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.

Bringing Back the Classroom Novel

This blog post was written by NCTE member Luke Schlueter.

There are many ways to describe what makes us human. We are the creatures who use language; we are driven by curiosity to explore, and by creativity to create and invent; we think about life, death, where we came from, and whether there is something that comes next. One definition offers a particularly rich vein of reflection: we tell stories, and we order our lives by the stories we tell. And never is storytelling more important than when trying to understand and work through the unique challenges and difficulties we all occasionally face.
Stories, after all, are the most basic means we have of making sense of ourselves and our lives. And when a narrative, a stable sense of meaning, however much or little we had thought about it beforehand, is disrupted, the human instinct is to turn to narratives that will help to explain, console, and in some manner heal.
Never is this more clear than when thinking about this past year. There is no person who has not been touched by some type of loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it be economic loss, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of all the time that we might have spent with people we love, doing the things we love doing.
For many children and young adults, the loss of the physical classroom and the experience of learning alongside peers in the scrum of a physical space has had dramatic consequences for learning and for mental health. As we slowly begin to return to those lives that had been so abruptly pulled out from under us, there is a call for teachers and schools to provide their students with the opportunity to engage with stories that will help them to work through what they have experienced and to think anew what this busines of being a human being is all about.
To embrace this opportunity means recognizing, to begin with, the pleasures of storytelling and the central place storytelling has in our lives.
As far as the pleasures of storytelling go, there is nothing in human experience that compares to the wonder of being so swept up in the world of a novel that you leave yourself and your own world momentarily behind. But good novels don’t stop there. They lead us, at the same time, to reconsider the shape and purpose of our own lives in the light of the characters we read about, and this happens regardless of how dissimilar the outward features of those characters’ lives are from our own.
There aren’t any readers, after all, who will know what it’s like to be a cricket living in a subway station, but they will immediately be absorbed from the first page of A Cricket In Times Square in the story of Chester, a cricket from the Connecticut countryside who finds himself in just such a place.
There are few young readers, likewise, who will know what it is like to live in the backwoods of the Ozarks, but they will immediately recognize the passion that prompts Billy Colman, the hero of Where the Red Fern Grows, to devote a year of his life to saving up money to purchase a pair of hounds for hunting racoons.
More readers may relate to the situation of Ghost, the hero of Jason Reynold’s wonderful novel, who discovers a surprising sense of fellowship with a misfit band of track runners, but even readers who haven’t had such an experience will immediately sympathize with the pain and confusion Ghost feels over the betrayal of a parent.
We read stories because they allow us to experience other lives and other places, and if that were the only reason that would be good enough. But there is one other reason, and one that is perhaps the most important reason of all—they help us to reimagine our own lives, and in that act of imagination we are given the opportunity to reflect upon where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going.
All of this happens at some level when we read a good story, but there a few ways of making sure that every young reader has this experience and in the most meaningful way possible.
Teachers, to begin with, can ensure that students read novels that have the power to draw students into their world and hold them there. Not all novels are equal; certain novels, through some magical mixture of plot, character, and language, are uniquely able to give the students the kind of transformative experience that we look for in stories, and teachers should prioritize the novels that do just that.
Second, teachers can give students the opportunity to share their own experience of reading a novel with their peers. There are few things more enjoyable, after all, than the shared experience of reading and discussing a novel with others who have been equally moved by it and have interesting things to say about.
Third, teachers can give students opportunities for making connections between their own lives and the lives of the characters they read about.
As students begin to return to physical classrooms, they will be hungry for the kind of experience that lies at the very heart of storytelling—the opportunity to tell their own stories, to hear the stories of others, and to find meaning and consolation in novels that appeal to their hearts and minds. Although reading stories is a deeply personal experience, it can also be a richly communal one, and schools that carve out space for this experience will be giving their students a gift that will reap benefits in their immediate lives and for those new lives that they are only now starting to imagine.

Luke Schlueter is an associate professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, and a principal author of Inspiring Readers, a whole-class, whole-novel literature program for schools. Find Luke on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/

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 Copy

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.

How to Read (with Compassion): An English Teacher Explores Compassionate Reading through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mindfulness

 This post was written by NCTE member Adam Mackie. 

