Teaching Uncategorized

On the Hill: Literacy Awareness for Multilingual Learners

Tbis post was written by Jamie Fletcher and is a reflection on her visit to Capital Hill advocating for the literacy needs of multilingual learners. Read more about Jamie at the bottom of her post.

As educators, we are often compelled to go beyond lesson plans and grading assignments to help students learn standards-based material. Sometimes, we make classroom accommodations or modifications to the content so students can connect with the instruction. Sometimes, we go beyond the classroom and attend their extracurricular events to connect with the children. Sometimes, we advocate for them and insist on equitable opportunities in the public education system. None of this is new news to those in the education field, however, some students will soon need more than just the effort of dedicated educators.

One of the largest growing demographics in South Carolina is identified as Multilingual Learners (MLs, formerly called English language learners or ELLs). “By 2025, 1 out of 4 children in classrooms across the nation will be an English language learner (ELL) student” (, July 2020). Across the US, the growth of MLs has risen exponentially. According to the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), from 2000-01 to 2019-20 school years, there has been more than a 400% increase in ML students in South Carolina. As of April 13, 2023, there were 71,727 current or monitored MLs in our state. This means they may receive services from ML educators. Students in SC who are monitored may have met the minimum program exit requirements, but must be monitored for up to four years to determine if services are still needed. Of all these ML students, less than 38% are immigrants, meaning over 62% are US citizens. Meanwhile, from 2012-13 to 2021-2022 school years, there was a 206% increase in vacancies for certified licensed multilingual learner instructors, leading to a possible decline in services and/or an increase in long-term MLs (students who remain in the program more than five years).

One maxim states that “a teacher never knows where his or her influence stops.” So, what happens when teachers unite their voices and ascend Capitol Hill? On June 21, 2023, educators from across the United States met in the offices of US Senators and US Representatives to collectively and positively affect change. The decisions made in those offices and through the votes on the Senate and House floors have a direct impact on funding and policy that trickles down to every public school classroom in America.

Prior to meetings in Washington, DC, TESOL International held their annual Advocacy and Policy Summit in Georgetown, reviewing the policy focus and explaining the impact that personal stories and sincere conversations could have. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) educators from Hawaii to Maine and Florida to California collaborated to learn how our states are different and alike and what is needed to offer equitable educational opportunities to all public school students. Carolina TESOL, representing North Carolina and South Carolina educators, attended the summit and met on the Hill to learn more about the process and to develop relationships with the offices of our senators and representatives.

As the SC Advocacy Coordinator, I started contacting DC offices to set up meetings two months prior to the TESOL International Advocacy & Policy Summit. Meetings with elected officials were requested, but sometimes staff members who specialize in education are delegated to speak with visitors. It is important to remember that these staffers are the ones who help advise the senators and representatives when it comes time to vote on policy and appropriations. Once on the Hill, 2023 Carolina TESOL President Tanya Franca and I traversed tunnels and congressional buildings to meet in different offices to share stories about education in South Carolina.

Did you know that South Carolina is one of two states with a complete ban on undocumented students pursuing higher education in public colleges and universities (technical, 2-year, and 4-year schools)? During the meetings on the Hill, Franca and I requested review and support for the 2023 Dream Act (S 365) and US Citizenship Act (HR 3194) to help immigrants seeking a pathway to citizenship, thus providing them with an opportunity for higher education.

We spoke about specific programs that the appropriations would be used for, including after-school programs and professional development for educators of MLs. We also discussed the limitations of higher education in South Carolina. On a federal level, voting for legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students would improve college and career statistics, as well as graduation rates. Specifically, one student of mine who always planned to attend college moved with his family here in 2013. Beginning his junior year of high school, we were talking seriously about the SAT, ACT, and college applications and that is when we reviewed SC admissions policies. He was offered athletic scholarships and would have received academic scholarships if he was here legally. In 2020, he was accepted to North Carolina Central University where he is a starter on the football team, has the highest GPA of all players, has been nominated and earned many accolades, and is graduating in three years with a Bachelor’s degree in Business. He plans to start a Master’s program next year, but will have to remain in NC to earn the degree. This is only one example of the limitations placed on students in our state and across the country.

During our meetings, our requests for appropriations concerned ESSA Title I to support students from low-income communities; ESSA Title II, Part A to support professional learning for educators and school leaders, and ESSA Title III to improve English language proficiency and academic achievement. Other priorities for the 118th Congress include passing the Reaching English Learners Act (HR 3779) to address the critical shortage of English language teachers, as well as passing the Supporting Providers of English Language Learners Act (HR 460) to increase loan forgiveness for English language teachers.

The summit and Hill visits were meant to provide experience and build relationships. Some meetings were attended by staff members who knew the need for funding and policy updates in education; but in some meetings, we went on to explain connections between the money and the classroom, between investing in education and the cycle of poverty. The opportunities to speak with members of Congressional staff were exciting, but nothing moves quickly in DC. Carolina TESOL will continue to reach out to their offices to offer “boots on the ground” experiences in hopes of positively impacting education for Multilingual Learners. For more information about Carolina TESOL’s federal and state-level priorities in South Carolina, visit Carolina TESOL is committed to advocating for Multilingual Learners (MLs) throughout the Carolinas by informing educators of national, state, and local research, issues, and policies affecting MLs and advising its membership of advocacy resources and opportunities.

Mrs. Jamie Fletcher has been teaching for over twenty years but has served the last and happiest  seven as a Multilingual Learner Program Specialist in Anderson, South Carolina.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash


Navigating Education, Policy, and Advocacy in the Face of Anti-Truth Legislation

This post was written by Ian O’Byrne. You can read more about Ian at the bottom of this post.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of anti-truth legislation being introduced at the state and local levels. These bills often target discussions of race, gender, and other sensitive topics in public schools. While framed as bans on teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) or LGBTQ issues, legislation such as this is ultimately a ban on truth and history that impinges on K-12 educators’ First Amendment rights and threatens to upend the structure of education law and policy. As educators, it is important to be aware of these bills and to take steps to advocate for the right of all students to learn about the full and accurate history of our country.

