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.

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.

Prisms, Pathways, and Portals: Disciplinary literacies as tools for possible futures


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

“We cannot remake the world through schooling, but we can instantiate a vision through pedagogy that creates in microcosm a transformed set of relationships and possibilities for social futures, a vision that is lived in schools. This might involve activities such as simulating work relations of collaboration, commitment, and creative involvement; using the school as a site for mass media access and learning; reclaiming the public space of school citizenship for diverse communities and discourses; and creating communities of learners that are diverse and respectful of the autonomy of lifeworlds.”

New London Group, 1996

It often amazes me how prescient the text (quoted above), A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures (1996) was and what it argued for just before the dawn of the 21st century. Now in the year 2023, using terms like 21st-century learning doesn’t resonate much as we are nearly a quarter way into the 21st century. I often question how much we have really taken up from the ideas even extracted from the quote above. While disciplinary literacies have been at the forefront of theory and research around adolescent learning, I believe that we need a future vision of the possibilities of disciplinary literacy. We need more than practices that simply reproduce knowledge.  We need an expansive theorizing of what disciplinary literacies can be or else we will continue to reinscribe old ways of knowing and doing for a future that is yet to be written.  

Despite a need for a widening of thought, we collectively find ourselves presented with seemingly predefined choices for where we need to stand pedagogically.  Dialogues have shifted to debates over everything from the “Science of Reading vs. Balanced literacy, Online reading vs. Offline reading, or the use of the canon vs contemporary fiction.  The pitting of the pedagogical constructs against one another creates a reductionist view of the complexities of teaching and learning.  Rather than reducing complex pedagogical constructs to binaries, perhaps we should be interrogating the possibilities for pedagogical expansion. While simple answers feel more reassuring, they do not account for the beautiful complexity of teaching and learning.

One reductionist view we might interrogate is the narrowing of what counts as disciplinary inquiry.  Expert novice studies have provided invaluable insights into what are core disciplinary practices yet can often be taken up as the singular way to approach disciplinary literacy.  Disciplinary literacy in its early conceptualization offered new ways to think about advancing knowledge building in content-area classrooms.   What follows is a set of possibilities for consideration of what might be taken up in research and practice around disciplinary literacies. Using the metaphors of pathways, prisms, and portals, I argue for the use of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches in disciplinary inquiry.  


Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Disciplinary literacies can be pathways to explore through multidisciplinary perspectives. Pathways can be paved, worn by repeated traffic; serve as shortcuts or trails that lead to hidden beauty. Pathways can diverge or converge.  People use pathways to get somewhere or to meander. Sometimes along the path, new discoveries are made, or new paths are forged.   Pathways can serve as a metaphor for multidisciplinary inquiry. One may choose to look at a problem or topic from the lens of different disciplines. Like choosing a path or multiple pathways, inquiry can be shaped by one, two, or more disciplines. While it is critical to understand the beliefs, practices, texts, and tools used in a discipline like science or history, it is also important to see that inquiry questions can be approached from multiple disciplines. For example, we can look at a problem such as food scarcity from the perspectives of geography, economics, agriculture, and mathematics, to name just a few. We need to engage with the world from multiple perspectives that are often shaped across disciplines. Food scarcity is not a simple problem that can be understood or tackled from singular perspectives. If we only hyperfocus on singular disciplines, we may lose the forest through the trees.  


Photo by Braxton Apana on Unsplash

Disciplinary literacies can also be prisms for seeing new possibilities. Using singular lenses to problem solve or problem pose does not account for the complexity of the problem. Prisms can reflect and refract light to illuminate the full spectrum of colors that are being absorbed. Prisms help us see things in a new light. We can think of interdisciplinary inquiry as a tool for seeing the full spectrum of perspectives around topics and problems. Interdisciplinary inquiry relies on the interconnected nature of disciplinary practices and perspectives. If we expand notions of disciplinary literacy to interdisciplinary, we add the nuances of the comparative and contrastive beliefs, tools, texts, and approaches to understanding phenomena. For example, the role of art, music, and literature provides indispensable insights into complex phenomena that cannot be fully explained through a historical or scientific analysis. By using interdisciplinary inquiry as a prism, students have access to new ways of seeing the world and their role in the world.  