The Miracle of Reading
On, between, beyond & through the lines
On the same spot I sit today
Others came, in ages past, to sit.
One thousand years, still others will come.
Who is the singer, and who the listener?
—Nguyen Cong Tru

In high school, when I was the age of the students I teach, I remember going to the public library and discovering Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975). I was forever changed.
Like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, Thich Nhat Hanh has offered a longstanding voice of peace, love, nonviolence, and compassion to the world. His writings continue to help me to slow down, to not be in such a rush to wash the dishes or peel a tangerine, and to guide my heart and mind to begin seeing life in a mindful way. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings have encouraged me to listen with compassion, a way of listening he discusses in a 2010 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
As I teach English language arts (ELA) at West Anchorage High School in Alaska, it’s my continual task, among so many others, to teach students to use the kind of mindfulness and compassionate listening Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in an effort to closely, critically, and, perhaps most important, compassionately read. As I grow as an ELA teacher, I’ve realized that for students to learn to read I must continue to use tried-and-true reading and annotation strategies.
One annotation strategy I use is the double-entry log (organizing quotes and paraphrases in one column and metacognitive responses in another). With much success, I’ve used the double-entry log both as a student and as a teacher. I’ve seen the double-entry log assist readers at all levels to read, as it’s sometimes said, on, between, and beyond the lines of a text effectively.
I’ve found other strategies and approaches as well. Over my years of teaching, I’ve turned to Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms (Greenleaf, Murphy, and Schoenbach, 2012), Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom (Ed. Garcia, 2014), and A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading (Carillo, 2017), to name a few.
Most recently, I’ve relied on the Reading for Understanding book to help readers with emerging literacy skills in a Reading Apprenticeship course find personal connections in what they are reading and identify reading roadblocks inside themselves. I must also mention the significance of sharing my personal passion for literature with students in hopes that students might become more compassionate toward ELA as a discipline.
Beginning from a place of passion and enthusiasm, I aim to help struggling and advanced readers alike identify their own reading roadblocks and more skillfully realize who they themselves are on a deeper level.
This helps students understand facts about themselves as readers that might be holding their literacy back from real growth and evolution. Roadblocks typically involve vocabulary or connotations of meaning beyond students’ life experience that prevent them from denoting and comprehending what a text is trying to communicate (reading on the lines).
From here, of course, readers go further and formulate their own inferences and understanding (reading between the lines). Once close reading of a text has been performed, and critical analysis begins, I attempt to point students to connect what they read to their own worlds. I also point students to explore inroads into other supplemental texts in a synthetic fashion (reading beyond the lines). However, I’ve noticed that something is often missing. No matter if students decode, or even analyze and synthesize a text, students still need to begin from a position of compassion to enter into reading on a more personal, genuine level.
Deeply encountering a text through the lines of compassion bridges the gap for students between the head and the heart and between reason and emotion. In bridging this gap, I see the necessity of exercising compassion to create a consciousness capable of reading through the lines. While reading on, between, and beyond the lines continues to be of vital importance, I further aver that reading compassionately through the lines—whether determining denotative or connotative meaning—is paramount and that there is a myriad of beautiful ways to arrive at this kind of reading in ELA classrooms and across the disciplines.

Holding Space
Staying in touch with ourselves and others
Attachment to the false view of self means belief in the presence of unchanging entities
which exist on their own. To break through this false view is to be liberated from every
sort of fear, pain, and anxiety.
—Thich Nhat Hanh

