Everyday Advocacy and Literacy Assessment

From the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment

This post was written by NCTE member Eric D. Turley, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment.

After reading part one of Cathy Fleisher and Antero Garcia’s book Everyday Advocacy: Teachers Who Change the Literacy Narrative, I was ready to put the book down and get to work. But I’m glad I didn’t, because parts two and three of the book present over a dozen teacher-narratives sharing the lived experiences of six to twelve literacy educators and English educators engaging in local advocacy projects and changing the narrative around literacy and literacy education.

Throughout their book Fleisher and Garcia encourage teachers to embrace “advocacy knowledge” as part of teacher identity in addition to content and pedagogical knowledge. They offer a three-part framework to help teachers understand how to challenge and change narratives around literacy education.

Beginning with narratives that surround literacy educators’ work, Fleisher and Garcia ask teachers to consider who tells these stories and encourages teachers to embrace the role of “knowledgeable narrators.” Then they challenge teachers to consider how issues are framed within stories and how teachers might reframe stories to appeal to specific audiences. Finally, they encourage teachers to claim advocacy “with a small ‘a’ ” whereby teachers design and put in place action plans that are responsive and malleable to a specific context, not a one-size fits all approach.
As a member of NCTE’s Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment, I read Everyday Advocacy and started writing down questions as they relate to my school and our teaching and assessing of reading and writing. Here are a few:
What are the narratives around literacy learning in my school?
How are the goals of our assessment practices understood by students, parents, and the school board? (And in some cases, what are the goals of our assessment practices?)
In light of our new ninth- and tenth-grade curriculum adoption this summer, how are we assessing the success/weaknesses of our new curriculum? Who will we share these discoveries with and how will we make further adjustments?
All ninth-grade to eleventh-grade students are using portfolios in their English classes for the first time. Do the students understand the value of goal setting and self-assessing their reading and writing? Do we, as an English department, see increased engagement and self-directed learning within our students?
Are our literacy assessments equitable? What unintended consequences exist within our assessment practices that might alienate or disempower our students?
Currently these are just questions, but they can also be starting points to action plans. Fleisher and Garcia provide a structure for teachers to take questions like these and move them into action plans that understand the background of these issues, identify the best strategy to make change, and implement tactics to bring about change.
I have my work cut out for me. Fleisher and Garcia helped me to think about advocacy work as an act of engagement with those in my school community and larger community. The teachers featured in the book showed me the multiple and sometimes messy ways to approach this work.
As I think about my next steps, I plan to share Everyday Advocacy with others in my department. I will need some collaborators, cheerleaders, allies, and accountability partners in this work, but if teachers don’t create and/or change the literacy narrative, who will?

Eric D. Turley is a high school English teacher at Kirkwood High School in Missouri. He coauthored (with Chris Gallagher) Our Better Judgment: Teacher Leadership For Writing Assessment (NCTE Press 2012) and is a past recipient of CCCC’s James Berlin Outstanding Dissertation Award.

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.

Visual Literacy Is Critical for 21st Century Learners

This post was written by NCTE member Dianna Minor.

One of the major tasks I’ve embarked upon since my initial National Board Certification (NBCT) is collaborating with colleagues to integrate visual literacy in secondary classrooms, giving students opportunities to look beyond the printed text.
Visual literacy builds stronger readers, readers who are able to think about texts in numerous ways through a different lens, an important skill for critical readers and thinkers in the 21st century. Students skilled in visual literacy are able to create meaning from images, which in turn improves their writing proficiency and critical thinking skills. By integrating visual literacy into classrooms, we help students learn to collaborate and to discuss a wide range of ideas while expressing their own.
It is critical for students to be able to evaluate content/texts presented in diverse formats and media, a skill that can require much teacher modeling and independent practice. As students gain experience in interpreting works of art, infographics, film, videos, political cartoons, photographs, maps, advertisements, slide show presentations, and so on, they learn that they can use their imagination to see and think between and beyond the lines to draw inferences and conclusions. Visual literacy encourages student reflection, analysis, and evaluative thinking skills.
I’ve used visual literacy lessons to give students practice in analyzing tone, mood, and details in works of art. For example, in poetry lessons, I’ve modeled the Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS) when looking at photographs from the civil rights era. With this strategy, students focus on key questions:
What’s going on in the photograph/art piece? (making inferences)
What evidence do you see to support this? (looking for supporting evidence)
What more can we find? (analyzing details to see how they connect as a whole)
Through these questions, students have discovered themes and identified main ideas, helping them understand the stories from the photographs.
In addition to photographs, I’ve integrated more works of art and paintings into my classroom so students have opportunities to analyze how two texts are similar and different and to discuss and compare the different approaches the author or artist takes.

