathan’s 2014 post, My Kid is Creating YouTube Videos?

Screenshot of a Youtube channel titled "Techspective- Tech from a younger perspective"

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Death to Fake Reading: Encouraging Engagement in an Era of Avoidance

Note: This post has been cross-blogged on the author’s blog

All English teachers are familiar with that gnawing feeling: the paranoid scan of an essay, the neurotic parsing of a student’s response, the subsequent guilt for even daring the thought…this is good, you reflect, perhaps too good. The creeping suspicion of Fake Reading.

My brilliant professional colleague Gerard Dawson writes eloquently on this issue on his own blog, specifically in his OED-esque breakdown of the term, in which he writes that it is primarily defined as “[a] student’s process of completing required assignments, including quizzes, essays, discussions, and other activities, in order to achieve a passing grade but without reading a required text.”

His full post is an engaging, and harrowing, primer on the condition as it exists today, and I encourage all to read (print, laminate, etch in granite, etc.) his full overview. My post today seeks to build on his work and pick up where it leaves off: namely, by presenting a structural framework of philosophy, application, and assessment to not only hinder Fake Reading but hopefully, silence its seductive call altogether.

We must first, unfortunately, accept an inconvenient truth: the vast majority of our students are either

  1. not comprehending what they’re reading, or
  2. not reading, period.

Heresy? Blasphemy? Inconceivable, you say?

Consider this: If we define reading, let alone academic reading, as the ability to process text and absorb its meaning, and we acknowledge, culturally, scientifically, and anecdotally, that students consistently struggle with this skill, this truth becomes more apparent. How, then, are they so thoroughly able to demonstrate plot understanding, thematic analysis, and character deconstruction in writing and speech?


You’re not fooling me, stock photo…you’re not fooling anyone.

Dawson again touches on this in his post, but to me, this bears elaboration here: although we may know this personally, our reading instructional model still prioritizes recognition and analysis of the “Important Parts” of fiction: mostly plot, characterization, theme, and setting. Furthermore, the slow-turning wheel of text approval in school districts and a reluctance to move away from touchstone novels reinforces the free-market need for a way to circumvent the actual heavy lifting of reading a whole book. Enter SparkNotes and Shmoop, and their less-savory cousins GradeSaver, eNotes, and others.

This is not to say that these sources cannot provide helpful tools and information; in fact, I recently leaned heavily on Shmoop’s line-by-line breakdown of Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse,” prior to a class discussion, but our students, by and large, are not using these sources as confirmation, or counterpoint, but rather as a convenient replacement for reading.

To put this in terms that speak more closely to my heart: we want students to make a pizza from scratch, yet our assessments ask students to simply hand us a pizza; they then call Domino’s. Admittedly, sometimes, we go somewhat further and ask them to tell us how the pizza was made, but that can be done without the student having rolled out the dough in the first place. (See?) Ultimately, the process is assumed instead of demonstrated, and the product is taken as proof of the process.

Honestly, can we really blame them? Our students experience more stress today than 1950s child psychiatric patients, have more access to digital resources than at any time in human history, and are presently caught in the ideological/political/cultural tug-of-war regarding homework, sacrificing sleep in the process. They simply and deftly adapt using a basic cost/benefit equation: if they can get the grade they want without having to commit hours to actually reading the book, freeing up valuable time to study for their other classes in the process, why wouldn’t they?

We as English educators frequently fall victim to the biased view that, if given an interesting enough text, students will abandon past unscrupulous practices and dive headlong into a world of magic and discovery. This is well-intentioned, but ultimately self-defeating, as it can unintentionally encourage further text avoidance and instill overconfidence in a teaching approach that still prioritizes “Googleable” analysis.

The sad truth is this: we have inherited a transactional culture of education; our students respond accordingly. It’s not that they don’t want to read, in an objective sense, or that they don’t see the inherent value of texts, but rather that when push comes to shove, Fake Reading negatively affects their grade less than faking required assignments in other courses, and in many cases, doesn’t hurt them, gradewise, at all. If we don’t address the structural components of instruction and assessment that allow, albeit tacitly, the circumventing of authentic reading, this trend will undoubtedly continue, and most likely increase, as resources become more thorough and ubiquitous.

