The 2017 Mid-Atlantic Summer Conference of the Conference on College Composition and Communication

This post is written by member Jessica Gordon. 

jessicagordonccccIf you are like me, before the Annual Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication begins, you sit with the conference program and a highlighter and eagerly mark every presentation you want to see. You quickly find that during every concurrent session, there are a plethora of presentations that you really must attend—but alas, you can see only one session at a time. In an effort to narrow down your options, you learn more about each session by researching them online, and finally, by process of elimination, you agonizingly choose just one session to attend. And if you are like me, even if that session is mind-blowing, a creeping thought plagues you: what are you missing in those presentations down the hall, the ones you chose not to see?

Last year at the CCCC Convention in Houston, Texas, I complained to a colleague that there should really be more than one CCCC Convention each year. After all, their annual conference is the only conference I can attend where I want to see one third of the presentations in every concurrent session. It is also the only conference where I can truly reconsider and improve my pedagogy while simultaneously attending presentations that will progress my research and meeting colleagues with whom I can collaborate and grow. Sadly, because there were so many intriguing presentations last year, there were necessarily too many sessions that I was not going to see. So I was overjoyed when I heard Joyce Carter announce that for the first time, CCCC would be offering a handful of regional conferences during summer 2017.

You can ask my department chair: I cried a little when I found out that our proposal to host a regional conference at Virginia Commonwealth University was accepted. Not only do I strongly believe that the consistently high attendance at the annual CCCC meeting demonstrates the need for more conferences devoted to the study of composition, but personally, I find that I learn more about pedagogy in one morning at a good conference than I do in a whole semester of lonely reflection on my own teaching. And I find good conferences to be inspiring and rejuvenating! An insightful presentation always reminds me why I teach writing, why I think written communication is the most important skill that students learn in college, and why I relish teaching students to respect and cherish the written word.

And so, we are delighted to invite you to propose a session and/or attend the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Summer Conference of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. This one-day event will be held on June 2, 2017, at Virginia Commonwealth University in historic Richmond, VA. Our intimate conference will feature a variety of types of presentations and interactive sessions. Although participants will choose which concurrent sessions and lightning talks to attend, this conference will also provide opportunities for participants to come together as one group: the morning plenary and a charette-style collaborative working session that will close the day.

We sincerely invite all teachers of writing to join us in a day of rejuvenating and inspiring discussions, and so we aim to keep this conference affordable: $50 for full-time faculty and $35 for adjuncts and graduate students.

We are excited to announce that Jonathan Alexander will deliver the keynote presentation. Alexander is Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, where he is also the director of the Center for Excellence in Writing & Communication. He has authored, coauthored, or edited twelve books, including Writing Youth: Young Adult Fiction as Literacy Sponsorship; Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies; and On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies.

The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2017.

Learn more about the conference at

Jessica Gordon is an assistant professor in the Department of Focused Inquiry, which is home to the writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Along with two colleagues, Joe Cates and Julie Gorlewski, she is hosting the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Summer Conference of the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

NCTE Award-Winning Publications

ncteawardwinners2016A number of teachers, authors, and researchers were presented with awards recently during NCTE’s Annual Convention in Atlanta. Here, we feature some of the awards for books, journal articles, and publications.

Fiction: The NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder. Learn more about Charlotte Huck, the inspiration for the award. This year’s winner is Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

Nonfiction: Look to the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children to find the best nonfiction titles for your students. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet was this year’s winner. Learn more about teaching with content-rich nonfiction and informational texts.

Poetry: NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her aggregate work for children ages 3–13. This year’s winner is Marilyn Nelson. She is the author of many award-winning books. View more about teaching poetry.

These three awards are given at the Children’s Book Awards Luncheon. Watch a slideshow of the winners.

Diverse Books: The Alan C. Purves Award for an article in Research in the Teaching of English is presented annually to the author(s) from the previous year’s volume judged as likely to have the greatest impact on educational practice. The 2016 award went to Denise Dávila for the article “#WhoNeedsDiverseBooks?: Preservice Teachers and Religious Neutrality with Children’s Literature“. Dávila’s research examines the sociocultural contexts in which preservice teachers and underrepresented groups of children and families engage with diverse works of children’s literature.

Secondary Classrooms: The Paul and Kate Farmer Writing Award is given for articles in English Journal written by classroom teachers. In the first timely article, “Using Memorials to Build Critical Thinking Skills and Empathy“, Jennifer Ansbach asks students to challenge their views of iconic memorials and guides students through the challenges of creating a memorial that represents all. Her work demonstrates the important role English teachers play in helping students develop empathy.