A recent example

This past year, the South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act (H.3728) sought to prohibit “certain concepts from being included in public school instruction and professional development” and to provide a means for addressing violations. The bill wanted to prohibit the teaching and training on concepts related to race, religion, politics, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Supporters suggested it’s a way to stick to state education standards while opponents say it opens the door to censorship. 

It is important to note that this is one of many anti-truth pieces of legislation that we’re seeing across the country.    

This legislation is organized and funded by groups like the Heritage Foundation as they provide templates to allow lawmakers and copy/paste into bills. Review the CRT legislation tracker from the Heritage Foundation here.  

Anti-Truth Legislation and the First Amendment

Anti-truth legislation refers to laws that restrict or prohibit the teaching of certain historical or factual information, which can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment rights of K-12 educators and students.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. In the context of this post, the First Amendment applies to the constitutional protections afforded to K-12 teacher speech and the potential violations of those protections by anti-truth laws. Anti-Truth laws impinge on K-12 educators’ First Amendment rights by restricting or prohibiting the teaching of certain historical or factual information, which can be seen as a violation of the freedom of speech.

I understand that legislation such as this serves as a chilling effect on educators and students. Not many educators at this point are challenging these laws on First Amendment grounds. This may be due to teachers not wanting to test these boundaries, due process, or established legal precedents.

In the tumultuous landscape of modern education, book bans, stifling class discussions, and curtailed written work have emerged as alarming consequences of anti-truth legislation. As educators grapple with navigating these challenging times, the very essence of intellectual freedom is put to the test. Book bans, often driven by ideological agendas, limit students’ access to diverse perspectives and critical thinking, hindering their ability to develop a well-rounded understanding of complex issues.

Likewise, stifling class discussions on controversial topics suppresses the exchange of ideas, hindering the development of open-mindedness and empathy. Concurrently, stringent restrictions on written work can restrict students’ creativity and force self-censorship, stifling their growth as independent thinkers. In the face of anti-truth legislation, educators and advocates must unite to safeguard the fundamental pillars of education, fostering an inclusive, truth-seeking environment that empowers students to become informed, engaged citizens ready to navigate a complex world.

What can you do?

One of the most important things that educators can do is to stay informed about anti-truth legislation in their state and local area. There are a number of organizations that track this legislation and provide resources for educators, such as the Education Law Center and the American Civil Liberties UnionThis spreadsheet from PEN America helps keeps track of these bills. Once you are aware of the bills that have been introduced, you can take steps to educate your community about the importance of these issues.

Another important step is to interact with policymakers, school boards, and parents. This can be done by writing letters, attending public meetings, and speaking out at school board meetings. It is important to be respectful and to present your arguments in a clear and concise way. You can also encourage your students to get involved in advocacy efforts.

It is important to remember that the First Amendment protects the right to free speech. This means that schools cannot censor discussions of race, gender, or other sensitive topics simply because some people find them uncomfortable. If you believe that your school is violating your First Amendment rights, you should contact the American Civil Liberties Union, The ProTruthSC CoalitionSC United for Justice and Equality, or another organization that can provide legal assistance.

This protection extends not only to educators but also students in schools. Students could challenge these broader laws by arguing they have a First Amendment right to take in lessons and information from schools.

Advocacy and activism can be challenging, but it is essential to protect the right of all students to learn about the full and accurate history of our country. By staying informed, interacting with policymakers, and educating your community, you can make a difference in the fight against anti-truth legislation.

Ian O’Byrne is an associate professor of literacy education at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. His research focuses on the dispositions and literacy practices of individuals as they read, write, and communicate in online and/or hybrid spaces. His work can be found on his website ( or in his weekly newsletter (

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash


Classroom Libraries: What is In? What is Out? Why does it Matter?

This post is written by Brooke Hardin. Read more about Brooke at the bottom of this post.

Let’s Get Personal

I am a white female who began school in the mid-eighties and entered a mostly white, suburban, blue ribbon-winning elementary school at the precocious age of five and a half. To my knowledge, no one had conversations with me about any differences in my family, and I had no reason to think there were. That is until I entered kindergarten and was met with weekly stories in books and readers where the families portrayed were white (or peach colored as the illustrations showed) and comprised of a mother, father, son, daughter, dog, cat, and possibly a goldfish. No big deal, right? The problem was that by this time, my father had not lived with me since I was two years old, and I had both a mother and a stepmother, both of whom I adored. Let’s not forget, I did not have a dog, cat, or goldfish; in fact, I had had two hamsters, both of which escaped their caged confinement, chewed holes in our carpet, and somehow disappeared. My family dynamic – made up of my mother and me in our townhome, my father, stepmother, half-brother and half-sister in another home that I visited every other weekend, and two stepbrothers that lived out of town – was not found within the pages of the books read to me by my teachers or those that were available for me to read as I moved through the elementary years. In fact, it was not until much later that I saw someone “like me,” the youngest child in a blended family, in a book.

While my story is innocent enough and did not impact my love of reading or success with it, it could have, and it is reflective of what so many students face today in their own classrooms. Their stories, culture, historical backgrounds, family dynamics, and more are absent from the texts in the libraries of classrooms where they spend hours learning each day. Moreover, educational policies limit what is possible for teachers to include in classroom libraries and how they can teach certain topics. At the same time, authors are publishing texts that portray a vast array of stories, online resources covering multiple viewpoints are abundant, and students have access to more information than ever before, given their proclivity for digital engagement. How does a teacher provide a wide-ranging classroom library while following a state or district’s policies on instructional materials and literature? While this is a real challenge, teachers might consider some seminal theoretical and research-based ideas that support the need for diverse classroom libraries.

Why Do Classroom Libraries Matter?

In the last several years, the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks has gained momentum and attention. Books and teaching have the capacity to change lives. Still, to do so, teachers must have the professional freedom to reflect regularly on the literature landscape shaping their classrooms. They must consider the narratives found in their classroom libraries:

  • How does the library shape students’ collective memories of their own + ‘others’ histories?
  • Whose voices seem valued + whose are not?
  • Whose stories are absent or silenced?

