There’s No Need to Feel at Sea When It Comes to Teaching Grammar

This post was written by NCTE member Amy Benjamin.

In the second edition of my book Engaging Grammar: Practical Advice for Real Classrooms (NCTE, 2021), I describe all kinds of ways to make grammar instruction interesting, memorable, and perhaps most important, useful. I have found that grammar instruction that recruits the features of sound teaching, e.g., use of visuals, games, inductive reasoning, rhythm, socializing, open-endedness, age appropriateness, sense of fun, and open-mindedness—is well worth the effort. The result of engaging grammar instruction is, among other things, the capacity for an enriched conversation about language between teachers and students.
When teachers and students share a common language about grammar, the conversation about a written work-in-progress can include advice like this:
“You’re starting too many sentences with the simple subject, and that is giving your writing that short-and-choppy style. Try beginning some sentences with dependent clauses or prepositional phrases. Don’t forget the comma.”
“This verb needs to be in the past tense. Keep your verb tense consistent.”
“I’m not sure of the pronoun referent here.”
“Use more proper nouns. Then you will be specific.”
“Add some more prepositional phrases for visual detail.”
“We need an adverb, not an adjective in this sentence because you have an action verb.”
“To make your sentences come alive, use strong action verbs.”
“Try an inverted adjective pair. It will emphasize your adjectives and give the sentence a poetic style.”
“This is an irregular verb. It goes like this in the participial form. . . .”
Now, wouldn’t that be better than being at a loss for words to explain not only what is incorrect, but also what is grammatically correct but could be stylistically better?
Having worked with thousands of teachers at elementary, middle, and high school levels, I can attest to the fact that teachers feel at sea when it comes to teaching grammar. Many lack the knowledge itself, having never been taught the basics in any coherent way. Others rely on ineffective worksheets and memorized rules that don’t describe the changing and varied forms of English.
Some teachers, I regret to say, talk down to students when teaching grammar, showing disrespect for the style of English their students speak with friends and at home, whether they mean to alienate them or not. Some insist upon outdated, arbitrary rules that modern professional writers long ago eschewed. And (see what I did there?) everybody laments that the kind of grammar instruction they’ve been delivering is simply not retained. “We have to teach the same things over and over again, year after year,” they complain.
I challenge, and offer specific alternatives to, “skill-and-drill” grammar as well as the “caught, not taught” thinking that usually prevails in the workshop model. Whether we teach in a workshop model for reading and writing, or whether we set aside time dedicated to circling nouns and verbs (again), the refrain from teachers is the same: Students are not applying the rules of standardized English in their writing.
My approach, on the other hand, is not just old (expired) wine in a new bottle. I combine the principles of linguistics (morphology, syntax, pragmatics), contrastive analysis of formal and informal English, and rhetorical effects with the principles of the student-centered classroom. These include multi-modal learning, nonverbal processing, cooperative learning, and high level of student interest and engagement. It works.
I have simplified the explanation of grammatical terminology, using sentence frames (e.g., A noun is a word that makes sense after the word the; To locate the verb in a sentence, change the tense; the word that changed is the verb.) I use morphology charting to illustrate the flexible nature of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in English. Teaching the parts of speech (and the idea that there are eight of them is inaccurate) is easier than you might think. So is teaching sentence functions, pronoun case, and punctuation.
If your students have insufficient information about grammar, they know it. If you feel less than competent teaching grammar, you know it, and you wouldn’t be alone if you avoided it altogether. But the Second Edition of Engaging Grammar will help you and your students take this message to heart: whenever you feel lost in the forest of grammar, remember that you already know it!
Why go to the trouble of teaching it, then?
Because teachers and students need the language-of-the-language to have productive conversations. Because knowing the grammatical system and terminology of one language helps you learn another. And because some people find grammar interesting, even fascinating. Even fun. So, I hope you’ll give Engaging Grammar, Second Edition, a chance to make something old, something new!
Amy Benjamin is a nationally recognized consultant who specializes in improving student performance through literacy instruction on the secondary level. She is the author of numerous books and is past president of the Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG), a group affiliated with NCTE. Amy taught high school for three decades, and now works with teachers and administrators, mostly on Long Island, New York.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.


From the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship 

This post was written by NCTE member Michael Seward, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship. 

“It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”
—Morrissey (the Smiths “I Know It’s Over,” from The Queen Is Dead)

