Notes from CEE Summit: “Reflections on the Future of English Education”

The morning session began with some intros and overview stuff, then we got into a more formal presentation called “Reflections on the Future of English Education.” Here are some notes from those presenters and there will likely be more at the CEE blog:

  • The Role of CEE within NCTE – Kent Williamson, Executive Director of NCTE
    • CEE is was formed in 1963 to get teacher educators together to talk about teaching future English teachers and a conference was established in 1965
    • A deeper purpose within NCTE and the broader education community is that it is the “keeper of the guild,” a position of authority within the professional
    • When you look at other professions, you see that there is a gateway into the professional and knowledge that is shared by the professional community
    • If we want things done by our professional community, CEE needs to be the place where there is everyday exchange of knowledge with quality control of peer review
    • This leads to the messages we send out, the research we do, and what gives us authority as practitioners in this field
    • All the strands at this conference are important and it leads us to ask if we can be trusted to chart the course of ELA instruction in this country
    • In a world where “literacy” has been appropriated by all fields, we know that we have been saying that for awhile but we need to make sure that the implications of that are clear for policy
    • I think that the public policy community is questioning the current state of educational reform, and I think that a peer review community can contribute to that conversation
    • It is worth investing in this community as we get together face to face, but it won’t be good enough if we only meet like this periodically. We need ongoing dialogues that center on peer-reviewed information that we can take out and describe what happens in the classrooms of ELA teachers.
    • There is more than a PR campaign going on. The rest of the world looks at the learning problems, but there are things that are happening in these professional communities and we need to share, report, and exchange within and outside of our community.
  • Ernest Morrell, UCLA
    • Thinking about critical pedagogy and mathematics, Bob Moses, and mathematical literacy — from this, we can think about literacy as a civil rights issue
    • When we think about literacy as civil right, we need to think about those populations in our society who are being denied their rights
    • What role can CEE play
      • We have to critique the “literacy achievement gap” because the onus is being placed on students and not institutions
        • There are many social, political, and economic consequences to this; student: “literacy is a matter of life and death”
      1. We need to think about the literacies in a post-industrial world, more than just academic literacy
      2. Identify successful practices with most marginalized students; articulate what this looks like
      3. We need to think about the practices of teacher education and professional development and how this engenders these types of classrooms
      4. We need to develop a body of scholarship that looks at these classrooms and connects to teacher education
      5. We need to look beyond literacy for a global economy and see what the public thinks is a rigorous and relevant education for students
      6. We must remembers that literacy practices happen in schools and that schools are problematic institutions to begin with
        • How are we going to take a stand within and against institutions and who we are going to ally with
  • Peter Smagorinsky, University of Georgia
    • Will there be teacher education in the future?
    1. Teacher education accountability movement
      1. PRAXIS, Mass. Teacher Exam, NCATE
    2. We work in a policy environment
      1. NCLB mindset moving towards colleges
      2. Federal mandates that require colleges of education to teach phonics
      3. Things are pressuring us to be things that we don’t want to be
      4. State curricula push us in directions that we don’t want to go – Hillocks, The Testing Trap
      5. Districts are having teachers teaching within prescribed curricula that are connected to testing
      6. We can’t send teachers out to teach without letting them know about these situations
      7. There are corporate entities who are making lots of money on this
    3. Alternative routes of certifications
    4. Presence of a capitalistic economy
      1. How do we acknowledge and deal with this in schools?
    5. Public opinion that runs counter to colleges of education
      1. Students put this pressure on us in this direction, too
    6. Public response of policy makers (post 9/11)
  • Why is Dewey’s progressivism seen as irrelevant?
  • Why are our values of work viewed as counter-productive?
  • Cathy Fleischer, Eastern Michigan University
    • Balancing mind-numbing conformity with research-based, best practices in our classrooms
      • Example from Michigan: we just revised state curriculum and the committee that was formed included NCTE, CEE, NWP, and other smart people
      • For those of us not involved, but concerned about it, we were happy that these folks were involved