To be fair, I have been, and most likely am still being, fooled by this approach. (To those brave enough, Google the name of a novel you presently teach and “analysis” or “themes” and see what comes up.) The remedy, as I see it, is to fully acknowledge that the emperor is naked and adjust our reading expectations to render these alternate strategies pointless before they’re even considered.


There are, in my mind, ultimately three categories into which students fall regarding reading: Fake Readers, School Readers, and Fluent Readers. Again, Dawson does an excellent job isolating some of the symptoms of Fake Reading, but in a nutshell:

  • Fake Readers don’t read and rely on digital resources exclusively;
  • School Readers scan the book in whole or part but rely on digital resources for assessments;
  • Fluent Readers actively read the text while referencing digital resources to challenge or confirm their own analyses, if at all.

Based on my experience in the classroom, I would wager that the middle category of School Readers is the most substantial, and by a wide margin. Frankly, our students are situated in a culture that vehemently discourages “wrong answers”– why risk it on an organic, and potentially incorrect, analysis? As the great digital hero Link was famously, and repetitively, warned, “It’s dangerous to go alone!”

These categories are depressingly static if left unaddressed. The student who Fake Reads one book will fake read most, if not all, assigned texts, and we must face the stark realization that there are students who emerge from high school without having authentically read any texts.


Admittedly, I believe this is the most difficult task facing any English teacher who hopes to destroy Fake Reading. Teaching “the whole book” just feels…right (right?) This is how many of us learned to structure units of study in our undergraduate and preparatory programs; this is how our mentor teachers masterfully demonstrated their craft; this is how Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, and Cameron Diaz do it in the movie-versions of our jobs, which are, of course, strikingly accurate portrayals of a nuanced profession. How can you even teach literature, we reason, without teaching the book?

The reality, of course, is that in teaching the whole text, we are almost always emphasizing, consciously or not, values that correspond to Fake Reading approaches: forward progress is paramount (“get to page X, chapter Y, the end of the book by the last week of Z…”); independent, unsupervised reading is essential to cover all that ground; all students are prepared to read the same text; recall and analysis of conflict, theme, and characterization are the essential checkpoints of reading comprehension. Not to belabor the point, but these values can all be demonstrated and validated through the aforementioned Fake Reading strategies, and students know it!

There is also a bit of ego-death associated with this transition away from assigning the whole text. There are certain books we love to teach, plain and simple. (If left to my baser instincts, I would go full Charlie Heston if someone tried to take The Stranger from me.) But this self-identification can often blind from concrete instructional problems. The more we love a certain text, the more likely we are to didactically expound on its brilliance to our students: we essentially become the SparkNotes ourselves. Why read the book, students rightfully wonder, if Morone is just going to tell us why Meursault represents the definition of the “Absurd rebel”? In fact, many of my students have resorted to simply shouting “existentialism!” when they run out of ideas, regardless of topic; in my weaker moments, it works.

Last year, I finally had enough with the whole-book approach charade my Freshmen students and I were acting out, wherein I ask them to read the 400-page To Kill A Mockingbird in May, knowing full well they struggled reading Of Mice and Men in February, simply because of a combination of “it’s on the curriculum” and “I mean, come on, it’s Mockingbird! They have to read Mockingbird!” To be blunt: assigning a book to check an “important” text off a hypothetical Literary Bucket List, or to avoid the wrath and scorn of Harold Bloom, is flawed practice, and I was guilty as sin; in doing so, we ironically create within our students a tortured or guilt-laden mental association with this book.

It should be noted that many of these students had acknowledged to me that they rarely, if ever, read required texts for class. One October exchange went like this:

Student: “Morone, don’t be mad, but I gotta tell you something.”

Me, panicked: “What’s up?”

Student: “I haven’t been doing my reading.”

Me, comparatively relieved: “Oh yeah? Well, we’ve only had one book so far, so there’s still time to…”

Student: “No, I mean, like, ever.”

Me: “Since…”

Student: “…birth.”

Me and student, simultaneously: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So, in the words of the 20th century progressive M.M. Elliott, I put the top down, flipped it, and reversed it. To destroy Fake Reading, I realized, I needed to transcend it.