A friend who is a local yoga instructor talks a lot about “holding space” for her clients in her yoga nidra sessions. I once told her that “holding space” in the classroom, as an educator, is what I attempt to do for students as well.
It’s worthy of some thought to consider what kind of space is being held in an ELA classroom for students and where there is room to cultivate compassionate listening and reading within this held space. Creating and holding a space for students to discover themselves allows students to engage and become in tune with their own learning processes and become better readers.
Space can be held in the classroom in a variety of ways. I start every class by giving students the opportunity to share “good things” (or bad things) as a way to check in on how everyone is doing. I’ll often begin classes with a moment of silence or a guided writing prompt that points students inward to explore their private thinking. Norman Fischer’s Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils (2011) is an excellent resource I’ve used to teach The Odyssey. Activities from Fischer’s text are designed for participants to actively use their imaginations to visualize the ocean, homecoming, and how to treat others, and allows students to hold space within themselves, as their own audience.
Holding space can even be as simple as giving students the freedom to investigate their inner character and landscape within the held space of a mandala-like circle drawn on a blank sheet of paper.
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about tiep, a word relevant to this discussion of compassion, which literally means “to be in touch.” In his Essential Writings (2001), Thich Nhat Hanh says:
In modern society most of us don’t want to be in touch with ourselves. We want to be in touch with other things like religion, sports, politics, a book—we want to forget ourselves. Any time we have leisure, we want to invite something else to enter us, opening ourselves to the television and telling the television to come and colonize us. So first of all, “in touch” means in touch with oneself in order to find out the source of wisdom, understanding, and compassion in each of us.
Another meaning within the word tiep, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, involves being “in touch” with others. In order for me to effectively teach students how to read compassionately, I have to simultaneously be in touch with myself and my students. Likewise, my students must be in touch with themselves, with other students, with me, and with the learning objective all at the same time. One way I’ve been able to hold space in my classroom for students in this way is to open the space for them to share their cultural background in class as we explore challenging themes and motifs in the literature we read as a community.
In teaching students to read closely, critically, and compassionately, I strive to guide them toward becoming more in touch with themselves, other students, and the curriculum. Continuing to teach students sound reading approaches and strategies, such as the double-entry log or those included in Reading for Understanding, remains necessary. However, many students may desire more compassionate approaches in their reading. I invite others to join this conversation about compassionate reading and Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on mindfulness, and to share their experience. I look forward to a day when compassionate reading is second nature both to us and to our students.

Adam Mackie teaches mythology, world literature, reading, and writing courses at West Anchorage High School in Anchorage, Alaska, as well as literacies and poetry courses at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He loves going on epic adventures with his two children, Noah and Hazel, and his wife, Margaret.

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.

Enhancing ELA Learning Strategies with Digital Tools

This post was written by NCTE member Dianna Minor. 

Digital literacy is important for the development of students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Our students live in an age now when technology is at their immediate disposal. Students should be able to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology. Digital literacy skills are important in order for students to become critical readers, writers, and presenters of a wide range of ideas.
Google Docs has played a powerful role in the classroom as it is a great collaborative tool for annotating and writing and a perfect vehicle to foster active engagement. I work with a wide range of students daily, from those who are English language learners to students who struggle with reading comprehension. Google Docs provides an avenue for students to collaborate on the same writing assignment simultaneously and share annotations with each other—whether with a partner, small group, or the whole class.
Flipgrid is another great digital tool that allows students to video record or audio record. In English language arts, Flipgrid can be used for reading comprehension checks, student interviews, student responses to a printed text, etc. It provides the perfect platform for online collaboration and discussion as well as opportunities for students to show their creativity through a different medium such as book reviews, movie clips, or small-group projects.
Another digital tool students love using is iMovie. Current research states that students should be able to use a wider spectrum of digital technologies in order to be able to decode information in different formats. Integrating iMovie into language arts provides the students a different forum to move beyond the printed text. My students have used iMovie to integrate the elements of a story from their book club novels into a visual, digital format through the making of a digital book trailer (digital storyboard). Students had the choice of using iPads or their own device (e.g., Chromebook).
Implementing iMovie gave me the opportunity to see whether students had mastered the elements of a short story, as well as providing students the opportunity to work together in small cooperative learning groups. Because students were creating a one-minute book trailer (similar to a movie trailer), they had to use a variety of strategies and skills to accomplish the task: synthesize ideas and information they encountered in the printed text/novel and associate visual images/pictures with meaning that guided and fostered their understanding of the story. Students were also able to use numerous reading comprehension strategies, including making text-to-text connections, making inferences, visualizing, determining the main idea, and questioning, thus expanding their critical thinking skills.
Both in terms of instructional benefits and student experience, Edpuzzle has been an invaluable digital resource. I have been able to integrate videos from a variety of online resources—TEDTalks, YouTube, National Geographic, Khan Academy, my own videos, or those created by other teachers—to accompany a lesson. Edpuzzle allows you to embed questions for comprehension checks, record explaining a concept from the video in further detail (making connections), and check students’ progress (monitoring comprehension and skills for mastery). And Edpuzzle benefits students by helping them make connections to topics and ideas covered in class, as well as promoting active learning and engagement.
Technology is a powerful tool that can enhance the strategies and skills students use in the classroom every day. Integrating digital literacy prepares students for the ever-advancing digital world.

