2022 ERWC Literacy Conference: Transforming Language and Literacy


by Jennifer Fletcher

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 jfletcher@csumb.edu. 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:

ERWC Online Community:
CSU Center for the Advancement of Reading and Writing: https://www2.calstate.edu/CAR/Pages/erwc.aspx
ERWC Workshop Registration:

Jennifer Fletcher is a Professor of English at California State University, Monterey Bay and the Chair of the ERWC Steering Committee. You can follow her on Twitter @JenJFletcher.

ERWC 20th Anniversary: 2003-2023

By Jennifer Fletcher

My earliest memory of ERWC dates back to the fall of 2004. I’m not even sure if I knew the curriculum by the name ERWC at that time, but I was aware that California State University was developing a new partnership with high school teachers and I wanted to be a part of it. I remember going to a workshop at Cal Poly Pomona, one of the first professional learning sessions I attended following the birth of my son who was about a year old at that time. I had been teaching high school English for around eight years and was ready for a new challenge.

It was exciting to be back in a room full of colleagues talking about ideas. There was a sense that something special was happening. There were tables around the periphery of the room on which were displayed intriguing reading selections from college English courses, and we browsed the selections while discussing the ways they differed from the traditional literature textbooks we used in our high school English classes. The texts and topics were fresh and provocative. The facilitators (one of whom I’m sure must have been John Edlund although I hadn’t met him yet) talked about rhetorical reading and writing–literacy practices I didn’t know much about. I also didn’t know my life was about to change.

A year later, after learning more about ERWC and helping to facilitate some of the earliest ERWC workshops, I was invited to join “Task Force 12,” the first iteration of what is now the ERWC Steering Committee. This time, I was returning to work after the birth of our second child. I joke that I’ve been in a committed relationship with ERWC ever since. My own kids are roughly the same age as ERWC, and I look back on those early years with a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the gifts and transformations that followed.

Celebrating 20 years of ERWC!

Two decades later, we’re now preparing to celebrate 20 years as an ERWC community. While the first edition of the curriculum wasn’t officially published until 2007 (ERWC oldtimers remember the “DRAFT” modules released in 2004), the roots of our multi-state literacy network date back to the summer of 2003, when John Edlund, a professor of rhetoric at Cal Poly Pomona, assembled a task force to create an instructional intervention that would prepare more high school students for college reading and writing. That original task force evolved into an advisory board and, later, a steering committee that now helps design and implement ERWC curriculum and professional learning experiences in five states: California, Washington, Hawaii, New Mexico, and West Virginia. In California alone, ERWC grade 11 and 12 courses have been adopted by almost 1,000 high schools. Our work has helped two generations of students (see the WestEd reports from 2015 and 2022 for the positive impact ERWC has had on students and teachers).

We couldn’t have reached these milestones without you, our ERWC family. The ERWC story has always been a story of community and collaboration. We pride ourselves on being a grass-roots initiative sustained by local educational leaders. We’re grateful and honored that so many of you have found a professional home in the ERWC literacy network, and we look forward to gathering as a community in June to celebrate all that we’ve accomplished together.

2023 ERWC Literacy Conference: The Anniversary Edition

This year’s “platinum edition” of the ERWC Literacy Conference will be a special opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and continue working toward the equitable learning outcomes we’ve pursued all along. The theme for 2023 is “Doing Language: Rhetoric, Identity, and Power.” We’re thrilled to announce Lamar L. Johnson, author of Critical Race English Education, as our keynote speaker. Please save the date for the conference in your region (June 20th for Northern California and June 26th for Southern California) and watch for the Call for Presenters and registration links to open soon. See the preview of the CFP below.

So happy anniversary, ERWC colleagues! We’re thankful to be on this journey together.

Please share the save-the-date flyer with interested colleagues.

Preview of Call for Presenters for the 2023 ERWC Literacy Conference

June 20, Sacramento

June 26, Pomona

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no time for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

–Toni Morrison

Theme: “Doing Language: Rhetoric, Identity, and Power”

What is an ERWC approach to language learning? Language teaching is an opportunity to be culturally sustaining while also developing students’ abilities with new forms of language in new contexts for new purposes. Our profession is engaged in an ongoing conversation about ways of “doing language” in the classroom and beyond inspired by the following kinds of questions:

  • How can educators work toward linguistic justice?
  • How can we help all students adapt and apply the rhetorical ways of “doing language” they bring to our classrooms to diverse contexts? 
  • What are the relationships among language, social identity, and power? 
  • How are language and learning connected? 
  • How is language development related to literacy development?  
  • How do language choices create particular kinds of connections between rhetor and audience? 
  • How does rhetorical knowledge help students understand social identity and power relations?

