One of the first Nationally Board Certified teachers in America, Rick brings innovation, energy, validity, and high standards to his presentations and his instructional practice, which includes 30 years teaching math, science, English, physical education, health, and history, and coaching teachers. Rick's work has been reported in numerous media, including ABC's Good Morning America, Hardball with Chris Matthews, National Geographic, and Good Housekeeping magazines, What Matters Most: Teaching for the 21st Century, and The Washington Post.
With his substantive presentations, sense of humor, and unconventional approaches, he's been asked to present to teachers and administrators in all 50 states, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Australia, the Middle East, and at the White House. He is a seasoned veteran of many webcasts, and he is Disney's American Teacher Awards 1996 Outstanding English Teacher of the Nation. He won the 2008 James P. Garvin award from the New England League of Middle Schools for Teaching Excellence, Service, and Leadership, and he has been a consultant for National Public Radio, USA Today, Court TV, and the Smithsonian Institution's Natural Partners Program and their search for the Giant Squid.
He lives in Herndon, Virginia with his wife and two children, one in high school, one in college, where he is currently working on his first young adult fiction novel.
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Cheryl Mizerny is a veteran educator with more than 25 years of experience–most at the middle school level. She began her career in special education, became a teacher consultant and adjunct professor of educational psychology, and currently teaches sixth grade English in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Cheryl writes about student motivation and engagement at The Accidental English Teacher and about teaching middle school in her blog "It's Not Easy Being Tween" for MiddleWeb.
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Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S. is an author, educator, and speaker who specializes in teaching and learning that promotes cognitive rigor and postsecondary (college and career) readiness. He is the author of Now THAT'S a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning (ASCD). He is also the owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing academic professional development and consultation to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities on how to develop rigorous teaching learning environments and deliver inquiry-driven educational experiences that engage and encourage students to demonstrate higher order thinking and communicate depth of knowledge.
Erik has been an educator for more than 20 years, working as a middle and high school teacher, a site administrator, and an education program specialist in the Title I Unit and Office of English Language Acquisition Service in the Arizona Department of Education. He received his Master in Education Leadership degree from Northern Arizona University and his Master of Science degree in Film and Television Production and Management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Rhetoric and Communication and English from the University at Albany. Erik lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and two daughters.
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Dru Tomlin is the principal of Heritage Middle School in Westerville, Ohio and is proud and passionate to serve his students, staff, and families every day. Dru was formerly the director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education, and in that role, demonstrated a commitment to educational improvement and a passion for teaching, learning, and middle school. He began his work in the middle grades as a young adolescent at Lynnhaven Junior High School in Virginia Beach, trying to fit in with other kids while also playing tuba in the marching and concert bands. In 1994, Dru began his formal career in education as an English teacher at Harrisonburg High School in Virginia and then, in 1998, he discovered the joys of middle school in Georgia as a language arts, reading, and social studies teacher and then as a school administrator. He has also been a school system staff development trainer and a faculty member for AMLE's Leadership Institute, believing firmly in the power of professional learning. For his work, Dru has been recognized as a school system Teacher of the Year and as Georgia's Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. He holds a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning and a M.S. in Educational Leadership from Georgia State University, a B.A. in English/Secondary Education from James Madison University, and a Certificate of Perfect Attendance from Lynnhaven Junior High School.
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T-shirt literacy and social justice education for diverse adolescent learners.
Graphic T-shirts have always had a special place in my life. One of my favorite pieces of clothing in my closet is an old "Schoolhouse Rock!" T-shirt. The shirt features the old PBS television show's classic logo along with some of the show's memorable characters, such as the train conductor of the "Conjunction Junction" and iconic "Bill" standing on the steps of Congress.
Although the image has faded and certain parts of the shirt have become paper-thin, the shirt remains a personal treasure. The shirt not only represents one of my favorite series, but also advocates for enhancing students' knowledge of academic content through arts integration; it serves as a visual reminder that learning can be engaging and is a unique conversation starter.
Similarly, I treasure T-shirts that build awareness of and support humanitarian issues. My "cause T-shirts" remind me that graphic T-shirts are more than cool garb, but can actually contribute to positive social change.
People have worn T-shirts since the 19th century, but in recent years graphic T-shirts have increasingly become a medium for self-expression and conversation, particularly for young adolescents. Whether through social activism, iconic portraits, retro memory-stirring designs, or current representations of ideas in pop culture, words and images on graphic T-shirts embody 21st century literacy in a global context.
This article will illuminate what I refer to as "T-shirt literacy" and provide information about a project originally created for middle level students. The article will also demonstrate how T-shirt literacy can be an effective approach for promoting multiliteracies and social justice education among diverse adolescent learners.
Preparing Middle Level Students for the 21st Century
Young adolescents are growing up in a rapidly changing, global society. Curriculum and instructional practices need to provide students with opportunities to develop 21st century skills and utilize creativity while meeting the many challenges faced by adolescent learners in an ever-changing landscape.
During my first year of teaching middle grades English language arts, I quickly realized the importance of engaging learners in projects that were relevant to their lives, nurtured creativity, and provided opportunities to apply knowledge and develop global skills.
In an effort to design a multiliteracies project for diverse young adolescent learners, I designed a 21st century multidimensional project that spans content areas, which I termed, "T-shirt literacy." The project has continued to evolve over the years.
Today, as a social justice teacher educator, I continue to facilitate this project in the classroom in teacher preparation courses and professional development workshops.
Supporting Diverse Learners
Although the nation continues to become increasingly diverse, research findings demonstrate that the current U.S. public school system presents many barriers for minority students. This opportunity gap begins in elementary school and drastically widens in middle level schools.
Dominant cultural values and dispositions are often perpetuated through curriculum and instructional practices in public schools. Research findings by many prominent education scholars—including Apple, Nieto, and Spring—demonstrate how schooling in the United States, through its biased ideologies and structures, serves to maintain hegemony. There is an urgent need to address the needs of diverse, socially marginalized students in classrooms across the country.
It is vital to provide middle level students with opportunities to collaborate and express themselves through creative mediums, including technological tools. This T-shirt Literacy Project can engage diverse learners and encourage collaboration and creativity. Moreover, this project actively promotes social justice by empowering students to find and use their "voice" to positively impact their communities.
T-shirt Literacy Project
The T-shirt Literacy Project includes an eight-phase process, which can easily be altered to meet the needs of students. Educators are encouraged to review the following guidelines and adapt them accordingly.
T-Shirt Literacy steps:
- Discuss literacy and the influence of language in both words and images.
- Share graphic T-shirts and the many roles of graphic design in society.
- Brainstorm relevant social issues and formulate compelling questions that aim to advance equity and justice.
- Research topics related to your question.
- Develop ideas for advocacy T-shirts based on findings (a minimum of three ideas are recommended) and select one design idea to further develop.
- Critically self- and peer-evaluate T-shirt designs, and revise accordingly.
- Create your design.
- Celebrate learning by sharing T-shirts in multiple formats.
Teachers may need to adapt the third phase of the process to best meet students' needs in different content areas. For example, a math teacher may ask students to brainstorm geometric terms and concepts after completing a geometry unit. Similarly, a science teacher may want to have students address specific environmental issues.
For the fifth phase, students might find a T-shirt design template or draw their own T-shirt. Encourage students to create many designs and play with words and images as well as the juxtaposition of words and images.
Providing students with multiple artistic mediums during the fifth phase is important. In addition to providing students with graphite pencils, crayons, colored pencils, oil pastels, paints, ink pens, felt-tip markers, other materials such as magazines, scissors, and glue are also useful for those who may prefer to collage their designs.
With the availability of various technological tools such as Photoshop and its variants, phase seven is a wonderful extension of basic T-shirt literacy. Phase seven enables students to develop important technological and collaborative skills.
The eighth phase—public sharing—is a vital part of this teaching and learning process. Involve students in the planning process for the public sharing of their T-shirts, and encourage them to take leadership during the planning and implementation of the culminating activity. Students appreciate having an authentic audience and it makes the project even more meaningful. Three ways we have shared our completed T-shirts that have proved successful include:
- Hanging T-shirts on a clothesline in the classroom, in the school, or in the community.
- Coordinating a "T-shirt Literacy Showcase" at the school or in the community. We invited family, friends, administrators, teachers, staff, students in other classes or grade levels, and members in the community to view our work.
- Collectively sharing the digital T-shirt designs using a digital presentation application (e.g., Prezi, VCASMO, or Haiku Deck). Consider sharing the digital compositions in different publication venues and platforms such as on the class or school's website or Facebook account.
It is critical to provide students with opportunities to engage in intellectual discourse about their beliefs and to provide assignments with authentic audiences, extending beyond their classmates or the teacher.
Conclusion and a Graphic Invitation
Participating in T-shirt literacy experiences provides students opportunities to take ownership of their learning. Furthermore, it is an effective way to illuminate 21st century literacy and promote social justice education while reinforcing and enriching academic content.
T-shirt literacy also serves as an effective medium for civic engagement and artistic expression for young adolescents. In addition to sparking conversations and memories, graphic T-shirts can shed light on identity, beliefs, and agency.
Graphic T-shirts can be an invaluable teaching and learning approach for diverse middle school learners, making graphic T-shirts much more than cool garb!
Rajni Shankar-Brown, Ph.D., is an associate professor, director of education graduate programs, and the Jessie Ball duPont Chair of Social Justice Education at Stetson University.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, April 2017.
Dr. Crystal LaVoulle believes that learning is a lifelong endeavor and educators must continuously strive to increase their knowledge and understanding along with the students they teach. As the Executive Director of the LaVoulle Group, an international educational consulting, Dr. LaVoulle is an international consultant, committed to educating the world's children through Intelligent Leadership. Leading educators in critical examination of quantitative and qualitative data, Dr. LaVoulle addresses school climate and teacher retention issues through Collaborative Conversations©, a support program for school leaders. Her professional workshop series, Chronicles of Teacher Effectiveness©, offers classroom teachers needed support with instructional strategies and assessment. Innovative projects like Read, Write, Rhyme Institute©, bring educators and entertainers together to engage in intellectual discourse about art and education.
Dr. LaVoulle is an active member of the educational community, contributing to K-12 and post-secondary research and presenting at the AMLE Annual Conference, National Title I; National Youth At-Risk; Georgia Read, Write, Now; and the Georgia Council of Teachers of English conferences. Earning a doctorate in reading, language and literacy from Georgia State University, a Master of Public Administration in Policy and Education from the University of West Georgia and received her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University at Stony Brook. Dr. LaVoulle has 20 years of educational experience working with a diverse range of middle, high school, and post-secondary teachers and students.
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Sue Vansant is a 27-year veteran of education, having taught at both the middle and high school levels. She is a former National Board Certified Teacher in English-Language Arts, however, Sue has taught every academic subject. Sue’s expertise is engaging instructional strategies and best practices that work with middle grades students. For more than 10 years, she has conducted workshops on a variety of topics for schools and school systems in Georgia and across the United States. Her approach to educational workshops is serious and candy-coated with lots of humor. Her workshops are truly exciting.
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Chris Toy has spent 30+ years serving as a teacher, principal, university instructor, consultant, presenter, cooking instructor, and writer. In addition to being a certified Apple consultant, he has worked internationally with dozens of school districts, hundreds of schools, and thousands of educators providing exceptional workshops on leadership, teaching, and learning, resulting in greater student engagement and academic achievement. His interactive style reflects his belief that teachers and leaders must model what they expect from students, colleagues, and faculties.
Listen to a podcast interview of Chris Toy:
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Allen Seed teaches middle level education and curriculum courses at the University of Memphis. Prior to his work in higher education, he taught grades 4-8 for more than 18 years. He enjoys working with middle schools and is currently involved in implementing a new middle school licensure program that includes a year-long residency. He has presented and written extensively about middle school improvement including flexible block scheduling, collaboration, and experiential education. One of his lifelong goals is to make learning fun for middle school students and workshop participants.
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Sharon Faber has more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, building and district administrator, university professor, consultant, and author. She is the author of How to Teach Reading When You’re Not a Reading Teacher, How to Teach Academic Vocabulary, three staff development guides on literacy and leadership, reading, and discipline with the brain in mind, and joint author of Interactive Learning.
An internationally known speaker, Faber has delivered keynote presentations and conducted workshops for educators at all grade levels throughout the United States and Canada. She has presented at ASCD conferences and conferences of many other national organizations. She is noted for her high energy, sense of humor, and the practicality of her presentations.
Faber is president of Faber Consulting and a member of the AMLE and ASCD faculties. She received a bachelor's degree in English and Education from Midwestern State University, a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Virginia.
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