Financial Literacy Policy Update


Tori Young opens our March them with information that has shaped this addition to South Carolina High School Curriculum. Read more about Tori at the end of the blog.

Scrolling through social media, I often see young adults lamenting about why their teachers never taught them about taxes, credit, or interest rates. These adults feel lost and overwhelmed by the financial responsibility thrust upon them. While financial education may not look the same as it did fifteen years ago with Home Economics and Family and Consumer Science classes being defunded in several states, financial literacy is still integrated into many state standards through Social Studies and Freshman Readiness classes such as Economics or College and Career Readiness (CCR) classes. such as EPF.2.PR: “research and analyze the factors that impact personal income and long-term earning potential,” as an indicator in Economics and “students will be able to demonstrate productivity skills that will aid them in school and the workplace” as an objective in CCR.

            Financial literacy is one of the few skills taught in schools that has a direct application to life for each student at the moment of learning it and in the future, regardless of their career goals. Knowing how to manage a budget, keep a healthy credit score, take out and pay off loans, and consider healthy investments are something every American adult has to consider on some scale every day. To understand income and expenses, a bank versus a credit union, and credit and debit are simple terms in financial literacy, but understanding them can greatly impact someone’s financial success. Knowing what options are available and what they mean helps consumers make smart financial decisions for themselves and their families, as well as avoid being taken advantage of by banks, loan companies, and businesses.

            Lawmakers understand that when their constituents are financially literate, which means they can make better personal and business-related financial decisions, their states have greater economic success. Because of this, lawmakers over the past few years have begun to find ways to prioritize financial education through the standards of existing courses such as high school Economics and CCR courses that are already funded and required for graduation. Some states are even starting to require Personal Finance as a half-credit course, which teaches students how to balance a budget, plan for future expenses, understand banking and payment options, and choose appropriate loan and credit options for their personal goals. As financial literacy in middle and high school education is becoming a topic for our representatives, what should we know as teachers?

            As of December of 2023, only 25 states require at least a half credit of personal finance, with five states and Washington D.C. not including personal finance in their standards (Nex Gen Personal Finance). However, the past two years have seen exponential growth in financial literacy in high school education because more politicians have seen the importance of young people becoming financially literate. In South Carolina, back in 2022, lawmakers passed 1.101 (SDE: Graduation Requirements) to require an additional half credit of Personal Finance for graduation beginning with the current freshman class of 2023-2024 (SC Dept of Ed). To meet this requirement, many high schools in SC now require Business Ed, CCR, or Social Studies teachers to step in to teach the course. Not only do these courses help students as individuals to be financially successful, but they help their communities and states as well when everyone has a better understanding of their finances. While only half of our country is requiring this skill to be taught, it is promising that more states will be joining them in the near future.

            If you are wondering how this may apply to you as a middle or high school teacher, it has several impacts both in and out of the classroom! As a high school Economics teacher, I have found many skills from other disciplines necessary for my students to teach them personal finance effectively. We regularly calculate budgets, read data tables, and analyze graphs in class to analyze individual finance goals and overall economic patterns. Many of my students who struggle with personal finance struggle with mathematical and scientific literacy taught in the early years of schooling. For instance, the skills built in middle school science, learning about an X and Y axis, or in Algebra when dividing and working with decimals are crucial for students when they get to Personal Finance. You are building the infrastructure of financial literacy!

            Financial Literacy makes up the second standard in the current SC Economics standards for social studies. The motive is that “financial literacy is imperative in making individual economic decisions regarding spending, careers, and setting short- and long-term financial goals. Decision-making and marginal analysis tools are essential in evaluating possible financial options. The ability to make wise choices can impact one’s standard of living and future earning potential” (2019 SSCCR). In order to achieve this goal, Economics teachers rely on a foundation of disciplinary literacy across the general education courses. From ELA, we ask students to research reliable sources and read news articles to find key information about the job market to determine if their career choice is feasible and realistic. From Mathematics, we require the ability to add and subtract to manage expenses and balance a budget as well as read a graph to evaluate the highs and lows of the cost of living. And from Science, we are gathering data from sources and testing different financial choices repeatedly to come to a sound conclusion.

We can all agree the weight of financial responsibility is heavy, for everyone. In turn, when these students graduate and begin their careers, whatever that may be, these students will have the knowledge needed to navigate financial independence. And maybe one day, when they are extremely wealthy, they will remember those of us who helped them get there. 😉

If you want to learn more about personal finance and financial literacy or access free curriculum, resources, and games for students, check out If you are an Economics teacher and your state has implemented personal finance into your standards, check out and for great resources and learning modules!

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.

Using the Jigsaw Strategy to Acquire Content in Biology


Classroom teacher Wanda Littlejohn shares how she engages striving readers using the Jigsaw Strategy. Read more about Wanda at the end of the blog.

My classroom teaching experience began over 20 years ago in an affluent school district where there were only a few elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. All of the schools focused on student academic growth and excellence, and they collaborated well together to ensure the content taught was aligned vertically and horizontally. Most of my students read fluently, were motivated to learn new things, and had similar experiences at home and at school. As a science teacher, I rarely had to provide interventions to gain student interest or to help them read and write like scientists. However, over the years I have learned that my experience as a classroom teacher is vastly different and not all students make it to high school knowing how to read and write fluently. According to the 2023 SC Ready test results, only 53% of eighth grade students either met or exceeded the reading expectations for the state while other subgroups such as pupils who are in poverty, Black, multilingual learners, and with disabilities performed at a rate of 42.3% or less (SCSDE, 2023). Because of these results, it is evident that students entering high school need reading support, and high school teachers need to be equipped with strategies that will assist students in all content areas, specifically in science. In this post, I will share how I utilized the jigsaw strategy as a means to facilitate success for striving readers a biology class.