As a committee member, a queer man, a longtime English teacher, and a white resident of north Minneapolis, I am wondering about strength. How will I find the strength to again enter the classroom to teach composition?
After more than thirty years of teaching, after over a year of a global pandemic with its attendant isolation and emergency online teaching and deeply inequitable devastation, after the horror of George Floyd’s murder, after the violence and rage that erupted across my city, after the vicious insurrection in the capitol, after the lengthy trial of Derek Chauvin with its excruciating videos and testimony, after the senseless shooting of Daunte Wright only miles from my home—after all of this, I fear I might not have the strength to stand again in front of the students of Minneapolis College and act as if I have anything to teach them.
When I was growing up in rural Wisconsin in the 1980s, I was the only person I knew to be queer. And in that isolated state, I looked to Morrissey’s witty, vulnerable lyrics to understand not only that I was not alone, but that I might find ways to thrive . . . and to be strong. And the strength that Morrissey challenged me to embody was a particularly queer strength: a strength that was “gentle and kind.”
I have been trying to live up to that challenge for most of my teaching career.
But I have come to have profound doubts about the act of teaching English. Is it possible to teach English with kindness and gentleness? Whose English am I teaching? Whose standards am I enforcing? Who is the beneficiary of my teaching academic composition? What is the impact on my students—most of whom come from marginalized groups—of my perpetuating on them (and in their minds) the language and structures of the system that might have already traumatized them? How can I promote system change, when the purpose of my teaching is to inculcate students into the system that has been judging, harming and marginalizing them all along?
The position statement of the CCCC, “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice,” captures in stark and clear language the harmful nature of the ways that English has historically been taught.
I teach English in an institution that is designed around structures not intended to promote learning but rather its own perpetuation: the 16-week semester, the three-credit class, the letter grade—what does any of this have to do with learning?
More importantly, how does trying to force a student’s learning experience into these structures risk damaging the student? The assigning of grades, in particular—the fitting of students into a preordained hierarchy—seems a sexist, racist, and classist act, an act of violation.
The community college owes its existence, in part, to the desire to open up academia—to provide access to the supposed benefits of higher learning to members of those groups who had historically been excluded from it. But did the creation of the many community colleges across the country do anything to alter the nature of the institution that was supposedly being opened?
My charge, as an English instructor at a community college, is to provide students from marginalized groups the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of the standards that academia requires. Yet those very standards are intended as the mechanism that will be used to make determinations around who is included and who is excluded. So . . . my job is to include those the system intends to exclude?
After thirty years of teaching, I have come to wonder if my real job hasn’t been, all along, simply to provide an excuse to the oligarchy of the hyper-wealthy and to perpetuate the cruelty of blaming poverty on the poor:  The existence of the community college allows the system to claim that it has provided the poor and the marginalized the opportunity to succeed, so that when they “fail” (as many often do), their failure can be blamed on them:  “We gave you the chance; you failed!”
I have become acutely aware of the demands of my students’ lives:  their children; their multiple jobs; their precarious housing situations; their mental health challenges (often related to the traumas of poverty, racism, sexism, violence, transphobia, mass incarceration, sexual assault, etc.); their transportation challenges; their health concerns . . . The list of the obstacles and barriers to their learning is long.
When these demands prevent, for some students, the demonstration of the mastery of learning outcomes, my job is to grade them accordingly: We wouldn’t want an unprepared student moving to the next level, would we? I have come to wonder how those of my students who face multiple challenges might fare in academia if they had access to the conditions of those for whom academia was designed: comfortable housing, adequate nutrition, access to child care and health care, effective transportation, time to think and focus solely on academic work, social support, and so on.
Over my thirty years of teaching, I have come to understand that I have been the one in need of an education. I needed to be educated on how education has been used—globally—as a means not of growth and improvement but as a tool for exclusion and oppression. My students, often, have been those who have had to educate me—and for their trouble, they got a grade; I got a paycheck.
I want to find the strength to face these students again. But I can no longer look to Morrissey. Like so many of the things I used to believe in, Morrissey, too, has let me down. (Here’s an article that lists some of the things he’s said.)
So I have looked elsewhere to learn ways of finding the strength I need to be gentle and kind. Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability has been beneficial. And I have found inspiration from another queer voice: Tennessee Williams. During the course of the pandemic and the unrest, I have returned again and again to his poem, “Your Blinded Hand,” for it captures both the pain and the strength of the past year. I have come to understand that mine is indeed a “blinded hand,” and that “in a city of fire when the earth is afire,” the greatest source of strength might be my finding and grasping another “blinded hand” . . . perhaps that of a student.
For over 30 years Michael Seward has been teaching a variety of subjects at various levels, from eighth grade to post-graduate. He has been involved in global education in a number of capacities (including two Fulbright teaching exchanges) and countries (including England, Germany, Slovakia, Costa Rica and Poland). Currently he teaches English and serves as an assessment coordinator at Minneapolis College.

The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the Council and within members’ teaching contexts.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

“Stepping Up and Speaking Out”: Interrogating and Teaching Models of Citizenship with Marvel Comics

This post was written by NCTE members Cody Miller and Christian Hines. 

Questions about citizenship and structures of government have long been on the radar of English teachers. Lord of the Flies and Julius Caesar are frequently positioned in terms of civic life in classroom discourse, while the past decade has seen a rise in discussing dystopian governments due to the popularity of series like The Hunger Games and Divergent.
Both canonical and young adult literature can offer pathways into conversations and analyses of government functions. We would like to widen that conversation to incorporate comics and graphic novels as texts that open up dialogue about civic life with secondary students.
Popular American comics have long grappled with questions of citizenship, identity, and large-scale politics broadly. As literary scholar Ramzi Fawaz details in The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics, ubiquitous superhero teams like the Justice League, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four responded directly and indirectly to social movements of the 1960s and beyond.
This radical history of comics combined with calls for reimagining English language arts as a space for constructing new civic possibilities by scholars like Antero Garcia and Nicole Mirra positions newer titles in the Marvel universe as crucial pedagogical texts for our classrooms. We are not alone in seeing the potential of Marvel narratives and civic engagement. Psychology professor Justin Martin recently outlined how the cinematic adaptation of Black Panther can inform elementary civics education.
This work is urgent and vital in our current sociopolitical landscape as white nationalism continues to rise both nationally and globally. Strengthened attacks on voting rights in various states combined with the failed insurrection earlier this year paint a picture of a democracy far from what can be considered healthy. The need to interrogate, critique, and reimagine civic identity and activity is urgently needed in our public life and classrooms.
Please note that it is essential that we do not equate “civic engagement” with legal definitions of “citizenship.” Equating “civic engagement” with legal definitions of “citizenship” erases multiple communities, including undocumented students, who are leading one of the most important civic movements today.
We’re particularly interested in positioning newer narrative variations of iconic heroes in English curriculum. House of Powers and House of X, the recent installments of the popular franchise The X-Men, depict the titular mutants constructing their own nation state to avoid the discrimination and oppression they’ve faced since they first appeared in the series. Meanwhile, the Outlawed story arc finds adolescent superheroes like Miles Morales (Spiderman), Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Riri Williams (Ironheart), and others being legislatively stripped of their superhero identities; their status as teen superheroes is constructed as an illegal identity by adult legislators.
Both series offer up models for how those with power construct who counts within the parameters of a nation state. Equally important, these comics demonstrate what happens to those who are considered outside the bounds of constructed citizenship.
In teaching these comics, we believe students need language for considering the bounds of citizenship and civic identity. In “Failed Citizenship and Transformative Civic Education” [Educational Researcher, 46(7)], education scholar James Banks offers a framework for understanding types of citizenship enacted in nation states and perpetuated by public school curriculum that is valuable when teaching the Marvel titles we outline in this piece. Dr. Banks’s “citizenship typology” offers four distinct modes of citizenship that guide our thinking about teaching civics, graphic novels, and English language arts curricula. The typology is below:

Educational Researcher 2017. 46:366-377

House of X and Powers of X offer examples of transformative citizenship as a response to failed citizenship. The mutants are born in their respective nation states (X-Men has a range of characters from across the globe). Yet the various countries’ political systems work to deny mutants basic rights, even ranging to mutant genocide in some cases. As a result, some mutants form their own allegiances to create communities outside of their nation states throughout the history of X-Men. Perennial antagonist Magneto is the embodiment of this ethos while the sagacious leader of the X-Men, Charles Xavier, works to fold mutants into the nation state through ideas of tolerance and acceptance.
However, in House and Powers of X, Charles loses hope of this vision and works to create an island nation state (recognized by the United Nations) called Krakoa where mutants can live separate and ostensibly peaceful lives away from humans. This narrative history is not necessary to incorporate the comics into classroom discussions. House and Powers of X easily work as standalone texts. Teachers can open up questions regarding citizenship with the following questions that students can answer with textual evidence:

