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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Big Ideas in Literacy – English

Introduction

The English language arts classroom has always been the primary place where students are taught academic literacy practices. These days, as teachers of other subjects, like math and science, are asked to incorporate academic literacy into their classrooms, some English teachers ask each other, “If reading and writing are taught in science, math, and social studies classes, do we still need English class?” The answer is yes!

Although all content areas share some reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking practices, English is still unique. In English class, students study the English language and all its contexts and manifestations most directly through reading, thinking about, and responding to literature of several types (novels, memoirs, biographies, plays, poetry, editorials), written at different points in history and for varied audiences. They engage in reading and critical analysis of written text and oral text (speeches, debates). With respect to both written and oral language, students are readers and listeners as well as writers and speakers, creating stories and constructing arguments. A unifying theme throughout English class is the study of language in its many variations, formats, purposes, and audiences. It is a place where students learn not only about English literature, but also about language in general.

English as a discipline is often characterized as concerned only with reading and writing about literature, poetry, and fiction. These genres are important, but the discipline also addresses other areas of language study, reading comprehension, and written and spoken expression, such as the analysis of style in spoken and written texts.

The next four units of this course examine the practices of English studies. The first unit explores significant ideas currently being discussed at many levels of English teaching and the education profession, such as policy, research, teacher education, and teaching. The second and third units focus on reading practices and instructional strategies in English and a similar review of writing in English. The last unit brings these ideas together and discusses broader instructional design.

WHAT IS ENGLISH STUDIES?

How familiar are most people with the idea of English studies? English studies refers to different categories of study within the discipline, such as written or printed text, oral language, and linguistic context, as they relate to a wide variety of purposes and audiences. Many universities in the United States and around the world call their English departments “English studies.” Illinois State University is one example. There, undergraduate majors in English studies are required to take courses in literary and cultural studies, rhetoric and composition, and linguistics. They are also encouraged to explore technical, professional, and creative writing and publishing practices and careers. Durham University—with the third-oldest Department of English Studies in England—requires its undergraduate English studies majors to take literature courses specializing in drama, poetry, and the novel; courses in the classical and biblical background of English literature; and courses in English language and history. Students are also required to take courses in critical approaches to studying literature. There are also a number of academic journals, such as the International Journal of English Studies, that explore English language and linguistics, applied English linguistics, literature in English, and the culture of the English-speaking countries.

This unit looks at several important topics that influence our understanding of how to teach reading and writing in English: motivation, text complexity, language study, standards, assessment, multiliteracies, explicit instruction and gradual release, the inquiry cycle, and student collaboration.

Reflect: Write for two minutes about what you feel are the issues fundamental to the teaching and learning of English studies.

Video and Reflection: Now watch as Reading and Writing in English to see researchers and educators provide research-based comments about reading and writing in English. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: What are some of the current research-based ideas about reading or writing in English discussed at your school?
  • Watch the video: Take note of what ideas sound familiar to you. What is new to you?
  • Reflect: What is the most memorable idea discussed? Write a brief summary of the idea and share your summary with a colleague.

MOTIVATION AND ENGAGEMENT

Without students’ genuine interest, there will always be some lack of participation or other form of disconnection. Students need a reason to be motivated before they will actually engage. Marzano (2011) explains that feelings influence thinking. This means that students’ thinking and learning is enhanced, limited, or otherwise affected by their general and specific emotional state (Jensen, 2005). The higher-order thinking skills in which teachers desire students to engage involve focusing on the present activity without being distracted by external circumstances or personal sensations. Eric Jensen explains that teachers don’t have to be subject to the range of moods that enter their classrooms. Instead, it is worth incorporating emotional engagement into lesson plans by fostering an optimal emotional state for engagement.

To help foster motivation by heightening students’ emotions, reading and writing activities should be personalized and occasionally controversial; activities should highlight important—but relevant—questions and incorporate movement (for example, students might write about a sports activity, travel outside of school to interview someone, or observe an activity).

Video and Reflection: Watch Engaging Students in Authentic Reading and Writing in which a high school English teacher discussed her real-world literature class. You may want to take notes on the issues below.

  • Before you watch: Think about how you ascertain the kinds of reading and writing that engage your students.
  • Watch the video: As you watch, consider other factors besides literature selections that engage students.
  • Reflect: Now consider how you would incorporate your students’ interest into reading and writing activities.

Engagement often comes from tapping into students’ background knowledge, strengths, and interests. Doing so increases their desire or motivation to engage in classroom activities. In this way, we build engagement into the design of the lesson rather than relying solely on classroom management strategies during instruction. English teachers can also focus on being culturally responsive by selecting readings that connect with students’ cultures, honoring students’ home and peer languages and incorporating them into instruction, highlighting diverse cultural metaphors, and using student narratives as writing assignments and as a point of reference for different kinds of writing and reading.

Apply: Write one to two paragraphs about what motivated you to engage in reading and writing activities during English class when you were a high school or middle school student.

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE TEACHING

Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices as described by Geneva Gay (2002) and Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) help teachers think about student motivation and engagement more holistically. Yvette Jackson’s (2011) review of culturally responsive teaching research defines CRT practices as:

  • Validating – Incorporating the knowledge, experiences, and performance styles of diverse students into instruction
  • Comprehensive – Developing our students’ intellectual, social, emotional, and political knowledge by using their cultural referents
  • Transformative – Using our students’ cultures as resources for teaching and learning, and critiquing social structures in reading and writing practices
  • Multidimensional – Attending to the curriculum, learning context, classroom climate, student–teacher relationships, instructional techniques, and performance assessments
  • Emancipatory – Making authentic knowledge about different ethnic groups available to students
  • Empowering – Helping students develop academic competence, self-efficacy, and initiative

A good self-assessment for student engagement in your lesson involves asking yourself such questions as: How is my lesson validating for all of my students? How is my lesson comprehensive (in incorporating student interests and strengths)? How is my lesson transformative for all students?

Be realistic about linguistic prejudice, as it is an influencing factor on students’ motivation and engagement in learning academic English. For the English teacher, this might come into play when teaching literature written in hybrid languages; World Englishes (Australia, England, South Africa, Nigeria, India, etc.); or vernacular dialects, often from different time periods. As an English teacher, you have the dual role of guiding students toward academic English while teaching them to appreciate linguistic diversity in multicultural and global literature written in English.

Reflect: Write an example of how you use your students’ cultural referents to build their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Brainstorm a list of other ways you can incorporate cultural referents in your teaching.

Another way to tap into students’ interests in English class is to incorporate student choice of reading activities wherever possible. For example, students may have the option to choose their own texts for sustained silent reading time and during literature circles based on themes and concepts rather than specific titles or authors.

Choice of writing activities can also engage students. There are many forms of writing used for different communicative purposes outside of the classroom. Within the classroom, the available writing activity options should relate to the overall lesson objectives and connections to standards or benchmarks. However, instead of writing only for the teacher who will grade the work, students can find it more meaningful to write for real audiences who will engage with and respond to or edit their work. For example, students can add to an existing Wiki, create a blog or guest write on another’s blog, or translate a concept or story from a newspaper into a spoken word text or turn a popular song of any genre into a news report.

Reflect: What kinds of opportunities do your students have to select what they will read and write in your class? Make a list of authentic audiences for your students’ writing assignments.

TEXT COMPLEXITY

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has drawn attention to text complexity as it relates to the increasing literacy demands of college, career, and civic life. The CCSS measures text complexity using a three-part model that includes the qualitative dimension (concerning cognitive, cultural, and content factors), the quantitative dimension (concerning word, sentence, and passage length), and the reader and task considerations. Complex structure can also include implied vs. stated ideas, graphics, time/sequence of events, contemporary vs. archaic vocabulary, language, multisyllabic words, long sentences with multiple clauses, content rich in historic or literary references, etc.

Determining text complexity is not always easy or uncontroversial. While textual features are important, the reader’s context is also significant: background experience with text, experiences outside of reading, degree of intertextual connections, etc., influence the complexity of the reading experience. Although it’s important for students to be reading texts with complex features, it is also important to engage students where they are and scaffold them into more complexity. Sometimes, high-interest, low-ability texts are important. Additionally, the purpose for reading often determines the complexity of the reading experience rather than the text itself. We can ask students to perform many cognitive functions with any text: they can make comparisons, determine sequences and plot structures, identify causes and effects, etc.

Video and Reflection: Watch One-on-One Conferences in which a teacher lets her student guide the processes of identifying text features that create challenges for her during reading. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: How do you determine text complexity for your students?
  • Watch the video: Ms. Barrales’s student tries to determine the meaning of a word. The lack of a glossary makes the process challenging. How does Ms. Barrales determine text complexity with students?
  • Reflect: How does Ms. Barrales reinforce her student’s learning at the end of the class? How can you incorporate peer-to-peer instruction in your classroom?

Complex texts are challenging to read and comprehend. Teachers can employ a variety of strategies to help build background information and scaffold understanding, but it is also important to allow students to struggle a bit with the text itself.

Video and Reflection: Watch Collaborating and Writing: Components of Close Reading to see how a teacher helps students set a purpose for reading Edwidge Danticat’s novel Breath, Eyes, Memory. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: What factors do you consider when deciding to introduce how to introduce a book or short story to your students?
  • Watch the video: How does Ms. Johnson encourage students to have rich discussions about the book?
  • Reflect: After reading, students write to an authentic audience about their understanding of the book. How can you help students have an expanded audience for their writing about literature?

LANGUAGE STUDY

Language is a form of thought, a mediator of thought, and a tool for enhancing thought (Marzano, 2011). Words are repeated over and over not only to master pronunciation, but also to solidify understanding of the concepts behind words. Language also helps process thinking when considering options, weighing pros and cons, or otherwise evaluating the world through language; finally, expanded knowledge and use of words enables thinking to grow. There are three primary concerns for teachers regarding language study in English:

  • All students need to learn academic language, defined by Zwiers (2014) as the set of words, grammar, and discourse strategies used to decode and encode complex ideas, higher-order thinking processes, and abstract concepts. Academic language in English class can include literary terms (used in literary and nonliterary contexts), morphology concepts, and terms that describe language, common metaphors, folkloric expressions, and English etymology. This may also include allusions to other text and idioms (which can be especially challenging for English language learners (ELLs)). Most students do not acquire academic language naturally but instead learn it as a result of instruction in school (Gee, 1989). Teaching academic language in English studies, especially to ELLs and speakers of nonstandard dialects of English, while maintaining an appreciation for language diversity helps motivate an appreciation for language generally, which becomes necessary in the study of diverse works of literature, drama, and poetry. Rich, holistic, contextual, and explicit language instruction strategies that are helpful for all students, especially with regard to academic vocabulary, are also helpful for ELLs; however, ELLs often need much more instruction and ideally sooner (Taff, Blachowicz, & Fisher, 2009).
  • Students whose first language is not English need to hear a variety of native speakers of English, and speakers who are accomplished academic English speakers, speak as often as possible. They also need ample opportunity to speak English as often as possible. However, they need more than conversational English: they need academic language with complex vocabulary and discipline-based concepts (Wong-Filmore, 2000). They need to understand rhetorical structures as well. It is also true that many ELLs are uncomfortable with speaking in large classrooms. Because they are afraid they will make mistakes, the best way to get them comfortable with speaking is to use small groups (Nystrand, 2006). In such cases, it helps to be creative in manufacturing opportunities and structures for conversation. For example, students can perhaps talk over Skype or a cell phone. Negative correction is antithetical to learning a new language. Correction should happen in activities like contrastive analysis, which will be explained in the writing strategies section.
  • Students also need to see that their home languages are valued in English classrooms as resources that can support their learning. At the same time they are developing their English language skills, they need opportunities to use their other language repertoires as tools for developing academic literacies. For example, they can be encouraged to talk with others who share their language backgrounds about what they are thinking, reading, and writing. When composing texts in the English language, they can draw on their knowledge of how different languages work to represent an idea in their writing in an original way.

Reflect: What reading, writing, and speaking practices did you experience at home when you were a high school or middle school student? How did those practices help or hinder your progress in English class?

Video and Reflection: Watch Teaching Argumentation Skills to see how the teacher introduces academic language in English to a high school class of English language learners. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: Why would a teacher’s relationship-building efforts influence the experience of ELLs learning academic English?
  • Watch the video: Watch to see how Mr. Guerrero bridges his students’ ethnic and youth culture discourse on the one hand, and the sophisticated academic discourse he is teaching on the other.
  • Reflect: Later, Mr. Guerrero will require his students to apply their knowledge of argumentation to their personal lives through an extended writing activity. How is this an authentic language learning experience?

 

STANDARDS

Although not universally accepted by educators and administrators, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted by nearly every state. Despite years of content area literacy courses in teacher education programs across the country predating the CCSS, the responsibility to explicitly teach content area literacy, or the literacy practices of specific disciplines, has not always been universally practiced. Literacy in the disciplines is a significant focus of the CCSS. The CCSS consists of College and Career Anchor Standards, Grade-Level Standards, and Appendices. College and Career Readiness Standards address reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards judged to be most salient for college and career. They provide a context for the grade-level standards that address these strands of English developmentally. The Appendices offer specific curricular suggestions.

One common misconception about the CCSS is the belief that English classes need to be teaching more informational texts and less fiction, poetry, etc. In actuality, the percentages for informational vs. fictional texts are intended for reading across all classes, not just English class. The Myths and Facts section of the CCSS asserts that the goal of increasing nonfiction reading “can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing….” It also states that “the standards require that a portion of what is read in high school should be informational text, yet the bulk of this portion will be accounted for in non-ELA disciplines that do not frequently use fictional texts. This means that stories, drama, poetry, and other literature account for the majority of reading that students will do in their ELA classes.”

Reflect: How do you use standards to prepare your daily lesson plans?

ASSESSMENT

While there are many types of English studies assessment practices, they generally fall into one of two categories: formative or summative. Formative assessments happen during instruction; they help the teacher understand the impact of his or her reading instruction on the student and indicate instructional changes needed for one or more students. Summative assessment comes at the end of a book or unit of instruction and is intended to determine students’ level of mastery over what was taught. Because this course is about instruction, the focus is on formative assessment. Authentic assessment is an additional way to characterize assessment practices.

Authentic assessment offers an opportunity for a student to demonstrate learning in a real-world context. Currently, there is a range of ways that one might develop authentic audiences for writing:

  • Blogs (Readers of students’ blogs will comment on the blog and focus on highlights and/or points of interest and critique.)
  • Submitting for publication (Students can write op-eds for newspapers, volumes of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, etc. Good writing will be more likely read, reviewed, and published. The National Writing Project has compiled a rich list of youth publishing opportunities.)
  • Editing or initiating wikis

Some examples of formative assessment of reading in English include:

  • Think-alouds (The reader reads aloud and stops at pre-selected sections of the text to articulate his or her thoughts at the point of stopping.)
  • Taxonomies (Rothstein, 2007) for vocabulary knowledge (This strategy can be used as a diagnostic, or pre-reading, during and after reading assessment. A taxonomy is a brainstormed A-B-C listing of vocabulary associated with a given topic or text. Students first brainstorm alone, then in pairs, and finally as a whole class, fleshing out their list with each phase. The taxonomy is assessed based on complexity and completeness. The taxonomy is then used as a resource for writing and a tool for instruction and study for future assessment.)
  • Reciprocal teaching (Although not always considered an assessment strategy, reciprocal teaching consists of four stages promoting classroom talk about reading: questioning, summarizing, clarifying, and predicting. The clarifying stage and prediction stage can be viewed as formative assessment opportunities.)
  • Unison reading (This strategy is demonstrated in two humanities videos. It incorporates elements of choral reading and read-alouds. A small group of students read a text aloud all at once. Whenever a reader has difficulty with any portion of the text, he or she knocks on the desk, calling a “breach” in the process. Students inquire about the student’s breach and assist him or her in moving forward with pronouncing and understanding the reading. The teacher observes and takes notes to inform instruction.)
  • Other examples include exit slips and thumbs up/down to provide the teacher with an immediate gauge on how students feel about a concept, self-assessment, quiz, etc.

These strategies can also be modified and used in other disciplines.

Students will likely still be tested in more summative and standardized forms at district, state, and other formalized instances. Summative testing is for a different purpose. The discussion above considers student performance information on authentic classroom tasks that will directly inform daily instruction.

Reflect: Describe one or two instances when your assessment of a student’s writing or reading influenced you or caused you to adjust your instruction.

Video and Reflection: Watch Comprehending Informational Texts to see how a teacher assesses her students’ reading and teaches them to assess themselves. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: List some purposes for “Do Now” or warm-up activities.
  • Watch the video: Initially, Ms. Barrales assesses the class informally during the “Do Now” activity through questions and answers, observations, and students’ final comments. She continues with an assessment embedded in a reading strategy called unison reading.  How does the student talk assist students in their comprehension?
  • Reflect: How does the students’ goal-setting before they start to read contribute to their self-assessment?

Video and Reflection: Now watch Revising with Teacher and Peer Feedback to see a teacher talk with individual students about the original poems that they wrote, asking questions and providing guidance to help improve the poems. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: How can poetry writing enhance students’ language skills?
  • Watch the video: Mr. Berman works with students to help them affirm each other and offers advice that will help them revise their work. How do you prepare students to affirm and critique each other’s writing?
  • Reflect: After the teacher and peer feedback, students will take their poems home and revise them. Mr. Berman will also plan a poetry reading for students to perform their final version. In this way, students have multiple assessments: the teacher, each other, and the public audience. How does the performance also become an assessment?

MULTILITERACIES

Reading and writing have become an increasingly complex experience, especially with the advent of digital technology. To help understand the complexity of literacy practices, consider the idea of multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner. Quite simply put, everyone has varying levels of skill in producing and consuming knowledge and information in different modes of expression. Some people have more skill in certain areas (linguistic, kinesthetic, musical, visual-spatial, etc.) than other people. But, regardless of their strengths, most people must engage in a variety of modes. In fact, recent theories of multiliteracies stress that by combining modes (linguistic, audio, gestural, etc.), we can create richer expressions of meaning and understand the meanings of texts more deeply (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000).

Multiliteracy highlights an increased capacity for producing and consuming knowledge due to digital technology (computers, mobile devices, cameras, etc.) while also acknowledging the multiple modes in which people have long created and communicated meaning. The seemingly infinite and important ability to duplicate texts and disseminate information enables enhanced consumption and production of knowledge in the digital world. The ability to reach live audiences in synchronous and asynchronous communication is another feature of the digital world, as is the ability to abstract text and combine it with unrelated text to create a whole new text. Interestingly, the digital world has increased the importance of visual literacy as well as oral and other forms communication. This is part of the understanding of the concept of multiliteracy or multiliteracies.

Video and Reflection: There are many ways to incorporate technology to reflect and enhance what students are doing on their own time. Watch Using Technology to Develop Writing Skills to see how a teacher incorporates interviewing, collaborative writing, and multimedia. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: How do media and technology support your students’ development in academic reading and writing?
  • Watch the video: After students complete their work, they create podcasts to share with others online. What role does the authentic audience for students’ reading and writing play in their reading and writing development?
  • Reflect: What other opportunities can you think of for sharing students’ reading and writing of multimedia texts with authentic audiences that students will want to reach?

Video and Reflection: Even though students are engaged with technology, many are not as savvy as their teachers sometimes think. Watch Blended Learning: Acquiring Digital Literacy Skills to see how a teacher helps students learn to evaluate online texts and use peer editing tools. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: How do you determine your students’ knowledge and skill with the online tools you intend to use for instruction?
  • Watch the video: What specific scaffolds does Ms. Roberts use to help her students learn how to navigate the technology the class is using?
  • Reflect: How can technology be used for students’ self-assessment of their reading and writing development?

Apply: List the number of ways that you allow your students to communicate their learning to you. How can you expand this list?

EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION AND GRADUAL RELEASE

Skill development should be taught explicitly, but contextually. Knowledge and skills are assimilated and absorbed as students move from overt language to covert language. After students hear something and can articulate it verbally, they internally begin to construct meaning and assimilate these new behaviors. When there is a match between students’ primary discourse community and the discourse of school, teachers can be more explicit about teaching and learning. The more diverse discourses that are present in the classroom, the more the teacher needs to blend explicit instruction about language and literacy (such as whole-class instruction, individual support, direct instruction in mini lessons) with instructional supports such as environmental print, rich classroom libraries, and abundant opportunities for language enrichment.

One way of incorporating both explicit instruction and gradually releasing students to work with support (teacher or peer) and to do independent learning is found in the National Urban Alliances’ pedagogical flow map (Jackson, 2011). The flow map begins with priming activities intended to foster engagement and introduce a concept. With processing activities, the teacher can release students to independent learning activities while he or she mediates learning for those who need additional instruction. The final set of activities involves students’ presenting their learning in various modes of expression. Does this process sound familiar? Are your lessons situated in a broader flow of activities that promote independent learning?

As you’ve seen in the introductory units, additional sources describing gradual release of responsibility (GRR) can be seen in the work of Pearson and Gallagher or Fischer and Frey, which include direct instruction, guided practice, collaboration, and independent work. Project-based learning and inquiry learning are additional examples of a gradual release approach.

Reflect: Where do you spend the bulk of your instruction time? Direct instruction? Guided practice? Collaboration, or independent work? Write a short reflection explaining why and considering how you might shift to incorporate all four phases of GRR.

Video and Reflection: Watch Guided Instruction for Independence to see how the teacher enacts several phases of the GRR model. First, she provides direct instruction on comparison. Then, she works one on one with students to ensure an understanding of the concept. She also provides a range of supports for writing the required comparison: a graphic organizer, sentence starters, and posters. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: What range of supports do you provide for students? Do you use the GRR model?
  • Watch the video: Watch how Ms. Roberts works with students to prepare them to do an extended piece of writing comparing characters in two different books.
  • Reflect: GRR phases do not always happen in a particular order. Under what circumstances would beginning with the logical last phase, independent learning, enhance the instructional process?

INQUIRY CYCLE IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM

Inquiry approaches to learning have moved far beyond the science classroom and into every content area. The basic inquiry cycle begins with the following:

  • Student interests: To begin, teachers can introduce broad ideas or concepts through short video clips, news excerpts, or other engaging experiences. Teachers can model interest in the topic with emotionally engaging questions directed to students, such as, Do you believe that? Have ever seen such a thing? Where does that come from? Why do they do that? As students ask their own questions, they should be recorded for the whole class to observe and reflect upon. At this stage, the emphasis is on broad and excited conversation, speculation, and imagination. After the class has generated a significant amount of questions, the teacher helps students locate questions that reflect their interests in the concept or topic.
  • Research: The next stage is to explore with students how they might go about answering their questions. It’s important for students to understand the broad range of possibilities for generating answers. They might talk to others, look at reference materials, go online, etc. At this stage, it is also helpful to demonstrate ways for students to manage the range of information they find in portfolios (online filing systems or other means).
  • Compose: During the composing phase, students record their findings in some coherent form such as a written speech, website, or essay. They should also share and revise their composition as needed.
  • Present: After sufficient time in composing and refining their findings, students share with the public or another audience with genuine interest in the topic.
  • Generate more questions: Finally, after students have had time to reflect on how their audience responded to the presentation, new questions can be generated and summarized or explored through additional sources of information.

The basic inquiry process is similar for students of all ages. In the inquiry process, instruction is often about teaching students how to reflect on the self as a thinker and learner in school and society, and notice, formulate, and research topics and questions of interest. Instruction is about learning how to learn and understanding various cognitive processes (i.e., comparing information sequential thinking; cause and effect reasoning etc.,) that are enacted repeatedly and nuanced at various stages in this process. This information is shared directly with students as a class, and targeted information (need-to-know, mini-lessons or contextual information, mediation, etc.) is taught on an ongoing basis. Formative assessment is an ongoing part of the process. The assessments inform the teacher about what targeted information to teach, reteach, or mediate through other resources and experiences.

Reflect: Who asks the most questions in your class? How do you encourage students to generate authentic questions that reflect their personal interests about reading and writing?

STUDENT COLLABORATION

The Framework for 21st Century Learning—developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)—includes communication, and interpersonal and collaboration skills. Cooperative learning and collaborative groups have evolved conceptually and strategically over the years. The P21 documents emphasize the increasing importance of these skills due to increased communication opportunities via technology, global exchange, immigration, and urbanization. New tools and opportunities for interaction allow us to learn more from each other than ever before. In English class, students develop language fluency and facility and diverse ways of interpreting ideas and addressing problems by talking with each other during collaborative activities. Language is also acquired and developed in collaborative work with their teacher and other adults outside of the classroom to process reading and writing. Collaborative learning should be explicit, scaffolded, flexible, and dynamic.

Reflect: List several creative ideas for setting up collaborative work among your students.

Video and Reflection: Watch Polishing Writing to see how a teacher begins her class with helpful ideas for writing in general. Next, she goes over a peer response checklist. Finally, she releases students to work in groups to review and comment on each other’s writing. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: What collaboration skills do you teach explicitly? How do you prep students for working with each other in different configurations?
  • Watch the video: What tools and supports does Ms. Ramos provide for her students so they can work successfully in their group?
  • Reflect: How does collaborative work support students’ reading and writing development?

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Credits

Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4