“Finally!”

This was my first thought after reading a core document developed by leading members* of the Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC).

To be frank, I don’t usually get excited about 15 page PDFs with the words “theoretical foundations” in them, but just reading the overview caused an unexpected level of excitement. I wasn’t just eager to actually see the answer to the dreaded question, “Why are we doing this?” I was realizing that the core values and beliefs upon which ERWC was built aligned perfectly with my own values and beliefs as an educator.  

Here is the rundown of what you will find in the Theoretical Foundations, in bullet point fashion: 

  • Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies (asset-based approach)
  • Reading and Writing as Social Practices
  • Broadening Notions of “Reading,” “Composing,” and “Literacy” 
  • Thinking Rhetorically
  • Supporting Literacy through Student-Centered Discussion 
  • Expanding the Inquiry Space (Supporting Productive Struggle and Goal Setting)
  • Universal Design for Learning
  • The Roles of Engagement and Motivation
  • Transfer of Learning

This is the dream course to teach, folks. And in dreaming that we all read and internalize these foundational beliefs in the Theoretical Foundations document, below are the three I treasure most and am hopeful to connect with fellow ERWC teachers about (seriously, hit me up!).

1. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies (an asset-based approach)

We didn’t become teachers to tell students “You’re wrong” and to make them feel inferior. As a student, though, I can recall several formative moments where I was made to feel exactly this, and perhaps your experience in education was peppered with moments of being made to feel “less than” too. 

As I have matured as a teacher, I have grown to see many of the circumstances where I experienced feelings of inadequacy had more to do with people participating in a system that skewed toward deficit thinking: emphasizing what was lacking, missing, or “wrong.” If it didn’t fit the expectation, or norm, then there was a “problem” that needed to be “fixed.”

The  ERWC Theoretical Foundations for Reading and Writing Rhetorically makes it clear that everyone, student and teachers, is to be viewed as individuals who are in the process of building. What each of us have built up, and what has been built into us, is worth celebrating and strengthening. Taking in this section of the Theoretical Foundations is giving me the strength to challenge assessment norms I grew up with and was trained to use in my classroom. Too often our assessment tools emphasize what a student can’t do, how what they produced doesn’t fit, instead of helping students recognize the wonderful assets they already have and building from there.

2. Supporting Literacy through Student-Centered Discussion

Learning is social. We process new ideas better together, and ERWC certainly wades into some big concepts. To quote from the Theoretical Foundations, “[W]e first encounter new ideas, processes, and information in real world contexts (including in texts), and we then make sense of new knowledge collaboratively through talk and social interaction with others.”

When I first encountered ERWC, all the activities in a module seemed impossible to squeeze into the calendar. “You want me to teach how many modules in a semester!?” It took some time to realize that I could complete many of the activities through conversation, but for some reason I tricked myself into believing this was a cheat, not something condoned by the ERWC “powers that be.” I could not have been more wrong. In my classroom, conversation, in various forms, has become a key feature in shaping students’ understanding of the material while accelerating the time it can take to work through a module to fidelity. 

Understandably, this has been difficult–bordering on seemingly impossible– this past year, but it’s a practice worth fighting for on behalf of our students. And there are some clever ways teachers within the ERWC community have made room for student-centered discussion during distance learning.

3. Expanding the Inquiry Space

When I first started teaching ERWC, that’s what I did: I taught ERWC. I wish I could go back and apologize to those students I taught in my first year with ERWC. Back then we only addressed the questions I thought were important, and I worked to funnel my students to the answers that I deemed worthy. 

Over the years, I have made major shifts in my practice that put student questions at the front. More and more I have transitioned away from the teacher as the principle mover through a module. These days it’s more student questions that drive my classes through a given module.

Let’s Connect!

If you’re even the slightest bit encouraged or excited about working these elements from the Theoretical Foundation, let’s get connected! Not sure how, here’s a few ways:

  • Follow the blog
  • Leave a comment below
  • Connect with the community on social media

QUESTION: How about you? What are you most attracted to in the upgrade to 3.0?


*Developers of the third edition of the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) Theoretical Foundations for Reading and Writing Rhetorically document include Mira-Lisa Katz, Nelson Graff, Norm Unrau, Ginny Crisco, and Jennifer Fletcher.

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