Early Learners Need a Home-School Connection

By Cindy Terebush

I recently participated in an online gathering of early learners.  Their teacher was reading a book.  The children, in little boxes on the computer screen, were making faces at each other, pointing, dancing and performing other feats of imagination.  When the session was over, the teacher asked me, “Why am I doing this?  They aren’t listening.”

In other areas where children may have less access to technology, teachers are preparing materials and packets that families can get in the mail or pick up at bus stops.  Numerous teachers have shared with me that they are convinced that it is a futile effort because most families are overwhelmed and not doing the activities.

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Trending in 2020: To Teach or Not to Teach “Triggering” Texts

I confess. I still teach Sherman Alexie’s books. I value the quality of his work and the power it has on adolescent readers too much to give it up. That declaration has created confusion, consternation, and even condemnation by some fellow teachers who heretofore thought I was at least passably “woke.” How can I be a feminist and teach the works of such a serial abuser?  You probably still watch Woody Allen movies, they sneer.

Similarly, despite the reasonable reconsideration of the dominance of Shakespeare in literature curricula, I am not swayed by the argument that his plays shouldn’t be taught because they are “triggering.” From my perspective, both the rise of trigger warnings and the #MeToo movement have reshaped and perhaps diminished the landscape of the politics of teaching literature.

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Media Literacy: Argument, Persuasion, and Propaganda in English Education

English educators are generally familiar with the topic of propaganda, as it is a theme of much of the literature that is emphasized in courses for high school and college students. For many teachers, it may seem as if dystopian young adult novels have become the default genre of a generation. Dystopian literature like Huxley’s Brave New World and other works critique mindless consumption, instant gratification, reliance on technology, and the resulting atrophy of language and critical thinking. When reading this novel, one teacher asks her students to reflect on these questions: “Is life easy for us today? Is it too easy? How do people escape from everyday life? Is it necessary to do so? Why or why not?” (Wilkinson, 2010, p. 24).

M.T. Anderson’s young adult novel, Feed is a popular work that considers the ubiquitous nature of advertising as propaganda. The novel uses satire, humor, and exaggeration to depict the world of the future, where the Internet is implanted into your brain as the Feed. As people grow up, their brains cannot function without the Feed. They attend a classroom run by corporations where students learn how to use technology, find bargains and decorate a bedroom. Through education, in this dystopic world, students are trained to be consumers.

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Back to School: Promoting English Learners’ Assets

The proportion of English learners (ELs) in the United States public school system has reached nearly ten percent of all students, and is on a nationwide growth trajectory1.  Along with this growth in numbers, ELs tend to experience an opportunity gap, which generally refers to the impact that factors such as students’ English proficiency, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity have on their achievement. For example, 79% of English fluent eighth graders scored at the basic or above reading level in 2017, while only 32% of ELs scored at those levels during that same year.2  In addition, ELs have one of the lowest graduation rates among all students on a national level, approximately 63% as compared to 82% of all students3.Gaps such as these have helped lead far too many educators to see ELs as one-dimensional, defined primarily as being lacking in areas such as English proficiency, achievement in content areas, and/or ability to graduate. Recent research4 on teachers’ perceptions of ELs in kindergarten through second grade suggests that classifying students as ELs has a “direct and negative effect on teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic skills.”

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Summer Reading: An SEL Frame of Mind

Greetings Readers!

As the days grow shorter and Labor Day approaches, most of you are preparing your minds and classrooms for the start of the school year.  Increasingly, that means not only writing or revising academic goals and lesson plans but also considering how best to foster the emotional well-being and growth of a new group of learners.  What strengths and challenges will your students bring with them?  How will you cultivate the former and meet the latter?  We thought you might be interested, in this last gasp of summer reading time, to dip into some recent books about social emotional learning and mindfulness: what better way to get into a positive mindset about the fall semester?  The dozen titles below are recommendations from two of Norton’s authors whose own work and writing focus on the social and emotional aspects of educating the whole child.

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Summer Reading: Exploring Student Choices

When I was a kid, I always kept a novel on my lap during class, hidden (I thought then) from teachers’ eyes. Between math problems and history lessons, I’d sneak-read a few paragraphs. Summer was, for me, a chance to binge on books without interruption or subterfuge. It still is.

As a teacher I’ve purposely overlooked the lap-reading of my book-obsessed students,  though I do insist that they keep up with the actual classwork, as I did when I was on the other side of the desk. Indulging them isn’t an exercise in nostalgia but rather a chance to learn about the genres and authors they treasure, which I then explore during the gloriously free hours of summer vacation. Some works have become part of my teaching strategy; many have given me a connection to students I couldn’t reach in other ways.

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