  • I lectured (yes, we are still legally allowed to do that in most states) to my students, telling them the entire plotline of the novel (formerly known as “the important stuff”) for about fifteen minutes, in what I called Verbal SparkNotes.
  • We watched the entire gosh-darned, no-color-havin’, Gregory Peckin’ movie together. Again, I have yet to hand out a single copy of the book.
  • I addressed any lingering questions that students still had regarding the story: its themes, characters, conflicts, etc. so we were all at a common level of understanding.

At this point, (if you haven’t already sharpened your pitchfork and doused your torch in kerosene,) you may be wondering how the students reacted to this shift. The best comparison I can make is the internal response I felt as a kid when my mom would surprise me and my brother by taking us for ice cream after school: an unsettling emotional fluctuation between I can’t believe we’re getting away with this! and What’s the catch?

  • Finally, I handed out the books. My school’s edition of TKAM has 378 pages; I pulled up’s random number generator. I plugged in the command for the site to generate 25 (number of students in my class) random numbers between 1 and 278.
  • Once the numbers generated, I assigned each student one of the numbers: “Jimmy, you’re number 44; Sarah, 220; Michelle, 3…”
  • Students were then told that they would start reading on the page that corresponded with their assigned number and read the following hundred pages. They were not to read for plot, themes, or any of the other familiar touchstones from their previous assignments. No, for this book, they were on the lookout for Beautiful Sentences.
  • This, naturally, led to the crux of the assignment: What is a Beautiful Sentence? For this, I created a template identifying three core elements of sentence craft: Structure (how the sentence “looks” on the page), Content (what the sentence makes the reader think about or feel), and Musicality (how the sentence sounds when read aloud or “in the reader’s head).
  • I modeled this approach using one of my favorite sentences: Ishmael’s reflection in chapter one of Moby-Dick.



and then showing what I notice when I focus on structure









…and when I focus on musicality
















…and content










I found through this approach that my students were actually engaging with the text in a way I hadn’t seen when teaching the whole novel in a traditional manner. Students who typically resorted immediately to finding the “important stuff” online now moved slowly and carefully through their assigned pages, reflecting on sentences and critically assessing the beauty of others’ discoveries. Most surprisingly, though, was that several students asked me if they could read beyond their hundred pages, to which I of course assented.

Here are some of the sentences that my students singled out as beautiful, with excerpts from their analyses beneath each (To Kill a Mockingbird text in bold/quotes, student responses in italics):

“The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still, and the carpenters had stopped hammering on Miss Maudie’s new house, and every wood door in the neighborhood was shut as tight as the doors of Radley Place.”

You can picture what the character is talking about. You feel the still air and think of something that reminds you of this moment for the character. The sentence uses the “oo” sound to make the sentence more repetitive. The sentence looks smooth. There aren’t too many ups and downs with the letters which makes it look like it would flow.

“Our battles were epic and one-sided.”

Epic was a weird word choice because I feel like it only used for like monster trucks or a back flip.

“Giant monkey puzzle bushes bristled on each corner, and between them an iron hitching rail glistened under the street lights.”

This sentence is just a mosh pit of words, some that rhyme and some that don’t. Some that rhyme are “bristled” and “glistened.” The words in this sentence don’t flow very well but that makes it sound out of this world.

“That proves something- that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human.”

You hear the hope in the middle of the sentence with the words “can be stopped” The word can gives the reader hope that they have a chance to calm the mob down and stop the madness.

Finally, they created and shared a video in which they taught, John Green Crash Course-style, the sentence to their fellow Beautiful Sentence-lovers…ck1bhowweaan7-e






In anticipating the Fake Reading approach as the norm, rather than the exception, to student reading approaches, I essentially took away a weapon on which students had become overly reliant. Fake Reading, in its stark, Machiavellian efficiency, is sadly an approach that works for most English students; we must respond in turn to this strategy, rather than futilely persisting with an outdated methodology.