Theories like Rudine Sims Bishop’s (1990) idea that texts can act as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” and Rosenblatt’s (1978) transactional reader-response theory show educators how the use of diverse texts has the power to increase content learning and empathic responses. However, both theories center the reader in the text. Another way to think of literature is to center the reader along a continuum with any text; it either reflects a lived experience or presents the opportunity to show a new or different experience. This then presents an opportunity to learn, think critically, and gain understanding.

Let’s take the following example of a teacher using adolescent historical fiction literature to provide instruction about the American frontier and pioneer life in the early 19th century. A teacher might reach for a classic like the Little House series published by Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1971. While entertaining to some, the series contains racism and portrays an incomplete story of what life was like on the prairie. A more comprehensive unit of study might include Louise Erdrich’s (1999) The Birchbark House, which reverses the narrative of 19th Century Native Americans and shows the life of an Ojibwa family in 1847. Additionally, a teacher might include the book Prairie Lotus, written by Linda Sue Park in 2022, which features the story of Hanna, a half-Asian girl who wants to go to the one-room school, make a friend, and help in her father’s dress-goods shop. Additionally, teachers would include images, diverse primary source documents that impacted people’s lives, informational pieces, and more.  In this way, we do not abandon all classic literature but expand the approach to literature selection (Zapata et al., 2018). This example shows how teachers might think about building their instructional classroom library; that is, the library from which they pull resources for teaching skills and content.

Teachers must also be intentional about the literature students have access to in the greater classroom library, the bookshelf, or the space in the room, where students can personally select texts to read during independent reading time or at their leisure. As shown in research regarding school-aged pupils, there is a direct correlation between reading skill growth and sustained time spent reading (Allington, 2014; Locher & Pfost, 2020). Thus, the classroom library needs to contain literature that appeals to students’ interests, represents a variety of lived experiences, and connects to contemporary issues. Given this, it is likely that the exact controversial topics (i.e., race, sexuality, culture, history, etc.) keeping space in policy headlines will be present in some of the classroom library literature. So, how does a teacher advocate for these materials to remain?

Policy’s Effect and Advocacy Moving Forward

Recent proposed legislation in headlines and bills aims to limit or ban literature that is based on what is deemed as controversial topics, including American history, family, race, and more. However, banning literature and these topics is detrimental to the engagement, critical thinking, and overall learning possible in today’s classrooms. Certain bills go so far as to be explicit about how teachers can and cannot teach certain topics, prohibiting some ideas and prescribing the verbiage for others. For example, teachers in some districts have been told they cannot use literature that talks about race or could be deemed Anti-American. In this way, teachers are being told to teach prescribed content that is likely not wholly accurate and more importantly, is not culturally inclusive of all students.

More than ever, teachers must be wise about advocating for their students’ learning and “following the rules” while also providing thorough instruction and helping students become thoughtful global citizens. When teachers are selecting classroom library literature and instructional materials, they must be critical consumers themselves. Look at your class roster; whose culture is present in the materials? Whose is missing? Does every student have ample opportunities to find a book that represents them in the classroom library? Using interest inventories (Williams, 2022) at the beginning of the school year and using the information gathered to add new texts to instructional libraries and the larger classroom library is another option. Viewing instruction and the selection of materials through the argument presented here might provide teachers a way to build inclusive units of study that task students with critical considerations and keep teachers out of local headlines.

Additionally, consider speaking before policymakers; educators can use the theories calling for diverse books and relevant, multi-sided texts to sustain their pleas for professional freedom and all-encompassing classroom libraries. Finally, teachers facing book challenges or desiring more support for instructional freedom might consult some of the available resources such as the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE)’s Intellectual Freedom Center ( and the We Need Diverse Books website (, which is full of resources for teachers, parents, and librarians.


Allington, R. L. (2014). How Reading Volume Affects Both Reading Fluency and Reading Achievement. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education7(1), 13-26.

Bishop, R. S. (1990, March). Windows and mirrors: Children’s books and parallel cultures. In California State University reading conference: 14th annual conference proceedings (pp. 3-12).

Erdrich, L., & Littrell, N. (1999). The birchbark house. New York: Hyperion Books for children.

Locher, F., & Pfost, M. (2020). The relation between time spent reading and reading comprehension throughout the life course. Journal of Research in Reading43(1), 57-77.

Park, L. S. (2020). Prairie lotus. Clarion Books.

Rosenblatt, L. M. (1988). Writing and reading: The transactional theory (No. 416). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Wilder, L. I., & Williams, g. (1971). Little house on the prairie. 1st Harper Trophy ed. New York, N.Y., HarperTrophy.

Williams, K. (2022, October 31). 12 reading interest survey questions to ask students and sample questionnaire. Survey Sparrow.

Zapata, A., Kleekamp, M., & King, C. (2018). Expanding the Canon: How Diverse Literature Can Transform Literacy Learning. Literacy Leadership Brief. International Literacy Association.

Brooke Hardin is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Her research interests include writing development and instruction for intermediate and middle grades students, teaching and learning through technology and new literacies, literacy professional development and teacher education, and interdisciplinary approaches to reading, writing, and the utilization of Children’s Literature. Her years of experience as an elementary and middle grades classroom teacher and curriculum literacy specialist frame her research interests and commitment to teacher education.

Photo by Darren Richardson on Unsplash


The Impact of Educational Policy on Secondary History

This post is written by Tori Young. Read more about Tori at the bottom of this post.

As educators, we are masters at adapting to new scenarios and thinking on our feet. Whether it is behavioral challenges in the classroom, changing grade levels or content areas, or being told a new acronym that will guide our students to academic achievement. While the patterns stay the same, change remains the one constant in our world. In a time of attention on literacy policy in our public schools, what do we do as educators when our curriculum is criticized, and our livelihood is on the line? And how do we engage students in the process of not only understanding the necessity to examine policies but also how to do this and why?

