Welcome to the ERWC blog! We envision this blog as a way for ERWC teachers to dig into the nuts and bolts of the curriculum: to share teaching tips and success stories, explore problems of practice together, and ground ourselves in the key principles and frameworks that make the curriculum work for all students.
Here you’ll find advice from colleagues on teaching signature ERWC activities, such as descriptive outlining and rhetorical analysis. You’ll also find strategies for designing a year-long course, teaching a particular module, or using the ERWC Assignment Template to create your own units. And we’ll share “think pieces” on some of the larger issues that impact our work as educators, including the importance of culturally sustaining pedagogies.
We hope these bite-sized bits of professional learning sustain your connection to the ERWC community (now over 15,000 educators strong!) and support your essential work in the classroom. We’d love to hear from you, too, about how you make ERWC work—and how you make it better.
ERWC has always been about more than the modules. Teacher collaboration and expertise are the magic ingredients that make the curriculum effective. We’re delighted to invite you to join us in spreading more of that magic around!
To subscribe to the ERWC blog, please click on the button that says, “Follow.” Submissions for blog posts may be sent to Jennifer Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see the publication criteria on the “Writing for the ERWC Blog” page. For more information on the California State University’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC), including how to register for an ERWC workshop, please visit the following websites:
When I consulted our Associate Superintendent of Business for the Kern High School District, Dr. Mike Zulfa, about the plans for how our district would comply with SB 328, he wrote, “So I am blaming you for all of this disruption! 😊” You see, I am the one who wrote the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum module: “Teenage Sleepers: Arguing for Your Right to Sleep In.”
In the early stages of ERWC 3.0 development, I had proposed the module after watching the TED Talk with sleep expert Dr. Wendy Troxel, “Sleepy Teens: A Public Health Epidemic.” Troxel argues that the hormonal changes in teens cause them to reach REM sleep later than in adults and are not fully out of the sleep cycle until 90 minutes after adults are normally “awake.” She along with the PAC Start Schools Later fought for legislation that requires schools to start later in the morning for both middle-schoolers and high school students. I thought this would be a great topic of discussion for English 11 courses. It addressed all the points of an engaging module: all students could identify with the topic, there were definitely two contested sides of the issue, and students could actually participate in the political discussion. This module also introduces students to the construction of arguments. I never expected it to work so well!
The Start Schools Later bill was first passed in the California legislature in 2018, but then (to my great relief) Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it citing that individual districts should decide what to do with the information. In fact, our district already provided online instruction as an option for students who had a difficult time functioning before 9:00 am. Students began their day at in-person schools during third period and took two of their classes online through the Kern Learn program–an independent studies program that offers UC-approved A-G coursework at the same rigor as the in-person classes on our school sites. The majority of assignments our students submit are completed between the hours of 5:00 pm and 3:00 am. They are pretty good, too!
A Changing Context
Well, someone decided to try again when Governor Gavin Newsom was elected, and we all know what happened next.
With the signing of SB 328 on October 19, 2019 (the month after the 3.0 modules were officially launched) middle school districts and high school districts in the state of California were given three years to figure out a plan to start their instruction no earlier than 8:00 am and 8:30 am respectively. And we also know what happened after that. COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine and teach-from-home nightmare placed this legislation at the back of the implementation line. Coming out of the stupor in winter of 2021, districts realized they really hadn’t thought about what was needed to completely shift the school day to 90 minutes later. I know that the Board of Trustees and KHSD Superintendent, Dr. Bryan Schaefer, petitioned the governor vehemently to at least delay the implementation of the new schedules but to no avail.
Modifying the Module
In the meantime, I wanted to look at my module and see what could be salvaged. Just like all good ERWC module topics, this subject is still timely. As furious as I was with Governor Newsom for creating this chaos, I finally realized that the implementation of this plan would still allow students to find their civic voices. In our second week of late-start implementation, the students are grumbling about as loudly as the teachers and parents. Football games are STARTING at 8:30 at night. Buses without air conditioning are transporting students home at the hottest hours in Bakersfield with highs of 103-108. Parents are having to shift their days completely if they need to pick up their students later in the day. Teachers who turn into instant moms and dads when they arrive home are more exhausted and have less time to prepare dinner. It’s a hot mess in Kern County. I can only imagine what it is like in your neck of the California woods.
