NCTE Comes to the CRWP: Literacies Before Technologies

On December 10, 2022, the Chippewa River Writing Project hosted a free continuity event: NCTE Comes to the CRWP. Teacher consultants from the CRWP who presented at the NCTE Annual Convention in November shared their presentations with us. This is the last post in a three-part series describing the presentations from our TCs.

Image from Ala_z, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons:

Having been provided the “opportunity” to consider writing a book about her approach to using technology in her middle-level classroom, Chippewa River Writing Project teacher consultant Jill Runstrom has — nearly three years later — earned a new job, developed new curriculum, and been a remote teacher for a year of pandemic learning. This entire experience is documented in her upcoming NCTE book, Literacies Before Technologies: Making Digital Tools Matter for Middle Grades Learners. Based on the NCTE statement, “Beliefs for Integrating Technology into the English Language Arts Classroom,” the book will be published in 2023 as part of their “Principles in Practice” series. 

During the 2020-21 school year, Jill collaborated with her team of three other ninth-grade teachers at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and developed a number of unit and lesson plans that were adapted for remote learning, yet are also applicable in face-to-face or online, asynchronous learning as well. The book begins by elaborating on the four key ideas in the beliefs statement — especially the principle that led to the title of the book, “Consider literacies before technologies” — and these principles helped Jill to rethink her approach to the traditional ninth-grade curriculum. Continue reading

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NCTE Comes to the CRWP: Scaling Mountains

On December 10, 2022, the Chippewa River Writing Project hosted a free continuity event: NCTE Comes to the CRWP. Teacher consultants from the CRWP who presented at the NCTE Annual Convention in November shared their presentations with us. This is the second post in a three-part series describing the presentations from our TCs.

Image from Flickr account: Anna and Michal,

Sharing the insights from one of his students, Andy Schoenborn described the way that she talked about his course. “Schoenborn,” she said, “I haven’t read a book in years, or written anything longer than a few sentences in forever. Your class is like scaling a mountain!” And, with that, Andy invited us into his reading and writing workshop, borrowing an opening question from a CRWP colleague, Travis Crowder, “Where does writing come from?” (For more insights from Travis, view his February 2022 webinar, “Leaning into Invitations and Appreciation.”)  

For Andy, writing comes from one’s own lived life. And, in his teaching context, this question helps Andy’s students — who often feel as if they do not have anything to contribute to the conversation — begin to see themselves as writers and find their voice. Drawing ideas from Chavez’s book, The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop (2021), Andy reminded us that “Writing is a relationship with the self, after all. It’s a ritual of tuning in and listening to the language inside of us” (Chavez, p. 98). As he has for many years, Andy still relies on poetry as a way to invite his own students into poetry. 

He invited us to contribute our own “writing comes from” responses into a “tumble down” response by modeling his own writing in a Google Doc. Having already written in a stream-of-consciousness manner, Andy then took his initial paragraph of writing in the Google Doc and began placing hard returns to separate lines. He also added indents to some lines and, in an e.e. cummings-like style, even separated single letters of some words with the hard returns, pushing them down the page. After modeling this process for us, Andy invited us to return to our writing and try tumbling down our own words. (For more on this “tumble down” strategy, see Andy’s April 2022 blog post on Ethical ELA.)   Continue reading

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NCTE Comes to the CRWP: Daring to Dig out of Darkness

On December 10, 2022, the Chippewa River Writing Project hosted a free continuity event: NCTE Comes to the CRWP. Teacher consultants from the CRWP who presented at the NCTE Annual Convention in November shared their presentations with us. This is the first post in a three-part series describing the presentations from our TCs.

Considering the challenges of revising a high school English curriculum in a high-performing, suburban school district, Sharon Murchie outlined a number of ways that she and her colleagues needed to come to terms with interpersonal tensions within the department, as well as other pressures that ranged from day-to-day teaching realities, the “traditions” and reputation of the district, the changing demographics, and questions about the changing nature of ELA curricula, especially the inclusion of YA literature. Also, recognizing Gholdy Muhammad’s point that “Culturally and historically responsive text selection has the potential to respond to students’ identities, skills, intellect, and criticality” (2020, p. 152), the team of teachers committed to meeting regularly to reconsider the department’s approach to teaching literature. 

As a way to begin this conversation within her department, Sharon and her colleagues employed the “What, So What, Now What” protocol from the School Reform Initiative as a way to name their concerns and to begin articulating group norms. Building from Emily Style’s “Curriculum as Window and Mirror” (1988) and Rudine Sims Bishop’s “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” (1990), as well as Learning For Justice’s interactive “Reading Diversity” tool, they framed a set of guiding questions: 

  • Why do we read certain literature in our classes? 
  • What literature “counts”? 
  • Whose voices are included? 
  • Whose are not included? 
  • What length and reading levels count in our English curriculum? 
  • How do we explore the role of authorship, character portrayal, content?

From this initial work, Sharon and her colleagues developed a set of actionable goals to review all of the courses that were being offered, to resequence the content and skills across all four grade levels, to focus on equity and representation within text selections, and to deeply interrogate why and how the department chose to (continue to) teach specific texts. Continue reading

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An NCTE Conference Recap

Calling all English Language Arts teachers:  It’s worth the time to prepare lesson plans and save up to attend the annual NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention. The benefits of attending far exceed the cost.

Photo by Gerardo Del Valle from

The keynote speaker for the 2022 conference in Anaheim, CA was poet and author Javier Zamora. His memoir, Solito, tells the unforgettable story of his harrowing migration from El Salvador to the United States at the age of nine. On stage at the conference, his humble presence was riveting as he described his twenty-year emotional journey from the initial migration experience to being able to actually speak aloud about it. Unaccompanied, his debut poetry collection, explores the effects of the war that propelled his journey and its impact on his family. Zamora has been a Stenger Fellow at Stanford and a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard. Teachers, it is worth the time and effort to attend the conference and hear speakers of this caliber challenge us on such huge and timely topics as immigration and the struggles of immigrants.

Idina Menzel and Cara Mentzel at NCTE22. Photo taken by CRWP Teacher Consultant Emily Solomon.

Attendees also participated in a candlelit opening to symbolize the conference theme, “Pursuing the Light” while Idina Menzel (Elsa’s voice in Frozen) sang one of her songs from the stage play, Rent. Menzel has written a children’s book titled Loud Mouse, with her sister, Cara Mentzel. It’s a story about letting your voice be heard—something we can all espouse. 

Not only are the inspiring main session speakers well worth the time spent to hear them, but the multitude of break-out sessions include every level of teaching, from pre-K to college, and every imaginable topic within the sphere of Language Arts education. For example, I gained access to a semester-long writing unit for my creative writing elective and single-sentence prompts appropriate for journaling such as “Define ‘joy’ without using the word, ‘happy.’” Another takeaway for my middle school class focused on writing a thank-you note to a teacher.  How many worthwhile mini-lessons for middle schoolers can be incorporated into this project? I can count at least three. 

Prior to attending this year’s conference, my agenda was to attend as many poetry sessions as possible. Creative ideas I gleaned include writing odes to favorite foods, creating Black-Out poetry, and writing emotion poems. “Wellness” poem writing was a concept I hadn’t considered previously, but the need for the space for students to create in this genre is extensive.

Another reason for attending the 2023 NCTE Conference is to visit the Exhibit Hall, where many book publishers and language arts vendors provide specific author book signing times and the opportunity to obtain free books for your classroom libraries. I visited Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Norton Publishing booths, as well as smaller, independent publishers including Gareth Hinds, Selected Readings Editions, LLC, Ember (Nic Stone’s publisher), and Finding Forward Books. Genres of free texts I chose included narrative nonfiction, sports, poetry, and a copy of selected readings of a translation of Don Quixote. I also purchased a copy of Solito by Javier Samora and Dear Martin by Nic Stone, who was, by the way, an excellent and powerful, additional general session speaker. 

Teachers: not only are the main speakers, the vendors’ exhibits, and the breakout sessions worthwhile, but the time spent away from the classroom in a positive, uplifting atmosphere with like-minded professionals is invaluable. A group of us went together to rent an Airbnb, and our conversation and laughter in the evenings was relaxing and healing. We usually fixed what we wanted to eat at the Airbnb and walked to the conference site together. The rental was a great idea that saved each of us a considerable amount of money, and getting to know our co-laborers from a different perspective, as well as carving out individual downtime made the conference a refreshing experience. However, if you prefer the hotel experience without the snack prep, there are always hotels with a conference discount close to the conference site.

I really encourage you to attend the 2023 Annual Convention.  The dates have always been Thursday through Saturday, the week before Thanksgiving break. Next year, the NCTE convention will be in Columbus, Ohio, so the travel costs will be within your budget. What you will gain from the experience will enhance your teaching, encourage your spirit, and help you reconnect with the passion that first brought you to our profession.


Deborah Meister is a high school language arts teacher at Fellowship Baptist Academy in Carson City, MI, and a Teacher Consultant at the Chippewa River Writing Project. She co-directed the CRWP Middle School Writing and Technology Camp for three summers at Central Michigan University with author Jeremy Hyler. She has presented on various writing topics with Dr. Liz Brockman, Kathy Kurtze and Janet Neyer at the NWP Midwest Conference, and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. Her work has also been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

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Rekindling the Joy of Reading: A New CRWP Tradition

Though we are entering the third year of a pandemic, this is our second year of what we have developed as an annual tradition at the Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP). In 2020 and 2021, members of our site filled out a Google Form giving a book type selection and their address. I randomly matched them up and the participants mailed each other books we loved or thought our random recipient would love in our $35 budget. Participants were also given the chance to share their book with the other members of the book exchange to help continue to expand our reading lists. You will find the list of 2021 and 2020 at the end of this blog, and you can read about last year’s book exchange here.

Continue reading

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