In secondary history, many communities have questioned the intentions behind the curriculum presented. Talks of Critical Race Theory and indoctrination have instilled fear in parents and policymakers for the minds of students as they become passionate voices in movements for climate change, women’s rights, and racial equality. As teachers, the impact we have on a student is apparent, and sadly there are few enough instances of teachers abusing that role to teach their own agendas. In a time of great societal change and political bipartisanship, parents have expressed their concern for their children’s beliefs being influenced. As teachers, a lot of this skepticism falls upon us, even though forceful influence is very rare to see and is quickly reprimanded. Yet, we fall victim to the fear for our careers when discussing important, yet sensitive issues. Fear is valid, even if it is a small number that has created cause for concern. Fear should not prevent us, however, from doing our job of teaching true history.

True history is based on facts and first-hand accounts. Primary sources are the best accounts we have of our world before modern media, but a good historian is aware that these diaries and newspaper articles are just as full of bias. Our role is to teach students how to spot perspectives through context and draw their own conclusions based on facts. This skill is what makes not just a good historian, but a great citizen. Evaluating the world and the policies that impact our lives through an unbiased narrative is nearly impossible. Teaching students how to maintain their own beliefs, while also educating themselves with facts and truths is far from indoctrination. Instead, it is the foundation of a true democracy. Our republic is made up of diverse cultures, lifestyles, and needs. Raising a voting population that can make change for their communities while respecting the various opinions and preferences of other citizens is what makes a democracy free and fair. When teaching tough subjects such as religion, slavery, and civil rights, have students follow up the lesson with reflection. Depending on the classroom environment, it may be good to have a discussion so that students can hear and learn from each other’s perspectives. In some cases, it may be beneficial to have students write down their beliefs and receive unbiased feedback from the teacher to ensure that they understand the content while knowing that their views are validated and safe in the classroom.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi:

As policies in schools change, students do not always have the context. By pointing out instances in history where similar changes have occurred, showing the verbiage of standards and indicators, and creating discussion in the classroom about policy that impacts students directly, they are practicing this critical thinking skill.  By questioning the “why” behind literary policy in our social studies classrooms, students can come to their own conclusions based on the facts and their personal beliefs. This may look like having students recall a previous reading from a social studies or ELA class and having them reflect on the overall message of the author. Then, students can share with a partner what they found and try to spot context – why the author thought the message would be important. Lastly, students can analyze the impact if that message was never received. For example, if George Orwell’s 1984 was never written, would there still be people who believed that the government was completely trustworthy? Why would it matter to question the government? Where do we see examples in history where questioning the government has created change? How might the world be different if governments were never doubted or challenged? Our curriculum may be judged and altered to fit the new narrative of society, but it does not have to be a hindrance. We are always living in history; the context just looks a bit different.

Davis, W. (1925). Tennessee v. John T. Scopes [Black and White Photographic Print]. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Schools have been at the forefront of societal change several times in United States history. Challenging separate but equal through Brown v. Board of Education, questioning religious influence in curriculum with the Scopes Trial, or providing equal opportunities regardless of gender with Title IX, schools have been an environment for questioning society and legislation as the new generation learns about the world that they live in. Having schools targeted and subdued for speaking true history is not a new phenomenon, and it is not a purely American phenomenon. That does not make the changes and adapting any less scary for educators, but it does follow a pattern. Studying history helps us learn from patterns, so don’t panic. Instead, acknowledge the signs of the times, and help your students connect the dots for themselves just like you have been doing all along.   

Tori Young is a high school social studies teacher in Anderson, South Carolina. She is currently working on her Master’s in Instructional Design and Learning Technology at Anderson University.

Cover Image CC0


Policy and Advocacy in South Carolina

The panel of Literacy in the Disciplines 6-12’s newly formed committee on Policy and Advocacy addresses a number of key topics currently affecting education and educators in South Carolina. These topics include:

  • Policy within secondary schools; true history vs. the history that is presented
  • What is in and out of classroom libraries
  • Post-truth legislation, thinking, and the First Amendment
  • What considerations teacher prep needs to address for candidates given the current political and legislative environment

This webinar was held on July 19th, 2023 at 6:00 PM (ET). Click here to view.

LiD6-12 is funded by the South Carolina Middle Grades Initiative.

Literacy in the Disciplines 6-12 (LiD6-12) was founded in 2019 to respond to an identified need within South Carolina to support all content area teachers in successfully and effectively implementing disciplinary literacy strategies. The Policy & Advocacy Committee emerged within a context of legislative attacks on public and higher education within the state and across the country. The desire for this committee is to examine how policy impacts literacy and educational practices, and how educators can participate in policy conversations and engage in advocacy for the profession.

This webinar will feature Brooke Hardin, USC Upstate, Tori Young, Anderson 5 School District, and W. Ian O’Byrne, College of Charleston.

Cover Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


A Case for Music as Mentor Text Across the Disciplines

This post is written by Melissa Wrenn. You can learn more about Melissa at the bottom of this post.

In recent years, I became a music student. I don’t mean in the way I took piano lessons through middle and high school, but something else. I study the craft—the process of writing songs, creating music, publishing, etc. This is a multi-genre effort. I have watched documentaries about Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Christopher Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G.), The Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, Tina Turner, Joan Jett, Tupac Shakur, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, The Bee Gees, and countless others. I couldn’t even begin to count the hours I have invested in listening to podcasts about music development and music history. I follow the paths of the writers, the producers, the record labels, and the ranking process, not just the artists. In short, I am a student of the discipline.

Music offers classroom teachers powerful tools for foundational literacy skills when used as a mentor text for writing (e.g., rhyme, figurative language, genre, tone, mood, word choice) and reading (e.g., fluency, author’s purpose, inference). As a discipline, music can also be used to teach students about community, belonging, history, and advocacy. I vividly remember getting a set of CDs with the new social studies curriculum that my district adopted when I was a fifth-grade teacher. The CDs had songs that were written at various points in history and included diverse perspectives and voices.  As I explored the things I could do with them, I began to integrate the CDs into my literacy lessons. Thus, I found that music was a way to help students make abstract ideas more concrete and to say things they didn’t know that they also had the power to say. This shouldn’t be surprising, as adults use music for the same reasons, which can be heard in music across genres or seen in any music documentary.

