For Immediate Release
November 28, 2011
Contact: Lori Bianchini
NCTE Members Approve Statements on Issues
in Literacy Education
During the Annual Business Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English on November 18, 2011, NCTE members approved the following resolutions:
Resolution on Confronting Bullying and Harassment
Background: Consistent with NCTE’s commitment to establishing and maintaining equitable school practices, this resolution builds on the 2010 NCTE Resolution on Social Justice in Literacy Education—in particular, the efforts to support teaching about “social injustice and discrimination in all its forms.”
Bullying can be defined as any repeated behavior that is intended to harm a targeted individual who has less power than the perpetrator. Bullying exists around the world. Research began in the 1970s in Scandinavia. In 1983, following the non-related suicide deaths of three teen boys, all victims of severe bullying, Norway’s Minister of Education launched a nationwide campaign to deal with bullying. In 1999, the Columbine shootings in Colorado brought heightened public awareness of bullying to the US. Since Columbine, hundreds of thousands of instances of school bullying have been documented. In 2001 bullycide was introduced to the world. Legislators and the public have expressed alarm and demanded action, and the education profession has responded proactively. However, despite these demands for action and the steps taken, bullying continues to be a very serious problem. As individuals committed to social justice advocacy, our responsibility is to prevent and actively respond to bullying.
“As educators, our purpose is to help our students learn, but our first responsibility is to provide a safe learning environment” (More Bullies in More Books, C.J. Bott, 2008). Many staff members may not feel prepared adequately to respond to bullying incidents. Although 47 states have adopted anti-bullying legislation, high-stakes testing and strict curricular mandates may cause educators to be wary of using classroom time to teach something that may be considered outside the scope of the curriculum. Additionally, educators have faced personal and professional consequences for taking a stance against bullying during the school day, especially when the bullying results from a topic that is considered “taboo” (e.g., students’ sexuality, sexual identity, religion, etc.). Despite these risks, educators’ responsibility to advocate for their students’ safety and well-being is absolute.
By reading, writing, and thinking about bullying, we offer students “the thousands of ethical conversations” they need to develop into strong, literate adults. Additionally, new forms of bullying, such as cyberbullying and sexting, compound and amplify the scope of traditional bullying because they occur in digital contexts, where texts, images, and video are circulated instantly to a larger audience. Through literature and writing, “…we can help students develop a rich array of strategies” to deal with bullying (Confronting Bullying: Literacy as a Tool for Character Education, Roxanne Henkin, 2005). These include teaching traditional texts like The Ugly Duckling and contemporary classics like The Misfits. This can be complemented by the use of a wide range of non-traditional and digital media, thereby using critical literacies to deconstruct these multi-modal texts.
As English teachers, we are in a unique position to use discourse as a way of helping students explore and understand bullying in all its forms and to shape their own values and attitudes toward it, even as they deepen their understanding of language effect and affect in the world. Be it therefore
Resolved that the National Council of Teachers of English urge
- all teachers cultivate classrooms that are safe environments where students can learn free from fear;
- all school staff as well as students to take the appropriate action when they witness bullying in any of its forms;
- English language arts educators (K-12) to explore the thousands of books and digital and multi-modal sources containing the theme of bullying and harassment and to use these sources in their classrooms to discuss and confront bullying;
- English language arts educators to use their unique roles as teachers of discourse to engage students in speaking and writing about bullying, including articulating their experiences and clarifying their values;
- teacher educators to provide professional development opportunities that help teachers foster a respectful, empathetic, and socially-just classroom, thereby enabling all students to reach their full potential; and
- continued advocacy for teachers who integrate prevention measures into their curriculum, often at significant personal and professional risk.
Resolution on the Student’s Right to Incorporate Heritage and Home Languages in Writing
Background: This resolution builds on NCTE’s longstanding policies on students’ right to their own language, including previous resolutions: El día de los niños/El día de los libros (2005), Developing and Maintaining Fluency in More than One Language (1997), English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education (1982), Students’ Right to Their Own Language (1974) and, in particular, the 1986 and 2008 resolutions opposing English-only practices that displace or denigrate students’ home languages. This resolution also builds on similar resolutions affirmed over the past four decades by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).
Because of continued misunderstandings in popular media and many school systems about the pedagogical importance of students’ (of all ages) opportunities to use home languages* in their classroom writing, this resolution is proposed to bring specific attention to the educational value of instructional practices that support students in drawing from the varied resources of their home languages to enrich their writing.