      • Now, we look at what had to happen to get the standards approved by, but we still felt that it was good curricula with enough flexibility
      • Then, the roll out of the standards became connected to thematic sample units with sample exams. Even though the state is not prescribing these, many districts are adopting these units as what teachers need to do.
    • What is our role in a world where we know that our teachers will be going to schools where they will not be allowed to use writing workshop and will have to use units that are prescribed? Are we going to be seen as the enemy of school districts?
    • I believe that we have to work with pre-service teachers to help them understand all of this and help them articulate their beliefs about what they do.
    • I believe that we also have to help them be savvy in the ways that they speak to administrators, parents, consultants, and others.
  • David Stevens, Durham University and NATE
    • I have been struck so far on how many parallels there are and what is happening in England and the UK
    • I am interested in adopting a fundamentally romantic vision of English and the root traditions of the subject as a counter to the reductive tendencies of what is happening now
    • Expanding the scope of literacy and literature as well as other arts
    • If English teaching is to be relevant, maybe we need to establish a new idea of research and what effective English teaching is: English teaching as liberating
    • It seems to me that most English teachers are still feeling inspirational and adopting progressive pedagogical models; yet they face the challenge of prescriptive curricula and assessment
    • We need to find ways of being creatively engaged in English teaching while working in this paradigm
  • Questions and Answers
    • Where is NCTE at? What schools does NCTE touch/where does it not even exist? How do we invite people into the professional conversation when they don’t even know that one is happening?
    • How can we develop relationship both at the grassroots level in schools but also with policy makers and others who work with English teachers?
    • Thinking about marketing ourselves and how/when students/young teachers join NCTE. The average NCTE member joins after 7 years in the profession.
    • Mandatory membership for students as a part of coursework?
    • The gap between what we do as teachers and researchers (what we know about how learners become critical, smart, and engage) as compared to what administrators know about ELA instruction (e.g., teaching grammar). We need to adjust what we are doing with policy makers at all levels.
    • Attempting to understand the mindset that creates the dichotomy between what we value and what is advocated by others. How do others frame the debate as compared to us (we say, “Literacy is complicated” and that can lead to misperception).
    • We have to be sure that we aren’t perceived as “soft” on education and make sure that we are showing how we, too, are rigorous and relevant.
    • We have to engage at the school level in ways that work in small ways.
    • We have 1.5 million literacy educators in the US, but only 250,000 people are members of any professional organization. We need to figure out how to package what we have so that it can be localized in small spaces (e.g., departments in schools).
    • Thinking about money and asking philanthropists who might be able to help us in the same systematic ways that universities do.
    • Conservatism of the 1980s is still reflected in educational policies today; also, Jim Moffett wrote “Hidden Impediments” and we did research, but we were still associated with the excesses of the 1960s. The backlash of judging people of today with their association from a previous time.
    • Impact and consequence in policy decision — we need to remember that the legal authority for teacher licensure and curriculum standards rests at the state level and I don’t think that we, as an organization, have a relationship with any state or the agencies within the state that work on certification or curricula.
    • One of the things to learn from NCATE is the way in which they worked aggressively with a clear agenda to work with states. They came forward with clear directions and processes so that they became the voice that represented authority. If we want to do that, we need to be engaged in states.
    • Do we find reference to professional organizations in the literature on teacher education reform — there is no mention ever as part of the problem or part of the solution. We need to become one of those if we want to have a consequential impact on what of those sides of the debate.
    • These sense of embattlement that teachers in classrooms face in terms of blockades. Spending more time on testing and analyzing annual yearly progress. We need to teach our future teachers to talk to one another and the institutions that they will be embedded in much better than they are now. Parents want accountability, but we don’t know how to show them that.
    • People are listening to the things that you do and write, but we don’t always see how it happens in classrooms.
    • In NCTE, we do have an association of state ELA coordinators. It is difficult for them to work with us unless they are subversive.

Author: Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

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