In the second award-winning article, “Photos as Witness: Teaching Visual Literacy for Research and Social Action“, Kiran Subhani helps students position themselves in both recognition of and creating a call to action using visual literacy. Subhani emphasizes the importance of visual literacy in today’s world as students are bombarded and bombard others with visual images.

Professional Learning: This year the CEL English Leadership Quarterly Best Article Award went to Christina Saidy for “Moving from Them to Us: Making New Arguments about Teaching and Learning via Teacher Inquiry“. By telling one teacher’s story of professional growth, Saidy explores the power of effective teacher inquiry groups.

See the NCTE website for information on all of the awards and a complete list of winners. View the slideshow to see the winners with their awards.

Diverse Literature Makes Us All Better People

This post is written by NCTE member Jennifer Kirsch. 

cornelia-and-the-escapadesMore often than not, I begin my fifth-grade English course with Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, a fantastic story about a young girl navigating the perils of family and friendships in New York City. The novel, full of complicated vocabulary, vivid detail, and complex literary devices, is always a hit with students and provides me with a rich mentor text for teaching everything from annotating to writing style. In many ways, it is the perfect way to start the year, as my students are instantly engaged in a story about a protagonist whose circumstances are so similar to their own. It is easy for my fifth graders to care about Cornelia, an independent school student growing up in New York City, in part because many of them see so much of themselves in her.

the-breadwinnerWhile a novel that is easy to connect with is the right way to start our year, by January students are ready to engage in a study of more diverse literature, and then I intentionally choose books whose protagonists are less instantly recognizable to the average American eleven-year old. Our spring syllabus begins with Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner, a novel set in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. As students at an all-girls school, my fifth graders are quick to point out the various injustices protagonist Parvana faces after the Taliban shut down her school, her mother loses her job at a radio station, and women all over Kabul are forbidden from leaving their homes without a male escort.

After processing their outrage, we begin to dig deeper into the history of Afghanistan, Islam, and the rise of the Taliban. Writing prompts and class discussions encourage students to look more closely at Parvana and Islam, and they begin to see a girl just like them—one who argues with her cranky older sister, feels misunderstood by her mother, and whose religion shares many similarities to their own. The value of studying diverse literature is never more apparent to me than when a room full of primarily Jewish and Christian students eagerly make observations about the overlap between their own religious practices and those of Muslims.

serafinas-promiseAs their appreciation for Parvana’s culture and religion grows, my students start to chip away at the notion that different is inherently less valuable and develop an understanding of and respect for a more diverse set of cultures and beliefs. By the time we move onto our second title of the semester, Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, they are better equipped to see not only similarities between themselves and the diverse characters they read about, but also to understand and investigate differences without automatically judging those differences.

Burg’s novel, written in verse, is set in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake. Serafina is a young girl eager to go to school and become a doctor so that she can help her community. As with Parvana in The Breadwinner, students root for her success, condemning those who try to stand in the way of a young girl seeking education while celebrating characters who support, encourage, and motivate Serafina to achieve. Burg’s novel offers a tempting glimpse into Haiti’s music and culinary culture, and students come away from the text understanding that Haiti may be financially poor, but it is rich in appealing traditions and celebrations. This presents a striking dichotomy for those who are inclined to think money is necessary for achieving happiness and fulfillment.

insideout-back-againOur final title of the spring term is Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai’s novel about a family who leaves Vietnam at the end of the war and must acclimate to their new lives in the United States during a period of history when Americans were not particularly eager to show kindness to Vietnamese immigrants. Our class conversations about this novel center primarily on the prejudice and stereotyping aimed at Ha, the novel’s young protagonist. Though friendly, smart, and kind, Ha looks and acts differently from her classmates, and she struggles for much of the story to find a group of people who will not only be civil toward her, but who might also accept and appreciate her unique perspective. When she is welcomed by a group of peers who notice what makes Ha different but don’t judge her for it, my students express relief and compassion, as this is, of course, what all people deserve.

Fifth graders can immediately identify the more simplistic issue here—it’s both unfair and unkind to judge someone for their differences—but over the course of our work with the novel, they become more introspective and self-reflective. It is my sense that their work with this novel, as well as the other diverse titles we read, leaves them ruminating on the roles—both small and large—that they play in their communities. I hope that exposing my students to diverse characters in literature helps them become more thoughtful, respectful, and appreciative of the differences they see in the people around them.

jenniferkirschJenny Kirsch teaches middle school English at The Hewitt School, a K-12 all-girls school in New York City. She is also an associate at Hewitt’s Center for Teaching & Learning Through Writing, where she works on developing Writing-to-Learn practices for students and faculty in Grades 5-12. She is interested in the intersection of reading and writing, and believes technology can enhance both of these pursuits. You can follow her on Twitter, where’s she known as @MsJennyKirsch.