How do characters understand their identity in relation to the nation state Krakoa?
How are decisions made on Krakoa? Who is heard and who is maligned?
How would you describe what life is like for people on Krakoa?
How is Krakoa an inclusive space and how is Krakoa an exclusive space? How are ideas of citizenship expanded or limited in Krakoa?
The Fantastic Four are not allowed on Krakoa due to their status as people who were not born with superpowers but developed powers due to external factors. How does this decision complicate the idea of transformative citizenship?
In many ways Krakoa is a model of transformative citizenship. How might Krakoa be an example of failed, recognized, and participatory citizenship for other characters in the narrative?

The Outlawed saga offers examples of participatory and transformative citizenship when the Champions take action to defy the law that renders teen heroes as vigilantes and continue to save those who are at the greatest risk of being hurt, despite the government rendering them powerless. Crimes are still happening, and the teen heroes refuse to be bystanders. Their transformative action takes place when they accept that the laws that are dictated are not only harmful but meant to be used as tools to control and silence young people (by means of reformatory education) who are seen as a threat to those who are in power.
When the Champions decide to meet with United States government officials, they are met with resistance by local authority; but they have garnered support from their respective communities. Miles (Spiderman) and Riri (Ironheart) have to consider their community spaces when they are both deemed illegal heroes. Miles continues to patrol Brooklyn and risks arrest in order to ensure the safety of his neighborhood. Riri considers her family and what getting arrested would mean for her mother. She decides initially not to risk getting arrested so as not to bring negative attention to her community. Both Miles and Riri later decide that their cause extends beyond their local communities and both heroes decide to continue in their fight for justice by taking up their teen superhero mantles. Bringing their stories into the classroom can offer a space for discussion regarding:

In what ways do narratives of teen superheroes challenge what we typically see in superhero media?
In what ways do adults work to silence and curtail youth civic engagement? Why are adults concerned about youth civic engagement?
How do educational systems and people within educational institutions attempt to stop efforts at transformative citizenship by young people? Why do adults not want to see young people enact transformative citizenship?
How do laws and the legal system ensure young people do not have as much civic power as adults?
In what ways do communities provide a space for youth to develop personal and political stances? How do communities provide models of citizenship outside the nation state? How can students’ funds of knowledge and community membership contribute to enacting civic engagement?

Considering the bounds of citizenship as both a physical and socio-political construct can support students in analyzing characters, discussing setting and its impact on characters, and connecting plot points across a text.
Additionally, positioning citizenship and civic action as a framework for analyzing literature can open up a space for students to make thematic connections between Marvel comics and more commonly taught print books in English classrooms. Positioning the Marvel titles we suggested in conversation with other texts in a broader curricular unit could be one way to approach the type of work we’ve outlined throughout this piece.
For more resources on using graphic novels and comics in secondary English classrooms, check out the “graphic novel” tag on the NCTE blog.
Outside of teaching comics, teachers should ask how schools can become an inclusive place to nurture and enact transformative citizenship. For starters, we can model ways of engaging our students in participatory and transformative citizenship. By working toward inclusion and youth activism we can cultivate spaces where student voices are amplified within the scope of school-based civic activities. This can be done by interrogating the range of student input on school policies and procedures via student council and student government or creating avenues of connecting students’ communities to their academic contexts with student-led community liaisons.
We can allow for participatory citizenship via classroom activities (e.g., creating a student-led survey to address school issues and concerns, a student-created school action plan, student documentaries on community histories and citizens). These actions and activities will facilitate our students’ need to be included in their schools’ overarching interests and goals, and it will help to develop strong student buy-in to their democratic educational pursuits.
Interrogating and critically questioning ideas of citizenship and civic life are imperative. Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” became a moving symbol of democratic potential earlier this year. The poem speaks to ways English curriculum can be envisioned to discuss a more equitable civic life. As English teachers, we should heed the call. Educator Amber Cook (2021) reminded us in the wake of the insurrection and inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, “Amanda Gorman is in your classroom right now. Do your diligence to cultivate it” and “Insurrectionists were once in someone’s classroom. Do your work and teach antiracism.” These are the stakes and the possibilities.

Cody Miller is an assistant professor of English education at SUNY Brockport. During his seven years as a high school English teacher and in his current role, he positions texts as vehicles to discuss broader sociopolitical issues in students’ lives and worlds. Miller is chair of the NCTE LGBTQ Advisory Committee. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @CodyMillerELA.     
Christian Hines is a doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. She is a former high school English teacher who believes in the transformative power of reading and in exposing students to a wide array of multicultural literature, engaging them in culturally inclusive reading materials, and empowering them with mentorship and community building. Twitter handle: @Mshines831. 

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Revising My Writing Syllabus with Student Organizers

This post was written by NCTE member Glenn Hutchinson, the author of Writing Accomplices with Student Immigrant Rights Organizers (CCCC Studies in Writing & Rhetoric (SWR) Series, 2021).

Working with student organizers in the immigrant rights movement has helped me revise my community writing syllabus into something more focused on students and their abilities as change agents.
When my friend’s brother received an order of deportation even though he had lived in the US since the age of three, student organizers helped organize and stop his deportation. When undocumented students were forced to pay three times the amount for tuition even though many had lived in Florida since they were children, student organizers worked to change this policy so that more students can attend college. And there are many more examples of young people organizing to challenge antiimmigrant policies as administrations from both political parties continue to deport and exploit immigrants.
But when I first started teaching, I assumed that student experiences were similar to my own. My first community writing course, for example, often explored questions about voting and citizenship; however, my curriculum design did not acknowledge the reality that many students and their families were prevented from becoming citizens because of their immigration status. My initial syllabus lacked readings about a number of topics, including intersectionality and racism. There were no texts authored by student organizers. Guest speakers tended to be only representatives of nonprofits, professors, or politicians. In addition, the structure of the assignments focused on volunteering a set number of hours for a nonprofit and encouraging students to define what being an active citizen is.
Students have helped me critique and shape this syllabus into something more responsive to student needs. In the revised syllabus, published writings by organizers like Prerna Lal and Tania Unzueta, Angelica Velazquillo, Nicolas Wulff, Thomas Kennedy, and Gaby Pacheco play a central role. In contrast with the original syllabus, there isn’t a specific number of hours that a student needs to volunteer. In this newer version, students work individually or in groups to address a community project that interests them and, based on that project, determine what kind of writing might be appropriate. Some students may join the organizing efforts discussed by guest speakers, and others may work together to be part of new projects. This syllabus continues to be modified based on student concerns and input.
Here are some guiding principles for my syllabus revision:

Rethinking the role of the writing teacher

Rather than just being an ally with others, the writing teacher may need to take more risks, or be what more scholars in our field, including Aja Martinez, call an accomplice. It is not enough just to wear a pin on one’s shirt to indicate support; teachers have an ethical responsibility to stand in solidarity with students working for equal rights. This is not an easy role to define, and it may vary depending on a teacher’s positionality.
Asao B. Inoue challenges white teachers to change the way they teach and end “white language supremacy” in the classroom. Carmen Kynard urges scholars and teachers to ask how their work responds to injustices like the violence against people of color. Sara del Pilar Alvarez highlights the complex literacies of immigrant rights organizers as she discusses the distinctive qualities in their writing, or what she calls “conciencia bilingüe.”
In addition, for teachers like me who may never have questioned their own assumptions about citizenship, identity, and the American Dream, it is important to decenter our own perspectives in designing the curriculum for a community writing course and reimagine what our roles can be.

This framework isn’t based on one single issue; it’s a process of long-term organizing.

This approach moves past an individualistic mindset that all we need are more individual volunteers and writers to address a particular social issue. Student organizers often emphasize the importance of organizing not just to address one particular issue, but for people to come together for multiple concerns. At a moment when democracy faces even more challenges with a shrinking public sphere, organizing offers possibilities for a better future when more people’s voices are heard.

Writing is part of a network of action to create change.

Writing assignments, then, become more than individual pieces written for one particular moment. Writing for change requires collaborating with others and coordinating with other actions (petitions, letters, rallies). Such an approach is based upon the belief that students have important things to say, and that as they practice and learn new rhetorical skills, they can work with others to make a difference in their own communities.
In this work, student organizers write op-eds, petitions, and press releases. They organize press conferences, rallies, and protests. And they often use writing as part of a network of action to address problems in their communities.
Our field has a wealth of scholarship about community engagement, and student organizers’ input can build upon this work. Writing Accomplices with Student Immigrant Rights Organizers argues that we need to make the writing and work of student immigrant rights organizers more central to the classroom and the field’s scholarship.

Glenn Hutchinson teaches rhetoric and composition and directs the Writing Center at Florida International University in Miami. Since 2007, he has volunteered with immigrant rights groups in North Carolina and Florida. His book Writing Accomplices with Student Immigrant Rights Organizers was published this year by NCTE. He has also published articles in Community Literacy Journal, The CEA Critic, and Reflections, and writes plays and op-eds.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Build Your Stack: Books for Advanced High School Students That Will Create a Classroom of Deep Thinking

This blog post was written by NCTE member KáLyn Banks Coghill. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

When I was an AP English student in Elk Grove, California, back in 2008, I was introduced to texts which helped expand my mind and prepared me for college. Reading texts like Siddartha, The Poisonwood Bible, and Their Eyes Were Watching God allowed for robust discussions in my high school class. As a student, I was challenged to think critically and engage deeply with the texts. I still recommend these books to high school students because of their impact on me and my classmates. My high school teacher Ms. Wilde let us use creative ways to discuss these texts as well. In that class, I could use poetry to express my own opinions and interpretations of the text. Creative freedom and open-ended assignments based on the readings helped to influence my pedagogical practices now as a college instructor.
I am currently a graduate teaching assistant and adjunct lecturer in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies department at my university. I notice that many of my students are not exposed to feminism, Afrofuturism, or many texts written by Black or Brown people, let alone women or nonbinary folk. I am teaching a class this year called Women in Literature, and the texts that I am using would be perfect for high school students, particularly seniors or advanced placement students.
Since the summer session is an accelerated five-week course, I want to focus on only a few texts I think will be engaging. While combing through my library and getting feedback on texts my friends and family would have loved to have read in college, I realized high school students would enjoy some of these texts too.
Below is a quick list of books that would be great to teach or suggest to high school students. The first three texts are specifically from my course and the fourth is one I consider a great addition to the many books that all high school students should read and engage with. The last text is not written by a woman, but I recommend it because the narrative and prose are so powerful and relatable to all.
Kindred by Octavia Butler is an excellent introduction to Afrofuturism. Butler creates a world that allows her to talk about race, slavery, and time traveling in a captivating, educational way and pushes the reader to look at the world through a different lens. The powerhouse author Octavia Butler is a compelling one to start with to expose students to literature that some do not get access to until they are already in the college setting. If a student is interested in graphic novels, there is also a new edition of the text as a graphic novel. The slave narrative, as told by Butler, is presented in accessible language that makes it a very engaging and inviting read.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson is a young adult novel that talks about the adultification of Black girls, the music industry, and grooming (in the sense of building a relationship with a young person in order to exploit or abuse them.) This text is a bit mature in its approach and language, but it acts as a great introduction to adultification and grooming and the damage they inflict.  It is a great audiobook as well, and an excellent choice  for students who are audible learners. It could be read independently or listened to as a class, which could bring up discussions that could assist students with learning to articulate signs of abuse.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is a Japanese classic that was written in 1988 and translated in 1993. This text is a short read that talks about the main character’s engagement with food and relationships as she deals with the tragedy of the death of her caregiver. It talks about grief, queer identities, and creating nontraditional families. Kitchen is an excellent text to expose students to writers from countries other than  the US, and exposes students to topics that may not find discussed in depth until they are older or in college.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon is a newer text—a memoir that discusses racism and weight. Laymon talks about their journey to becoming a writer and a man. Heavy is a great read that will ignite discussions about coming of age and the secret trauma we all experience in this world at times. It touches on abuse and reveals how Laymon found solace in the love of a grandmother, who valued and listened to Laymon as Laymon grew into a man. These life lessons and the style of prose make this book hard to put down.
There are plenty of books that are read at the collegiate level that are perfect for high school students. Introducing these texts into the classroom helps to expand students’ minds. It also allows them to see themselves, imagine other worlds, and connect to the things they are seeing or experiencing around them. (Johnson, Koss, Martinez, 2017)