In the January 4, 2022, issue of EdWeek Madeline Will states: “For the millions of students who struggle to read at grade level, every school day can bring feelings of anxiety, frustration, and shame” (p.1). The highly rigorous curricular standards outlining the knowledge and skills students should have by the end of each science course are designed to prepare students to predict outcomes, create procedures, analyze data, and draw conclusions. If over half of the students entering high school are unable to read at grade level, they are not able to meet the science classroom demands, ultimately leading to students’ feeling frustrated and lost in their science classes. Will (2022) goes on to state “…children who don’t receive appropriate support can fall behind in multiple classes, even though they are capable of intellectually understanding the material” (p. 2). If students are intellectually capable of understanding the material, scaffolds need to be put in place to bring that intellectual understanding out of them. Moreover, those strategies need to assist the striving reader’s comprehension of scientific text and vocabulary.

I had the pleasure of providing corrective instruction for several groups of students taking a Biology I course, many of whom were either multilingual learners or were students with a learning disability. During the lesson, we addressed the processes of cell division, cellular respiration, and photosynthesis and their importance to sustaining life. Because these concepts are so abstract, many students find them difficult to grasp.  The teacher’s initial testing showed these students needed more time with the content because they were unable to clearly define the concepts or processes which had been taught nor were they able to identify models that represented each concept. It was evident from these data that students needed a way to better comprehend the vocabulary.

Addressing the concern of providing appropriate support for striving readers, I chose to use the jigsaw strategy to support these learners as we revisited the concepts stated above.  In John Hattie’s research, the jigsaw strategy has a large effect on student achievement.  Hattie proclaims in his book Visible Learning (2009) that self-instruction, organizing, and transforming are valuable tools to get students to be active in their learning and all create a high impact on student growth and achievement. The jigsaw strategy adds student discourse to the lesson and allows students to read, write, speak, and listen within a cooperative setting. 

During the lesson, the students were assigned one of the four concepts (photosynthesis, cellular respiration, macromolecules, cell division).  The students were given 20 minutes to read articles and listen to videos about their assigned topic.  Each student was given a graphic organizer that supported their reading and listening and contained questions they had to answer during their individual research time to ensure they were obtaining the right information about their concepts.  After their research phase was complete, the students were given 30 minutes to work in expert groups with other students who had the same concept so they could synthesize and organize their information.  The students also had to create a model representing their concept and produce talking points they could use to explain their concept to others.  It was imperative for me to conference with each group during the expert phase to ensure they were on the right track and they had accurate descriptions.  The final step in the process was to jigsaw the students so each group contained an expert on each concept.  During this phase, the students shared their models, while other students filled out a graphic organizer capturing the new information learned.  As the jigsaw ended, one student indicated she really felt better about the concepts and she learned so much in the smaller group setting.   At the close of the lesson, the students took a short assessment again on each concept.   


Figure 1


Figure 2

In Biology, the standards require students to create models to illustrate the processes of both cellular respiration and photosynthesis. The figures above show some of the students’ interpretations of those process after completing the jigsaw activity. It was evident from the figures above that the students had a general understanding of both processes. Figure 2 shows an even deeper understanding that both processes depend on each other and produce a continuous cycle.

In closing, striving readers, according to Will (2022), need a supportive classroom environment where they are welcomed to be risk takers and to have a growth mindset.  During a jigsaw activity, there are a lot of moving parts and directions. The advice I would share is to be prepared to redirect students, repeat instructions, and visit each individual during each phase to ensure the students feel supported. Allowing students to research and read individually first gives them an opportunity to make meaning of things before they have to make meaning with a peer. Becoming an expert with a peer allows striving readers to reread and repeat information a second time, which enhances comprehension. I found the jigsaw strategy increased student knowledge of the concepts, gave them the confidence they needed to engage in discussion with their peers, and gave them the ability to complete the models shown in Figures 1 and 2. To learn more about the jigsaw strategy, click here.

Dr. Wanda Littlejohn has 23 years of experience in the field of education.  She is currently the Instructional Specialist at Carolina High School in Greenville, South Carolina.

Educational Frontiers: Unraveling AI’s Impact on Learning in the Next Decade.


January’s webinar features Dr. Ian O’Byrne, an associate professor of literacy education in the Teacher Education Department of the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He reminds us of the positive effect of open dialogue in the classroom when introducing new and controversial instructional tools such as artificial intelligence.

Click here to access the recording.

AI and the Art of Writing: Balancing Innovation with Tradition in Education


We welcome Ian O’Byrne as we open our blog and webinar theme: Artificial Intelligence. Please read more about Ian at the end of the blog.

Educators are currently struggling with a significant decision: Should AI be integrated into the writing process? Some worry that it could impede students’ writing skills. This leads to an important question: Have American schools ever been successful in teaching writing? When was writing education at its best? Where is it now?  As educators, how can we strike the right balance?

