Thursday, May 5, 2016

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shift Doesn't Just Happen, We Have to Make it Happen

During the 2008 NCTE Convention in late November, the Commission on Language sponsored a session featuring Stephen Krashen as the keynote speaker. After Stephen Krashen discussed his advocacy efforts through letters to the editor, audience members were asked to identify significant advocacy issues and got into groups to discuss possible avenues for advocacy.

The group I joined discussed the issue of scripted reading programs. The group members agreed that when advocating against scripted reading programs, we should be trying to reach a number of different stakeholder audiences: legislators, teachers, school boards, parents, superintendents.

The list below includes advocacy ideas proposed by group members. Some of the ideas are audience-specific, whereas others can be used to reach more than one audiences:

•Run a positive Public Relations campaign to highlight what your district, school or classroom is doing well. Accentuate initiatives that lead to significant student learning.
Possible venues for such positive PR campaigns can be local papers (featured articles, letters to the editor), parent nights, community fairs.

•Reach out to local businesses and to the local NPR station and ask them to fund or otherwise support sound bytes that make references to student and teacher accomplishments. Examples:
•"This program is sponsored by Ms. Smith's class, whose members just completed authoring a superb collection of electronic nonfiction books on social justice issues."
•"XY Company supports Mr. Green and his students whose work with literacy and the arts is currently being exhibited at Hillside Elementary school."

•Use your school's web page to showcase your students' web projects and email the link to parents and the school board. Such student project galleries should also feature instructional objectives accomplished through each project as well as explanations how such powerful learning tools are disappearing through the narrowing of the curriculum brought upon by high-stakes accountability and scripted instruction.

•Conduct research with your students on the effects of scripted instruction on their learning and their attitude toward school work. Send your findings to all interested stakeholders.

•Organize teacher "get togethers," both physical and electronic through the use of blogs and other electronic forums.
•Create wanted-ads forums through which teachers can seek out collaborators for instructional planning, designing and conducting research, mentoring etc.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sponsored Sessions at the 2008 NCTE Conference

The Commission on Language is proud to sponsor the following 2 sessions in this year's conference program:

1. What Should Teachers Know About Language In Order To Effectively Teach The Linguistically Diverse?
Multiple Perspectives on an Empirical Question

Friday, November 21, 2008 11:00:00 AM to 12:15:00 PM

2. Shift doesn’t just happen: We have to make it happen
Action as advocacy/Building points of entry
Students’ Right to Their Own Language in the 21st Century

Featuring Stephen Krashen
Saturday, November 22, 2008 - 2:45 PM to 4:00 PM

For further information click on the flyers below.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ann Cameron's Literature

A couple of days ago, Yetta Goodman circulated a note about Ann Cameron's response to the callous manner in which a passage from one of her books was used in a Illinois reading test:

Thought you would find this note (by Ann Cameron, author of many children's books, including "More Stories Julian Tells") of interest, posted on Amazon by Ann Cameron herself:

"An excerpt from this book, about African-American characters, was used January 31, 2000, in a state-wide Illinois third-grade reading standards test. 70,000 Illinois children got this test excerpt, in which the testers reillustrated the story without permission and changed the characters to Causcasians. I wrote the book with great care, and with the hope that many children will identify with my characters who are courageous and successful and well-liked. Over 200,000 copies of the book have been sold. I know from my fan mail that many children of all races do identify with the characters. It must have been painful for many of them to see their heroes turned white on a test--and for others who know the book, it must have been distracting at the least. One of the testers' three new illustrations shows the brothers in the story playing baseball. Eight books about the characters have been published to date (there will be a new one next year)--and in none of them do the characters play baseball. The testers developed their test questions based on a 3-page excerpt from the book; they had never even seen a copy of the entire book (thus the error in race), much less read it. It's quite possible that a child who had read the book would give different answers to the test questions based on his knowledge, and that the testers, in their ignorance, would mark it wrong. In many states, statewide tests are very serious these days--children are stigmatized for low scores, and teachers lose their jobs. But it appears that the tests are hastily and thoughtlessly constructed and penalize good readers. Parents and all of us concerned with education need to know what kind of tests children are being subjected to. "-

In a response to Yetta's note, Gloria Pipkin noted the following:

"I corresponded with Ann Cameron when this happened, and she started a crusade to persuade authors not to allow their work to be used on standardized tests. Her story inspired Susan Ohanian to survey released state tests all over the country to see which authors were selling their souls to the testing machine. Susan has a PowerPoint presentation on this.

This is only tangentially related, but when the poet Naomi Shihab Nye visited a class in Texas, one of the students told her that they had read some of her work on the TAKS. Nye tracked down the test and disagreed with the "right answer" on two of the five questions covering her material."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Three Fifths of a Person

“But aren’t we being hypocritical?” one of my undergraduate students asked as I was enthusiastically explaining that as educators we should not shy away from issues of nonstandard dialects but that instead we should welcome home languages in our classrooms, open up discussions on power and language, and work toward the development of code-switching competence between home dialects and standard American English. “I mean, no matter what we say, we are ultimately promoting the standard, aren’t we?”


My student’s question brought sharply into focus the same quandary as the one I had experienced a few weeks previously as I listened to David Bloome’s address at the recent NCTE convention, where he listed all of my typical recommendations to prospective teachers and argued that they only serve to ease our conscience rather than to truly promote equity. David went on to problematize the a-political manner in which we often approach home dialect issues and proclaimed that the “three fifths of a person” concept has never been and will never be good enough.


My student’s question brought my self-assured rumble to a halt and for the second time in a couple of short weeks I had to admit first to myself and then to an audience that there is no easy solution to the conflict between students’ right to their own language and their right to be effective users of the language of power. I have no final answer other than to acknowledge this tension, speak honestly of it and to hold to the tenet that being fluent in more than one linguistic codes is not only possible but it also is what humans naturally do as they pursue communication objectives within various linguistic communities.