Dianna Minor is an educator, writer, and consultant. Her professional experience includes literacy, 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.

Finding Answers for What Works in Writing Instruction

This post was written by NCTE member Deborah Dean. 

A recent visit to some junior high classrooms brought back memories. The clothing styles have changed some since my time of teaching junior high, and the technology is vastly different. But those students? They drew me into the past, to my former students in the junior high classes I taught.
There was Dan, who never wrote anything and sat slumped in his seat most of the time, no matter how I tried to engage him. Once, he tried to hit me with his book bag.
There was Matt. He was bright but unengaged, except for once when a writing task took his fancy: we were writing about processes, and he loved the challenge of writing about how to fool your teacher into thinking you were awake in class when you really weren’t. It was amazing.
There was Amy, who had suffered a trauma just before school started when a drug-crazed man held her and her mom hostage in their home for several hours. She was a quiet student who did her work, always on time and competently, until we wrote personal narratives. Then, she wrote so movingly of her experience, using it to write her way out of the trauma, that I have never forgotten it. Or her.
In my recent visits, though I sat in a classroom where I knew no names, I still saw students who reminded me of the question that had been prominent in my mind back when Dan and Matt and Amy were my students. It is a question that has driven me during my whole professional career, no matter what students are wearing or what technology they are using. The question mattered then and still matters today: What works?
What writing instruction works to help students develop as competent, engaged writers? What works to help all these different students with all their different needs and skills and situations? What works in classrooms stuffed with desks and students and too little time? What works in times of pandemic and online school and other challenges?
In 2007, the Carnegie Foundation published the first meta-analysis of writing research in 25 years, and it named eleven instructional practices supported by research (see box). That was a good start to help me answer my question. I wrote about those practices in the first edition of What Works in Writing Instruction, mostly because I had tried many of them and hadn’t always seen the results that the research suggested I should see. I wanted to know why—and my own research helped me see that some effective practices are not easy to implement unless you dig down into them instead of engaging only the surface features.
But that 2007 report was based only on a certain kind of research, and even at that time the researchers acknowledged that there is more to effective writing instruction that hadn’t been uncovered in that initial research analysis. Over the next decade, researchers analyzed other kinds of studies. More than a decade later, when I looked at the additional research, I found answers that added clarity and detail to the initial picture of what works. I found a richer, fuller image of what classrooms should be and what teachers could do: more answers to my lifelong question.
The newly published second edition of What Works in Writing Instruction weaves together the initial findings with those that have been researched more recently and supports what the researchers concluded: that the most important factor in effective instruction is an engaged, informed teacher who knows how to adapt research-based practices to the needs of students in individual classrooms. In short, effective practices must be adapted. Fortunately, lots of really good teachers around the country have shared how they implement effective instruction. Through the classroom practices they share (and the practices I share in the book), teachers can see how they might adapt, shift, and revise to create more effective instructional practices in their own classrooms.
In this way, we see how teachers in a variety of classrooms build a writing community that supports developing writers and how they share their own enthusiasm for writing to help students build interest and engagement. We can see how different classrooms build a writer’s workshop that implements the writing process in individualized ways for classes that are both long and short. We see how teachers make choices about the kinds of texts they ask their students to study and write and how they use the collaborative nature of the classroom community to encourage students at all stages of writing development.
Effective teachers are all different, working in different classrooms with different groups of students and different kinds of external pressures. What they share is that they’ve figured out ways to implement effective practices that move their students forward in their writing development.
Their examples—their stories and their students’ work—can, in turn, give us confidence in our own professional judgment. They can help us know that we, too, might find answers to what works for writing instruction in our classrooms by implementing good principles in individual ways. And that can be a very satisfying answer to a perplexing question that all of us have asked.

