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NSLA BLOGEmily Fisher Editor
A Note From the Editor:
October flew by faster than expected, daylight savings time has ended, and my favorite time of the year is upon us. October’s blog (though posted a bit later than usual) is dedicated to a transformative experience in my career as a teacher and graduate student: the Nebraska Writing Project (NeWP).
I first came to know this month’s contributor, Kate Leonard Barr, when I participated in NeWP’s Summer Institute. At the time, I did not realize the significant impact NeWP would have on me in a variety of ways. First, it reignited my passion for writing that had long been dormant. I began writing fictional stories, reminisced about the impact the swimming pool has played in my life, and theorized about writing instruction in academic contexts. Next, I felt connected with a community of teachers who supported me on the journey. Kate and I were in the same writing group. Our group listened to each other's daily writing with care, support, and respect. I gained affirmation and useful feedback from my thoughtful group members. Although I don’t see my group members often enough, it is always joyous when we are able to reconnect. Finally, NeWP helped me consider how I wanted to teach writing and composition. It validated my ideas about the importance of conversation in writing, as well as fostered new ideas in my endeavor to continually improve my teaching and students’ learning. Without a doubt, NeWP’s Summer Institute played a pivotal role in my career.
I hope you enjoy reading about Kate’s journey in NeWP. If you are interested in learning more about NeWP, the Summer Institute, or any of their resources for teachers, then click on this link to the Nebraska Writing Project’s webpage.
Editor, NSLA Blog
As with many opportunities that have propelled me forward in my professional or personal life, my Nebraska Writing Project journey has been rather serendipitous. I joined the Summer Institute in 2015 not knowing what the month of June would hold. Looking back on the past five years, I reflect with delight on the fact that I have made some inspiring friends who have become daily touchstones, established rewarding collegial connections, and have been able to serve in leadership roles that I never would have expected.
After completing a Nebraska Writing Project Institute, educators become Teaching Consultants. From shared experiences with model lessons, to a chance to participate in an inquiry group based on relevant topics in our field, my professional tool kit has expanded, perhaps more than in any other singular educational experience. As a Teacher Consultant, I can share new knowledge and practices with my staff and district, and I’m able to enjoy leadership roles in NeWP. I’ve gone on to participate in the College, Career, and Civic Writing Project (C3WP), the Leadership Institute, co-facilitate a Summer Institute, lead writing marathons, partner with park rangers at Homestead National Monument for the Prairielands Writing Festival, and serve on the advisory board and in a co-director capacity. All of these experiences have helped define my career path and have led to unique opportunities, and the list goes on…!
Perhaps the most fulfilling avenue NeWP has opened up for me is in the area of my own personal writing. I have had a story that needed to be written in the back of my mind for years...maybe similarly to many of you. Never giving my personal writing the importance it deserved, the story continued to, well, not get written. As part of the Summer Institute, participants are part of a small writing group. Writers bring new writing to their group daily and are welcomed with very supportive feedback. This was the push I needed to get started on that story!
Ultimately, the greatest benefit of the Nebraska Writing Project’s offerings is influencing the kind of teacher I am for my students. My personal and professional growth gets passed on to them in the form of a teacher that has gained pedagogical knowledge while appreciating their struggles as writers. That is the kind of educator I want to be, and the magic of the Nebraska Writing Project has been a pivotal landmark in my journey!
Kate Leonard Barr
6th Grade Teacher
Suzanne Collins. Stephenie Meyer. J.K. Rowling. Mildred D. Taylor. Neal Shusterman. These are just a few of my favorite authors, and each one has their work(s) listed on the challenged/banned books list. September’s blog centers around Banned Book Week.
Young Adult dystopian books are my favorite genre to read. First, I love to escape into a newly imagined world and consider what life would be like there. Another reason I enjoy them is because my students and I read them together at the same time. We’d enjoy having conversations, discussions, and sharing reading a book together. My first year of teaching was when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was published. I remember seeing multiple students struggling to put the book down during class, and I thought to myself “I should read this book to see why they can’t put it down”. Turns out, I couldn't either! Currently, I’m savoring Stephenie Meyer’s latest book, Midnight Sun, which is Twilight written from Edward’s perspective. The Twilight series is on the challenged/banned book list.
Unsurprisingly, I found many of my favorite books and series on the challenged/banned list. It is hard for me to imagine someone preventing me from reading them because each impacted me in some way. As a lifelong reader, I enjoy the ability to escape into a book. According to McNair (2016) stories should provide mirrors for us to see reflections of our own experiences, as well as mirrors to immerse ourselves in others’ experiences. We must make sure our students have reading material that allows them to do the same. After all, each of the dystopian worlds in which I have escaped has helped me consider my current reality, challenged ideas, and identify with characters. How has a banned or challenged book impacted your life?
McNair, J.C. (2016). #Weneedmirrorsandwindows: Diverse classroom libraries for K-6 students. The Reading Teacher, 70(3), 375-381.
Is Banned Book Week Still Relevant?
NSLA representative to Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska
Let’s begin with a little background information. Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It is promoted by the American Library Association, the International Literacy Association and others to call attention to banned and challenged books. In the case of Amnesty International, the focus is on individuals persecuted because of their writings or what they read.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a substantial increase in the number of challenges to books in schools, libraries and bookstores. Nebraska was right in the middle of this. In 1987, The People for the American Way recognized the state for being #1 in attempts to censor books that came to completion!