What Happened in Your State This November?

capitol buildingThis past month, eight policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the District of Columbia, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Robin Holland shared that Ohio Expands Preschools and Early Education by voting to allocate funds.

According to Kris Cody-Johnson, WI Superintendent Evers Examines School Funding Distribution in order to make funding between schools more equitable.

In Updates on Act 46: An Act related to making amendments to education funding, education spending, and education governance, Anne Slonaker describes how towns in Vermont are merging into larger districts, impacting funding and school choice.

Kris Cody-Johnson cites the impact of school choice and vouchers on public schools in School Vouchers Grow in Wisconsin.

Janique Parrott reported in Mayor Bowser Nominates New Chancellor  that Antwan Wilson will be the next chancellor of DC public schools, noting Mr. Wilson’s support for charter schools and test-based accountability for teachers and students.

Darlene Dyer explored the Go-On Issues for Idaho, touching on Idaho’s push for 60 percent of Idaho’s citizens between 25 and 34 to earn a degree or certificate by 2020 and the reasons why they are struggling to achieve that percentage.

Ezra Hyland lists Grants for Minnesota Teachers from preschool through college. He also describes the Minnesota Charter School Segregation Challenge.

Clancy Ratliff shares Louisiana’s Standards for Students with Cognitive Disabilities and English Language Learners, also called the “Louisiana Connectors.”

In Welcome, Virginia Educators, Leila Christenbury lists a number of resources for Virginia educators. She also notes that the Proposed Notification of “Sexually Explicit” Texts Resurges as Virginia Board of Education Considers Revised Regulations.

Kris Cody-Johnson writes that a Wisconsin Bill Would Allow Licensed Guns at Private Schools.

Reflections on the African American Read-In

This post is written by NCTE members Tiffany Flowers and Kimberly Frazier. 

aari_logoEach year during Black History Month, the National Council of the Teachers of English kicks off the African American Read-In. This program takes place in K–12 schools, preschools, communities, and colleges around the country. As a Literacy Educator and Counselor Educator team, we train professionals for three purposes:

  • To expose teachers to diverse books for children
  • To handle issues that arise when discussing diverse books
  • To answer questions arising from parents, principals, teachers, and students about the justification for having the African American Read-In.

Additionally, we ask our volunteer readers to practice and come to the Read-In ready to share the love of reading diverse literature with students.

The most difficult problem we encounter each year is not the attitudes of parents or even students. It is often the response we receive from our colleagues within schools and classrooms. On one hand, principals and teachers regard us as wonderful visitors who are providing the students with opportunities they do not have readily available. On the other hand, we are met with some disdain for our culturally relevant practices as well. Some professionals have the hardest time trying to figure out why the program is such a big deal. For many of our volunteers, these comments bring back the negative memories of our own school experiences. There were few African American books that were published from 1980 to 1990. Often, the small number of books that existed were not made readily available in the classroom, library, or local bookstores. Therefore, many of the volunteers who participate in this program view it as crucial and rich program. The ability to share a portion of African American history as well as helping children discover their love of books is a dream experience. This helps to awaken their love for reading diverse literature in the classroom.

As professionals, we must seize the opportunity to share these diverse books with all students. Further, we must appeal to the teachers who may be resistant or hesitant to implement this national program. Understanding diversity as being fair, just, and equal is not enough. Diversity practices must include putting culturally relevant ideas into action. Otherwise, it is merely academic rhetoric without a practical function. As K–12 professionals, the need to put our ideas into action immediately should be obvious. We should have a sense of urgency in terms of making diverse literature available, accessible, and integrated within the classroom.

We would like to thank every teacher, parent, student, principal, and community organizer who not only sees the importance of sharing diverse stories with children, but put their beliefs into action. Through sharing African American children’s literature, your actions have the potential to open children’s minds to new experiences. As Maya Angelou once said:

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. – Maya Angelou

For more information regarding the African American Read-In, please visit the program website.

tiffanyflowersnewpicwebjpgTiffany A. Flowers, NCTE member since 2015, is an assistant professor in the Department of Cultural and Behavioral Sciences at Georgia State University Perimeter College. You can contact Dr. Flowers at



knf_webKimberly Frazier, NCTE member since 2005, is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. You can contact Dr. Frazier at