Just in Case You Thought No One Was Listening . . .

This post, written by member Peg Grafwallner, is a reprint

peggrafwallnerLast month, I was in a junior classroom listening to students discuss the upcoming debate between the two candidates.  As students were sharing their feelings, albeit most of it echoing their parents’ political affiliation, I encouraged students to be alert and aware.

“You are living through history,” I told them.  “Be sure you are able to answer questions when your children, nieces, nephews, or neighbors ask you what it was like during the election of 2016.  You will be reading the history books years from now that are going to spin this election in a variety of ways; but, you are actually living through it!”

They half-halfheartedly nodded.

I looked at the teacher and asked, “May I share a personal story?”

“Of course,” he said.

“When my son was small he was writing a report on Apollo 13.  He came to me and asked me what I remembered.  I was only 10 at the time, but he was looking to me for an angle, an ‘eye-witness’ report from someone who was there.  Unfortunately, I was no help.  I didn’t remember or know anything.  He walked away dejectedly.”

I continued, “Someone will ask you what you remember about this election.  They will have read the history books, they will have watched the news reports, they will have read social media.  Then they will come to you and ask you for the truth.  What will you tell them?”

At this point, the nodding had purpose.  I looked at the teacher and he smiled at me.

This evening I received this email from the teacher.

Hi Peg,

I’m grading journals and came upon this entry that I think was sparked by your comment about this election being historical. Enjoy:

Earlier this week, I was told to watch the presidential debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Initially, I thought about how I didn’t want to watch two adults make fools of their self on national television, however, it was brought to my attention that I am living through historically significant events right now. The things that are going on in the world right now will one day be part of a history lesson. Classes will be learning about the 2016 presidential race and the Syrian civil war and the terror attacks. I am becoming a living part of history. Since I have come to this realization, I have been paying more attention to what is going on in the world by watching the news, reading articles, and trying to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening. I do not want to be asked about some huge event that I lived through and have my only response be, “I didn’t know what was going on because I was always on social media.” One day I will be able to share my knowledge and someone will benefit from it. Because I am taking initiative to know what is going on in the world currently, I will not be dumbfounded when someone asks what is happening or wants to know my opinion.

So the next time we wonder if the nodding is only a form of apathetic agreement; think again.   Someone is listening.

Peg Grafwallner is an Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large urban high school. Peg draws on her nearly 23 years of experience and expertise to focus on engagement, motivation and interventions to create student opportunities of learning and inquiry.  

Include Multimodality to Engage Students with Online Teaching

This post is written by member Peggy Semingson. 


A recent blog post on the NCTE Facebook page asked what people thought were essential elements to include in online teaching. My ideas here share a few insights in response to that prompt. I have taught online literacy courses since 2008 and currently teach 100% online. It is not an obvious shift to move from brick-and-mortar teaching to online learning. Because I believe that good teaching involves extensive modeling, small-group dialogue, simulations of teaching, and hands-on learning like writing workshop, I had to think about how I could thoughtfully approximate these tasks in an online format.

In making the transition to online literacy education, what is most useful is the overarching goal of planning for engaging and relevant content, readings, and tasks for online literacy-focused courses. Move past using only traditional textbooks and print resources to include more digitally available readings as well as multimodal ways of learning such as video and podcasts. Additionally, online discussions should be authentic and interactive.

Because online learners have to be self-determined and self-motivated to some degree, it’s especially important to include a variety of high-interest and varied content for reading and learning. People really don’t want to read what I call a “wall of text” while engaging with online learning. Well-curated, visually appealing multimodal content helps to bring literacy learning alive. An example might be short videos of what good literacy instruction looks like.

The NCTE position statement on multimodal literacies (2005) suggests to all of us that use of multimodal literacies enhances learning. Using multimodal resources in one’s own learning further fosters a 21st-century approach to learning and broadens the definition of what it means to engage with literacy practices in a digital age. In the same NCTE position statement William Kist states, “Unfortunately, while there have been increased calls for a broadened conception of literacy, there do not currently exist resources for the traditional teacher to begin to incorporate new literacies into their classrooms on a continuing basis.”

Here are some ideas on getting started with using multimodal resources, with a focus on K–12 and teacher education:

  1. Author blogs and media. I teach an online course for educators focused on The Writing Process. In this course, exploring the website of poet George Ella Lyon gives insight into the author and her works. It is a good example of a Web-based multimodal resource for teaching with mentor texts.
  2. Free and open literacy resources from NCTE. These resources are freely available online, such as the teaching resources on ReadWriteThink.org.
  3. Journal articles. Aim for journal articles that are either freely available online or linked through an online library with access for online learners.
  4. Teacher-authored multimedia. Create your own podcasts (e.g., through SoundCloud or Audioboom) with transcripts for accessibility, or videos (e.g., through YouTube). As an example, my YouTube channel with teacher-created literacy videos is here.
  5. Microlearning. Microlearning includes integration of media that is short, such as 1–10 minutes in length. Guiding questions can be added to this type of content.
  6. Live sessions (webinars) with time for dialogue and writing. For online courses, I incorporate regularly scheduled live webinar sessions and conduct interactive writing workshop during the webinar. These sessions have a PowerPoint with key ideas and resources to preview. Live webinars have time for some lecture-style learning and time to dialogue in the chat window. Following the lecture or overview of content, students share and debrief after taking some time to write during the live webinar. The webinar becomes a “real-time” writing workshop. It is recorded for those who cannot attend the live session.