The changes we are going through add a new dimension to this module, and we will be entering a period of data gathering. After a year or two, we will be in the position to look at the results: have attendance rates improved? Has the mental health of teens overall improved? Are students more successful in middle-schools and high schools? I think there is still plenty to argue with this module. I have revised some texts, the prompt, and some of the activities to reflect the passage of SB 328. This includes adding the bill itself to the module allowing teachers the opportunity to add the format of a foundational document to their instruction. This Google Doc provides the modifications that I have made. I would love to have feedback from teachers and their students. I think with all of us caught in the maelstrom, we may actually be able to work together to determine the benefits (or detriments) of SB 328. While I deny all culpability in the passage of this bill (I wrote letters to both governors telling them this was a bad idea!), I still believe we can teach our students about their civic voices and how to use them. This is exactly what ERWC is all about.
Lori Campbell is the English department chair for Kern High School District’s Kern Learn Program. This is a complete distance learning program that provides students the option to take their A-G required courses online. She has taught ERWC both face-to-face and through distance learning for 10 years. She holds her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
At the start of the second semester of English 11, I taught the ERWC 3.0 module, The Things They Carried and the Power of Story. This was my students’ second approach to narrative writing; they wrote short stories during the Danger (and Power) of a Single Story module in the first semester. For this module, I was particularly interested in students developing new narrative techniques by studying a mentor text. They did! But I did not anticipate a secondary outcome that has changed my approach to teaching writing.
The Things They Carried module is designed for students to complete eight writing tasks in response to their reading of Tim O’Brien’s constellation novel about the Vietnam War. By all accounts, this is A LOT of writing, writing that my students who hid behind black Zoom boxes for a year were not accustomed to. Thankfully, we were all up for a challenge. Why? Because the risk was low, and they knew they would get feedback.
For the sake of time and technology access, I assigned five writing tasks. I used standards-based narrative writing success criteria and gave both individual and global feedback each week as we continued to study and discuss the novel. The end result: a digital publication called Letters I Carry, which included all five of their letters, an Author’s Note, and a process reflection.
This experience gave me a new view on the classroom writing process regarding prompts, mentor texts, and revision. Here are the three things I carried from The Things They Carried module.
Takeaway# 1: Good Prompts–And Lots of Them–Make All the Difference
We know that well-written prompts make all the difference. We also know that choice, a key component of Universal Design for Learning, helps in recruiting interest to better engage learners. This module contains over 20 (fantastic) prompts for teachers and students to choose from.
Not only do the prompts ask students to try new techniques like Stream of Consciousness and Breaking the Fourth Wall, they also provide students a chance to rewrite their previous tasks in a new way: changing the perspective, inverting characters, re-writing endings.
Offering a variety of prompts–some based on childhood memories, some asking students to try new techniques, and all challenging awareness of purpose, audience, and occasion–creates an atmosphere of engagement, risk-taking, and growth. Students reflected that they felt both challenged and supported by the prompts
Here’s how one student put it:
I think this activity has been really helpful for me as a writer. Having the prompts allowed me to rewrite narratives in a new way or write things that I’ve been meaning to but have never gotten around to. It can be frustrating sometimes when you want to express something so badly, or tell a story, you have all the words, but there’s something missing. It’s not writer’s block but a different kind of creative block that you can’t think of a different way to tell a story than to just tell it, but these prompts gave me the opportunity to do more than just tell a story, and I really appreciate this. I also really enjoyed writing inspired by the choices Tim O’Brien made in The Things They Carried. The combination of the prompts and the inspiration from his novel gave me a wonderful opportunity to write my stories the right way, how I wanted them to be.
One key goal I have for my students is to understand rhetorical situations and respond effectively. The majority of the writing prompts in this module ask students to write letters, or, as I called them, “epistolary narratives.” By asking them to choose their own audience for their letters, students had to think carefully about audience, purpose, and occasion. I found that my feedback often came back to this, and student reflections affirmed this to be a key takeaway:
Through the process of brainstorming, drafting, and ultimately writing the letters in this collection I learned valuable lessons on audience, purpose and messaging. As the letters went on my targeting of a specific audience improved, my purpose for writing each letter more clear and my messaging more direct.
Takeaway# 2: Literature Is A Mentor
So often in the secondary classroom, we have students merely write about good literature (and often in the driest of ways. I’m looking at you, FPE). Teaching this module reminded me of the power of using literature as a mentor text. Students went straight from the text to their own stories, carrying with them techniques they had never tried before. Here’s how a student responded to “On the Rainy River,” in which O’Brien breaks the fourth wall:
I’m writing to you because I want you to understand how surreal those motorcycle trips were for me. I think we went on three, maybe four, but I remember them; I remember them because sometimes I look back and can’t really believe we did that together.