Since 2011, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated the Wednesday of Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day. Their goal is "to bring attention to the overly aggressive filtering of educational and social websites used by students and educators. In the AASL's 2012 national longitudinal survey, 94% of respondents said their school used filtering software, with the majority of blocked websites relating to social networking (88%), IM or online chatting (74%), gaming (69%), and video services like YouTube (66%). The AASL's position is that "the social aspect of learning" is important for students and that many schools go "beyond the requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission in its Child Internet Protection Act."
The American Library Association’s web site identifies cases studied annually. A good many of the challenges are brought by parents saying the books are age-inappropriate for children. In perusing the lists over the past 10 years, the topics most challenged in recent history deal with LGBTQIA, race and violence.
Like most things these days, even the notion of Banned Books has become controversial with educators, librarians and booksellers on one side, and groups like Focus on the Family on the other. Some allege that Banned Books is misleading because most books are only challenged and never actually banned or removed from shelves, and because these books can be purchased in book stores the government hasn’t banned the books. Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family said “The ALA has irresponsibly perpetrated the 'banned' books lie for too long...Nothing is 'banned,' but every year this organization attempts to intimidate and silence any parent, teacher or librarian who expresses concern about the age-appropriateness of sexually explicit or violent material for schoolchildren." Of course, the counter argument to no books have been banned is that educators, librarians and the public have developed plans and policies to defend the right to read and freedom to choose.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is a valued source for librarians, teachers and others to find resources and support to address censorship. Some are copied below.
Produced by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Book Censorship Action Kit provides basic information on censorship in public schools and details the steps that educators and librarians can take when facing a challenge.
The ALA provides a host of resources, including infographics, social media tools, classroom activities, and the Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament Toolkit of website banners, printable bookmarks, a coloring sheet, and suggested hashtags.
The Banned Books Week YouTube channel features videos of readers “exercising their First Amendment right to read a banned book.”
The New York Times compilation of “Ways to Celebrate Banned Books Week” includes lesson plans, infographics, writing prompts, and more.
Banned Books Week 2020 will be held September 27 – October 3. The theme of this year’s event is “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”
The OLF’s most recent Top Ten List of Challenged Books for 2019 is copied below:
George by Alex GinoReasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan KuklinReasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG KellerReasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona SmythReasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie LewisReasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholasReasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodReasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
Drama written and illustrated by Raina TelgemeierReasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
Harry Potter series by J. K. RowlingReasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry ColeReason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content
Look for ALA’s Top Challenged Books of 2020 list in April 2021!
A Note From The Editor:
The beginning of school has always been one of my favorite times of year. Since I was a little girl, I would delight in seeing the school supplies lining the store shelves in July. I have felt this way since kindergarten and it persists to this day as a graduate student. As a practitioner, the excitement of starting a new year with new students almost surpassed my joy as a student. I love teaching. I love learning. However, this year is different. Although I’m excited to teach students again, there is a swirling mixture of complicated emotions due to COVID-19. Apprehensive. Anxious. Conflicted. Mournful. Never has there been a school year like 2020 in my career. This year requires us to use innovative methods to teach our students this year and push us to be inventive, flexible, and persistent. Our blog article for August comes from Dr. Stephen G. Peters, president of ILA’s Board of Directors. ILA has created a multitude of resources to support teachers during these chaotic times of teaching and learning. I encourage you to look into the plethora of resources Dr. Peters has listed. Webinars, special interest groups, networking, and access to peer-reviewed journals are few of the resources ILA has provided for members.
In addition to thinking about pedagogy and practice, I have found it essential to think about what I need in order to teach. What is my fuel? What is it enables me to be the best teacher, graduate student, and writer I can be? For me, it is exercising, reading a good book, enjoying time with my family, having a writing group for community (even if we meet digitally), and careful planning of my time. Thinking creatively to ensure I am able to provide these needs for myself is at the essence of being able to tackle this year. While we must be there for our students, we must also be there for ourselves.
A Note From Dr. Stephen G. Peters:
As we approach the 2020-2021 school year, many are planning the re-opening of schools with the best approach possible. We, at ILA, believe COVID-19 changed the way we lead and teach and more importantly, the way students learn. Through these challenges, educators have an opportunity to disrupt a somewhat adult-oriented culture and nurture a more collective, student-centered mentality. School districts and schools have worked hard to create conditions for success as they usher in a school year in ways never seen before. We have positioned ourselves and our association to respond to the changing needs of our members and those seeking resources to assist with the nature of the unprecedented times in which we live.
We encourage you to:
We are excited to offer ILA Next throughout the month of October and hope you will join us. Digital by design, #ILANEXT offers a blend of live and on demand learning anchored by a weekly workshop series. We continue to provide constructive spaces for our members to learn and grow. Further, we must provide spaces of inquiry during a time that definitive answers are difficult to find.
As president of the board, I am dedicated to working with every region, state, and member to reposition ILA as a leading association and reimagine literacy all over the world.
Thank you for all you are doing in Nebraska and wishing you a great year ahead as we advance the important work of literacy.
Stephen G. Peters, Ed.D.
President, ILA Board of Directors
Greetings! I am Emily Fisher, a Ph.D student in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Before returning to graduate school full time, I taught middle school language arts for twelve years in Nebraska and Kansas. It is my pleasure to share NSLA's blog which is a new feature of membership. I invite you to share your ideas, thoughts, or contributions to our blog. We will be using this year's conference theme, Literacy For All, as a common thread. Please send your ideas to email@example.com. Stay tuned for each blog post!
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