The most recent documentary I watched was Jelly Roll: Save Me1, which aired on May 30, 2023, via Hulu. In this documentary, I saw one of the most transformative disciplinary literacy practices I have seen or heard about in my extensive music studies. Jelly Roll donated $400,000 to be used for youth projects, including music studios at the juvenile detention center, where he spent several years of his adolescence2. In the documentary, Jelly Roll talks about the detention center’s proximity to the music industry, and the importance of supporting young people on the path to success instead of returning them to the streets without skills. Music speaks to people of all ages, including those who are creating, sharing, and consuming music within the prison system.

The same can be said for people who are experiencing the push and pull factors of other forms of trauma. Tina Turner3 and Nina Simone4 repeatedly performed immediately following domestic violence. In a 1985 documentary, John Bailey5, captured Amir Mohammad’s experiences of creating, sharing, and consuming music as an Afghan refugee. More recently, Amanda Shires6 explored the trauma that she experienced, which became the lyrics for the song, “Cover Me Up,” which was written by her husband, Jason Isbell. This song was re-recorded by Morgan Wallen, and his album with the song about Amanda Shires’ trauma spent more than 100 weeks on the Billboard charts7. There are probably as many examples of this type of relationship between the impact of trauma and music as there are artists.

For classroom teachers, elevating music as a discipline for students to use when sharing their experiences and knowledge may be a powerful, yet under-utilized tool. When I was a fifth-grade teacher, I had a student who needed support with reading, and he was a devout Avett Brothers’ fan. He had worked so hard and made so much progress that I reached out to the Avett Brothers’ manager (you can literally find anything online). About a week later, Grammy-award winning Seth Avett recorded a special, encouraging message for my student, who had developed fluency by reading Avett Brothers’ lyrics.

So, as we are all reeling from the COVID recovery and other global and local tensions surrounding what education means, Jelly Roll serves as a disciplinary literacy model. He illustrates the connection between industry and community in the acts of creating, sharing, and consuming music. His efforts to build the musical disciplinary literacy capacity of youth who are incarcerated, those who may be at their lowest points, and those struggling with mental health, addiction, and more, highlights what one needs to be successful, and sometimes that starts with someone who gives us the tools and models to help us tell our stories in the discipline that speaks to our hearts.


  1. Pearlman, B. (Director). (2023). Jelly Roll: Save me. [Documentary]. Hulu.
  2. Newman, M. (2023, June 1). From prison to no. 1: Nashville rising star proves that ‘losers can win.’ Billboard.
  3. Lindsay, D., & Martin, T. J. (Directors). (2021). Tina. [Documentary]. Home Box Office.
  4. Garbus, L. (Director). (2015). What happened, Miss Simone? [Documentary]. Netflix.
  5. Bailey, J. (Director). (1985). Amir: An Afghan refugee musician’s life in Peshawar, Pakistan [Documentary]. Documentary Educational Resources.
  6. Jones, S. (Director). (2023). Jason Isbell: Running with our eyes closed. [Documentary] Home Box Office.
  7. O’Connell, M. (2023, January 8). Two years ago: Morgan Wallen releases record-breaking ‘Dangerous: The Double Album.” Country Now.

Melissa Wrenn, PhD, NBCT

Melissa has been an educator for over 20 years. She is a faculty member at East Carolina University in the Elementary Education and Middle Grades Education Department; she studies disciplinary literacy, teacher education, and classroom discourse. Melissa is also a fan of great documentaries and great coffee.

Cover Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash


Utilizing Disciplinary Literacy Mentor Texts

Literacy in the Disciplines, 6-12 (LiD) is pleased to announce our next webinar.

One of the greatest challenges secondary educators face is supporting students as they navigate challenging disciplinary texts. In this webinar, we make the case that being more intentional with selecting mentor texts aligned to meaningful disciplinary purposes. We will clarify our definition of “text”, consider what it means to apprentice students into the disciplinary text, and define a process for intentional text selection in service of a problem frame. Resources will be provided to support the application in participants’ contexts.

This webinar was held on June 15 2023. Cost: Free. LiD6-12 is funded by the South Carolina Middle Grades Initiative.

The video for this webinar is available here or embedded below.

This webinar featured Jenelle Williams, Oakland Schools, Michigan.

Jenelle Williams is a Literacy Consultant at
Oakland Schools, Michigan. She joined
the organization in 2017 following 18 years
of experience in public schools at the
elementary, middle, and high school
levels. She has served as a classroom
teacher, International Baccalaureate
Middle Years Programme Coordinator, IB
Educator and Examiner, and adjunct
professor. Jenelle recently stepped into
the position of co-editor of the Michigan
Reading Journal. She holds an Education
Specialist in Leadership and a Master’s
degree in Reading and Language Arts.
Jenelle works with teachers, building
leaders, and central office administrators
throughout Michigan as Co-Chair of the
statewide Disciplinary Literacy Task Force.

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Mentor Texts for Disciplinary Writing Instruction–Not Just for ELA Teachers!

This post is written by Jenelle Williams. Learn more about Jenelle at the bottom of this post.

As educators, many of us can identify mentors–people who have supported us along our educational journey. To mentor someone is both a sacred task and a tall order. In classrooms, text can serve as mentors as well. The purpose of this blog post is to clearly define what we mean by a disciplinary mentor text and to consider implications for effective disciplinary writing instruction. So let’s get started!

This is an exciting time to be an educator, as notions of text are expanding as time and technology move forward. For the purposes of this blog post, let’s agree that text includes anything with encoded meaning. This, of course, can mean printed words on a page, but it can also include many other things, such as symbols, musical notation, football play diagrams, dance performances, videos, audio recordings, podcasts, graphs, charts, and more. In this expanded definition of text, we must also expand our definitions of what it means to read, write, and be literate. For our purposes, being literate in a particular context means a person can consume the encoded meaning of a text, comprehend the meaning, and communicate in ways that are valued by that particular academic discipline or profession.

What is a mentor text?