The 2023 ERWC Literacy Conference will address such questions by showcasing best practices for fostering students’ language development through a rhetorical approach to texts. We especially invite teachers who are using ERWC 3.0 modules with integrated and designated English language development to share what they’ve learned about how to make the curriculum and its culturally and linguistically sustaining pedagogies work for their students. Sessions on specific language-focused activities aligned with California’s ELD Standards, multimodal composition, or course design are particularly welcome. Proposals may address any of the following topics:

  • Languaging, translanguaging, identity, and audience
  • Linguistic justice
  • Teaching language for transfer (including success on the ELPAC)
  • Language building through collaborative discussions
  • Civil discourse in times of discord
  • Language focus on literature
  • Crafting style for rhetorical purpose
  • Learning how English works
  • Building language-focused activities across the arc with the High Impact Strategies Toolkit
  • Fostering language awareness and exploration
  • Sequencing language-focused activities
  • Sample instructional pathways
  • Visual literacy
  • Language, UDL, and multiple means of expression and representation
  • Planning lessons with language in mind
  • Language, communication, and authenticity in the age of AI

Concurrent break-out sessions will be 75 minutes long.

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 @JenJFletcher.

Is It Time for an ERWC Tune-Up?

Editor’s Note: California State University is hosting its annual in-person literacy conferences June 20th in Sacramento and June 26th in Pomona. The theme for this year’s event is “Doing Language: Rhetoric, Identity, and Power.” All are welcome! Sessions feature strategies for integrated and designated English language development, fostering linguistic and rhetorical agility, and promoting equity and inclusion. The $75 registration fee includes lunch and a choice of location and date.

By Jennifer Fletcher

Happy New Year, ERWC colleagues! 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the inception of Cal State University’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, a milestone we’ll be marking in multiple ways in the coming months. We hope you’ll join us for our spring webinars and June conference as we celebrate two decades as a community of practice dedicated to the success of all students.

We’re also continuing to celebrate the expansion of ERWC through the third edition of the curriculum. We think of ERWC 3.0 as the equity upgrade: the version of the curriculum that gets us closer to fulfilling our commitment to inclusive learning experiences, relevant issues, and representative texts. To paraphrase a certain organization for retirees that keeps contacting me now that I’m in my 50s, if you don’t know ERWC 3.0, you don’t know ERWC.

Here’s a quick test to see if an update session is right for you: Which of the following images represents the version of the curriculum you know best? (And if your idea of ERWC doesn’t go beyond a set of modules with “DRAFT” watermarked all over them, then we’d really love to see you in an update session!)

If you’re already team purple, you can probably stop reading here. But if you’re team blue/taupe, then we have some updates we’d like to share with you. For instance, did you know that ERWC has published new sample student essays with scores and commentary, new resources on writing and transfer, and new modules for grades 9-12? Or a new mini-module reader and customizable reader? If not, it might be time for an ERWC 3.0 tune-up.

What’s New?

In addition to dozens of new modules (including some just published in 2022), our professional resources for teachers have also been revised and expanded for the third edition to explicitly address integrated and designated English language development, Universal Design for Learning, culturally and linguistically sustaining pedagogies, and rhetorical knowledge needed for transfer. A new “Theoretical Foundations” resource was likewise created for the third edition.

Some more things that are new about ERWC:

  • A redesigned website
  • New student essays with scores and commentary for ERWC 3.0 modules
  • New modules with Integrated and Designated ELD
  • A new grade 11 course
  • High Impact Strategies Toolkit to Support English Learners
  • Free literacy webinar series
  • Teacher blog 
  • Newly released 3.0 modules, such as “Community Activism”
  • The return of in-person June literacy conferences
  • Expanded ERWC strand at CATE
  • New resources for writing instruction (Rhetorical Concepts & Adopting a Mentoring Stance)
  • New rubrics for assessment
  • New edition of They Say, I Say
  • Increasing focus on strategies for expert learners in modules
  • More tools (and flexibility) for semester- and year-long planning

Attending an ERWC 3.0 update session is a great way for teachers and administrators to give their curriculum the “equity upgrade” enacted by ERWC’s expanded frameworks, curriculum, and resources. We hope you’ll consider registering (or encouraging a colleague to register) for one of ERWC’s free update sessions soon if you haven’t already heard about all the changes to ERWC in the past few years. We’d love to connect with you in person or online and hear what’s new with you, too!

PS to folks in Monterey County, Santa Cruz County, and San Benito County: I’m super excited to be facilitating my first in-person ERWC update session since 2019 next month. If you know teachers and administrators who might be interested in joining us for two Saturday workshops at CSU Monterey Bay, please help spread the word. Registration closes February 10, 2023.

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 @JenJFletcher.

What Should English Teachers Do about ChatGPT?

By John Edlund

In late November 2022, a company called OpenAI opened public access to an AI called ChatGPT. Those who sign up for an account can ask it questions, give it instructions, and converse with it. The program can do research and write texts in various genres, including essays on any topic imaginable. It can also write and debug computer code. Educators who have tried it are quite impressed with its abilities. Students are already using it to do their homework. How should English teachers respond? Lots of articles have already been written on this question. In general, the advice tends to cluster around four strategies:

  • Design AI-proof assignments
  • Devise better AI detection practices
  • Have students hand write their essays in class
  • Help students use the tool wisely and effectively

Of these, the fourth one is probably the most realistic. The first and second have already proven to be difficult, and ChatGPT is not even the most sophisticated AI out there. The third is a big step against the social trend. It may be useful in particular situations, but it is a denial of technological progress rather than an embracing of it, and most students will see it as old-fashioned and backward. Students are going to use the available tools, whatever we say.