CC0 Public Domain

Disciplinary literacies can serve as portals to newly designed futures. During the Covid-19 pandemic, author Arunduti Roy (2020) argued that the pandemic could serve as a portal to new social possibilities. The notion of portals to new dimensions or time/space scales is one that is speculative and hopeful. To see disciplinary literacy as opening portals to solving wicked problems to create more just worlds is a goal that makes learning consequential. Portals also lead to the unknown. Much like disciplines themselves, portals are unsettled terrain and are absent critical voices who are often erased or silenced. To account for these silences and erasures, transdisciplinary research is conceptualized as a way to be inclusive of multiple perspectives not simply from the top down (academia) but also from the ground up (lived experiences). A transdisciplinary approach to inquiry opens opportunities for problem-posing and solving that values indigenous and local knowledge and its relation to disciplinary traditions. This expansion of disciplinary literacies offers opportunities for youth to engage in knowledge production and critique that affirms and sustains the rich tapestry of knowledge that shapes our worlds. For example, a former student and colleague, Diana Bonilla articulated the need for plant biology units to also incorporate the familial and indigenous use of plants for medicinal and culinary purposes in Latinx communities. To keep those practices obscured from disciplinary knowledge reduces our humanity and reason for understanding disciplinary perspectives. Transdisciplinary inquiry opens portals to a more inclusive and just learning environment.  

Provocations for future practice 

I hope the metaphors of pathways (multidisciplinary inquiry), prisms (interdisciplinary inquiry), and portals (transdisciplinary inquiry) provide provocations for future practice. Are there spaces in your curriculum that warrant a multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach? How might we redesign our inquiry questions to open possibilities for interdisciplinary braiding of knowledge and knowledge-building practices? How might we use this space to share ideas and iterate collectively? To me, this is an inflection point in education that we can see as filled with possibilities for drawing on the passions and inquisitive dispositions of youth to expand learning activities rather than reducing learning to a series of disconnected tasks.  Youth deserve opportunities to remake our world and to design social futures in spaces that are lived in and out of school.

Michael Manderino is an associate professor of literacy education at Northern Illinois University.  He taught high school social studies for 14 years and served as a literacy coach, literacy coordinator, and Director of Curriculum of a two-high school district for 5 years.

Follow on Twitter at @mmanderino


Cover Image Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

Using the Four States of Competence as a Framework for Unpacking our Literacy Practices


This post is written by Jennifer D. Morrison. Read more about Jennifer at the bottom of this post.

Over the past twenty years that I have served as an instructional coach, staff development specialist, teacher educator, and National Board candidate mentor, it has been clear to me how important it is to engage in being not only a reflective practitioner but also a professional capable of clearly unpacking my practice. Zeichner and Liston (2014) point out that excellent teachers, and by extrapolation excellent educational leaders, are often not aware of what they have learned and how they enact their practices. They have “tacit knowledge” that is known but not articulated; enacted but not explained. While it may be acceptable for teachers and educational leaders to operate in day-to-day spaces with this tacit knowledge, it does not foster growth of the self or others. If leaders cannot clearly understand and articulate the curricular, instructional, pedagogical, and relational decisions they are making as well as provide the rationale for those decisions, they cannot effectively serve in the leadership capacity needed to facilitate change within a school environment.

Burch (1974) developed a model of the Four States of Competence to help explain the processes in which an individual engages as s/he learns new skills.

As preservice teachers, we are unconsciously incompetent — we don’t know what we don’t know.  We stumble through our teaching, not knowing what we should be doing, if we are doing it right, or even what questions to ask.  As we begin to acknowledge our lack of knowing, we move into being consciously incompetent; we now know exactly how little we understand about the subject. It then becomes our mission to learn more, try more, figure out what works and what doesn’t in our attempts to improve. As we seek answers and help, practice, make adjustments, and are acutely aware of our growth, we shift to conscious competence. We know what we are doing and why we are doing it. We have grown; we now know things, and it shows.  When these practices gain a level of automaticity — where we no longer have to think about every little action we take and why — we become unconsciously competent.  “Right” is now a feeling, a sense that has developed with thought and practice. Any time we move into a new learning space, such as being a literacy coach or administrator, we begin the process again.  