Get this: you’re seven. Or maybe you’re six or maybe you’re eight. It doesn’t matter, though, because you’re on the back of your dad’s motorcycle and the world is like you’ve never seen it before. You feel kind of gross, because the wind’s all cold and biting and sometimes everything smells bad, and you’re all achy, too, because when you’re seven, twenty minutes of nothing but sitting on the back of a motorcycle feels like twenty hours. But most of all, you’re super cool, because all you’re thinking about is, I’m riding a freaking motorcycle. And you’re thinking about how your friends have never ridden a motorcycle and you’re thinking about how awesome you’ll look with your own motorcycle when you’re older.
The process of creating in response to a published text meant that students were more mindful of the writer’s choices than ever before. I first taught The Things They Carried ten years ago. While students enjoyed the book, they didn’t take away the same level of appreciation for O’Brien’s storytelling. This active use of mentor texts challenged students to write like O’Brien (one option is to write to him, which presented a surprisingly fun mini-lesson on how to address an envelope). The general reflective response from my students was: “challenge accepted.”
I am mostly proud of my last letter because I feel that I incorporated some of the techniques used by O’Brien. I wrote a good story that made sense and a very thorough thought out story that included pieces of real and false information just like O’Brien’s writing.
Takeaway #3: Process Portfolios Make Formative Assessment Formative
I have tried a variety of approaches to process writing in my classroom over the years, but nothing seemed to work for me. I want the writing that students do in my classroom to be connected to unit goals, personal, and meaningful. Tall order, I know. I also want students writing throughout a unit, not just at the end. (Among other things, this cuts down on the chances of prolonged disengagement and—dare I say it?—plagiarism.)
Many of the new ERWC 3.0 modules provide multiple opportunities for students to write throughout a unit, and I’m here for that! Sure, it requires me to be giving more feedback more often. But since the feedback was not connected to a score, students were invigorated by it. I created global feedback mini-lessons, wrote comments on their Google Docs, held brief writing conferences, and facilitated peer reviews throughout the course of the unit, not just at the end of it.
I feel like I have improved a lot on my writing and have grown to love writing more that I know more about it. I enjoyed learning new techniques and being able to look at past work and look at it and immediately know what I could do to improve on it. I also feel like I grew as a writer and still will in the future and that these letters were more of a beginning.
As I finished up this unit and prepared to teach Night to my sophomores, my PLC team and I decided to try this same approach of writing throughout the unit. My planning partner and I put extra energy into creating strong engaging prompts. We gave time for students to write thoughtfully and formally weekly. We collected writing and gave immediate feedback, both individual and global, in accordance to our success criteria. Students reflected that their confidence, skills, and writing fluency increased through the process.
Have you tried a process portfolio with an ERWC module this year? We would love to hear about it!
Rachel Nguyen has taught English Language Arts to students in the Sacramento region for the past 15 years. She is an ERWC Workshop Leader, and she served as a coach and module editor for the ERWC 3.0 adoption. Her classroom experiences with ERWC 3.0 led her to start a writing club at Bella Vista High School. She recently earned a Master’s degree in Education in Language and Literacy at California State University, Sacramento, where she instructs the Academic Literacy course for secondary preservice teachers. Rachel is a mom and a marathoner–view her “Ted Talk” on running that she created for her 10th grade students during their We Should All Be Feminists module here. Follow her on Twitter @msschuyen.
Editor’s Note: This month we’re featuring previews of sessions from California State University’s upcoming ERWC Literacy Conference. Author and teacher Martin Brandt is presenting June 27 in Northern California.
By Martin Brandt
I wasted many a Saturday or Sunday morning of my youth watching football before I learned that coaches actually have names for the “gaps” in the line of scrimmage–that is, those spaces between the linemen which can be expanded for either blockers or ball-carriers to run through.
On either side of the center (that’s the guy who hikes the ball, for you non-football fans out there) are the “A” gaps. Beyond those gaps are the guards, whose outside flanks are designated “B” gaps; on the other side of the B gaps are the tackles, who (if there’s a tight end lined up next to them) create a “C” gap.
Why do they name the gaps? Because coaches design offensive plays to create holes in those gaps for players to run through. In other words, the gaps create space for the creative act of offensive football.
I guess I started thinking about this because I wanted to find a way to reach the athletes in my classroom, to help them see that what I am asking them to do at the sentence level–to make use of phrase additions–is analogous to what they already do on the field, court, or diamond–indeed, that it’s something they already understand: they have to find the spaces in order to create.
In baseball and softball, you hit the ball where the other guys ain’t; in basketball and soccer, you create open spaces to make shots possible. And to return to football (but away from the offensive line), receivers must “get open”, either by juking their defender one-on-one, or by finding the “soft spot” or seam in the defensive zone.
In writing, these “soft spots in the zone” present themselves in every sentence we compose. And if our students learn where to look for them, how to find them, and how to make use of them, they can begin to experience writing not as another odious chore inflicted by their sadistic teacher, but instead as the joyful act of creation that it is–as something like scoring on the field.