KáLyn Banks Coghill (she/her/Beyoncé) is a PhD student in the Media, Art, and Text program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English (creative writing poetry and linguistics) from Old Dominion University and her master’s degree in Organizational Communications from Bowie State University. Her research focuses on how Black women in hip hop use their music, performances, and social media presence to digitally resist digital violence on Twitter and as a way to create harm-reduction and digital healing. You can find her latest publication “A Seat At The Table: A Repetitive Narrative of Abuse” through the International Journal of Linguistics and Communications. She coins her work as “Hoodrat Scholarship”—a self-proclaimed effort to create an ecosystem of work that can be cycled from the academy to the streets. Hoodrat Scholarship uses community outreach as a way to provide accessible information to all. Coghill uses her digital presence and works to create spaces where anyone can engage and contribute. Her favorite poem is “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton and she enjoys writing poetry, watching documentaries, and making her friends laugh in her spare time. Twitter:  @drbiggieshorty. Website:;
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Putting Citizenship in Global Perspective in the ELA Classroom

This summer we’re revisiting some popular past posts with themes of continuing relevance. The following post was contributed by NCTE member Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, and was originally published on July 4, 2017, as part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.
Global Citizenship “is a way of living that recognises our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussion for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally” (Ideas for Global Citizenship).
This concept is of particular interest to us as we celebrate our nation’s independence on the Fourth of July. It allows us to ponder how our ancestors had managed to secure our freedom as a nation from the British, and how we had to wrestle with the contradictory content of our Constitution that celebrates the right to be free while still holding others in bondage.
Therefore, we should take this time to contemplate deeply what it means to be an American citizen, and who should be considered an American. As we reflect on this nationalistic notion of citizenship, we should also consider engaging in dialogues of what it means to be a global citizen, especially in a world where leaders are constantly rethinking physical boundaries in order to hold tight to their national identities, and the tension such nationalistic views might create. In so doing, they undermine major aspects of our collective humanity that allow us to cultivate a nurturing world for everyone.
Many do not realize that what we do within our local communities can and does impact communities in other regions of the world, for we are interconnected in this way, even when we engage in charity work that touches many across the globe, or participate in political rallies to make democracy possible elsewhere.
Ronald C. Israel, co-founder of the Global Citizens’ Initiative, observes that,
Most of us on the path to global citizenship are still somewhere at the beginning of our journey. Our eyes have been opened and our consciousness raised. Instinctively, we feel a connection with others around the world yet we lack the adequate tools, resources, and support to act on our vision. Our ways of thinking and being are still colored by the trapping of old allegiances and ways of seeing things that no longer are as valid as they used to be. There is a longing to pull back the veil that keeps us from more clearly seeing the world as a whole and finding more sustainable ways of connecting with those who share our common humanity.
If fathoming how one can be an American citizen and yet be able to perceive oneself as a global citizen may seem challenging, perhaps we should start by examining how we serve our local communities on a regular basis.
Community Services: Local and Global Connections
Many educators are already engaged in practices that impact global communities and reflect their global citizenry even if they are not aware. At a spring 2017 professional development school conference in State College, PA, I attended a session where a teacher presented about a partnership with a school in Africa where they collect books and send them to students. This session was of particular interest to me because I know firsthand how difficult it is for schoolteachers in several public schools across the continent to find basic educational resources for their classrooms.
Also, having served as a member of the Children’s Africana Book Awards committee, I am also privy to book publication initiatives on topics such as The Water Project.
One such publication is a picture book, Gizo-Gizo, on the Zongo Story Project that emerged from a partnership between Emily Williamson and John Schaidler from Minneapolis and the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Ghana. The back matter notes:
Working closely with local teachers, Emily Williamson carried out a series of educational workshops at [the school] to teach students about local water and environmental concerns. . . . Building on previous work at his children’s schools in Minneapolis and New York City, John [Schaidler] spent the summers . . . in the remote village of Humjibre in Ghana’s Western District.
For more on this, check out The water problem is local to that specific community, but the solution takes a collective effort that includes a global initiative involving communities from two continents. This is one way we connect at the human level.
Several picture books have documented these types of global partnerships.
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul; Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
The Water Princess by Georgie Badiel and Susan Verde; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Religious Diversity
Faith by Maya Ajmera, Cynthia Pon, and Magda Nakassis
Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges; illustrated by Giles Laroche

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Pablo Finds a Treasure by Andrée Poulin; illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant

For the Right to Learn by Rebecca Langston-George; illustrated by Janna Bock

Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

More Global Citizenship Resources
Worlds of Words: Building bridges across global cultures through children’s and adolescent literature
Africa Access: Links to a variety of resources on topics related to the continent of Africa
Teaching Good Citizenship’s Five Themes, from Education World: A focus on the five basic themes of good citizenship (honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage)
Picture Books about Citizenship
Digital Citizenship: Explores the “9 Key Ps” of digital citizenship
Seven strategies to get children talking and thinking about digital citizenship
Teens and Digital Citizenship: Responsible digital citizenship can help your child have a safer and more satisfying experience online.
OXFAM’s guide for global citizenship
A free lesson plan on a global citizenship workshop

Work Cited
Israel, Roland (2012). “What Does It Mean to be a Global Citizen?” Kosmos: Journal for Global Transformation.  Accessed: June 22, 2017.

Vivian Yenika-Agbaw is professor of literature and literacy in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State University. She publishes and presents primarily on topics related to issues of social justice and the representation of populations that have been historically marginalized and under-represented in youth texts and culture (with particular concern toward race, class, gender, and dis/abilities). Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and she is is currently a co-editor of the Journal of Children’s Literature housed by the Children’s Literature Assembly of the NCTE. She has also published many books, and is a contributor to the new NCTE book Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children’s Books: Representations and Possibilities (forthcoming in July 2021).

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Reflections on an Unprecedented Year

From the NCTE Secondary Section Steering Committee

This post was written by NCTE member Valerie Mattessich, a member of the NCTE Secondary Section Steering Committee.