There is no easy answer to these questions. The history of writing education in America is long and complex, and there have been many different approaches to teaching writing over the years. Schools now stand at a crossroads as AI-powered writing tools gain popularity. These technologies promise to enhance instruction and feedback but also raise concerns about over-reliance. To make sense of this balance, let’s first look at what exactly AI is.

What is Generative AI?

The intelligence of computers or software, as opposed to the intellect of people or animals, is known as artificial intelligence (AI). It is a branch of computer science that creates and investigates intelligent machines. Uses of artificial intelligence in the form of an agent, bot, or tool are generally labeled as AI. In the last year, we’ve seen an influx of AI in our lives as ChatGPT exploded on the scene. A far better way to view these tools is to refer to them as Generative AI and not simply as AI or ChatGPT.

Generative AI refers to advanced artificial intelligence systems that can generate new content on their own rather than just responding to user prompts. Models like GPT-3 (ChatGPT) can write entire essays, stories, and code after being trained on vast datasets. This means they may soon be capable of assisting students and teachers with writing tasks like brainstorming ideas, translating rough drafts into more polished work, answering content questions, and even providing feedback.

However, generative AI also raises challenges. Teachers will need to focus on developing original thinking skills rather than knowledge recall, and concerns around plagiarism, creativity, and voice must be addressed. When used judiciously, generative writing tools could enhance instruction and revision. But ultimately, writing education should emphasize the uniquely human aspects of imagination, analysis, and persuasive communication that AI cannot replicate.

What about writing instruction?

The history of writing education in America is a mixed bag. Some of the earliest writing instruction in America took place in one-room schoolhouses, where students were taught the basics of grammar and spelling. Teaching pupils to write included teaching them how to form letters, spell words, and have readable, if not exquisite, handwriting. Writing instruction in American schools began in the late 1800s as colleges started requiring admissions essays. This mostly focused on preparing an elite group of males with a formulaic, five-paragraph structure that developed basic literacy but limited creativity.

Students were required to master the five-paragraph essay, but this method sometimes stifled originality and expression. While it did instill basic writing skills, it may not have nurtured a deep love for writing. Some shifts came in the 1960s and 1970s as the process approach emerged, emphasizing planning, drafting, revising, etc. The National Writing Project (NWP) raised awareness about the ways that writing changes throughout a person’s life, the impact of a range of school and non-school experiences on writing, and the interactions between writing in school and these lived experiences. 

Throughout the 20th century, writing instruction continued to follow a rigid, formulaic approach, emphasizing grammar and structure over creativity and critical thinking. Some of this focus on the importance of grammar and mechanics in writing instruction was due in part to the rise of standardized testing, which required students to demonstrate their mastery of these skills. Students were inundated with topic sentences, transitional phrases, and conclusion restatements in the omnipresent five-paragraph essay. Although this method guaranteed a basic level of literacy, creativity and enthusiasm were frequently sacrificed.

In recent years, the tide seems to have turned in favor of more innovation, voice, and freedom of expression. There has been a growing movement to move away from traditional grammar-based approaches to writing instruction and to focus more on helping students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Current best practices involve process-based instruction tailored to students’ needs and interests. Assignments also incorporate more authentic, real-world writing purposes and audiences.

Yet, with this varied history in the focus, goals, and implementation of writing instruction, the teaching of writing has not changed in many schools. Debates continue around balancing process approaches with quality outcomes. Standardized writing tests have been criticized for over-emphasizing grammar at the expense of actual writing skills. Researching writing development, including spelling patterns and the connections between writing, speaking, and reading, is a constant challenge. Other ongoing issues include managing teachers’ heavy workloads, integrating technology for composition and collaboration, and closing achievement gaps for minority students. Simultaneously, some educators find it difficult to strike a balance between grammar and real-world communication possibilities.

Writing Education and Generative AI

Generative AI tools hold great promise, but they also pose risks. Over-scaffolded writing assignments might fail to teach core composition skills. Targeted AI feedback could improve self-editing and reworking while maintaining the humanity of audience awareness and personal narrative. Students can receive immediate, personalized feedback thanks to technologies like AI co-writers, grammar and style checks, and predictive text. Students could become overly dependent on AI recommendations rather than developing their own voice and style. Essay scoring algorithms even mimic the evaluation procedure. Schools should prioritize balancing rather than seeing innovation as a substitute for efficient practice.

As educators and researchers, we need to better understand the appropriate role for writing technologies. How can AI augmentation best complement time-tested instructional methods? Which specific skills should remain the focus for teachers and students? Even with the help of intelligent recommendation systems, collaborative discourse and knowledge might still be developed through writing workshops and reading circles. Both tradition and technology have their place.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing instruction, and the best approach for a particular student will depend on their individual needs. It is important to note that writing is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. Students will not become good writers overnight. However, with effective instruction, all students can learn to write well. There are some key principles that we can use to help guide future explorations of writing instruction and AI. These principles include:

  • A focus on the writing process as opposed to product, from prewriting to revision
  • Opportunities for students to write for a variety of purposes and audiences
  • Feedback from teachers, peers, and other agents
  • Numerous, varied chances for students to hone their writing abilities

As leaders in literacy, we have the chance to mentor the upcoming generation of authors. When writing instruction veered too much in the direction of either freedom or structure, it went awry. We can provide kids with the best of both worlds by ethically incorporating AI as a tool for improved results. Teaching the craft, generating ideas, finding one’s voice, and fostering a lifelong love of writing continue to be our guiding values. Technology can support this objective if used wisely. We can find the ideal equilibrium if we act carefully and wisely.

Dr. W. 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. Ian is the author of many journal articles and book chapters focusing on initiatives ranging from online and hybrid coursework, integrating technology in the classroom, computational thinking, and supporting marginalized students in literacy practices. His work can be found on his website ( or in his weekly newsletter (

Counternarratives in 6-12 Classrooms: Disrupting Harmful Narratives and Engaging Students in Critical Thinking and Reflection


Christy Howard returns with additional thoughts through the eyes of a literacy educator who works with preservice and in-service teachers as they navigate the changing expectations of education. Read more about Christy at the end of her blog.

Through my work as a literacy educator, I have the opportunity to work with preservice and in-service teachers as they navigate the changing expectations of education. I also work with school support staff, administrators and district-level curriculum leaders. Through this work I have recently been engaged in many conversations around curriculum materials and text selection for classrooms. Educators want to know how to engage students in the learning process, and how to help them in their journey to becoming critical consumers of texts — especially in a world where they are bombarded with so much information. Many secondary teachers recognize the need to look beyond the textbook for classroom materials, often acknowledging content area textbooks fail to provide all the information needed to support student learning. Many of them also acknowledge textbooks provide incomplete stories. My response to these educators as I nod in agreement is, “Let’s take a look at the role of counternarratives in your materials and text selection process.”

What are counternarratives?

There are many definitions of counternarratives. Here I would like to share the definition from Tricia Ebarvia’s new book, Get Free. She shares:

“A counternarrative is a story that stands in contrast to and challenges the values, beliefs and an established dominant narrative. Often counternarratives do this by focusing on the perspectives that are missing, marginalized, or actively erased from the dominant narrative” (Ebarvia, 2023, p.3).

This definition stands out to me because of the discussion of erasure. When I think about my conversations with educators and their stories of how some of them are dealing with curriculum mandates and banned books in their districts, this is an example of how perspectives are actively erased from the dominant narrative. Curriculum mandates and book bans often minimize access to the ideas, experiences and histories of marginalized groups. This is a clear reason why we need to provide space for multiple perspectives, allowing students to engage with both dominant narratives and counternarratives.

Why are counternarratives important?

Stories that only show the dominant perspective can be harmful. Students need exposure to multiple perspectives. These perspectives are not always readily available in neighborhoods and families. Tatum (2017) reminds us, Many of us grow up in neighborhoods where we had limited opportunities to interact with people different from our own families… Consequently, most of the early information we receive about “others”– people racially, religiously, or socioeconomically different from ourselves–does not come as a result of firsthand experience. The second hand information we receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete (p. 84).

This incomplete information can lead to harmful actions. For example, incomplete, distorted information shaped by cultural stereotypes has led to physical and emotional harm against people in this country. We have seen this highlighted in news stories about hate crimes against marginalized groups, that in many cases have led to death. These incomplete stories and distorted stereotypes can be addressed through counternarratives in our classrooms, and if we believe dominant narratives can be harmful, it is easy to believe that perhaps counternarratives can be healing.

Counternarratives can also help us disrupt deficit perspectives and harmful narratives about people and places. For so long in the publishing world, we saw so few books written by and about the lives and experiences of people of color. This has been well documented by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (2018). With this approach to publishing, the lives, experiences, and voices of marginalized people have been silenced. Tatum (2017) describes an experience where a preservice English teacher commented that she had never learned about any Black authors in her English courses and was concerned she would have difficulty teaching them if she had not learned about them in her schooling. A classmate commented, “It’s not my fault that Blacks don’t write books” (p. 85). This narrative is harmful, inaccurate, and is rooted in a deficit perspective. We must provide access to books for students that serve as counternarratives to this mindset, showing that we indeed have successful, amazing, authors across marginalized groups writing award-winning stories and creating award-winning film, art, poetry, music and dance. These counternarratives can show our students they, too, can be successful, amazing creators if they so choose to embrace that identity.

Counternarratives in Classrooms

There are many learning experiences you can provide for students to engage with counternarratives. I believe it’s important for students to read counternarratives. I also think it’s important for them to have opportunities to write counternarratives as well. Christensen (2017) asserts, “In writing about themselves, students learn to praise their beauty that the world overlooks or cannot see” (p. 82). Writing experiences through this lens allow students to write against false or inaccurate narratives, take ownership of their writing and show their beauty to the world. Here I want to share some opportunities for both reading and writing with you.

Children’s Books as Counternarratives

We know that children are often exposed to negative dominant perspectives through children’s stories, cartoons, and movies, where they have seen inaccurate representations of Indigenous People, as women portrayed as needing to be rescued, and People of Color, as lazy or villains. As educators, we have the opportunity to disrupt these narratives by using well-chosen, multi-perspective texts in our classrooms as counternarratives. At the bottom of this post, I have listed picture books, middle grade books, and young adult books that can be used as counternarratives. These are all beautiful stories, several of them focusing on love, joy, and community, while also speaking back to the dominant perspectives of marginalized people.

As we consider using such books in our classrooms, there are so many resources that can guide us in choosing texts, such as Diversifying Your Classroom Book Collections? Avoid these 7 Pitfalls. In addition, Ebarvia (2023) provides some questions to guide our thinking as well:   

  • Can this text provide meaningful insight to students about identities with which they are unfamiliar?
  • In what ways can this text help to develop a positive social identity for my students?
  • How can this text challenge incomplete or harmful dominant narratives about different identities?
  • Does this writer treat their subject with complexity and nuance and avoid stereotypes?
  • What does this text not do or include that I will have to supplement with another text? What counternarratives will my students need after this text?

I hope through these resources, you find some helpful texts to meet the needs of your students and engage them in exploring counternarratives in your classrooms.

Visual Autobiographies

Visual autobiographies are an opportunity for students to engage in creating counternarratives. Students can generate multimodal projects that include items such as photos, drawings, poems, songs, and videos. This type of assignment is open for students in a way that they are able to choose what they want to present and how they want to present it. They are able to share their identity, culture, history, beauty, and brilliance. They begin by exploring the dominant narratives that might be told about them, parts of their identities or their communities. They, then, consider how they can create visual representations as counternarratives to these dominant narratives.

Talking Back

Talking Back is an activity Christenson (2017) shares where she asks students to “criticize commercially produced images about the way they should look, sound, or act” (p. 82) and to speak back to these perspectives through poetry. In her example, she uses the poem, “what the mirror said” by Lucille Clifton. I have also used Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise poem as a mentor text. Additionally, I have created a poem as a mentor text for this assignment so students can see my thinking in this process as well. As an educator, what would you like to “talk back” to? What texts could you use with your students as representations of “talking back?”

Reflections of…

I believe in self-reflection. It is an important piece of all of my instructional practices. When I consider what it means to include counternarratives in my classroom, these are the questions I am asking myself. I encourage you to join me in reflection as you consider integrating counternarratives into your classrooms.

  • What is the role dominant narratives have played in my life?
  • What is my role in promoting the dominant narrative in classroom spaces? How have I believed or accepted deficit dominant narratives?
  • How can I challenge the negative perceptions in dominant narratives?
  • How do I use narratives to help students construct new understandings of the world?
  • Whose experiences and voices are centered in my classroom?
  • Whose experiences and voices are marginalized?
  • Whose voices are missing? What does this mean? Why does this matter?
  • How can I continue to provide space for my students to “talk back?”

Children’s Books and Professional Resources

Picture books

We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell

Something Beautiful by Sharon Denni Wyeth

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Middle Grade books

Mascot by Charles Watters and Traci Sorell

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas

Young Adult books

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Professional Resources

Christensen, L. (2017). Reading, writing, and rising up: Teaching about social justice and the power of the written word. (2nd ed.) Rethinking Schools.

Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. New York, NY: Scholastic.


Christensen, L. (2017). Reading, writing, and rising up: Teaching about social justice and the power of the written word. (2nd ed.) Rethinking Schools.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (2018). Publishing statistics on children’s books about people of color and First/Native nations and by people of color and First/Native nations: Authors and illustrators. Madison, WI: Cooperative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from

DeHart, J., & Staff, L. for J. (n.d.). Countering the narrative. Learning for Justice.

Ebarvia, T. (2024). Get free: Anti-bias literacy instruction for stronger readers, writers, and thinkers. Corwin.

Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Tatum, B. D. (2017). Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?: And other conversations about race. New York: Basic Books

Christy Howard has been an educator for over 20 years. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education at East Carolina University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.

Webinar: Counternarratives in 6-12 Classrooms: Disrupting Harmful Narratives and Engaging Students in Critical Thinking and Reflection


This webinar features Dr. Christy Howard, Associate Professor in the Department of Literacy Studies, English, Education, and History Education at East Carolina University. She encourages us to be mindful advocates against inaccurate stories, images, and stereotypes about marginalized people.

Click Here to access.

Rethinking Disciplinary Literacy: Equity, Expertise, and Inclusive Education


This week we welcome Heather Waymouth and one of her students, Hery Castro as they share the positive effects of rethinking the relationship between disciplinary literacy and equity, expertise, and inclusive education. Read more about Heather and Hery at the end of the blog

I (Heather) came into the field of disciplinary literacy as an excited doctoral student who finally saw a way that my certifications in science and literacy could make sense together. I’d spent years thinking about science as a science teacher and literacy as a literacy teacher, and never the two should mix. That I could now teach students to read science like a scientist and history like a historian felt like putting on a comfortable, old sweater.

Yet, just as my old, comfortable sweater has some holes, so, too, does disciplinary literacy. Heller (2011) and Collin (2014) encourage educators to question what counts as a discipline and if our intent really is to mold students into “little experts.” Saying that we are apprenticing students into the literacy practices of disciplinary experts should cause us to examine who counts as an expert.

That question didn’t meaningfully exist for me until I watched the movie Dark Waters (Haynes, 2019). At the film’s core is a farmer, Wilbur Tennant, seeking to sue DuPont over environmental contamination. He’s reached out to the company several times, they’ve conducted a study of his land and their nearby disposal area, and DuPont’s scientists have claimed there’s nothing wrong. Yet, Tennant has gathered his own data. When his lawyer visits the farm, there’s a poignant scene in which Tennant pulls deformed cow organs wrapped in tinfoil from his freezer, deformed hooves stored in a jar, and a video of himself conducting his own necropsy. However, because Tennant is “just a farmer,” his lived experience and expertise aren’t initially seen as “expert” enough for the law firm to justify taking on his case.

I began to rethink my devotion to disciplinary literacy. Was our focus on a narrow definition of experts and expertise helping to build and maintain the world in which Wilbur Tennant’s decades of intimate knowledge didn’t count? Rather than seek an answer from literacy scholars, I dove into science education research. After all, the newly crafted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were intended to promote equitable learning opportunities for ALL students (Lee, Miller & Januszyk, 2015).

In science, I found a conceptualization of literacy that gave me hope for a more inclusive disciplinary literacy. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a report on Science Literacy which defined it across three levels: individual, community, and society (2016). Here, literacy wasn’t a form of property able to be possessed by some folks and not others. Sure, individuals’ mastery of reading, writing, and oral discourse is a necessary consideration of literacy within this model, but it isn’t the end goal. Considering how communities – especially those historically denied access to quality science education – engage in literacy as collective praxis (Roth & Lee, 2002) by bringing their diverse voices, experiences, and literacies together – provided me with a vision for disciplinary instruction which could introduce experts’ literacies and value other forms of literacy and expertise as equally valid.

Then I found Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten’s (2018) Ambitious Science Teaching. My heart sang – here was a framework that balanced attention to equity and rigor. Not only that, it established students’ collective sensemaking as the objective of science learning. Throughout my dissertation, I observed a group of middle school science teachers using Ambitious Science Teaching to breathe life into the NGSS and had the pleasure of hearing, in their words, how this type of teaching was creating space for all students to engage in sensemaking. While even in their expert teaching, opportunities existed for a closer consideration of equity as foundational rather than supplemental to science learning, I knew I had found my soapbox to stand upon.

Now that I work full-time preparing pre-service teachers, I do everything I can to further the possibilities for equity and inclusion in disciplinary literacy. I have taken up equitable sensemaking (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2019) as the foundation of my undergraduate class on literacy in the content areas. Throughout the semester, preservice teachers work in small groups to craft a unit plan in a content area other than ELA:  science, math, engineering or social studies. We adopt the ambitious science teaching framework (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018), understanding that while this framework was designed for science, it can be applied to any discipline. Preservice teacher teams identify an inquiry question ripe for exploration from multiple viewpoints and for incorporation of social justice and equity, such as “Why do we get sick?” Then, they map an explanation of that phenomenon, incorporating multiple viewpoints and opportunities for students to engage with new ideas, rather than be taught (told) those ideas. As my desire is for authentic learning to drive the bus, I don’t introduce standards until after the ideas mapping process has begun. Students map content area standards first and subsequently “engineer” (Moje, 2015) opportunities for literacy development within their unfolding storyline (Reiser et al., 2021).

Considering equity as foundational is often a new concept for my preservice teachers, given that most are white and from middle class backgrounds. We spend several classes learning what it might look like to incorporate perspectives other than our own early in the planning process. The works of three scholars are particularly helpful to us. While students are developing their unit’s question, we listen to Dr. Danny Morales Doyle’s interview with Abolition Science in which he discussed using social justice science issues, like pollution from a local factory, to ground high school chemistry instruction. Several days into unit planning, students use the twelve questions Dr. Gholdy Muhammad outlined in her AMLE blog post to (re)consider the cultural and historical relevance of  their unit. To illustrate what an equitable sensemaking activity that draws upon diverse voices might look like, I conduct a fishbowl discussion in which each student embodies a chapter of Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s (2013) Braiding Sweetgrass, using three guiding questions: What counts as knowledge/expertise? Whose expertise matters? How do we use the knowledge we are gaining from this text to impact our teaching?

The units my students are ultimately able to build astound me. I’ve seen a math unit on how to affordably feed various sized groups, a social studies unit on why we haven’t yet had a woman elected as president, and all sorts of other units incorporating joyful learning, literacy in service to disciplinary learning, incorporations of diverse viewpoints, and opportunities for students’ identities and experiences to inform ongoing learning. But, as I heard on Reading Rainbow as a child of the 90’s, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Hery Castro is one of my students currently engaging in planning for equitable sensemaking. I’ll let him tell you what it’s like:

            Including equitable sensemaking in my unit plan caused me to reshape my thinking, and put critical literacy first, alongside relatable science phenomena. Although there was some slight confusion on what exactly Dr. Waymouth was looking for, I loved working on my assignment. As a person of color who has experienced difficulties with teachers understanding where I’m coming from, I’ve always known that I wanted more perspectives like mine included in school. Being told that it’s not only possible, but necessary to include them in this science unit (a subject area I don’t intend to teach), was affirming.

            By reshaping the question of equitable sensemaking into “how can we have this relate to students’ lives outside of the classroom” and “how can we get kids to think about the impact of these scientific phenomena in communities and lifestyles other than their own”, I realized there are countless answers and options for engagement. We started with a universal question: “why do we get sick?” and broke it into more universally experienced questions like “how do diseases spread?” and “what can we do to prevent them?”

            These driving questions are great; however, equitable sensemaking asks that we take a question that could be answered with just a personal tidbit and transform it into something that requires scientific and social research. My group added “why do some diseases affect some communities more than others?” and “How does access impact care?” At this point, I could tell we were approaching equity, as students would get the chance to talk about various perspectives in addition to their own lived experiences.

            I found that I used this equitable sensemaking framework as the basis for each question and activity I planned for my unit. If I knew I wanted students to question why certain areas or groups of peoples are affected by a disease more than others, I knew I needed to have a lesson about how disease spreads and one that requires students to dive deeper, asking and answering the critical questions through activity. Repeating this process for each driving question, and crafting more and more activities that build upon the students’ developing understanding of both biological and social science, led to a unit plan that is rich with equitable sensemaking. This balance of social justice and grounded scientific questioning has led my group to craft something that not only reshaped our ideas of teaching, but will allow us to help create a new generation of critical thinkers in not only science, but across all domains.


Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E. (2019). Designing for rightful presence in STEM: The role of making present practices. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(4-5), 616-658.

Collin, R. (2014). A Bernsteinian analysis of content area literacy. Journal of Literacy Research, 46(3), 306-329.

Haynes, T. (Director). (2019). Dark Waters [Film]. Participant Media.

Heller, R. (2011). In praise of amateurism: A friendly critique of Moje’s “call for change” in secondary literacy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 54(4) 267-273.

Kimmer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teaching of plants. Milkweed Editions.

Moje, E. B. (2015). Doing and teaching disciplinary literacy with adolescent learners: A social and cultural enterprise. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 254-278.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Science literacy: Concepts, contexts, and consequences. National Academies Press.

Lee, O., Miller, E., & Januszyk, R. (Eds.). (2015). NGSS For All Students. NSTA Press.

Reiser, B. J., Novak, M., McGill, T. A. & Penuel, W. R. (2021). Storyline unites: An instructional

model to support coherence from the students’ perspective. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 32(7), 805-829.

Roth, W. M., & Lee, S. (2002). Scientific literacy as collective praxis. Public understanding of science, 11(1), 33.

Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious science teaching. Harvard Education Press.

Dr. Heather Waymouth has been an Assistant Professor in the Literacy Department at West Chester University of Pennsylvania for three years. She is a former high school literacy specialist who also holds teaching certifications in middle and secondary sciences.
Hery Castro is in his Junior year at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, in the Middle Grades Preparation program with a concentration in English Language Arts. As an Army veteran from out of state, he brings a new perspective to many of his colleagues and classes.

Writing to Learn: Strategies to Engage Students in Writing and to Deepen Content Knowledge


As a follow up to her webinar, Brooke Hardin expands on her resources for using multi-modal writing responses to engage students in writing.

In twenty years of teaching English Language Arts, helping students discover their “writerly life” has remained a passion. To live a writerly life means that individuals write often and with a fair amount of ease, that they see their everyday ordinary lives brimming with writing topics, and that they can use writing to reflect their ideas and potentially gain new ones. In order to begin to live a writerly life, one must be motivated to write. As teachers, engaging students in writing tasks can often be a challenge, but certain elements increase both students’ motivation for writing and their efficacy for writing tasks. Student choice in topic, modeling of strategies and techniques, consistent time to share, give, and receive feedback on writing, and invitations to write in varying modes have all been identified as ways to more likely engage students in writing. This post serves to provide strategies related to the latter idea, using various modes for writing and how these modes might inspire students to write and deepen their knowledge of disciplinary content.

What is Multimodal Writing? What Might it Look/Sound Like?

Multimodal texts are print-based and digital texts using more than one mode or semiotic resource to present meaning; mode is defined as a socio culturally formed resource to make meaning (Kress, 1010; Serafini, 2015). Authors have been exploring multimodal response for over a decade and have seen its potential to engage students in personal response and critical analysis of literature, while also developing their appreciation of genres (Dalton & Grisham, 2013). Expanding students’ literacy palette to include the modes of image, video, audio, and writing offers them more choices for how to develop and express their thinking about reading. When readers write about, interpret, or respond in some fashion to their transaction with a text, a new text is produced as the reader-turns-writer; that is, a writer or creator who seeks to express that experience with the text (Rosenblatt, 1994). Writing in a poetic form or creating a digital design as an aesthetic response to the reading positions the reader-turned-writer to adopt an aesthetic stance in which the student’s attention is focused on the lived-through experience of the reading: the emotions, moods, intuitions, attitudes, and tensions connected to the ideas and characters embodied in the text (Rosenblatt, 1994). Thus, one of the benefits of multimodal writing tasks is their potential to deepen comprehension and/or content learning.

            One strategy for multimodal writing is called a half-and-half portrait (see Image 1). To create this piece, a student would first “write” the portrait about themselves. The portrait is a visual representation of an individual done by drawing one half of the person’s face using physical features (i.e., hair style, eye color, nose shape) and then filling in the other half of the face with images, quotes, or other ideas that relate to the person’s attributes, interests, life experiences. Once a student has created a half-and-half portrait about themselves, they can apply the strategy to a character from text, historical or present-day figure, or any other person. For example, the physical side of the portrait is created using the features visualized by the reader based on descriptions in the text. The other half of the character’s face uses images and other ideas related to the character and inspired by evidence from the text. For example, students might read the middle grades novel Refugee by Alan Gratz, which portrays the refugee experience of three distinct, fictional adolescent characters. Students reading this novel could further explore and demonstrate their understanding of these characters through the creation of a half-and-half portrait (see Image 2).

Image 1: Personal ½ and ½ Portrait (created by author)                  

Image 2: Isabel from Refugee (created by author)

In addition to creating the portraits, students can also create video or audio recordings that explain the thinking behind their multimodal writings. Teachers might ask students to discuss both the materials used to create the portraits and the ideas represented in the portraits. In multimodal writing using a visual art form such as this portrait, selection of materials and images or quotes used should be as intentional as word choice is in written texts. An example of my explanation for my half-and-half portrait can be found using this link.

As with any new genre of writing, students need mentor texts they can reference for ideas and inspiration. Picture books, especially those that have been recognized for their illustrations, serve as some of my favorite mentor texts for multimodal writing with visual art (see Images 3 and 4).

Image 3: Illustrations made with stones in Stepping Stones: A Refugee FAmily’s Journey by Margaret Ruurs

Image 4:

Illustrations made with layered collage featuring book pages,

tattered book covers, neon paints, and cloth in How to Read a

 Book by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Engaging Students in Writing with Poetry

Poetry is another genre that often engages students in writing tasks. Poetry is subjective and its structure can vary. Some forms, like haiku, have a particular form, but poetry can also be as simples as a collection of a person’s favorite words. The rules of writing become more relaxed in different types of poems, which allows students to tap into their creativity and use their voice to play with words, line breaks, and the appearance of the poem. Many poems are what I call “bite-sized;” thus, they are also less intimidating to write for more reluctant writers.

Definition Poems

Definition poems are a specific type of poetry that follows a form but also holds space for students to use craft moves and have agency with the writing. This form of poetry is inspired by some of the pages from the middle grade novel The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (see Image 5). Written in verse, the novel features several poetic styles, including definition poems, that might serve as mentor texts for students poetic writing. The definition poem invites students to engage in writing while also enhancing their vocabulary knowledge and using learned content to create something new.

Image 5: Definition poem from The Crossover

When teaching students to write definition poems, teachers should use the same principles they would use with teaching any other genre. Reference the mentor text, such as one of Alexander’s poems from The Crossover, and engage students in inquiry by asking them to take notice of how the author wrote the poem – that is, to think about and name aloud the “ingredients” used in the poem and what might be required for someone else to write the same style of poem. For example, teachers would point out how each stanza begins with “As in:” and how the vocabulary term is used in each stanza. Teachers might use a shared writing approach to co-author a definition poem with the whole class and invite students to co-author this kind of poem in pairs before they write one independently. Again, this kind of poem can be used with vocabulary from novels students read and to other content areas. See Image 6 for an example definition poem written about the math term parallel. As seen in the example, the poem offers students the opportunity to sustain their thinking about a word and its meaning and invites them to see how vocabulary terms are relevant to their lives. Additionally, these kinds of poems can serve as a piece of writing in a larger multimodal piece. For example, students might be invited to illustrate each stanza of the poem to add a visual layer.

Image 6: Example definition poem (created by author)

Golden Shovel Poems

Golden shovel poems are a poetic form created by Terrance Hayes and inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool.” To write a golden shovel poem, the writer must do the following:

  • Take a line or lines from a poem you like.
  • Use each word in the line as the end word in each line of your poem.
  • Keep the words in order.
  • Give credit to the original poet.
  • The new poem does not need to be about the same subject as the original poem, but they can be related in some way if the writer chooses to do so.

Inspired by Terrance Hayes, Nikki Giovanni wrote the book One Last Word, which is a book of golden shovel poems about the Harlem Renaissance. Using two of the poems from this book as mentor text (see Images 7 and 8), teachers can help students see how the poem is written and gain inspiration for their own writing.

Image 7: “Storm Ending” from One Last Word 

Image 8: “Truth,” a poem written by Nikki Giovanni using a line from “Storm Ending” by Jean Toomer

Teachers should immerse students in reading many different poems, invite them to bring in poems – including song lyrics – that they admire, to gain ideas and inspiration for writing their own golden shovel poems. Again, teachers may want to scaffold this kind of writing and co-author poems with students in a whole group setting before tasking students with writing one on their own. Golden shovel poems are complex but also provide students an opportunity to play with word choice, syntax, line breaks, and be creative in their writing. Inspired by a poem from Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs, I show students my own attempt at this poetic form (See Images 9 and 10).

Image 9: Excerpt from “Luke’s Junkyard Song” by Mary Oliver                    

Image 10: Golden shovel using the last two lines from “Luke’s Junkyard Song” (created by author)

Final Thoughts

No matter the strategy used, teachers must remember to embrace vulnerability and write alongside of students, both modeling the techniques and making the cognitive side of writing – word choice decisions, art medium choices, etc. – become evident and accessible for students. Writers need to see and hear other writers engaged in writing to discern the process and be inspired. Writers also need room for creativity. Each of the strategies offered here provides space for creativity and the opportunity for students to express themselves while also learning and showing their content knowledge.


Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London, UK: Routledge.

Rosenblatt, L. M. (1994). The transactional theory of reading and writing. In R. Ruddell et al. (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (4th ed). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Serafini, F. (2015). Multimodal literacy: From theories to practices. Language Arts, 92(6), 412-423.

Brooke Hardin is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at USC-Upstate. Her experience includes elementary and middle grades classroom teaching as as well as curriculum literacy specialist. This webinar reflects Brooke’s special interest in multi-model writing as a response to reading.