These spaces have names, too. In the sentence, they are the Left Branch–introductory phrasing which precedes the subject-verb core, situating the reader to the action of the sentence; the Parenthetical, which splits the subject-verb core to comment on the subject; and the Right Branch, which extends from the subject-verb core and comments in some way on the action of the sentence.
Students who can learn to see and make use of these creative spaces can experience exciting and significant growth in the course of a school year, improving both their confidence and their syntactic maturity. And finding ways to help my students understand this has become the driving creative problem of my career. For if we understand the humble sentence better, we create the possibility for authentic growth, both for the student and the teacher.
Editor’s Note: This month we’re featuring previews of sessions from California State University’s upcoming ERWC Literacy Conference. ERWC teacher and workshop leader Frank Mata is presenting June 21 in Southern California and June 27 in Northern California.
By Frank Mata
“Too Dope Teachers and a Mic” podcasters (@toodopeteachers) recently tweeted “How do y’all think about folx who you thought were dope, then did real harmful things? Not imperfections, not just being flawed, but actual harm?”
Their question made me think about how teachers, specifically English language arts teachers, truly have the delicate burden of balancing between an unconscious reinforcement of dominant oppressions and the liberation from it. Big, big thoughts… I know. But we are about to be at a literacy conference. How can we not think about this given the social unrest from our continued and historical American racial reckoning?
When thinking about this year’s upcoming ERWC Literacy Conference, I am struck with the potential opportunity we teachers have because we are facilitators of the spaces where transition and progress for our immediate society can form. This June, we get to actually look at one another, face-to-face, and dialogue about whether we are contributing to what we say we do. We say we nurture student voice. We say we provide space for young people to find and develop their own interests. We say we help strengthen their literacy and ability to communicate in a variety of contexts and audiences. We say, we say, and we say…
We say a lot of things.
And though I am absolutely honored to have been invited to speak about our roles as ELA teachers, specifically through the discussion of the existing 12th grade module Language, Gender, and Culture…at a “literacy” conference, I also come with a real-time on-going attempt at understanding this shared burden–our shared burden. At the same time, I am especially excited to be in Dr. April Baker-Bell’s audience because I believe she will ask the same questions we ELA teachers are faced with: Whose literacy are we teaching?
I come to this conference to find community with folks who understand (or are trying to) the nuances and layers infused within the concept of gender, literacy, and racial performativity. After reflecting about both the module and ERWC’s new Theoretical Foundations, this June I aim to unpack how we might not just be reinforcing dominant norms, but also harming young folks through what author Clint Smith refers to in his New Yorker essay as the “ideology [of white supremacy].” I am inspired by James Baldwin’s speech “A Talk to Teachers” that challenges all of us, specifically teachers, to inspect and confront how we are accomplices to harming these young people. I draw inspiration from Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young’s LGC module text “The Barbershop” because of its examination of how we all perform gender, intellect, and even race. I still wrestle with Dr. Judith Butler’s challenge for both students and teachers to examine “the relation between complying with gender and coercion.”
At my presentation I aim to unearth the hidden areas that affect this delicate discussion. I want to know how our own social positionalities (social identities) affect the dissemination, facilitation, and delivery to our economically, ideologically, and socially diverse student bodies. Does the discussion of dr. vay’s “Barbershop” hit differently when coming out of the mouth of a white woman? Do male teachers of color showcase an appropriate delicacy when fostering discussions about gender performances? Do we teachers actually have the intellectual capacity to see that our own literacy performance can stifle the transference of knowledge gained from these pieces?
We are not immune to the cold questioning from Butler, Lourde, Shira, Brooks, or Young. We are not immune to Baldwin’s criticisms of solidifying the existing and malignant racial gaps of our society. But we are capable of hard self-examination. We are capable of confronting our own dependence on these social performances. We are capable of authentically conferencing about what the state of literacy development is in our classrooms. And hopefully, we can be capable of undoing the harms we give from our unconscious reinforcement and protection of our static identities.
Frank Mata has been in the classroom for eighteen plus years. His current project is developing an ELA 12th grade course focusing on social justice and equity. He teachers at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, CA.
Editor’s Note: This month we’re featuring previews of sessions from California State University’s upcoming ERWC Literacy Conference. Author and teacher Jen Roberts is presenting June 21 in Southern California and June 27 in Northern California.
By Jen Roberts
Do you remember how much fun it is to get to talk about teaching and learning with other teachers? In person? I had really genuinely forgotten how fantastic it is to get to be in a room with people who also care passionately about literacy education. The CATE conference in February of 2022 reawakened that spark for me and motivated me to submit sessions for not one, but two locations for this year’s ERWC Literacy Conference. I’ll be in Pomona and San Jose talking about leveraging digital tools, and I can’t wait.