In addition to reading online content, I also require students to get to know one another and synthesize their learning in multimodal ways. For instance, students post an introductory podcast and a few paragraphs to introduce themselves and to share their learning goals. Because online students bring differing skills and experience with creating multimodal content, I provide a differentiated list of options for the creation of digital content. This list is divided into easy, medium, advanced, and extreme categories that relate to the amount of technology skills needed to do the task. Links to tutorials and examples for students to get started are here.

Peggy Semingson is an NCTE member and an associate professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is the Layered Literacies column editor for The ALAN Review.

Doctor’s Orders: Have Your Children Read These Banned Books

Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, Perri Klass, writes a column called “The Checkup” for The New York Times. Usually she writes about medical things like coughs and measles and kids who are night owls. But this week she wrote about “The Banned Books Your Child Should Read“!

While there are parents out there trying to save children from books with accurate descriptions of body parts, books with kids who behave like kids, or stories about LGBTQ families or magical places like Hogwarts, Klass points out,

convention bookmark“In fact, banned books lists [e.g.  the ALA list of frequently challenged children’s books the and University of Illinois list] can be a great resource for parents looking for books that teach kids about the world and themselves.

“When your children read books that have been challenged or banned, you have a double opportunity as a parent; you can discuss the books themselves, and the information they provide, and you can also talk about why people might find them troubling…

“As a parent, I was dazzled when my daughter’s summer reading assignment was to choose a book ‘out of your comfort zone,’ however the student chose to define it. Because, that is, of course, what literature does, and part of the glorious freedom and human right of literacy is the opportunity to journey with words well beyond your comfort zone.”

Teaching and Learning in Transitional Spaces

This post is written by member Holly Hassel, editor of Teaching English in the Two-Year College. 

hollyhasselBeginning with the September, 2016 issue, I stepped into the role of editor of Teaching English in the Two-Year College. I had been a long-time reader of the journal, having taught at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, a two-year transfer campus in central Wisconsin, since 2002. I had previously taught at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, but experience can only provide so much professional learning.

Starting a full-time position at a two-year college, I found a critical resource in TETYC. I was and am committed to the critical work of open-admissions campuses, and I also knew that access-institutions differ in significant ways from the Research 1 campus where I had completed my doctoral work. With selective admissions and a largely residential student population, my graduate institution had a very different student population than the two-year college where I taught. Transitioning to a teaching environment where I was working with a wider range of students in terms of demographic diversity and academic preparation meant that professional support (in addition to the institutional and collegial support I had) was imperative.

I’ve made a career and home at this institution doing this work. Now, taking on the editorial role of the journal that was so critical to my development as a teacher-scholar means that I am able to continue providing that professional resource to colleagues, one that was so important to me as an early-career teacher. As our submission call indicates,

We seek articles (4,000–7,000 words) in all areas of composition (basic, first-year, and advanced); business, technical, and creative writing; and the teaching of literature in the first two college years. We also publish articles on topics such as program and curriculum development, assessment, technology and online learning, writing program administration, developmental education in writing and reading, speech, writing centers in two-year colleges, journalism, reading, ESL, and other areas of professional concern.

This focus largely parallels what the journal has been doing since its inception in 1974. At the beginning of my editorship, I knew I wanted to retain many of the features of the journal: its commitment to engaging, rigorous scholarship, of course, but also the journal’s ability to meet the needs of various types of readers—those instructors who teach in vocational and technical colleges, in general education and transfer programs; in “junior colleges” that focus on transfer. Many readers are active researchers, while others focus largely on professional development and growth that directly affects their individual classrooms. The updated submission guidelines reflect that commitment to scholarship that fulfills the needs of a wide range of readers.

But there were some things I wanted to try—as we are in a well-established digital and social media age, expanding the presence of TETYC in these environments was important to me. I started a blog that would be a responsive way to reach out to and interact with readers. Further, I started my term by transitioning the submission process to Editorial Manager, an online management system that streamlines the submission and review process and allows authors to monitor the process of review. It also gives reviewers an interactive experience where they can more easily access other reader reports and follow up on their manuscript recommendations.

Last, respectful of the busy lives of two-year college teachers, who teach 4, 5, 6, or more classes each semester, we’re offering two new features—Review Essays and Symposiums. Review essays offer a broad overview of multiple new professional texts that help readers get a sense of how new published work in the field fits together and whether it can inform their own day-to-day work. Our first review essay, published in the December 2016 issue, reviews multiple texts on online writing instruction, something many two-year college faculty increasingly find themselves doing. Second, a symposium brings together expert voices on a topic of shared interest–our first, coordinated by Christie Toth (U of Utah) and Darin Jensen (Des Moines Area Community College) will appear in the September 2017 issue and will focus on preparing faculty for effective two-year college English teaching.

I welcome feedback and questions about the journal at tetyc.editor@gmail.com.

Holly Hassel is Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County in Wausau, Wisconsin. 

4 Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Full view of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DCIn honor and celebration of a writer and orator whose words changed the world, we offer four short quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The links go to the full texts from which these quotes were drawn as well as some resources that you may find useful for the classroom.

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

From “The Purpose of Education” in the February 1947 edition of the Morehouse College student newspaper, the Maroon Tiger.

This quote and others are also explored in this Answer Sheet blog post from Valerie Strauss.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

From “A Proper Sense of Priorities” delivered February 6, 1968, Washington, D.C.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

From: Strength to Love (1963)

Explore many more original texts by Martin Luther King, Jr. in this digital archive.

“I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.”

From “Where Do We Go From Here?,” delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention
Atlanta, Ga.  August 16, 1967.

You can listen Dr. King deliver the last 16 minutes of this speech here.