How to teach literacy—but really, how to teach anything—during a pandemic?!? That has been the question of the 2020–2021 school year. As this unprecedented year comes to a close, I have been reflecting with my English teachers on their practice and how it has been changed, deepened, refined and disrupted over the past 14 months. Of particular discussion has been the way in which teachers engaged students in literacy practices and skillbuilding through independent reading. Below, I highlight some of the benefits and practices that worked this year—and that therefore should definitely work in a non-pandemic year!
Independent Reading (IR) as Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Practice
In Virena Rossi’s Honors English I classes, a fifteen-minute reading session in IR books is followed by a formative 2-minute check-in with each student. For this check-in, Rossi keeps a page of notes on each student (using a blank roster), along with data such as their current page number and reactions to their books. This, which Rossi calls “one of the most fulfilling parts of my day,” has allowed her to connect with students both in person and virtually, getting to know them on a deeper level than if she had only proceeded with whole-class reading and writing experiences.
Learning what books students choose to read and why, their reading rates and reactions all combine to give the teacher a much better sense of who the students are, even as they are masked or behind a screen or avatar. With many people in general reporting feeling disconnected or alienated during these isolating pandemic times, with screens dominating our mode of communication and masks hiding our facial expressions, having the chance to connect one-on-one with students about choice reading breaks down barriers that are physically and figuratively in place this year.
Building a Community of Readers while Building Skills
Amy Maniscalco teaches College Preparatory English I students. These ninth-grade students arrived in high school wearing masks, knowing maybe 50 percent of their classmates in our regional high school district. Independent reading has served as a way not only for Maniscalco to get to know her students, as Ms. Rossi does, but also for her students to know each other via their reading choices and the connections they make. Using a shared class Google Doc (see image below), Maniscalco provides a way for students to see what others are reading, thus “advertising” books to each other, and to view their annotations/analysis/questions about the books as well. In so doing, students see another layer of their peers that may not be readily apparent or accessible in a socially distant, masked classroom environment.
A natural next step is the discussion board in Canvas, FlipGrid or Padlet, where students can further connect what they are reading to each other’s texts.

Reading Workshop = Syntopia!
Matt Morone, early adopter of a true workshop approach to literacy instruction in our high schools, typically caps his year with College Prep and Honors English II students with a culminating project that asks them to explore intertextuality, merging their independent reading with course texts to create meaning on a larger scale. See below for his “syntopia” project introduction and photos of recent student products.
Syntopia Project Introduction
Now that we’re in our final month of class, it’s time to put the texts we’ve studied “in conversation” with each other. Throughout history, people have organized connections—a process known as synthesis—visually; this has taken many forms: trees, diagrams, “mind maps,” etc. We will be borrowing a concept from literary scholar Mortimer Adler, who believed the best way to understand and appreciate great books was through a “syntopic” study; in other words, finding connections (SYNthesis) between the big ideas (TOPIC) of the texts.

By having students reflect upon their reading across texts in varied genres and forms (including film, meme, photography, art, and so on), and then connect them to each other, Morone is helping students to create meaning out of what unfortunately had the potential to be a “meaningless” school year, as students dealt with feeling unmoored and disconnected from school and each other.
Asking students to explicitly make connections shows them not only how much they have read and learned, but how texts speak to “big ideas” (e.g. war, love, spirituality)— ideas that become more important and are on display during challenging times in our lives.

Valerie Mattessich is a veteran English teacher who now serves as Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s Supervisor of English, Art and Libraries. Valerie has long been a teacher-leader through the National Writing Project, previously at Rutgers and currently at Drew University, and also acts as president-elect of NJCTE and as a member of the NCTE Secondary Steering Committee. She has planned, implemented, and facilitated professional development workshops throughout the state and across the country. She has also published articles in Educational Viewpoints, English Leadership Quarterly, and New Jersey English Journal; her classroom and teaching strategies were featured in Kristen Turner and Troy Hicks’s book Argument in the Real World.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

What Do Standardized Assessments Measure?

From the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment

This post was written by NCTE member Bobbie Kabuto, the chair of the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment. 

As many of us start to prepare for and aim for more normalcy in our fall teaching, we will also be provided with results from a variety of standardized assessments. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is also known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” NAEP has reported on students’ academic performances since 1969. Unlike standardized assessments conducted through individual states, NAEP provides a uniform and national overview of students’ academic performances. As a result, NAEP reports play critical roles in framing conversations around assessment in a variety of subject areas, including reading and writing.
On April 27, 2021, NAEP released its report The 2018 Oral Reading Fluency Study, which is the first study of oral reading fluency from NAEP since 2002. The NAEP report aimed to assess the oral reading fluency of fourth-grade students by asking students to read four short passages aloud. The Executive Summary (p. iii) highlights the common decontextualized manner by which oral reading is conducted: “Also, to understand the likely underlying sources of poor fluency—inefficient word recognition and phonological decoding—students were timed and scored for accuracy as they read lists of words and pseudowords (e.g., jad). Pseudowords were used to demonstrate students’ ability to phonologically decode unfamiliar words.”
The NAEP report outlines five key findings that fall into two main areas:

reading as defined through accurate word reading measured through decontextualized word and pseudoword reading, and
the underperformance of students of students of color so that “51 percent of Black, and 46 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders fell into the below NAEP Basic group. Black students were also overrepresented in the below NAEP Basic Low subgroup.”

In my reading, I found that the report does the following:

It assesses reading in artificial and unnatural ways. Students are assessed with headphones behind cardboard carrels so they cannot hear others around them, but they also cannot hear themselves, which normally helps them to self-monitor how they sound when they read. (The use of pseudowords reminded me of a student who once asked me why they needed to use “fake words” when there were so many “real words” they needed to learn.)
It situates reading research through a White, middle-class, English-dominant perspective that negatively impacts students of color and multilingual students. The report findings compare and rank students to “typical” students without telling us who these “typical” students are.
It perpetuates inequalities by ignoring the complex social contexts and ways of constructing meaning that define reading and what it means to be a reader. Every finding ranks and sorts so that students of color (Black and Hispanic) underperformed in every aspect of the assessment when compared to White students.

Through page after page, I wondered how we—teachers, scholars, advocates, and school leaders—can make sense of reports such as the NAEP report to understand what they measure and do not measure.
In Table 1 below, I outline a few concepts that immediately came to mind.