This is usually where discussion of Burch’s model ends. However, I advocate for another step. In all my leadership roles, it has been necessary for me to step back into the conscious competence space. Why? Because when I am coaching a teacher in how to differentiate a lesson or teaching adult students about implementing a literacy strategy, it is not enough for me to say: “Yeah, I just do it, and it’s right. Here, watch me.”  That does not encourage growth in those with whom I am working.  I have to unpack what I am able to do automatically and make it transparent. I have to show that what I am doing is not by accident but the result of many years of experience, lots of reading and reflecting, and lots of corrected mistakes. I have to be able to say: “This is how you do it, and this is why it works.”  If I am unconsciously competent, I am not able to provide that form of instruction; and afterall, effective leaders are ultimately teachers. My ability to consciously understand my competence assists others in their moving from incompetence to competence. In order to be reflective teachers and effective literacy leaders, it is important for us to deconstruct the places where we are unconsciously competent.  We must be able to understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we can improve it, and what might happen if we did it differently.  We need to look at what we do automatically with the eyes of an outsider, “making the familiar strange” (Mills, 1959).

What might this look like? This means first, reflecting on our processes and how we engage with literacy learning ourselves. Early in my teaching career, I was assigned an SAT/ACT prep class. My students overall did not do well on the reading comprehension sections of tests. At the same time, I was preparing for the GRE exam to apply for graduate school, and I regularly rolled out near perfect scores on the reading comprehension. For me to better help my students, I had to step back into conscious competence and metacognitively consider what exactly I was doing in my reading of these passages and in my answering of comprehension questions that led me to a successful outcome. How was I engaging with the text? What was I thinking as I read? What kinds of predictions was I making? How did I process the questions? What did I do with vocabulary I didn’t know? Where was I rereading, where was I paraphrasing, and why? Once I unpacked my own process, I could then effectively convey to my students what I did and why through think alouds and walking through examples.

The same can be said when working with preservice and inservice teachers. In workshops or professional learning sessions, it is not enough to provide the formula of how to do a particular technique or strategy; it is imperative to also provide the theoretical reasons and reflective process that undergird the strategy. For example, I often begin my courses by having students complete a literacy autobiography, an activity they can easily enact in their own classrooms. While we do the activity, however, I also parallel the steps with rationales and explanations for what we are doing and why. I walk them through the assignment by modeling my own autobiography first. I show not only what my literacy experiences have been but also how they have shaped me as an individual now. This includes delineating my resultant strengths, challenges, and biases. As we work through their autobiographies, I model for them the unpacking process. What was it like for them to read and write in different subjects when they were younger? Who influenced their literacy habits and preferences? What life experiences influenced their literacy habits and preferences? How have these experiences impacted their views of literacy now? How do these preferences, or reticences, impact the way they interact with literacy now? How can they move beyond the fear, shame, or negative feelings that might have accompanied literacy experiences? How might their experiences impact interactions with students who do or don’t view literacy in the same way they do? For individuals with literacy affinities, the questions help them to see why they have positive dispositions toward reading and writing and to unpack the tacit literacy knowledge that has become automatic. This is important because not only can they better recreate some of the experiences for their students, they are also better able to see the correlation between their experiences and how they view reading and writing, and why other people, including many of their students, may not have the same perspectives. I share with them that Bourdieu (2013) argues our habitus shapes our understanding of the world, our ways of knowing (epistemologies), and the attitudes/beliefs/biases we carry into relationships with others and our teaching spaces. In order to be able to teach children, we have to know where we come from, why we believe what we believe, and consider how we can interrupt the transmission of our unconscious biases, which can be done through engaging in conscious competence and reflexivity. Otherwise, we can inadvertently create environments filled with microaggressions toward particular students, which can deeply impact student learning.