Mentor texts are typically short, engaging texts provided to students for a particular purpose, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Acting as a foundation to learn or imitate a specific writing form
  • Teaching students to read with a writer’s eye (e.g., sentence structure or word choice)
  • Demonstrating what good writers do
  • Helping students take risks in their writing and develop their skills (from

The role of multimodality and representation

As educators select mentor texts to use as part of instruction, it is important that, in addition to expanded notions of what qualifies as text, they intentionally include multimodal texts. Multimodal refers to something occurring or being communicated through multiple media of communication or varying forms of expression. For example, a campaign video may have images, music, text, and data all presented in one multimodal text. Students regularly interact with multimodal texts (videos with embedded audio text, for example), and need instruction and practice in order to be critical consumers of these texts.

There is an additional (and necessary) challenge as educators select texts that serve as mentors for students’ disciplinary writing–how to ensure that they are attending to issues of representation. To what extent are authors of various ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives represented? How might we be more intentional to include authors representing historically marginalized populations? To be sure, this requires more time and effort on the part of educators, but it is well worth the effort, as it can provide students with a connection and entry point to learning.

Authentic purpose in mentor texts for writing

In order to truly engage secondary students in authentic inquiry with mentor texts, it is vital that educators provide an authentic purpose for students to engage in mentor texts beyond simply being assigned to do so. It must be clear that the mentor text will serve a purpose and will eventually allow students to communicate their ideas with an audience greater than themselves and the teacher. The following lists some examples of authentic inquiries that would require students to engage with a wide range of texts (including mentor texts):

  • Why does a lot of hail, rain, or snowfall at some times and not others?
  • How can we use mathematical and statistical knowledge and analysis to monitor and predict the spread of disease and use our findings to make and evaluate decisions made at the personal, community, state, and national levels?
  • How can we use poetry to promote social justice in our community?
  • How can we as historians uncover and share stories about our community? Whose stories are often left untold?

Once we have identified authentic purposes for students to engage with disciplinary mentor texts for writing, we need to consider instructional approaches that leverage the power of those texts. Just as we needed to define the term “text”, it is vital that we hold a shared understanding of what we mean by the term “writing”–or, at the very least, a shared understanding of what we mean by writing instruction:

Let’s begin with some non-examples of writing instruction. They include the following:

  • Writing instruction is NOT assigning writing
  • It is NOT over-emphasizing grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • It is NOT requiring rigid structures (i.e. telling students exactly how many sentences, what kind of sentences, and in what order)
  • It is NOT valuing the writing product over the writing process
  • It is NOT copying notes from lectures or PowerPoints, definitions of vocabulary words, answers to questions straight from the textbook, or formulas for writing

When we are working with educators to strengthen their writing instruction, we emphasize the following practices:

  • Modeling the process of preparing to write, drafting and revising writing, and reflecting on writing
  • Using writing as a tool to support learning and reflection
  • Providing support before and during writing in class
  • Valuing the process of writing just as much as the product

Disciplinary writing begins with an authentic purpose for writing. Members of various academic disciplines and professions use both informal and formal writing in order to process or organize ideas; communicate and share ideas; evaluate ideas; develop and support a claim; explain a phenomenon, process, or solution; entertain; record data, evidence, and observations; solve a problem; and much more. Middle- and high-school students can be apprenticed into these types of disciplinary writing with intentional support.

For example, students in an eighth-grade Social Studies class might engage in inquiry on the following question: What was the human toll during the Civil War? As part of their inquiry, they may read the following disciplinary texts: photographs of soldiers preparing to go to war, data tables on Civil War casualties, and first-person accounts from soldiers’ diaries. Students may engage in informal writing such as annotating texts; note-taking in response to readings, discussions, or teacher-presented information; and constructing an outline and then a first draft of a historical account or explanation. Formal writing may be a historical account or evidence-based argument about the human toll of the Civil War that is shared with an appropriate audience beyond the teacher.

Essential Instructional Practice 4 & additional helpful resources

Essential Instructional Practice 4 from the Essential Instructional Practices in Disciplinary Literacy document is a great place to start for teachers that are interested in strengthening their support of students’ disciplinary writing. Teachers may read the General Practices at the beginning of the document, or they may be interested in selecting the content area section that best aligns with their work. Additional helpful resources are also suggested in the table below.

Learner Variability Navigator
ELAMathematicsScienceSocial Studies
Michigan Middle School English Language Arts UnitsWriting in Mathematics – Annenberg LearnerScaffolding Students’ Written Explanations | AST Beyond Writing to Learn, The Science Teacher (NSTA)Read.Inquire.Write
The New York Times MS HS Writing Curriculum
MusicPhysical Education & HealthVisual ArtsHeritage & World Languages
Lesson Idea | MAEIAWritingAthletes.comLesson Idea | MAEIAThe Nature of L2 Writing | Foreign Language Teaching Methods

The great news is that secondary educators do not have to be writing experts (or even published authors) in order to teach students how to write effectively within and across disciplines. As long as we keep expanded notions of text, multimodality, and representation in mind, along with an authentic purpose for students to engage with a disciplinary mentor text, we are well on our way to modeling and scaffolding students as they create disciplinary texts of their own. We are lucky as well that we have free, widely available resources that can help us shift toward effective pedagogical moves. Let’s get writing, everyone!

Jenelle Williams is a Literacy Consultant within the Leadership and Continuous Improvement unit at Oakland Schools, an intermediate school district supporting the 28 districts in Oakland County, Michigan. She joined the organization in 2017 following 18 years of experience in public schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She has served as a classroom teacher, IB Middle Years Programme Coordinator, teacher leader, and educational technology coach. An IB Educator and Examiner since 2013, Jenelle leads professional learning workshops and marks e-assessments for the International Baccalaureate Organization. She holds an Education Specialist in Leadership degree and a Master’s degree in Reading and Language Arts through Oakland University. In addition, Jenelle serves as an Adjunct Professor in Grand Valley State University’s Graduate Program and a co-editor of The Michigan Reading Journal, a publication from the Michigan Reading Association. Jenelle is passionate about supporting teachers, building leaders, and central office administrators in the area of secondary literacy, and she is especially excited to be able to support Michigan’s work around disciplinary literacy through her role as Co-Chair of the statewide Disciplinary Literacy Task Force. She can be reached at, and on Twitter at @JenelleWilliam6 and @GELN612Literacy.