The other night I began the more detailed planning for my session. I started by looking back at what I presented in 2019. Things are so different now. My perspective has shifted with regard to digital tools. In 2019 I was a supplicant, humbly displaying various digital tools and trying to make a gentle argument for adding some of them to your ERWC courses.
In 2022 I’m not making an argument. That would be preaching to the choir. You are already using digital tools. You’ve taught online, hybrid, hyflex, synchronously, and asynchronously. You’ve adapted, assisted, blended, designed, differentiated, implemented, flipped, personalized, planned, and transformed. You know the tools you use well, and you know that there are more out there to learn about. And, you now understand how effective many of them can be for supporting literacy instruction. You’ve built a digital version of your course, and now you want to make it even better.
So, let’s put our heads together, literally, in person. I’ll bring you everything I learned about teaching ERWC 3.0 in my Chromebook classroom with Canvas and Google, and a bunch of other useful tools. You bring your experience, successes, and questions. We will learn from each other, pool our resources, and go further together.
We have all grown weary over the past two and a half years. It’s time to take advantage of the opportunity to reconvene and reconnect, person to person.
Until just a month ago, I was feeling resistant, unwilling to get on a plane and travel across the country to a conference in D.C. “Do you have an online option?” I asked. “Will most of the sessions be streamed or recorded?” The answer was that while some key sessions would be available for later viewing, they really hoped I would join them in person. I waited until the last minute. I bought a refundable ticket. I hesitated. Was it safe? Did I really want to leave my comfortable home and my semi hermit-like existence to get on a cramped plane? What was the big deal about in person anyway? We could achieve the same thing on Zoom and I could sit and watch from home.
At the last minute, half out of a sense of duty and half out of a nagging feeling I might be missing something, I boarded the plane to D.C. It was rainy and cold and gray. The fabled cherry blossoms were soaked and the one tour I managed to take left me drenched. But every morning as I put on my badge and grabbed my breakfast to take to our table, I felt myself coming back to life. I met lots of people, fellow educators, who were passionate about their projects. I felt the energy in the room as we heard about all the incredible work people were doing across the country and all the opportunities available for those who wanted to help students. I was inspired by the presentations by federal grant administrators who urged us to keep dreaming big and applying for funding to implement groundbreaking programs that would help teachers and students.
I’m so glad I went. After exchanging cards with some amazing innovators and boarding my return flight, I was reinvigorated, excited for the possibilities ahead, eager to share what I had learned with my colleagues.
I invite you to experience the same kind of heady collaborative excitement that only comes from gathering in a common space, seeing and hearing each other, feeling the warmth of instant human interaction. After a long hiatus, the annual CSU Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum conference is back, live and in person! We can’t wait to welcome you back, to meet and greet, applaud and encourage, teach and learn, and exchange ideas in real time, face-to-face. Register now to attend in San Jose or in Pomona, and come join us as we celebrate and strengthen our community. See you there!
Please see the registration links below. The $50 registration fee includes lunch and the morning plenary session with Dr. April Baker-Bell.
Editor’s Note: California State University is hosting an in-person literacy conference in June of 2022. All are welcome! Sessions feature strategies for teaching texts rhetorically, fostering language awareness and exploration, and promoting equity and inclusion. The $50 registration fee includes lunch and a choice of location and date.
In mathematics, a fractal is a geometric shape in which each part has the same characteristics as the whole. The pattern repeats across different levels of magnification, giving the sense of endless complexity and connections. Worlds within worlds.
California State University’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) is also characterized by intricate patterns that repeat across the curriculum and that mimic the infinite nature of civic and academic conversations. Someone says something, someone responds, and then someone else builds on or challenges that idea in the endless production of texts. The conversation arcs from speaker to listener, or from text to text, and spirals through progressively nuanced iterations. These arcs and spirals represent the dynamic rhetorical exchanges that form the basis of the ERWC instructional modules.
The idea of the ERWC “Arc” is an essential part of the ERWC’s course design. The arc enacts the recursive literacy processes that connect the texts students read to the texts they compose. Completing an ERWC module means completing the arc.
The arc is also a key structure for promoting transfer of learning. As students shift from “reading like writers” to “writing like readers,” they transfer the rhetorical moves and literacy strategies they learned from studying professional models to their own acts of communication. The reciprocity represented through the two sides of the arc illustrates the application of rhetorical reading strategies to rhetorical writing. In other words, the reading strategies–for example, descriptive outlining or rhetorical précis–become writing strategies during the composing process as students repurpose these tools for the texts they create.