Deborah Dean, formerly a secondary English teacher, is a professor of English at Brigham Young University, where she teaches preservice and practicing teachers about writing instruction. She is the author of Strategic Writing: The Writing Process and Beyond in the Secondary English Classroom; Genre Theory: Teaching, Writing, and Being; What Works in Writing Instruction: Research and Practices, and the Quick Reference Guide (QRG) Teaching Grammar in the Secondary Classroom.

What Works in Writing Instruction, 2nd edition is now available from the NCTE store! 
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.

Promoting Social Justice with High-Interest Works of Sports-Related Nonfiction

This post was written by NCTE member Luke Rodesiler. 

Over time, sports culture has been established as a site of resistance, with athletes of yesteryear (e.g., Lew Alcindor, the Syracuse 8) and the modern day (e.g., Megan Rapinoe, players across the WNBA) fighting for social justice. It is no surprise, then, that many sports-related texts provide teachers with high-interest avenues for promoting social justice in the English language arts classroom.
Below I highlight three such texts. Each book is a distinct work of sports-related nonfiction published in 2020 that can be used to facilitate meaningful discussions about social justice or otherwise serve as a springboard into research projects that extend literacy learning at the intersections of sports and society.
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball
by Jen Bryant & Frank Morrison (2020)
When recalling historic athletes who promoted social justice, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, boxing champ Muhammad Ali, and tennis star Billie Jean King quickly come to mind. Though often overlooked, basketball great Elgin Baylor is also noteworthy, for he conducted a one-man civil rights protest in 1959. Specifically, he refused to suit up for the Minneapolis Lakers after he and Black teammates Ed Fleming and Boo Ellis were refused service in Charleston, West Virginia, the site of a game against the Cincinnati Royals. The protest prompted change, for it was soon declared that no NBA team would play in a segregated state unless accommodations for all players were guaranteed. Baylor’s story is captured in Bryant and Morrison’s picture book, which can be read with students at virtually any grade level to support the exploration of social justice, the power of protest, and athlete activism.
Dragon Hoops
by Gene Luen Yang (2020)
Yang, a renowned graphic novelist, documents the 2014–2015 Bishop O’Dowd High School (CA) men’s varsity basketball season in this award-winning graphic memoir. Along the way, he recounts his experiences as a teacher at the school, as a cartoonist, and as a family man. He also incorporates stories about the history of basketball, including its creation by Dr. James Naismith; its adoption by Senda Berenson, who introduced women to the game; and its expansion into China. Opportunities for discussions about sociopolitical issues such as racism, equity, and religious persecution arise throughout. Moreover, one of the book’s notable motifs reflects the idea of having the courage to step into the unknown, just as the Dragons do each game, risking failure and subjecting themselves to the vitriol of hostile crowds. Maintaining such courage is surely relevant when taking up the fight for social justice.
Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back: Dilemmas of the Modern Fan
by Jessica Luther & Kavitha A. Davidson (2020)
Teachers eager to promote social justice by facilitating critical readings of sports culture are sure to appreciate this book by sportswriters Luther and Davidson. The authors acknowledge the joys of sports fandom (e.g., camaraderie, the thrill of victory) but contend that many fans inevitably experience a crisis of conscience, for many of society’s ills (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia) permeate sports culture. Each chapter, then, presents a moral dilemma faced by modern sports fans, giving students a chance to explore sociopolitical issues in the context of sports culture. Addressing topics such as inequitable compensation, racist mascots, and the marginalization of LGBTQ+ sports figures, the book offers valuable opportunities for promoting social justice. Whether sharing excerpts or the text in full, teachers can use Luther and Davidson’s book to facilitate discussions, launch inquiry projects, or otherwise position students to critically examine timely issues in sports and society.

Luke Rodesiler is an associate professor of education at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Along with Alan Brown, he is the coeditor of Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports: A Guide for the English Classroom (NCTE, 2016). He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @rodesiler.
Visit the companion website for Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports
Read Luke Rodesiler’s English Journal article “On Second Thought: Teaching for Social Justice through Sports Culture” (July 2018).
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 Point-less Grading

From the NCTE Secondary Section Steering Committee

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

In May 2020, I purchased a book that changed my life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I thought the book seemed intriguing. Once it arrived, I let it sit on my coffee table for a few days. We were still in the early stages of quarantine, my school was starting to wrap things up for the tumultuous year, and I just didn’t have the capacity to read one more thing. But when I did finally dive into those pages, my teacher brain was on fire.
That book is Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading by Sarah M. Zerwin (Heinemann, 2020).
Zerwin’s work had answers to questions that I had long been searching for. She writes about her journey to going point-less in her assessment practices. As Cris Tovani explains in the foreword,
Sarah Zerwin has written the book I desperately needed to help my beliefs about learning match my assessment practices.  In Point-Less, she nudges teachers to consider how traditional forms of grading get in the way of student growth.  Her pioneering ways of marking, collecting, and sharing student work shows teachers how to assess with fidelity and in ways that serve student learning. Instead of assigning random points to student tasks, she demonstrates how teachers can provide students with concise, descriptive data that serves as meaningful and specific feedback.
Like Tovani, I needed this book. I read it cover-to-cover in two days and had pages of notes and annotations. I knew I’d be going point-less in at least some of my classes this school year.
I decided to switch to a point-less system for the fall semester in my yearlong dual enrollment composition classes as well as my dual enrollment British literature survey course. I did so because I assumed that these older students in a higher level course would be able to handle the shift well and that they would be understanding of the inevitable bumps along the way. I could not have been closer to the truth.
As Zerwin explains, overall course grades are determined by student progress on learning goals. I created a list of ten learning goals for each course, a mix of content-based goals and learning behavior goals. I then split the goals into two categories: the ones students can choose from and the ones every student will work on. Of the six goals students can choose from, they select three. Throughout the semester, they monitor their progress on the goals, conduct mid-quarter check-ins, and then write a letter to me at the end of the semester in which they narrate their experience in class and give their self-selected grade with justification.
At first, students needed time to adjust. There was a learning curve. For the entirety of their time in school, they’d never had a teacher who had a point-less grading system. And because they are high-achieving students in dual enrollment classes, they had been so focused on getting the best grades. “How many points is this?” is a common question I had come to expect.
In the beginning of the semester, I reminded students that the only “points” that would go into our online gradebook would be to show completion and thoroughness of their work. I pushed them to focus less on the points and more on their learning and experience in class. After a few weeks, they had a good overall grasp of the system. As the semester progressed, I noticed that students were more willing to take risks; had more to say in class discussions; exhibited greater critical reading, writing, and thinking; and were more engaged than I had experienced in previous classes.
Students who told me in the beginning of the semester that English wasn’t their favorite class, that they never enjoyed reading or writing, that I shouldn’t expect much out of them, were suddenly asking thoughtful questions, participating in class discussions about literature, and revising their writing with fervor.
When I mentioned this to one eleventh-grade student, he responded, “Well, now I know that if I’m completely wrong, it isn’t going to tank my grade. There’s still pressure to get it right, but it’s a different kind of pressure. It makes me want to do stuff for this class.”
After the success with the point-less system in my dual enrollment classes first semester, I decided to implement it in my English 9 Honors class this spring 2021 semester.
Similarly, students have had to adjust to the new way of doing grades, and even though we’ve only been in this semester for about a month, I’m noticing students starting to take risks. They’re thinking about their learning. With the stress of earning points taken away, they’re starting to focus more on their growth. Just last week, a student said to me, “I’ve never thought about it [what I’m learning] like this before. I’m not doing something just to get a grade. I’m actually learning things, not just doing them.”
One 12th grade student’s response in his end-of-semester letter captures the impact of this point-less system: “I developed confidence in this class, which really helped me have the courage to be wrong.”
Given all of the unknowns and suspicions about what this year would bring, I saw Zerwin’s point-less grading system as a way to help students better navigate learning and schooling in a pandemic. It is one of many elements that I intend to continue doing on the other side of all of this.

An anti-bias, anti-racist educator, Josh Thompson teaches high school English language arts in Blacksburg, Virginia. His passions for daily independent reading, supporting and affirming LGBTQ students, and student-centered learning fuel his practice. You can find him on Twitter @jthompedu.

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.