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Exploring Mentor Texts

This post is written by Charlene Aldrich. You can learn more about Charlene at the bottom of this post.

I’ve always been a strong believer in the power of reading to identify important information and to grow decision-making processes.  My mantra is, “Never tell someone what they need to know when they can find out for themselves by reading.”  So, when I saw the book Micro Mentor Texts by Penny Kittle come up in my Facebook feed, I was especially intrigued by the idea that students might not need to read ALL of Romeo and Juliet to become knowledgeable of Shakespeare, his cheeky quotes, and 16th-century literature.

I’m not trying to sell you on this book, instead, I AM trying to sell you on the idea that mentor texts don’t have to be complete works that students gloss over to “complete the assignment.”  Can it be that teachers can provide specific sample excerpts to achieve their literacy goals?

Spelling and Vocabulary

Research has affirmed the idea that successful readers and writers tend to have prolific vocabularies 1.

Useable vocabularies grow through listening and reading, speaking and writing2.  I continue to believe in the developmental nature of language to support literacy development as I watch my granddaughter on her preschool journey to beginning reading.  Her speaking vocabulary includes words and phrases such as “cheeky little rascal,” “plaster,” and “go through” because of her fascination with the very British show featuring Peppa and George Pig!  She may never read them in the same context, but the foundation has been laid for multi-meaning words if she sees these and similar words and phrases in reading selections.

What does this say to educators and about mentor texts?  Reading, writing, and oral language are tightly knit; introducing mentor texts as examples of effective writing “… promotes students to view, discuss, read, and create literature that affords opportunities for spelling and vocabulary development that are engaging, relevant and active”3.

Blog writers from ELA Matters share “3 Engaging Mentor Texts for Middle and High School”.  One that supports vocabulary development is My Name by Sandra Cisneros.  While the language is simple, Cisneros weaves it into rich literary devices such as imagery, simile, and metaphor. Students of all reading abilities see how to use their own vocabulary levels to develop descriptive works that require precise vocabulary.

Beyond spelling and vocabulary 

In addition to growing spelling and vocabulary, mentor texts contribute to the development of other traits of effective writing: organization, conventions, sentence fluency, and voice. Mentor texts are examples for students to follow as they develop their own ideas through these traits4. They can be below grade level to make the traits obvious; they can be on or above grade level to meet the standards that require complex texts. They can include a wide range of styles – from classical literature to graphic novels. Teachers can use them to develop critical thinking and persuasive arguments. Students can read memoirs in preparation for personal narratives. The inclusion of authors and diverse topics can even mentor acceptance and open-mindedness. And never overlook the power and pleasure of picture books for growing storytelling.

Mentor texts are not restricted to the ELA curriculum. As state standards have shown through the inclusion of disciplinary literacy requirements, each discipline contains its own set of unique formats, craft, and technical language. Thus, each content area teacher has the opportunity to include quality mentor texts for students to emulate as they meet the reading and writing needs of each discipline.  What do YOU enjoy reading in your discipline? How can students also find enjoyment in your choice of reading selections of your discipline?

My grandson introduced me to A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen. This book takes readers through life behind the Berlin Wall, beginning with the night it was built.  Social Studies/History courses are meant to provide multiple perspectives to ensure accurate representation of diverse experiences. This historical fiction book opens with vivid language to introduce a school-age girl’s reaction to the lack of freedom that was imminent. “There was no warning the night the wall went up.  I awoke to sirens screaming throughout my city of East Berlin. Instantly, I flew from my bed. Something must be terribly wrong.  Why were there so many?” Individual excerpts from the book can be extracted as a mentor text for writing essays that focus on the value of freedom. Using this text as a mentor, along with showcasing other fictional or nonfiction realities of this time period, can support students’ ability to also write about their own experiences with freedom or war.

Using Model Texts

Students NEED high-quality reading selections that challenge them to grow in their personal literacy skills; after all, literacy is power. In addition to meaning-making, model texts provide examples of effective composition techniques5. Using them effectively becomes the goal.  Robyn English (2021) offers this advice6:

  • Be familiar with the reading selection and what you want it to demonstrate
  • Be purposeful in your use; plan for single successes, not multiple attempts
  • Be knowledgeable of the strategy or characteristic being taught
  • Be flexible, returning to a single text for other purposes
  • Be generous, sharing them as you would any book in your classroom library

In Short

Students need positive role models for growing into responsible adults. Likewise, they need effective models of texts for growing their literacy strength. As English notes in her text listed above, “Mentor texts support a teacher in modeled reading or writing.”

Charlene Aldrich is an instructor in the Office of Professional Development at the College of Charleston. While content-area literacy is her specialty, she also teaches Assessments in Reading, Foundations in Reading, and Instructional Practices as required by South Carolina for recertification. She serves as the Treasurer of LiD 6-12.

Cover Photo by NEOM on Unsplash


Growing as a Literacy Leader

This post is written by Erin Kessel. You can learn more about Erin at the bottom of this post.

What is a literacy leader? In my opinion, it is a highly qualified teacher in literacy instruction who provides valuable resources for other teachers to facilitate quality instruction. Providing highly qualified teachers with the opportunity to fill this role promotes growth in our field, allows these experienced teachers to stay in the classroom, and gives more novice teachers a mentor to support them. Today I will share with you my personal story as a literacy leader and the opportunities it provided me to grow as an educator while also growing others.

In 2020 I was offered an opportunity by my district to become a Multi-Classroom Teacher with a focus on literacy. The Multi-Classroom Teacher position was created in our district for master teachers, a designation determined by classroom observation and student performance data, who then co-taught across multiple classrooms with other teachers and apprenticed them in highly effective instruction. After 12 years in the classroom, mentoring beginning teachers, supervising interns, and leading PLCs, I was ready to grow as an educator and accepted the position. The goal was simple — mentor and model literacy instruction in five 3rd through 5th-grade classrooms where teachers had less than three years of teaching experience.