I encourage you to join me, and my like-minded colleagues, as we wage war on Fake
Reading. I (
@MrMorone) will be hosting the June #CELchat on reading instructional strategies, both fake and authentic, on Wednesday, June 7. Additionally, I will be sharing, alongside the aforementioned Gerard Dawson, author of Hacking Literacy, at the 2017 NerdCampNJ at Chatham High School in Chatham, New Jersey on Saturday, May 20, which is being organized by fellow “CELmate” Oona Abrams. I hope to see you there.



img-0743 Matthew Morone is an English teacher at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, New Jersey where he currently teaches grade 10 and advises the school’s literature and arts magazine Outside/In. Since 2015 he has served as Member-at-Large and New jersey State Liaison for the Conference on English Leadership (CEL), and has been published in their English Leadership Quarterly. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMorone and email him here

Finding Their Voices: Four Ways to Support Bilingual Writers

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

by Christina Ponzio

When he was a sixth grader in intermediate ESL, Gabir* would only write about soccer.  Just as the topic remained the same–-a short story about a game-winning shot or a news article about famous Argentinian soccer player, Messi–-so did his language use.  Writing conference after conference, I was challenged to help Gabir push his writing, and with each composition, he would ask me how to spell the same words, forming familiar sentence patterns.

Even though I had helped many English learners, or emergent bilinguals, find their voices in writing, I knew Gabir’s struggle went beyond needing to learn a new language.  He had experienced great hardship after leaving Iraq two years earlier: losing both parents, residing in a Syrian refugee camp, and enduring months of interrupted schooling. The eager look in Gabir’s brown eyes often hid these experiences; in class, he was an enthusiastic reader and…

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April 27th is Literacy Advocacy Day!

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.

Drop us a line below!


#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.

Nosek Picture CEL Blog 3
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.

Nosek Picture CEL Blog 2
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.
Nosek Picture CEL Blog 1When 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!

Author’s Bio: Christina Nosek is a fifth grade teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s currently co-writing a book on conferring in the K-5 reading classroom for Stenhouse Publishers. You can connect with her on Twitter at @ChristinaNosek or through her blog at

Diverse Literature and Picturebook Making in the Writing Classroom

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Angie Zapata

My personal curiosities for diverse picturebooks as mentor texts were inspired in part by a question posed in the book In Pictures and in Words by Katie Ray. Ray asks, what if we were to teach the fine art of writing through illustration? I further wondered how teachers and parents might look to diverse picturebooks as model texts for doing so, and if in turn, students might be inspired to integrate their ways of being, doing, and speaking as composing resources. Alongside two similarly interested classroom teachers, I explored how young writers leaned on diverse models of writing and design to produce their own picturebooks. We found that students were quick to take up the ways diverse authors and illustrators folded their lives and languages into their books and book making processes, and that the students also learned about the fine art of writing.

One picturebook maker…

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Climbing Aboard the Titanic in Ms. Herzner’s Third Grade Class

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Barbara Herzner and Kristen Hawley Turner

“Megan’s Titanic Presentation.”  My calendar notification reminded me to shift my work schedule the next day so that I could “climb aboard the Titanic” in my daughter’s third grade classroom.  I had witnessed her enthusiasm for writing grow in Ms. Herzner’s class over the year, and I did not want to miss her reading the journal entries she had written from the perspective of a Titanic passenger.  Even so, I was surprised by her announcement as I walked in the door of our home that evening.

“I need to dress like a boy tomorrow.”

Megan made the statement so matter-of-factly that it took me a minute to follow with the natural question.


“Well, I’m Harold Victor Goodwin, and I need to look like him for my presentation tomorrow.”

Her eyes sparkled with excitement, and it was impossible not to catch the spirit…

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Sounding Our Collective Voices: Using Flipgrid as a Tool for Advocacy

Sounding Our Collective Voices: Using Flipgrid as a Tool for Advocacy
by Sara B. Kajder

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

by Sara B. Kajder

wordcloudWhy Classroom Stories?

I carry the stories of the English classrooms in which I have learned and failed and triumphed.  I have been formed by the students who taught me what it truly meant to put the right book into someone’s hands or to evoke the piece of writing that was necessary and impactful.  And, most importantly, I have been marked by the children who have struggled and who have thrived, both inside and outside of our classroom.  When I share the stories of what we have learned alongside one another, our story can start to do work.  It might evoke questions that lead to greater shared understanding.  It might persuade decision makers to band together to create a change.  It might open thinking about what is possible in high-need public schools.  It might invite someone to want to teach.

We teach in a time that…

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