National Council of Teachers of English Logo

Voices from the Middle--Moving from Print to Practice, March 2013 (20.3) - Previous Revision

This Issue’s Focus: Tolerance 2.0 (Vol. 20, No. 3)

This issue's Editors' Message cites several recent news headlines, and the editors suggest using a scale of 1–5 to judge your own tolerance to each position represented in these headlines. This could lead to an interesting discussion among teachers and staff members, not to mention our students.

Give these headlines or others that you find in your local news to your colleagues or your students to start a conversation about tolerance. With students, you could use these headlines in an anticipation guide. Give students these statements and a scale on a sheet of paper or use clickers or other polling software to have students register their opinions. With your colleagues, this could lead to an agenda for literature study or your advisory program. Which topics are meaningful to you and your community? What are the hot-button issues related to tolerance and diversity in your school or community? How can you open a dialogue with others to address those issues?

 Visit the VM Podcasts page to listen to interviews with authors of this issue's articles.

Purchase a print copy of this issue.

Subscribe to Voices from the Middle.

Nurturing Tolerance

“Tolerance to Alliance: Deconstructing Dichotomies to Advocate for All Students” by Margaret Berg

General Discussion Topic

Author Margaret Berg challenges teachers to examine our own beliefs and support of heteronormative hegemony. She suggests three core texts to help teachers who may be unfamiliar with the concept and principles of queer theory to educate themselves. She recommends:

Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler

Sexual Identities in English Language Education by Cynthia D. Nelson

Key Points
  • Students who deviate from the social norm are the most likely to suffer from bullying.
  • People employ language to make practices sexual or gender-specific, even when the practices have no intrinsic sexuality or gender.
  • When sexually loaded words are thrown around, the language arts teacher is perfectly positioned to examine the meanings

Common Core Connection

Berg suggests that one strategy to confront heteronomativity is to examine the historical development of derogatory terms that students may be using in school. Common Core State Standards related to vocabulary and word study support these lessons.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 6–12

Knowledge of Language

3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

The 8th-grade Standards in this category include:

4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

a. Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

b. Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).

c. Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.

d. Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

Using This Article with Your Team

There are many bullying prevention programs available for schools. Berg references the Olweus program: Consider implementing such a program as the foundation for your middle school advisory program.

Why Not Try This?

Berg suggests examining your classroom library for unseen biases in the literature selections, but how do you find a wider variety of titles to represent LGBT characters and stories?



Using YA Literature and Technology to Teach Tolerance

“Using Literature and Digital Storytelling to Create a Safe Place to Address Bullying”  by Kevin Cordi and Kimberly Masturzo

“Recognize the Signs: Reading Young Adult Literature to Address Bullying” by Kristine E. Pytash, Denise N. Morgan, and Katherine E. Batchelor

“Disrupting Traditions: Swimming against the Current of Adolescent Bullying” by Debi Khasnabis and Kevin Upton

“Empathy 2.0 and the Wonderful World of Wiki Collaboration” by Cindy Tarrant, Kathryn Godwin, Stacey Daniel, and Dawn Bolton

General Discussion Topic

Two of these articles address the need for teachers, especially preservice teachers, to be aware of bullying behaviors, recognize the signs, and be prepared to support students who may come to them looking for help and guidance. Cordi and Masturzo confront their preservice teachers’ needs to both express their feelings about being bullied and to understand the impact of bullying on their future classrooms. Many of the future teachers in this project themselves had been bullied or they knew someone who had, but few had thought about how it might affect students in their classrooms.

Pytash, Morgan, and Batchelor approach this topic through YA literature. In each case, understanding the issues of bullying and raising awareness of it begin by reading about victims of bullying and creating a vicarious experience through YA literature. With the current accountability pressures, it can be easy for bullying behavior to be off the radar of a new teacher. Are you a new teacher? Are there new teachers in your building or on your team? Are you aware of possible bullying behaviors in your classroom or your school?

The other two articles approach this topic from the students’ perspective. Khasnabis and Upton used digital storytelling and process drama to help students see all sides of a bullying incident and empower them to move from being bystanders to allies, much as the other articles encourage teachers to make the same shift. Tarrant, Godwin, Daniel, and Bolton used a wiki to connect students from different schools to examine multiculturalism in an effort to break cultural stereotypes and foster a sense of empathy.

Key Points

  • Bullying is a problem. Cyber-bullying is growing at an alarming rate.
  • A victim of bullying can have moments of reprieve from face-to-face intimidation, but the “cloud” is omnipresent in a victim’s life.
  • It is time to shift the balance by providing a venue for our students’ voices to be heard.
  • One powerful method to encourage students to talk about bullying experiences is to have them find fiction and nonfiction books that focus on the subject.
  • Through reading YA literature, preservice teachers began to recognize more subtle forms of bullying that could go unnoticed by teachers.
  • Preservice teachers believed they could make a difference in bullying in their classrooms by creating an open and low-risk environment, using YA literature as an integral component in that work.