Through years of learning and applying strategies of Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching, I began with a plan to actively listen to the teachers, identify needs, and establish goals to support them. I spent two weeks simply observing the literacy blocks of each classroom. I recorded objective, anecdotal notes and began to set my intentions for areas of targeted support with each teacher. The following descriptions are the focus areas based on my data for each teacher:

  • Teacher #1 – An experienced teacher assistant transitioning to a teacher with strong small group instruction skills but difficulty designing whole group literacy instruction where students experience a gradual release of responsibility of learning (Goal – To design whole group literacy lessons focused on scaffolding the learning for students).
  • Teacher #2 – A engaging third-year teacher who had powerful literacy instruction methods but lacked knowledge of how to incorporate collaborative learning within her classroom (Goal – To learn about, model, and engage in collaborative strategies).
  • Teacher #3 – A second-year teacher who had the “right stuff” as an educator but had never taken the time to build rapport with her students and felt a lack of community within her classroom (Goal – To build relationships with and learn about students as people including their likes, interests, and home life).
  • Teacher #4 – A compassionate second-year teacher who lacked organization and engagement strategies to encourage her students to want to learn (Goal – To learn about, model, and engage in Whole Brain Teaching strategies).
  • Teacher #5 – A first-year teacher who spent her clinical teaching year virtually due to COVID who lacked sufficient classroom management skills, therefore behaviors and disruptions were consistently affecting learning (Goal – To establish norms and routines in her classroom as well as create a concrete classroom management plan to hold students accountable of their actions and encourage them to want to learn).

After a week of collecting observational data, I set a time to meet with each teacher and have a goal-planning conversation. Within the Cognitive Coaching model, it is the coach’s job to lead the participant/s through the stages of a conversation where they identify their goals and set their own plan while the coach provides some potential strategies. I discovered this group had not been able to collaborate with an experienced teacher since their student teaching and therefore did not have access to guidance, resources, and tools for effective literacy instruction.

As a mentor teacher, I had the experience, knowledge, and resources to support each of these teachers’ goals. I asked the teachers to become observers for two weeks during their literacy block and allow me to facilitate learning in their classrooms while focusing on their specific needs. The teachers used an observer form to stay focused on my facilitation of the instruction specifically tied to their goals. I also attended their planning periods, where we collaborated to develop a library of lessons and resources. I built rapport and trust with each teacher, which allowed us to consistently hold reflective conversations focused on their goals and ways to incorporate the instruction they observed into the lesson plans we created.

(When these amazing teachers choose to dress in my Erin Kessel “iconic” daily outfit, I know I have made connections with my teachers)

I spent two weeks cultivating and facilitating different plans for each class and working with students of all ability levels while incorporating many diverse types of teaching strategies to model options of literacy learning. The following were ways I helped each teacher approach her goal:

  • Teacher #1 – We redesigned her schedule with a specific time set to introduce content, model, and allow students to practice and apply their learning. We also planned — and I modeled — how to provide differentiated opportunities in a lesson during whole-group instruction. We developed a presentation format (PowerPoint) for her lessons that guided her through the gradual release process.
  • Teacher #2 – I intentionally introduced the class to collaboration practices and strategies within the literacy block. Students participated in Learning-Focused Collaborative Pairs, Socratic methods of teaching, Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies, Adaptive School strategies, and other various strategies I have created through my own experiences. As this teacher observed these strategies being applied in her classroom, she saw student engagement increase, students’ understanding of content grow, and more students involved in class discussion. She then utilized the strategies she was seeing modeled.
  • Teacher #3 – Community meetings were established each morning before her literacy block, which engaged students with each other and utilized multimodal methods of literacy to prepare their brains for the day. Multiple community meeting processes were used where students expressed themselves as individuals and learned commonalities with each other. The teacher participated and learned about the students as individuals, and the students learned more about the teacher. The rapport became evident when students began to support each other during collaborative activities. They also entrusted the teacher with more personal information and would seek guidance in non-academic situations.
  • Teacher #4 –  Through modeling and professional development of Whole Brain Teaching, she was quickly able to establish daily routines through fun callbacks, engage in bodily-kinesthetic and verbal learning of literacy curriculum, and create a respect for her attention when deemed necessary. Her classroom management, routines, and classroom literacy instruction benefited from utilizing this program.
  • Teacher #5 – Through consistent use of expectations and norms and a structured schedule, the teacher replicated my modeled methods and saw improvement in the respect her students had for her. Through attending the planning periods, asking questions, requesting modeling of instruction, and assisting in designing literacy assessments, her understanding of literacy curriculum and how to facilitate it increased exponentially. She also benefited from the shared PowerPoint presentations we made during planning to guide her instruction.

After teaching in all classrooms, I began to see the value of my effort. I started noting strategies I used in their literacy blocks were now being used in other core content areas by these teachers. When we met to review our planning conversations, some teachers felt they had met their goal, and through planning conversations, we established new goals. Over the course of two years, I co-taught and co-planned with these teachers.

(As the shirts state, “Together through it all” was our motto as we worked side by side in their classroom every day.)

The experiences I had as a Multi Classroom Teacher and literacy leader within this school began to grow my need to share this role with others. I recently became a teaching instructor at East Carolina University, where I teach the READ courses to education major students. I can share my experiences and grow our future teachers as they explore their concentrations for their education degree. I encourage students to explore our Read Concentration program to help develop our next Literacy Leaders. I have spoken at multiple conferences on the value of literacy leaders and continue to speak on the benefits of this role in every school, especially schools with low teacher retention rates, as that is where they are most valuable and can make the greatest impact.

Erin Kessel is a teaching instructor in the Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education Department at East Carolina University.  Previously, she was a Multi Classroom Literacy Leader, Facilitating Teacher, and a 4th grade teacher.  Erin’s work focuses on literacy leadership and developing literacy leaders as well as building a classroom community through literacy as she presents at the local, state and national level.Follow on Twitter @kessel_erin

Please cite this work: Kessel, E. (2023). Growing as a Literacy Leader. Literacy In The Disciplines. CC BY 4.0 license.

Cover Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash