4 the World blog

Empowering collaborative communities


Teaching for Global Readiness


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Gender and Literacy: Using a Feminist Lens to Promote Multiple Literacies and Advance Teacher Expertise

In the last three decades, a call of alarm has sounded claiming a boy crisis in literacy education. PISA & NAEP scores show a gender gap in literacy across grade-levels and across countries. We see girls outperforming boys in reading tests study after study. However, mean test scores only tell us part of the story. There is more disparity within each gender than there is between the genders. There are more boys at the bottom of the test score distribution but there are also more boys in the top (Cole, 1997).

If we really want to know if there is a crisis in literacy education, then we need to look at more than test scores. Contemporary research has looked at economic and social outcomes based on gender. Fleming (2000) reported that wage gaps between men and women persist, poverty continues to disproportionately affect women and children, domestic and sexual assault leaves women as victims more often, and gender bias and stereotypes are rampant in and out of classrooms.

Although research has examined gender-related inequities in and out of school (notably Sadker, Sadker & Zittleman, 2009), less research explores the current school experiences of girls and the role that school plays in helping all gender identities disrupt inequitable systems. This NCTE symposium attempts to address that gap by exploring various aspects of literacy through a feminist theory lens. Feminist theory is dedicated to examining issues of equality and dismantling sexism as well as other forms of oppression.

Amy Vetter will begin our symposium with Exploring Girlhood: The Literacy Experiences of One Girl in a Young Writers’ Camp. Dr. Vetter’s study explores how Addison, a high school girl in a young writers’ camp outside of school constructed and enacted writer identities.

I will follow with Dialogism: Feminist Revision of Argumentative Writing Instruction, in which I explore how feminist pedagogy can inform the instruction of writing aligned to the ELA CCSS for 9th-12th.

The third presentation by Tara Anderson is Deconstructing Gender Binaries With YA Literature will describe the value of literature that goes beyond the “LG” in “LGBTQIA” and with specific strategies for guiding students through critical conversations about gender.

Our fourth presenter, Brooke Langston-Demott will discuss her study (Critical Literacy: Challenging Traditional Gender Positions) focused on instruction dedicated to examining gender issues through literature in a fifth grade class.

We will end by inviting you to enter the conversation and share what educators can do to change the current gender inequities that exist in and out of classrooms. Not able to come? Join our conversation on Twitter #FeministPedagogy

NCTE Convention    |          Nov. 21 @4:15     |               Room M100E

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Is there a boy crisis in education?

In the last three decades, a call of alarm has sounded claiming a boy crisis in education (cf. Dutro, 2002; Watson, Kehler, & Martino, 2010).  This “war against boys,” as popular press author Hoff-Sommers terms it, is rooted in the war of the sexes. While there are test scores to back Hoff-Sommers’s points, the research is taken out of context. I want to specifically examine sex differences in literacy to prove that there is not a boy crisis and to sound a call to action to stop the war of the sexes in education.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA; OECD, 2013) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2011, 2014) are two of the biggest assessments in education and both tests show a gender gap in literacy across grade-levels and across countries. We see girls outperforming boys in reading tests in research study after research study (Robinson & Lubienski, 2011). However, there is more disparity within each gender than there is between the genders. That means that being a girl does not mean that you will be a good reader any more than being a boy means that you will be a poor reader. Also, there are also research studies that show no difference in boys’ and girls’ reading scores. This means that reading ability is not innate; it is not genetic (Clinton et al., 2012; Watson, Kehler, & Martino, 2010). Something else may be going on.

I believe this something else is gender stereotyping, reading as related to their socially constructed gender identities (Clinton et al., 2012; McGeown, 2015). Boys are supposed to be active and rambunctious. Girls are supposed to be quiet and reserved.  Since reading is a quiet activity, it is considered feminine. But we now have girls’ roller derby and women in the Citadel, so we know that some girls are active and competitive and some are quiet and reserved. However, our ideas of what it means to be a model woman or a model man haven’t evolved as quickly. Go down any toy store aisle and you will see our society’s traditional stereotypes of the sexes still alive and well. These stereotypes do not serve our boys well when it comes to literacy learning.

Literacy researchers have suggested that literacy learning is complex (Peterson, 2006). This complexity is illustrated through the important role that literacy plays in the development of individual and social identities (Watson, Kehler, & Martino, 2010). What one reads and how one reads impacts one’s sense of self. In a similar way, whether one chooses to read and what one chooses to read are expressions of one’s identity. More specifically, Goldberg and Roswell (2002) asserted, “When reading and writing, children are operating out of gender identities, and they are also using the occasion of reading or writing to construct or negotiate those identities in some way” (p. 7). Thus, recent work that has centered on the development of basic literacy skills may not adequately address critical social factors that would enhance boys’ literacy development.

Test scores only tell us part of the story. There are more boys at the bottom of the test score distribution but there are also more boys in the top (Cole, 1997). If we really want to know if schools are shortchanging boys, then we need to look at the economic and social outcomes of schooling as well (Weaver-Hightower, 2003). As described above, gender stereotypes may serve our girls well in school, but they do not serve them well after school. Women still do not make as much as men for the same work.

In all, the vast majority of boys and girls are succeeding well-enough in school to move on to fulfilling lives because there is no innate difference in boys’ and girls’ abilities to read, write, or perform any other school task.  This is not to say that all boys and all girls do succeed. Unfortunately, low income, urban African-American male students disproportionately fall behind their peers in a number of statistics (see Thomas & Stevenson, 2009 for a full discussion, see Wiseman et al., 2014 for a discussion related to literacy).

One of the solutions to boys’ underachievement is the responsibility of all of us, whether we are teachers, parents, neighbors, employers, coaches, or friends. We must stop the pitting of the sexes against each other. If we stop looking at gender as binary, or dualistic, then we can see that we all possess both feminine traits and masculine traits along a continuum.  And if we all possess them, then maybe they aren’t masculine or feminine but just human traits after all. Boys need to see both men and women role models that value reading as do girls.  The WNBA/NBA Read to Achieve Program is one such program that brings role models into the classroom to read with students. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to be a reading role model though. Everyone can model for children that reading is valuable and worth the time and effort it takes to read.


Clinton, V., Seipel, B., Broek, P., McMaster, K. L., Kendeou, P., Carlson, S. E., & Rapp, D. N. (2012). Gender differences in inference generation by fourth-grade students. Journal of Research in Reading, 37(4), 356-374.

Cole, N. S. (1997). The ETS gender study: How females and males perform in educational settings. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Dutro, E. (2002). “Us boys like to read football and boy stuff”: Reading masculinities, performing boyhood. Journal of Literacy Research, 34(4), 465-500.

Hoff-Sommers, C. (2000). The war against boys: How misguided feminism is hurting our young men. New York: Simon and Schuster.

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2014). Nation’s report card 2013. Retrieved from http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2013/#/changes-in-gaps

OECD. 2013. PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can Do – Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science. Paris: OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264201118-en.

Peterson, S. (2006). Influence of gender on writing development. In C. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald, (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (311323). New York: Guilford.

Robinson, J. P. & Lubienski, S. T. (2011). The development of gender achievement gaps in mathematics and reading during elementary and middle school: Examining direct cognitive assessments and teacher ratings. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 268-302.

Thomas, D. E. & Stevenson, H. (2009). Gender risks and education: The particular classroom challenges for urban low-income African American boys. Review of Research in Education, 33(1), 160-180.

Watson, A., Kehler, M., & Martino, W. (2010). The problem of boys’ literacy underachievement: Raising some questions. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 356361.

Weaver-Hightower, M. (2003). The “Boy Turn” in Research on Gender and Education. Review of Educational Research, 73 (4), 471-498.

Wiseman, A. et al. (2014). UNC Scandal & Literacy Levels: Racism, Relationships and Reading Instruction [blog]. Scholar’s Corner. Retrieved from http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/UNC-Scandal-Response.pdf

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UNC Scandal & Literacy Levels: Racism, Relationships and Reading Instruction

In a recent opinion piece, Mary Carey, the founder of a volunteer group representing children who can’t read, points to the low literacy rates of black males as the cause of the UNC academic scandal. She raises important issues about race, literacy, and our education system.

Unfortunately, Ms. Cary oversimplifies aspects of both student achievement and reading instruction that we as literacy educators need to correct and explain. Above all, we want to point out that the UNC Scandal is about adults cheating, it is
not about young black males who cannot read. Young black males were a small percentage of those implicated in the cheating scandal, which was perpetrated by many non-athletes and many non-Black students, and many women. To use the UNC scandal as segue to talk about black males’ reading achievement is disingenuous at best and racist at the worst.
However, there are some important points that we feel need to be addressed. As experienced educators and literacy scholars, our classroom experiences and scholarly research address many of the issues that are related to this topic. So, while we feel that Mary Carey conflates issues when she uses her commentary about the UNC cheating scandal to focus on literacy rates of black males, we believe that there are many important issues that should be addressed. Our intention is to bring up some issues from her commentary, provide research-based understandings, and suggest some possible solutions.

Certainly, race is an issue and understanding how race impacts literacy rates is paramount to literacy levels of black males. We cannot effectively focus on low levels of literacy rates without addressing the larger issue of race and education. Achievement in public schools reflects systemic issues that affect achievement for many minorities. While some research
demonstrates that after background characteristics are controlled, African American and White students enter school with equal reading readiness, research almost unanimously demonstrates that reading achievement gaps widen for African American students as they progress through school. Research has also demonstrated a discrepancy in participation of programs that support future opportunities for African American students, such as advanced placement programs, high
school graduation rates, and admittance to college programs. All of this points to the idea that schools may sustain or add to racial disparities and thus create achievement gaps.

We believe that a key answer is to recruit more diverse teachers into education and specifically the teaching force, which is predominantly white and female (n=83%). Teachers must help African American students develop healthy racial identities and show students that academically successful people are part of all racial and ethnic groups. Also, it’s important to
incorporate diverse perspectives into the curriculum in the way of curriculum materials, texts, and approaches to learning. For many students who may be struggling with reading, the ways in which students respond to reading instruction can reflect larger issues, including what it means to be a reader and whose ideas or perspectives are accepted in school settings. We need more diverse participation in education so that we hear from multiple perspectives and voices so
children have role models.

Read more at http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/UNC-Scandal-Response.pdf 

By Angela Wiseman, Abbey Graham, Kirsten Aleman, Donna Hawkins,
June Hurt, Jill Jones, Julie Justice, Shea Kerkoff, Justin Richards

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Disciplinary Literacy for Deeper Learning MOOC

Please join me for a MOOC-Ed on Disciplinary Literacy for Deeper Learning. Register now at  

The free, 6-week course is funded by the Hewlett Foundation, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, and the New Literacies Collaborative at NC State University. This course will explore what it means to read, write, speak, and listen for learning and creating knowledge within a discipline. Designed specifically for teacher educators, administrators, and 6-12th grade teachers in English/ELA, Science, History/Social Studies, and Mathematics, this course is open to all educators in K-12 and postsecondary levels interested in learning more about disciplinary literacy for deeper learning. Additionally, this course provides an optional PLC Facilitation Guide to assist teams as they work through the MOOC-Ed together. 

Featured expert contributors include Tim Shanahan, P. David Pearson, Don Leu, Leigh Hall, Hiller Spires, and John Lee; doctoral students include Abbey Graham and Shea Kerkhoff (that’s me). 

It begins September 29, 2014. We hope you will share the link with interested 6th-12th grade teachers.

MOOC-Ed logo

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Books for the World’s Families

I wanted to share this awesome post from a great organization that also works for literacy.  

Free Books for the World’s Families are Just Around the Corner

PBALast Friday I invited the world (well, everybody that read that blog) into a new conversation about Reading. More specifically, I reminded readers of some very important issues and research that don’t seem to be part of the current conversations in literacy circles. The current buzz is only focused on standards and teacher assessment and the quality of teacher education. These “hot topics” seem to have drowned out actual conversation about creating a world of readers.

So allow me to start a first NEW conversation (of several over the next weeks) with the following assertion:

We CAN afford to put abundant books in just about every young child’s hands right now, worldwide.

(and in another 10 years or so we will be able to remove the words, “just about” from that assertion)

Literacy educators have all begrudgingly accepted the undeniable mathematics that faces us about the challenges of creating world literacy:

  • There is not enough money to give all children enough printed books to establish basic literacy. Not now. Not ever.
  • There are too many home / mother tongue languages to make printing books economically feasible for publishers even if someone had enough money.
  • There are not enough printing presses to produce the billions of pages that such an effort would require.
  • There are not sufficient binderies to create those pages into volumes
  • Even if we had all those books, there are not enough trucks or teamsters or pack mules to get them into homes around the globe.

It goes on and on. Printed books just can’t “reach” as far as they must. They don’t add up for world literacy.

Now, my two sets of assertion about affordability and the mathematics shared here are not in conflict. They both point in the same direction.

If we wish to stage a full assault to establish basic literacy everywhere, we must accept that our single path to getting sufficient books into homes is the power and reach of digital books. The potential of digital books is already proven. Consider these free online libraries :

LOGO COLLAGEUnite for Literacy, our social enterprise which provides free picture books for the very youngest readers. This library of mostly non-fiction books focuses on the diversity of family life in the US. The books can be heard, on-demand, in up to 20 languages, making them a ready resource to over 3 billion people using computers, tablets or smartphones.

The International Children’s Digital Library is available on any computer. It’s a non-profit with thousands of  beautiful, free books for ages 3 to 13. It offers each book in at least one and often more than 59 languages.

WorldReader is another non-profit that offers families and schools in developing countries over 6000 free and modestly priced books for Kindle readers of a range of ages.

But Mark…What about the connectivity? As of 2014 Internet and mobile connectivity combine to create a steep and rapid growth line for Internet penetration around the world. There are organizations like the Alliance for Affordable Internet and www.Internet.org working on creating affordable Internet and mobile connections in developing countries and everywhere. Not today, but soon.

Okay, so, what about the mobile devices? That too is just around the corner. With the advent of the $25 smartphone, a world of reading and information is not here, but it’s just around the corner. The time is now and the essential first goal of getting sufficient books into the hands of children everywhere to support basic literacy is just around the corner.

Adding these digital libraries to the wonderful print and digital services of public and school libraries, it is clear that the needed books are already THERE for a huge number of families. As we wait for affordable connectivity and devices, now the challenge is to get the word out to families everywhere, not just that the books are available through their smartphones, tablets and computers, but that its time for getting our fellow educators to start talking about the important stuff: supporting parents in reading and discussing books with their children, starting at birth.

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Close reading complex informational text

Today I presented at the North Carolina Reading Association 2014 Conference.  The conference theme was Pathways to Literacy: Looking Back to Move Forward.  My presentation was on a lesson framework that also works as an independent reading strategy for close reading of informational texts.  The framework is called TOADS and stands for Title, Organization, Author’s purpose, Diction, and Summary of main idea.  It can be modified for early elementary all the way to AP 12.  You can see the Prezi here: http://prezi.com/qwhxanafeygd/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

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High School Reading List is 75% white, 75% male

Students often consider the books they read in school as the authority on a subject.  Because of this, the books presented to our students can influence 1) how they think, 2) what they feel is normal, and 3) what roles and characteristics are appropriate for people like them.  The creators of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) say that multicultural education is valuable for all students, but not in action.  While the CCSS do not mandate reading lists for grade levels, a suggested reading list has been published as Appendix B. The CCSS suggested readings do not represent the diverse demographics and worldviews represented in American public schools. The following table describes the 9th-10th grade readings.




Female author 9 20%
Male author 37 80%
Female main character* 8 36%
Male main character* 14 63%
European author 15 33%
Asian author 1 2%
African author 2 4%
Middle Eastern author 0 0
Australian author 0 0
African American author 5 11%
Asian American author 1 2%
Hispanic American author 1.5 3%
White American author 18 40%
Native American author .5 1%
Author or characters with disabilities 0 0

* Not all of the selections had characters.

In short, the authors on the list are 75% male (of all ethnicities) or 75% white (both male and female).










There is a tremendous overrepresentation of white male authors.  There are more male authors than female authors, as is the case in the K-1 band and in other textbooks I have analyzed. The number of male authors of color is also too low.  The male authors of color included one black African, four African-American (counting Martin Luther King, Jr. twice for two works), and one author who identifies as half Chicano and half Native American.  For women of color, Amy Tan is Chinese American, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou are African-American, and Julia Alvarez is Dominican American.  Where are Sojourner Truth, Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Phyllis Wheatley, or bell hooks, just to name a few?  The authors of the CCSS should include more perspectives and voices across race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, and age to present diverse perspectives and issues. As Rudine Sims Bishop says, all of our students need window and mirror books. It is important for children to see a reflection of themselves in the books they read, so they can connect to reading and value literacy in a very personal way.