In trying to make sense of the NAEP findings, I am reminded of Eric Turley’s blog post Everyday Advocacy and Literacy Assessment in which he asks four critical questions on how to make sense of assessment practices and how they inform the conservation around student learning.
Chris Hass’ blog post Putting Advocacy on the Ballot in November reminds us of the toxic culture of and the narrowing of curriculum due to standardized and high-stakes testing that started in 2002 under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and that continues under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
We will see more and more reference to the findings in The 2018 Oral Reading Fluency Study in the upcoming months in a variety of local, state, and national media venues, framing arguments on how fourth-grade readers are falling below grade level standards and how students of color underperform in reading.
With this, the advocacy work from school leaders becomes of critical importance so that we don’t fall into yet another trap that promotes and increases the needless amount of testing in schools. As we emerge from the pandemic, we should take this time to reflect on what we learned about our students when standardized assessments were halted, to consider how we can use assessments to advocate for what students know.

Bobbie Kabuto is professor and department chair of the Elementary and Early Childhood Education Department at Queens College, City University of New York.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Build Your Stack: #Blackgirlmagic: Adding a Little More Sparkle to Your Bookshelves

This blog post was written by NCTE member Christian Hines. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic that has been taking centerstage in the media outlets and in our classrooms. Racism still sits like a festering wound with a bandaid that refuses to stay on. But what does this mean for educators? What does this mean for our current and future students? How can we ensure that they can feel seen, heard, and valued in society?
Thinking particularly about Black girls, whose names and experiences are often forgotten and not centered in discussions of racial violence and silencing, how might we use literature for what Rudine Sims Bishop conceptualizes as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors into new worlds?
As educators, we know that diverse literature promotes perspective taking and social/emotional learning and critical engagement in student voice and activism. But what does it mean to have a classroom truly representative, inclusive, and equitable of diverse experiences? Of Black girlhood experiences? What might it mean to have a space where students read and engage in literature that pushes beyond racial tensions and political consumptions?
This is not to dismiss books that focus on those topics because those stories are important too, but they are not the totality of the Black experience. What about a story about a multilayered, nuanced character who is discovering herself during the exciting yet awkward time of becoming a teenager?
If students are able to imagine and empathize with a young wizard living in a cupboard under the stairs, is it so impossible to imagine that they can do the same for a Black girl who dreams up a world where she is an intergalactic space cadet, like Ebony in Ibi Zoboi’s My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich? Do we make room in our classrooms to center Black joy, while providing students from other cultural and ethnic backgrouns a window and sliding glass door of their Black peers’ experiences?
Immersing and engaging in literature that centers Black girls can have impacts that extend far beyond the classroom. Georgetown Law’s  2017 data driven study “Girlhood Interrupted,” concluded that Black girls “ are seen as less innocent and more adult like than their white peers”(Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez, 2017) This is commonly referred to as adultification bias. When our students, especially our Black girl students everyday experiences are devalued and erased it negatively impacts their identity and their education and reifies negative and often racist perceptions of their bodies and lives.
Having students read about Black girls and the multilayered ways they appear in literature helps (re)shape positive societal views and fighting against adultification bias. Students are able to make connections, understand commonalities, and appreciate cultural differences as opposed to engaging in “othering.” The notion of “othering” can be combatted by counter storytelling and including silenced stories that give voice and agency to a demographic that is typically marginalized and misrepresented. These untold counter stories are being told, they are just rarely amplified. Giving our students access challenges them to think critically and holistically about the everyday lives of those around them.
Books that show Black girls and the daily lived experiences of childhood often grapple with topics like beauty, identity, mental health, familial bonds, coming of age, falling in love, and friendship. The characters in these books are bakers, advocates, game developers, scientists, writers. They are portrayed as real human people experiencing human emotions, trials, and tribulations. However, they exist in a world that sees race and gender before they can visualize an actual person. It is our duty to help or students have access to stories and perspectives that aid in creating a truly anti-racist society.
Some benefits of introducing these books into the classroom are:

Cultural visibility
Co-constructing antiracist spaces free of bias
Promoting empathy
Challenging stereotypes and assumptions
Expanding student’s awareness of the world

We do our students a disservice by not allowing them a chance to interact with these and other books that can provide them with opportunities to deconstruct any narrow ideas or assumptions they may have about Black girls and Black people.
Listed below are some books to look into to add some Black girl magic to your shelves!

Middle Grade
Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson
Ryan Hart can be and do anything. Her name means “king”, that she is a leader, and she is determined to keep growing into the name her parents gave her. She is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, sister, and friend. But Ryan has a lot on her mind. For instance: Dad finally has a new job, but money is still tight. That means some changes, like moving into a new (old) house, and Dad working the night shift. And with the fourth-grad talent show coming up, Ryan wonders what talent she can perform on stage in front of everyone without freezing. As even more changes and challenges come her way, Ryan always finds a way forward and shows she is a girl who knows how to glow.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena— the only other adopted black girl she knows— for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence. What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. Things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show. But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction—especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.
Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace’s first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.) But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what? Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum. Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.

Blended by Sharon Draper
Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.
Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels completely stuck in the middle, split and divided between them more than ever. And she is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad involves more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst thing happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Young Adult
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
In a society determined to keep her under lock and key, Tavia must hide her siren powers. Meanwhile, Effie is fighting her own family struggles, pitted against literal demons from her past. Together, these best friends must navigate through the perils of high school’s junior year. But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice at the worst possible moment. Soon, nothing in Portland, Oregon, seems safe. To save themselves from drowning, it’s only Tavia and Effie’s unbreakable sisterhood that proves to be the strongest magic of all.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Who Put This Song On? By Morgan Parker
Trapped in sunny, stifling, small-town suburbia, seventeen-year-old Morgan knows why she’s in therapy. She can’t count the number of times she’s been the only non-white person at the sleepover, been teased for her “weird” outfits, and been told she’s not “really” black. Also, she’s spent most of her summer crying in bed. So there’s that, too. Lately, it feels like the whole world is listening to the same terrible track on repeat–and it’s telling them how to feel, who to vote for, what to believe. Morgan wonders, when can she turn this song off and begin living for herself?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election? Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote. When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Color Me In by Natasha Díaz
Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent. Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces does she begin to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
Despite having been shot, Tyson Trice has survived the mean streets of Lindenwood, so nothing can faze him—not even being tossed into the affluent coastal community of Pacific Hills. Nandy Smith, the golden girl of Pacific Hills, is not pleased when she hears her parents are taking in a troubled teen boy. Nandy suddenly fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames. The wall between Trice and Nandy’s bedrooms feels as thin as the line between love and hate. Through time, Trice brings Nandy out of her shell, and Nandy attempts to melt the ice that’s taken over Trice’s heart. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it’ll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
 Slay by Brittney Morris
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.” Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Alaine Beauparlant has heard about Haiti all her life. But the stories were always passed down from her dad—and her mom, when she wasn’t too busy with her high-profile newscaster gig. But when Alaine’s life goes a bit sideways, it’s time to finally visit Haiti herself. What she learns about Haiti’s proud history as the world’s first black republic (with its even prouder people) is one thing, but what she learns about her own family is another. Suddenly, the secrets Alaine’s mom has been keeping, including a family curse that has spanned generations, can no longer be avoided. It’s a lot to handle, without even mentioning that Alaine is also working for her aunt’s nonprofit, which sends underprivileged kids to school and boasts one annoyingly charming intern. But if anyone can do it all . . . it’s Alaine.
Annotation is from the Bookshop webpage.