Common Core Connection

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration

1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

The 6th-grade Standards in this category include:

1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

a. Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

b. Follow rules for collegial discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.

c. Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by making comments that contribute to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.

d. Review the key ideas expressed and demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection and paraphrasing.

2. Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.

4. Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

5. Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.

Using These Articles with Your Team

If possible, use Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories not only as reading material with your students, but also as a team. If that is not possible, watch the videos connected with the article by Cordi and Masturzo. Ponder these questions:

  • Are any of your students experiencing these same issues?
  • How can you use these videos as a springboard for discussion, either as a team or with your students?
  • Could these become topics for advisory time before venturing off to make their own? 
  • What about titles recommended by Pytash, Morgan, and Batchelor? Could any of those titles be used either as team reading for teachers or as a group study for students?
  • What could we learn if everyone in your grade level or school read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and discussed how Hannah was bullied?


Why Not Try This?

There are multiples resources and approaches for raising the issue of bullying and responding to it as individuals, groups, and school community. Here are all the links and websites referenced in these articles. Peruse as many as you can to determine the best way to start with your students and colleagues.

Student-Produced Video

Resources for Video Creation

Recommended Sources for Learning about Digital Video Editing

YouTube Video Editor:
Windows Live Movie Maker:
iMovie Tutorials:
Zamzar Convert Video Files:

Additional Links

Dear Bully (

Olweus Project (

Bully Free Classroom (

Our Stories Count (

Association for Middle Level Education Safe Passages (

ReadWriteThink Text Messages podcast--"Books about Bullying" (

Wiki Source

PB Works (
Voki (

Recommended Sources about Recent Bullying Incidents

Megan Meier Foundation:

ABC Good Morning America—“Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide”

“Jamey Rodemeyer, bullied teen who made ‘It Gets Better’ video, commits suicide”

New York Times Topics: Bullying


Tolerance Begins with Adults

“Addressing Stereotypes by Moving Along the Continuum of Cultural Proficiency” by Cheryl James Ward

“Tolerance: Woven into the Fabric of School?” by Ian Pumpian

These two articles do not represent direct experiences in middle grades classrooms to provide additional teaching strategies or lesson plans. Rather, they focus our attention on the culture we as adults bring to and foster in the school and our classrooms that can impact how our students think, act, and react. These authors lead us to examine our own beliefs, stereotypes, biases, and cultural identities so that we can begin to overcome the intolerance in the adult world that can be so confusing to adolescents.

Key Points

  • When the adults in a school understand the impact of stereotypes and work to move themselves along the continuum of cultural proficiency, middle level students benefit.
  • Without educating adults and changing the mindsets of those who teach young adolescents, we cannot realistically address the harmful effects of stereotyping.
  • School leaders must transform their staffs by fully engaging them in difficult conversations, exercises, and professional development that move them along the cultural proficiency continuum from the place of being culturally destructive to that of being culturally proficient.
  • Each student comes to school with a cultural identity based on his or her experience, and that culture provides much of the context for how they view and behave in the world.
  • It seems like the implications of our cultural and experiential heterogeneity must have an extraordinary impact on how we design and organize our schools.
  • An effective school culture will provide students a respectful mediating experience through which they can learn to examine, understand, affirm, modify, or change their understandings of the world and how they want to engage in it.

Using This Article with Your Team

Pumpian provides us with a wealth of statistics that answer the question, “What if the total population of the middle school students in the United States (or just California) were shrunk to a middle school of 100 students? What would that look like?” Examine that table in his article. Are there students in your school who fall into each of those categories?  Do you carry imbedded stereotypes and biases related to any of the groups listed? Think about your beliefs about each category in light of the Cultural Proficiency Continuum as cited by Cheryl James Ward.

Cultural DestructivenessCultural IncapacityCultural BlindnessCultural
Cultural CompetenceCultural Proficiency
Practices that seek to eradicate cultures different than that of the dominant culturePractices that demean other cultures and/or seek to show cultures other than the dominant as wrongPractices in which the dominant culture refuses to acknowledge the cultures of others Working awareness of what one knows or doesn’t know about working in diverse settingsPractices that are additive to cultures that are different than the dominant culturePractices that seek to continuously learn about other cultures in a positive manner and are inclusive and celebratory of all groups in the school community

How are you as a teacher meeting the needs of all of those students? How are you as a school staff meeting those needs? Consider trying the stereotyping exercise Ward describes. Are there correlations between the stereotypes you and your colleagues identify and the population of your school community? What can you do to reconcile those beliefs?

Ward suggests two readings for a professional learning community:

Document and Site Resources

Share This On:

Page Tools:

Join NCTE Today

Related Search Terms


Copyright © 1998-2017 National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved in all media.

1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, Illinois 61801-1096 Phone: 217-328-3870 or 877-369-6283

Looking for information? Browse our FAQs, tour our sitemap and store sitemap, or contact NCTE

Read our Privacy Policy NEW! Statement and Links Policy. Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use

Visit us on:
Facebook Twitter Linked In Pinterest Instagram