The ERWC Assignment Template
This recursivity emerges from a shared design structure, the ERWC Assignment Template, that creates coherence both within and across the individual modules, as well as throughout the ERWC literacy network. The generative principles that shape the ERWC and its community are embedded in the template; this is the “DNA,” or protean structure, of the curriculum.
Here we find the ERWC’s core ideas and practices: reading and writing rhetorically, transfer of learning, the cultivation of expert learners, and English language development. All ERWC modules are designed using this common template, including a new collection of modules with designated English language development currently being developed for grades 6-8
The modules also spiral up through increasingly complex texts and tasks over the course of the year. This is what gives the ERWC its scaling shape: the ascending turns through the Assignment Template.
The repeated turns students take through the template over the course of a year-long experience affords them frequent opportunities to develop and internalize the rhetorical literacy skills and academic habits of mind that are essential to postsecondary success, such as the ability to read with and against the grain, to negotiate different perspectives and meanings, to analyze writer’s craft, and to respond to a variety of rhetorical situations. The spirals through the template are important and intentional; they support students’ growth as expert readers and writers.
At the same time, ERWC teachers might also think in terms of a “vanishing Assignment Template” when using these materials. As our students start to develop greater fluency and automaticity in key skills—for instance, surveying or annotating a text—we may no longer need to provide direct instruction in these areas. Some template sections will start to disappear from our lesson plans as our students progress from novices to experts.
Feeding the Feedback Loops
An effective ERWC course design allows us to teach the full arc of each module and to complete several turns through the ERWC Assignment Template. The year-long course should spiral up through increasingly complex texts and tasks while providing an ongoing feedback loop for learners. For instance, students might begin the year by studying a mentor text provided for them in preparation for writing and then end the year by finding their own mentor texts as part of their full consideration of a rhetorical situation–a consideration that includes independent genre analysis at advanced levels. Formative assessment is key to creating meaningful arcs and spirals that are appropriate to our students’ needs at different stages of the learning continuum.
The course’s arcs and spirals are designed to foster deep and internalized learning. ERWC thus presents a template for transfer—an iterative process for engaging and responding to texts that sharpens students’ ability to detect similarities in dissimilarities. Like fractals, this curricular model is unendingly generative.
The approach we aspire to take in ERWC is as complex, creative, and beautiful as the students we serve. At its best, the curriculum takes learners on a journey guided by the intricate movements of their own intellectual growth.
*ERWC is a rigorous, rhetoric-based English language arts and English language development curriculum for grades 7-12. Teachers access the instructional modules through Cal State University’s introductory ERWC professional learning sessions, available free-of-charge to educators in California. Please direct queries for out-of-state ERWC professional learning opportunities and curriculum access to email@example.com.
For more information on the ERWC, including how to register for a workshop, please visit the following websites:
Jennifer Fletcher is a Professor of English at California State University, Monterey Bay and a former high school teacher. She serves as the Chair of the ERWC Steering Committee. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenJFletcher.
I can already hear the responses: Be more engaging. Control your students. You can’t let them act that way. Work on your classroom management!
Sure, but let me think about my school day, one single day. I welcome each student out in the hall, hello, aloha, good morning, yes I’m well, you? The students enter a calm and uncluttered space, the rainbow on the whiteboard declaring that “if you are kind, your day will be like a bright rainbow,” courtesy of my 9 year old. They see the ever present note that “being understood feels like love” and they know exactly how class will go.
We will talk, share our kind attention, we will read, and write, and listen, and have time to quietly reflect, time to take a public academic risk, if we are ready. They always know I am there pushing them to think, to change, to struggle with difficult ideas that matter but that I am always there with them as a partner in the learning. This is not to imply that other classes do not do this, only that this classroom, the one I share with my students, is purpose built to be engaging, challenging, safe, and honest.
And who walks into this class each morning? Five students buried deep beneath hats, hoodies, and shades, earbuds in, screens in palms. Some others without the hoodies but still the devices. Some with no ability to talk on a given day. Some in surf shorts and cowboy boots. Some on time, many five, ten, twenty minutes late, but consistently so that one might say they are punctual. Some show up with smiles, some genuine, some in defense against the world of school, or the world in general. Some arrive at 8:05 with a full plate of fried chicken.
We aren’t reading irrelevant, dead pieces of the canon and completing worksheets or meaningless essays. We investigate our places, the stories that are here, the ones erased and the reasons for the erasure of those stories. We learn about people’s beliefs and investigate our own; we think about and talk about how people in power try to keep that power. We grapple with the unkindess of the world and our kuleana, our reciprocal responsibility, in the face of that. And when one student is talking about how they feel marginalzed because they are queer, or because they have an accent, or they are from the Marshall Islands, another is numbing themselves with the videos on their phone.
And my “please stop watching videos” is met with “f– you fag bitch!” And “please join the circle and learn with us” is met with lying across three chairs or hiding on the floor under a desk.
And I think about how the octopus used to have a shell.
Adults sometimes use this metaphor to talk about hard to reach students, asking questions about getting them out of their shells. Early in its evolution, the shelled mollusk that became the octopus let its shell go, abandoning its most effective safety mechanism. Naked, the world became dangerous.
Without a shell, the octopus heightened its attention to danger, sending its nervous development into overdrive, creating a creature that has more neurons in its limbs and body and skin than it has in its entire relatively large brain. The octopus is now a master of disguise, able to taste and see danger with its skin, a shapeshifting living movie screen that projects all the colors we can and can’t imagine. All of these adaptations are defenses; its speed, its disguise, its jets, its sensing seeing skin, its clouds of ink, all of it developed to be the shell it abandoned.
Now, hyper aware of danger, this being that puts so much energy, so much of its intelligence and creative ability, into defense spends it all in a blur and is dead by the time two years is up.
And when I look across my school day, I do not think these students are building walls or hiding inside of shells. As they enter the classroom, they are on high alert, everything is potentially dangerous, sus. I think about the shells that the students have abandoned or have had stolen from them and the defenses they have developed to cope.
I am the teacher in my classroom; I am a swimmer in the ocean, an interloper, and I am trying to be still so that the shell-less among us can somehow find a way to not see every moment at school as a potential danger or threat.
Jonathon Medeiros has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for sixteen years withstudents on Kauaʻi. He frequently writes poetry, memoir, and essays about education. He is the former director of the Kauaʻi Teacher Fellowship. Jonathon enjoys building things, surfing, and spending time with his wife and daughters. He believes in teaching his students that if you change all of your mistakes and regrets, you’d erase yourself. Follow Jonathon on Twitter – @jonmedeiros or at jonathonmedeiros.com.
Editors’ Note: Jonathon’s post beautifully exemplifies the earnest reflection and relational teaching that characterize effective implementation of the ERWC curriculum. For more information on the ERWC and its theoretical foundations, please visit the ERWC Online Community.
Note: This is the second post in a series on ERWC’s rhetorical approach to language learning. For the first post, click here. Please see the teaching resource “Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: A User’s Guide” in the ERWC Online Community for the full text from which the excerpt below was taken.
ERWC is designed to cultivate linguistic dexterity so students can read texts written for a variety of purposes critically and write texts tailored for their rhetorical situation. As educators charged with teaching our students how English works (California ELD Standards), we have to be mindful of the many languages and varieties of English that students bring to our classrooms.
The ERWC teaching resource “Essential Pedagogies for Integrated and Designated English Language Development in ERWC” advocates “teaching about the relationship between language and power” and “supporting the development of academic English while promoting pride in students’ home languages.” At the sentence level, a rhetorical approach to teaching English grammar invites us to take an assets-based approach as we value these languages and varieties of English while inviting students to further develop their ability to enter disciplinary conversations about topics that matter to them.
Encouraging students to use all the language—as well as other multimodal resources—available to them means keeping the focus on meaningful communication rather than correctness for its own sake. We can invite students to incorporate words, phrases, or entire sentences in their language or variety of English into their own writing while at the same time asking them to be clear about their rhetorical purpose for doing so. We can let them know that they are welcome to use translation apps and bilingual dictionaries and take notes or write early drafts in their home language. We can select texts that include other languages, such as The Distance Between Us, and consider Reyna Grande’s rhetorical purpose for using Spanish in a memoir intended for an audience of mainly English speakers.
We can introduce uncomfortable questions about whether the use of academic English is a way of performing “Whiteness,” an issue raised by Vershawn Ashanti Young in “Prelude: the Barbershop” in the 12th grade Language, Gender, and Culture module. We can draw on multilingual students’ own experiences moving among languages and identities tied to language and acknowledge their remarkable accomplishments. Approaching grammar from the rhetorical perspective rather than the traditional rules-based prescriptive approach is, Micciche asserts, “emancipatory teaching” (717).
The language of ERWC texts provide rich opportunities to explore the information-dense complex sentences that are typical of disciplinary English (Schleppegrell). ERWC encourages students to ask not what makes a sentence correct, but what makes it work and why. As students observe how skilled writers make use of these language resources—or choose to use simpler language—they can develop their capacity to better understand the arguments embedded in the language of the texts they are reading.
At the same time, they can observe how and why writers use more familiar language, other dialects, and other languages for rhetorical purposes. When students turn to their own writing, they can apply what they have learned to create varied sentences that are effective for their purposes. Most students who are learning to create complex texts will only be able to do this if we help them develop the tools of the craft.
Our job is to guide their inquiry into how English works and help them transfer what they have learned to their own writing with the questions “What did you observe? And how can you apply it to your own writing?”
ERWC teachers can find activities and strategies for teaching language rhetorically, including 2.0 modules with rhetorical grammar lessons, by visiting the Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC section in the online community.
Click on “Modules 3.0” and select “Overview Documents.”
Then click on “Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC.”
Robby Ching is a professor emerita at Sacramento State in English and a member of the ERWC team since 2002. She has written many ERWC modules, most recently those with an ELD focus.
12th grade ERWC teachers who want to teach the “Hawkeye: Working Class Hero” module but have been told by their district librarians that the books could not be found, like, anywhere in the world.
12th grade ERWC teachers who say, “There’s a Hawkeye module?” or even “What’s a Hawkeye module?”
“Hawkeye: Working Class Hero” is an ERWC 3.0 module for twelfth grade that got a late release; it did not appear on early module lists, so some ERWC teachers probably don’t know it exists. The module is based (suspend your judgment) on two comic books, issues from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye series.
But for a year or more, many ERWC teachers who knew about the module and wanted to use it found it impossible to score class sets of the module’s core text, Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon Vol.1 (ISBN: 978-0785165620). This has to do with comics publishing patterns and Covid-19 paper shortages. But once it got on ERWC HQ’s radar that school districts were unable to buy these books, our resident superhero, Gwen Stephens, started making calls.
So cutting straight to the good news, Marvel is sending My Life as a Weapon Vol. 1 back to print. They say the book will be available by May, but even as I write this, on Amazon you can finally buy the book again. If you want to teach Hawkeye next year, let your powers-that-be know immediately so they can order the books. In many districts, district librarians (or whoever orders class sets) compile book orders for the upcoming school year in Spring – like, right now.
If you’ve never considered teaching the Hawkeye module, I hope you’ll take a look.
In the planning stages, we thought about basing this module around Issue #11, in which the entire narrative is told from the perspective of Hawkeye’s dog. We thought about basing the module around Issue #19 (in which our hero Clint Barton permanently loses most of his hearing), written entirely in American Sign Language. Just to say, the series’ creators play with perspective, and there is plenty to talk about with this Hawkeye series.
Nowadays, Hawkeye has his own movie and a new Disney+ show, but when Derek Heid and I started writing this module, Clint Barton was the unsung and relatively unknown Avenger, just a normal human being with really good aim. Fraction and Aja took an unexpected new perspective on that, too. What would it be like for Clint Barton, a regular guy, to hold his own in company with supers like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man? (Spoiler: He gets hurt. A lot.) And the personality traits that allow him to be Hawkeye the Avenger – how would they play out in his day-to-day life? (Spoiler: He’s kind of a– well, you’ll see.)
Taking on those questions, the “Hawkeye: Working Class Hero” module asks students to examine how the creators subvert archetype and genre conventions to tell a new story. Among other things, you can look forward to students using Burke’s Pentad as a new strategy for analyzing rhetorical situation and characterization; learning disciplinary language and new strategies for analyzing images; and applying their analysis of genre and audience to a culminating presentation assignment. So if you’re worried that spending class-time on a couple of comic books is a disservice to your students, please trust me – your students’ brains will be busy.
Will you avoid this module because you and/or your students aren’t comics people? Please don’t. In the end, we wrote the module around the first two issues from the series, because this is how Issue #1 opens: “Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, became the greatest sharpshooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he is not being an Avenger. That’s all you need to know.” The sample answers in the module will help you when you need it, but honestly, part of the point of this module is to leverage your students’ visual literacy skills. Trust them.
The text message you see here is from my friend Cara. She is not a comics/graphic novel person, but she is an experienced ERWC teacher who happens to have her year-long course pathway published as a sample on the ERWC website. So if you’re interested to see how she fit the Hawkeye module into her year, take a look. It’s worth noting, she placed Hawkeye right in front of Hamlet because the work with Burke’s pentad (analyzing rhetorical situation to understand characters and their motivations) will transfer directly from one to the next.
Are you interested in using this module yet? Take a page from our guy Hawkeye: make the leap. But if that’s where you’re at, don’t forget, now is a good time to start the book order process. Marvel is sending the books back to press now, but, once they sell out this print run, we can’t be certain they’ll do the same again.
Meline Akashian is an experienced ERWC teacher with grades 7-12 and former Riverside County Teacher of the Year. She has co-written modules for ERWC and is a member of the ERWC Steering Committee.