Stepping back into conscious competence and engaging in reflection is, in many ways, emancipating (Zeichner & Liston, 2014).  By engaging in thoughtful, conscious teaching and leadership, we free ourselves, our teachers, and our students from the blind following of established routines, policies, and plans. It gives us the freedom — and responsibility — to question, to wonder, to consider, to criticize, to advocate, and to defend. Thinking is a political action, and “teaching is a subversive activity” (Postman & Weingartner, 1971). Reflective teaching and conscious competence empower us to be change agents within our own educational spheres, whether that is in our classrooms, schools, districts, or at home with our own children. We learn to be critical consumers of curricula and policy, and we find our voices to change the status quo. This is how we change the currently negative national narrative for our profession — one child, one classroom, one teacher at a time.


Bourdieu, P. (2013). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge Press. DOI:

Burch, N. (1974).  The learning stages model. Solana Beach, CA: Gordon Training International.  

Mills, C.W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. (40th anniversary edition, 2000).

Postman, N. & Weingartner, C. (1971). Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Delta Publishing.

Zeichner, K. & Liston, D. (2014). Reflective teaching: An introduction. Second edition. Erlbaum.

Dr. Jennifer D. Morrison is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina and a National Board Certified Teacher in AYA/ELA. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno, in Language, Literacy, and Culture. She worked as a middle and high school English teacher and instructional coach for 19 years. Her research agenda focuses on teacher induction, literacy attainment (particularly digital and multimodal), and teacher inquiry processes. She has been published in such journals as English Journal, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Talking Points, Principal Leadership, and Educational Leadership.

Cover Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

Complicated, and Worth It: Fashioning Links in Literacy


This post is written by Jason D. DeHart, PhD. Read more about Jason at the bottom of this post.

Were I to conduct a thematic analysis of my career in literacy so far, “I don’t like to read” would rise to prominence as an often-stated reality.  Even if students feel that they are capable readers, they do not always express connection and engagement with the texts that they encounter in school settings.

This was true in my time as a middle school teacher, it is a theme that has inspired my scholarship, and it is a mantra that continues to resonate in the K-12 setting in which I am working now. When I consider the types of texts that continue to be honored – voices from hundreds of years ago, many of which include problematic language related to ethnic, racial, and gender identities – it is no small wonder that instant buy-in is so rare.

While there are many potential solutions to discuss, the word that also comes to mind in my thematic thinking is linking. This notion of linking speaks directly to the work of Literacy in the Disciplines in terms of thinking about the strands of critical inquiry that can be fashioned between and among content areas and types of texts. As I start a new semester, I am continuing to revisit the ways I can make content rich and relevant for my students through thoughtful connections between and among content areas, types of texts, and voices old and new.

The Rising Voices

Text selection is a key part of this process. When I first began teaching my students, they were reading Steinbeck’s outsider report of migrant farm workers in Of Mice and Men. That same year, in 1937, a book called Their Eyes Were Watching God was published. I was fascinating by this cultural dichotomy and struck by the opportunity to find a voice from the intersections of gender and ethnicity that could broaden my students’ perspectives about the lived experiences of people in the past. Zora Neale Hurston was, famously, an anthropologist, and her attention to ethnographic detail shows up in her writing.

I then worked with students across my courses to trace this literary journey to Alice Walker, who was instrumental in bringing attention once more to Zora Neale Hurston’s work in more recent times. This conversation between authors across time was one that I could discover and share with my students, linking to their current stories as part of American culture(s). It is both a linking of time and a critical inquiry that travels through a chain of inspiration.

In addition to Hurston and Walker, we read Jason Reynolds, Jericho Brown, and additional contemporary voices who have shared about facets of America that are simply not discussed in many canonical works. It is also important to me to choose works not simply because I am drawn to them personally, but as a way of filling in a gap that exists in what students might have discovered in literature so far.

Critical Analysis and Honest Stance

At one time, suggesting that a revered work of literature contains problematic content would have caused me insecurity. I desperately wanted to be a “good English teacher”, and I thought that meant holding the classics up on clouds. At this point in my teaching career, I recognize the value of honestly evaluating the limitations of thought and experience represented by literary canonical figures. In this way, I can be clearly critical about what it means to be an inside or outside voice related to a particular topic or way of being, and I can invite my students to think critically about these questions of authorship, as well.

I feel that this approach honors my students’ intelligence and acumen in noting these inconsistencies in human stories, as well as their awareness of the absence of some stories in what they have discovered in curriculum so far. This critical stance is not only possible in English class, but can lead to inquiry in history and social studies courses, discussions of equity and equal access in science and health care, and questions of ethics in technology courses, to note a few possibilities.

Asking students to evaluate an author biographically, not to simply suggest that they did not know better than to use language at a certain period in time, but to consider authors’ biases and positionalities is part of deep thinking and ethical work. This need not be a full lecture on the author’s history, but rather a point-by-point glimpse at some major details about them, considered historically alongside literature.

Ways of Reflecting

Finally, all of this critical work requires some kind of outlet. I cannot imagine teaching a class about virtually any topic and not having my students respond in some way each day, either in a paragraph, a sentence, or a few take-away words. I embrace videoed content as students have created zeitgeist poems and adapted key narrative scenes in groups, using their cell phones as one-stop shops for moviemaking. I embrace the visual, not just in thinking about remembering vocabulary words, but in sharing multimodally and symbolically about reading and viewing experiences.

A question stem to encourage this kind of response might be something like: Locate or create three images that represent your thinking about the representation of political unrest in Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, or Create an infographic to help us understand the setting and context of Elie Wiesel’s Night.

In this way, students can explore links between and among stories that have existed for some time, as well as those that need to be (re)told. Moreover, as I have explored in this post, students can become aware of, critique, and even compose links between historical and contemporary voices, and engage in the process using tools and approaches that build their mathematical, artistic, and technological skills.

Teaching and learning is truly a linking and connected process, from past to present and across multiple literacies. All of this rich complexity requires attention, but I have found the conversation to be worth the time.

Jason D. DeHart is a passionate educator, currently teaching English at Wilkes Central High School in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He served as a middle grades English teacher for eight years and an assistant professor of reading education at Appalachian State University from 2019 to 2022. DeHart earned his PhD from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

Webinar: What does Critical Literacy have to do with my Teaching?


Literacy in the Disciplines, 6-12 (LiD) is pleased to announce our next after-school Webinar Series session.

What does Critical Literacy have to do with my Teaching?

Learning through a critical literacy lens encourages students to take steps toward identifying potential solutions to current, real-world problems (Vasquez et al., 2019). They can do this when educators ask
them to explore “personal, sociopolitical, economic and intellectual border identities” when they read (Bishop, 2014, p. 52), and to promote valid, thoughtful critique of the power structures they either are subjected to or that are upheld in their classrooms. This session will define critical literacy and provide frameworks and techniques for teachers to begin exploring this concept in their classrooms.

When: Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022, 6:00 – 7:00 pm ET.

The recording of this event is embedded below.

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

This session will feature Drs. Rachelle Savitz and Jennifer D. Morrison.

Dr. Rachelle S. Savitz is an associate professor of reading/literacy at East Carolina University. Her scholarship investigates teacher self-efficacy, literacy within the disciplines, and the use of culturally sustaining pedagogy and practices. She worked across the grade levels as a reading teacher, literacy coach, reading interventionist, and music teacher. She has three published/in-press books and has been published in such journals as Teaching and Teaching Education, Literacy Research and Instruction, Whiteness and Education, and Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. She serves as the President of LiD 6-12.

Dr. Jennifer D. Morrison is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina and a National Board Certified Teacher. She worked as a middle and high school English teacher and instructional coach for 19 years. Her research agenda focuses on teacher induction, literacy attainment (particularly digital and multimodal), and teacher inquiry processes. She has been published in such journals as: English Journal, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Talking Points, Principal Leadership, and Educational Leadership. She serves as the interim Vice President and Secretary of LiD 6-12.

Please share this professional learning opportunity with your colleagues.