Toward Mattering: Popular Culture References in Young Adult Literature

This post was written by NCTE member Shelby Boehm.

“What good is an education if you must shed who you are?”
―Bettina L. Love, We Want To Do More Than Survive

Young people, especially students of color, enter classrooms every day where they do not matter. Through policies and practices that center whiteness, schools continue to enact violence on a personal and systemic level (Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist; Love, We Want to Do More Than Survive).
Bettina Love argued that contemporary schools function as the “educational survival complex,” where learning for survival is the purpose of education for students of color (p. 27). In this sense, young people are not expected to thrive in classrooms—in fact, the system anticipates their failures as explanations for historical and modern economic, social, and political issues.
One way to create opportunities for young people to not only matter in schools, but to thrive, is through revisioning the role of popular culture in the curriculum. As a teacher, my high school students were often current on various popular culture texts, even recommending texts to one another as our classroom community developed. As I transitioned into my doctoral program, I wondered about additional affordances of popular culture in the classroom beyond serving as a “window, mirror, or sliding glass door” (Rudine Sims Bishop) to lived experiences for my students.
Popular culture (also referred to as mass culture or pop culture) is generally recognized as a collection of ideas, cultural practices, and objects that are representative of a certain time in society. In this sense, popular culture captures the experiences relevant to a certain group of people much in the same way young adult (YA) literature contains stories representative of adolescence. Because both popular culture and YA literature have proven valuable separately as a means toward critical reflection in the classroom, the intersection of these two areas should be considered for new possibilities in the classroom.
Below, I describe three potential benefits of highlighting popular culture references in YA literature using Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give (2017), which is a coming-of-age story about navigating struggle and empowerment. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas’s novel integrates contemporary socio-political issues, popular culture, and critical conversations about social justice.

Popular culture references in YA literature can help teachers to better understand their own adolescent students.
 “As usual it matches my J’s, the blue-and-black Elevens like Jordan wore in Space Jam. . . .  I hate dressing like everybody else, but The Fresh Prince taught me something.” (p. 54)
Knowing more about students than their academic ability in your content area is an essential part of teaching. Understanding popular culture that resonates with young people is one way toward fully recognizing your students. The above example from The Hate U Give contains numerous takeaways for a teacher considering protagonist Starr as a representation of their own students: appreciation of sneaker culture (e.g., J’s, blue and black Air Jordan Elevens), the movie Space Jam, professional basketball player Michael Jordan, and the show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Reading the text while prioritizing popular culture references, either alone or with students, can serve as a reminder of the powerful and persuasive potential of popular culture in your own students’ lives.

By analyzing popular culture references in YA literature, students can better understand and relate to fictional characters.
 “. . . Drake raps from the speakers. I nod to the beat and rap along under my breath. Everybody on the dance floor yells out the ‘started from the bottom, now we’re here’ part. Some days, we are at the bottom in Garden Heights, but we still share the feeling that damn, it could be worse.” (p. 16)
Although Starr’s reflection of her life in Garden Heights is supported by the lyrics to Drake’s popular song, “Started from the Bottom,” the experience of feeling conflicted about their circumstances resonates with many students. Still, some students will have trouble relating to these experiences. The above reference to popular culture can help students to identify with fictional characters through a shared popular culture reference, even if their experiences are different.

A focus on popular culture references in YA literature provides a generative space for considering, critiquing, and revisioning sociopolitical issues.
 “A Tupac song on the radio makes up for our silence. He raps about how we gotta start making changes. Khalil was right. ‘Pac still relevant.” (p. 258)
 While The Hate U Give contains numerous poignant moments appropriate for discussions around police brutality, the book also has potential for conversations around race and class that are supported through popular culture references. The above example alludes to “Changes” by Tupac —a song critiquing the war on drugs and poverty.
In The Hate U Give, Starr reflects “I can’t change where I come from or what I’ve been through, so why should I be ashamed of what makes me, me?” (p. 364). For students of color, mattering in school should be the minimum; existing as fully seen, included, empowered, and loved the goal. Centering popular culture references while reading YA literature can be one approach for making sure that students, especially those who don’t feel seen through the traditional school curriculum, know that they matter in school.

Shelby Boehm is a current doctoral student in English education at the University of Florida and a former high school teacher. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @TeamBoehm.

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.

Locating Black Histories in Our Own Front Yards

This post was written by NCTE member Janelle Jennings-Alexander.

The protests and marches of the summer of 2020 proved, if nothing else, that a moral, ethical, and intellectual imperative exists for creating racially literate learners in our classrooms at both K–12 and higher education levels.
France Winddance Twine defines racial literacy in her book A White Side of Black Britain: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy, calling it “a way of perceiving and responding to the racial climate and racial structures that individuals encounter daily.”

Twine explains that one primary way to help individuals practice this literacy involves understanding racism as a contemporary problem, not a historical one. However, since so many contemporary issues facing communities of color are rooted in the historical, the challenge for building these racially literate citizens is, first, helping them understand the past within which the present is situated.

Unfortunately, for many young learners, the past that undergirds this critical education is perceived as part of a long-ago and distant history. For my African American literature students, perceiving how few generations sit between slavery and the present day in which they live is difficult for them. I tried to help illustrate this limited distance through Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, the story of Cudjoe Lewis and the human cargo of the last illegal slaving vessel in the US. While we read about Lewis, who experienced the Middle Passage, plantation slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, to many of my students, his story still felt too distant from their own.
To bring the past into the present, I redesigned this course to help my student locate history in our texts and in our town. In Raleigh, North Carolina, the process of mapping history is not an especially difficult one. Raleigh is a place, like many historic cities, that still carries significant markers of its past. In my class, tracing those markers started on a plantation minutes from our campus.
After the class read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, students took a tour of the Mordecai House, a former plantation and National Park Service historic landmark. On a tour of the house, students were challenged to make connections to Douglass’ narrative. Starting in the sitting room, full of many of its original books, students linked the room to Douglass’s own secretive efforts to learn to read. When our tour guide talked about the “privilege” of being a woman allowed to sleep indoors to care for the family’s children, my students compared this to Douglass’ story about Mrs. Giles Hicks, a white woman who murdered a nursemaid as punishment for sleeping through a child’s late-night crying. When a docent told us that one of the home’s owners was a cruel master to his slaves, my students could imagine someone like the slave-breaker Edward Covey to add context to that story.
As we transitioned to the literary giants of Harlem, students learned about our city’s own thriving black communities after the end of slavery, pairing our Harlem Renaissance poetry with stories and photographs of Raleigh’s Black Main Street. Here, they saw the city as home to black millionaires and business owners who flourished during and after Reconstruction in an economically and racially segregated city. We paired this with a reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, along with research on The Green Book, the traveler’s guide used primarily by African Americans to help them avoid those hotels, restaurants, service stations, and other businesses that did not offer service to black patrons.
The students enrolled in the course began to unpack why Raleigh’s black communities and two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Shaw University and St. Augustine’s University, were necessary for black people’s survival in the city.
As they read some of the letters and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, students learned about the time King came to Raleigh and was met by the largest KKK rally in North Carolina, aka Klansville, USA. As they reflected on the Civil Rights movements of the 60s, students wrestled with the duality of the city—partially in disrepair due to practices like redlining and redistricting, and partially rejuvenated due to gentrification.
Students connected what we read about and saw to the Pittsburgh neighborhood of August Wilson’s King Headley II. They connected King’s anger about not being respected as a man, and Tonya’s fears about bringing another black life into an antiblack world, to the pain, sorrow, and frustration that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Students also connected the character of Stool Pidgeon and his hoarding of old newspapers to a resistance to the erasure of black experiences in our increasingly gentrified city.
This course focuses on depth of material through readings in English, History, and African American studies. Moreover, this course serves as a model for what a text-based antiracist education might look like—one that is easy to locate and accessible within our own racial literacies, spaces, and places.

Janelle Jennings-Alexander is an assistant professor of English at William Peace University. She is a 2018 recipient of the NCTE Early Career Educator of Color award. Dr. Jennings-Alexander’s research critically examines whiteness within the context of late 20th- and early 21st-century African American literature and explores antiracist pedagogy. Her teaching explores the intersection of race, rhetoric, and composition in the literature classroom. You can follow her work on Twitter: @professorjja.

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.