Graphic Novels
 Ironheart Vol 1: Those with Courage by Eve Ewing
Riri Williams steps boldly out of Tony Stark’s shadow to forge her own future! Caught between her need for independence and her obligations at M.I.T., Ironheart needs to make some tough decisions! Luckily, Riri has a will of steel, a heart of iron and a new A.I. on her side! Unluckily, the search for a kidnapped friend will send her stumbling into an ancient power — and it’s deadly! Plus: When Miles Morales goes missing, who better to search for him than his fellow Champion, Riri — who he’s never actually gotten along with that well!
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 
 Shuri, Vol 1: The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor
T’Challa has disappeared, and everyone is looking at the next in line for the throne. Wakanda expects Shuri to take on the mantle of Black Panther once more and lead their great nation—but she’s happiest in a lab, surrounded by her own inventions. She’d rather be testing gauntlets than throwing them down! So it’s time for Shuri to go rescue her brother yet again—with a little help from Storm, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, of course! But when her outer-space adventure puts the entire cultural history of her continent at risk from an energy-sapping alien threat, can Shuri and Iron Man save Africa?
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 
 Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF by Amy Reeder and Brandon Monteclare
Lunella Lafayette is a preteen super genius who wants to change the world-but learned the hard way that it takes MORE than just big brains. Fearful of the monstrous INHUMAN genes inside her, life is turned upside down when a savage, red-scaled tyrant is teleported from prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call TODAY.
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 

Christian Hines is a doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. She is a former high school English teacher who believes in the transformative power of reading and in exposing students to a wide array of multicultural literature, engaging them in culturally inclusive reading materials, and empowering them with mentorship and community building. Twitter handle: @Mshines831. 

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Making Students the Subject and Not the Object: Mukkaramah Smith on Embracing, Not Muting, Children’s Authentic Selves

NCTE member Mukkaramah Smith was interviewed for this post by freelance journalist Kimberly Fields.

Mukkaramah Smith, a 2020 corecipient (with Kaitlin Jones) of the NCTE Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing, isn’t your typical teacher with an expected classroom lesson plan.
Her classroom at A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary in Columbia, Richland School District One, South Carolina, is her “village,” a place where she reconstructs societal and cultural influences. It is where she supports students not only in gaining knowledge but in developing high self-esteem and self-acceptance, and ensures they see themselves reflected in their education.
It became apparent to Smith while a undergraduate that the African American vantage point was being muted instead of embraced. So when she became a teacher 21 years ago, she felt it important to place emphasis on meeting her students of color where they are, humanizing their Blackness and heritage, and allowing students to be their authentic selves.
What does that look like exactly?
“Humanizing them is being organic,” says Smith. “When I say that I want children to be authentic, I want them to be who they are, including their language. [Children] come to school with [their] African American language and we try to change that language.”
Using What Children Bring to the Classroom
Smith believes in teaching children using what they already bring to the classroom: their habits of reading, writing, and speaking; their love of learning; and their family and community environments. She doesn’t alter their language or ideas, but instead uses them to ensure her students are proud of themselves and feel accepted as they are.
As a first-grade teacher, Smith has seen students develop feelings of inferiority or display a lack of confidence in their writing. She helps to combat this by allowing students to see themselves reflected in the literature they read and the subjects they study, and by giving them permission to just be. Smith says it is imperative not to be critical about what or how they are writing, but to validate their ideas and choices. These are ingredients for creating Black joy.
Black Joy in the Classroom
“That’s where Black joy starts,” says Smith. “You have to love yourself. You have to love your Blackness. You have to love the good, the bad, the grit, the grind.”
Black joy in the classroom involves teaching from the vantage point of who the students are. Smith has found that bringing in different kinds of literature written by and about African Americans allows her students to connect more and see themselves in the stories.
When it comes to empowering her students, Smith has found success in student-based projects, with ideas coming directly from students.
“I take a lot of cues from the children that I teach,” says Smith. “They talk about superheroes—well, let’s talk about the superheroes. And from that comes ‘let’s talk about those kings and queens,’ those African queens and kings that were. Let’s talk about the pharaohs.” She builds on what students know, because “that information, [that] knowledge is power.”
One project in particular was built out of appreciation for hair. She and her preservice teacher noticed that the students had a strong interest in hairstyles. They used this interest and incorporated it in various subjects—English language arts, science, and even social studies.
Making These Experiences Possible for All Students
Smith doesn’t want the experiences of empowerment, Black joy, authentication, or humanizing Blackness to end with her. She believes it is important for every teacher to make these experiences possible for all students of every race and cultural background.
One important thing that needs to occur, she says, is that teachers have to check their biases and understand that the classroom isn’t about them, but about the students they are teaching.
“Let the students be the subject,” says Smith. “Let them be the subject of what is going on and not the object.”
Kimberly Fields is a freelance journalist and editor and is CEO of The Write Place, LLC, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

The NCTE Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing
Mukkaramah Smith and Kaitlin Jones are the corecipients of the 2020 Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing.
Mukkaramah Smith is a first-grade teacher at A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary School in Richland School District One, South Carolina. She has worked as an educator for 25 years as a classroom teacher, lead literacy facilitator, department chair, coaching teacher for preservice teachers, and mentor. Mukkaramah is a board member for NCTE’s Professional Dyads of Culturally Relevant Teaching (PDCRT) program and also serves on NCTE’s Elementary Section Nominating Committee. Kaitlin Jones is a first-grade teacher at Rice Creek Elementary School in Richland School District Two, South Carolina. During her student teaching internship, she participated in the Urban Cohort of the University of South Carolina’s early childhood education program and collaborated with Mukkaramah Smith in developing culturally responsive instruction.
July 1 is the nomination deadline! Learn more about the Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing here.