Integrating visual literacy also gives quiet or reluctant students more opportunities to feel comfortable in the classroom; these lessons tend to be in small groups, allowing students to practice their own analysis through viewing, listening, and contributing.

With short stories and major literary works (essays, novels, longer pieces of text), teachers can pair texts with photographs and then ask students to draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. One useful tool for analyzing visual texts is the OPTIC strategy, in which the O stands for an overview, a general statement describing the photograph; P stands for important parts of the image, and could include inferences about what they contribute; T stands for how the title (or text) contributes to the meaning; I stands for interrelationships in the image—how the elements work together to create mood or meaning; C stands for conclusion, a statement that interprets the overall meaning. Using this framework, students can discuss the idea of claims and use detail and imagery to identify the central message of the photograph.
Visual literacy is invaluable to reader development in so many ways. It allows gradual development of the student reader’s understanding, slowing down the analysis process by making it more deliberate, and enabling students to build their own interpretation, to rely on their own powers of critical thinking.

Dianna Minor is an educator, writer, and consultant. Her professional experience includes literacy and curriculum and instruction. Twitter: @diminor1

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.

At the Intersection of High School and College

This post was written by NCTE member Sarah Z. Johnson.

If you teach writing, whether in high school or in the first years of college, you need to be aware of what’s going on in the world of dual enrollment, also called dual credit or concurrent enrollment.
Over the past ten years, dual enrollment (DE) has become one of the fastest growing educational trends in the United States. With governors and legislators under pressure to ease the crushing economic burden of post-secondary education, DE has been one way states have tried to put a Band-Aid on rising college tuition costs. If they can promise voters that their kids can get up to two years of college “out of the way” and free before graduating from high school, that’s a win for everyone, right?
Except, of course, that it isn’t always. Recent research in our field (see College Access, Chasing Transparency, and Who is it Working For) shows racial gaps in access and success in DE programs. It reports that students as young as 12 are taking first-year composition, and questions how a seventh grader or even a tenth grader can be developmentally ready to tackle the complex social, cognitive, and rhetorical tasks that college writing demands.

Dual enrollment holds enormous promise for students, but the programs must be well-conceived and well-run, and clear research-based guidelines are needed to ensure this.

While many of NCTE’s affiliate organizations had put out separate position statements on dual enrollment over the years, there had never been a unifying voice that spoke for everyone teaching at this transition point between high school and college writing. So in 2018, Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt, then chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), charged a task force, which included teachers in high school, two-year institutions, and four-year colleges and universities, to determine what has been shown to work. (For more information check out the task force’s Dual Enrollment Annotated Bibliography)
A New Joint Statement
The result of our work—the recent Joint Position Statement on Dual Enrollment in Composition—is a tool, both for education and advocacy. If members of your department aren’t familiar with how dual enrollment is implemented at your school, read and share the document with your colleagues.
To accommodate the variety of DE programs across the country, the principles and guidelines outlined in the position statement are general enough to apply to most programs while also specific enough to provide clear guidance. If you are working within an effective DE program, the statement is a great way to assess what’s in alignment with recommendations and consider how to make small improvements. If you are working in a program that seems flawed but you’re not sure what to do, this statement will help you and your administrators pinpoint where you’re out of step with what’s best for student learning, faculty support, and program quality.
Having a unified voice on dual enrollment in composition is vital to our profession. As secondary teachers, we need to make clear where our expertise lies, advocate for effective professional development and support, and defend our professional integrity against the unfounded suspicion that our DE courses lack rigor. As postsecondary teachers and program coordinators, we must clearly outline what it means to teach and support a college course.
The Joint Position Statement on Dual Enrollment in Composition is an important step toward building coherence, consistency, and quality in dual enrollment programs throughout the United States.

Sarah Z. Johnson is director of the writing center and chair of the English department at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin. She served as chair of the task force that wrote the Joint Statement on Dual Enrollment. She is chair of TYCA, a member of the NCTE and CCCC Executive Committees, and serves on the editorial board of the journal WPA: Writing Program Administration.

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.

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