When students have opportunities to incorporate home languages in their construction of written texts, they (a) draw on a rich range of linguistic and cultural resources to express complex thought, (b) accelerate their acquisition of academic discourses, (c) develop multilingual abilities, (d) become more semantically and syntactically adept as they develop abilities in text comprehension and construction, and (e) enlarge their competency in public discourse. Importantly, they are afforded greater opportunities to develop writerly identities “reduc[ing] the distance between home and school, while helping [them] to become more invested in school learning” (Yi, 2007).
The ability to incorporate both home language and the language of wider communication in writing is a valued skill beyond schools. Well-known authors regularly use these strategies to enrich and extend possibilities for expression in fiction and nonfiction texts (e.g., Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Gary Soto, Sherman Alexie, Langston Hughes, Carolyn Forché, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Pedro Pietri, Joy Harjo, Pat Mora, Alma Flor Ada, as well as authors in the fields of science and law). In the same way, students and their audiences can benefit from opportunities and encouragement to draw on varied linguistic and cultural resources in their writing.
Such opportunities affirm student voice and address issues of identity, culture, and politics: When students’ home languages – spoken or written – are denied, their voices become muted and they become invisible in the larger society. Such “cultural dissonance [causes them] to shrink away from formal education before they [can] fully develop” (Gilyard, 1991). Be it therefore
* The term “home language” denotes the language used in students’ family and community lives, such as African American Vernacular English, Spanish, Mandarin, among many others.
References: Yi, Y. (2007). “Engaging literacy: A biliterate student’s composing practices beyond school.” Journal of Second Language Writing 16: 23-39. Gilyard, K. (1991). “Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence.” In R. D. Abrahams (Ed), Cultural Diversity in American Education. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press (774–778).
RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English support
- policies and practices that affirm the student’s right to use his or her home language as well as the language of wider communication to enrich their classroom writing; and
- professional development initiatives that help teachers understand (a) how such practices promote students’ acquisition of academic discourses, competence in a repertoire of codes and discourses, ability to communicate complex thoughts, semantic and syntactic proficiency across codes, and positive writerly identities; and (b) how monolingual teachers or teachers who do not speak or understand a student’s home language can embrace and support the use of home languages in the classroom.
Resolution on Challenging Current Education Policy and Affirming Literacy Educators' Expertise
Background: The National Council of Teachers of English has a long history of taking strong positions on the best practices in the teaching of literacy. It has a long history as well of voicing its opposition and proposing alternatives to educational reform based primarily on so-called “standards” of performance as measured by high-stakes testing. That approach has become the de facto law of the land as both state and federal government have pressured school districts and teachers to submit to accountability measures based on a narrow range of criteria.
In particular, the “standards” approach fails to include myriad conditions of education, including the gap between rich and poor, public support for education, and the day-to-day conditions of teaching. From the Reagan administration through the Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations, key elements of educational reform have been ignored.
The consequences of the standards-and-tests approach have been exacerbated by the policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. These policies run counter to the great body of NCTE position statements and have been further reinforced by the actions of the National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, who devalued teachers’ wisdom while proceeding with undifferentiated descriptions of what all students should know and be able to do.
The 2009 Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing, states, “Quality assessment is a process of inquiry. It requires gathering information and setting conditions so that the classroom, school, and community become centers of inquiry where students, teachers, and other stakeholders can examine their learning -- individually and collaboratively -- and find ways to improve their practice.” Be it therefore
RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English call upon the Obama administration, the National Governors’ Association, and the Council for Chief State School Officers to support policies that
- end high-stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students’ test scores;
- support ongoing classroom-based assessments consistent with the NCTE/IRA 2009 Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing;
- evaluate teachers based on comprehensive measures of effectiveness, such as observations of instruction, teacher portfolios, parent response, and increases in achievement as evidenced by curriculum-based authentic assessments;
- promote school/home/community partnerships by valuing the voices of all stakeholders who take part in the education of children;
- support curriculum that develops every student’s intellectual, creative, and physical potential; and
- provide equitable funding for all schools.
Be it further resolved that NCTE
- publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of student assessments that adversely affect social and educational equity;
- reaffirm its commitment to supporting all literacy educators so that pedagogical and subject matter knowledge, as well as an understanding of the school community and students, are primary influences in school and district plans to advance literacy learning; and
- work assiduously to make the wisdom of NCTE members with deep knowledge of effective teaching and assessment practices influential at every stage of curricula, assessment, and standards development.
The National Council of Teachers of English with 35,000 individual and institutional members worldwide, is dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education.
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