The real question, however, is “Why are we teaching the skills we teach?” Here is OpenAI’s mission statement:

OpenAI’s mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI)—by which we mean highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work—benefits all of humanity.

That is pretty tricky. Their mission is to benefit humanity by creating systems that outperform humans in “most economically valuable work.” If they succeed, humans would have only non-economically valuable work to do. Or perhaps no work at all. What kind of world would this be?

We often tell students that they need critical reading, writing, and thinking skills for college and career success. What if that is no longer true? What if the AIs are doing all of the intellectual work? The problem then is not about detecting whether or not students are doing the work themselves. It is about motivating them to learn to do things that may have no future instrumental value, at least from their point of view.

Humanity has had discussions like this ever since Plato questioned the effect of literacy on memory in the Phaedrus. With every technology that extends or replaces human abilities something is gained but something is lost. Calculators, word processors, spell check, grammar check, copy and paste, search engines, and many other technologies have been controversial for educators because they streamlined and simplified  difficult tasks that teachers labored to teach. It was argued that if we became reliant on these technologies, we would no longer be able to do them without the crutch of the electronic tool. The result? We became reliant. And moved on.

But is it different this time? These previous technologies tended to make humans more productive. ChatGPT’s creators, by expressing their mission as creating systems that “outperform humans at most economically valuable work,” seem to be intent on replacing humans rather than augmenting their abilities. Will this lead to some sort of Brave New World in which humans enjoy endless leisure watching TikTok videos while machines do all the work? This seems unlikely.

For now, it seems to me that the most useful and relevant move would be to assign ChatGPT. Have students submit a prompt to the AI and discuss the results. What did it do? What did it get right? What did it get wrong? What can you learn from what it did?

I have a series of posts on my Teaching Text Rhetorically blog that begins with “What Do Writing Courses Do?” I propose a “Writing Matrix” and then in subsequent posts I extend the matrix. It ends with “Writing Matrix Extension 2.”  I used these posts when I was helping new Teaching Associates design their initial courses. I think that whatever we do in response to ChatGPT and AIs to come, we need to keep in mind what we are trying to achieve in our courses. This matrix is a good starting point. But we also need to sell students on the idea that these abilities are important, whatever the AI can do.

A caveat: I was put off by the strategies that OpenAI used in the sign-up process. First it asked for my email and a password. It used a CAPTCHA to determine whether or not I was a bot. Then it sent an email verification to my email account. So far this is typical practice and I didn’t have to give it too much information. However, when I clicked the verification link it asked for my first and last name. When I submitted that it asked for my phone number. I bailed at that point. If I am going to sign up for a service, I think it should be clear from the beginning what information they are going to require.

John Edlund is Professor Emeritus in English at Cal Poly Pomona, now retired. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California and has been teaching composition, literature, and rhetoric for more than 40 years. He founded and directed two University Writing Centers, one at Cal State L.A. and one at Cal Poly Pomona. He also chaired the ERWC task force and later the steering committee from 2003 to 2018.

ERWC Designated English Language Development

By Chris Lewis, Ph.D.

How do the ERWC modules support the language and literacy development of students who are identified as English Learners?

In 2017, the California State Board of Education unanimously approved the English Learner Roadmap. This revolutionary language and literacy policy focuses on an assets-based approach that celebrates multilingualism. This policy shift occurred after the voters of CA passed Proposition 58 in 2016, repealing almost twenty years of restrictions on bilingual education. Each of the ERWC modules includes elements of Integrated ELD where students are engaged in language and literacy development aligned with the CA ELD Framework. The Designated-ELD modules add an additional layer of support through an emphasis on specific ELD standards. 

The “High Impact Strategies Toolkit to Support Students in ERWC Classrooms” is a helpful resource to review learning strategies that support multilingual students. These strategies appear throughout the ERWC modules, but they are essential practices within the modules focusing on Integrated and Designated ELD. I taught the 12th grade ERWC course for several years and adapted many of the module strategies, often adding texts to build more background knowledge or spending more time on during-reading strategies where students practiced meaning-making through speaking activities. Now that I am a Teacher on Special Assignment support English Learners, resources like the toolkit are imperative in my planning.

A few of the strategies in the toolkit have positively impacted my students’ learning include:

  • Concept Mapping where students build visual representations of key vocabulary demonstrating how words and their meanings are connected and inter-related;
  • Charting Multiple Texts where students document their reading of multiple texts by identifying the authors’ purpose, claims, and evidence in order to make connections across the texts;
  • Mentor Text Analysis where students complete a close-reading to identify how an author constructs an argument through a variety of sentences (e.g., opinions, facts, evidence, anecdotes, etc.) each used for a different purpose;
  • Guided Editing where students focus on selected writing skills in their own piece (e.g., claims, precise language, sentence length, transitions, punctuation, etc.) to emphasize how each piece is part of their overall purpose.

The Designated-ELD modules follow the same assignment template as the other ERWC modules. Each lesson is aligned with the CA ELD Framework allowing students to address the two main parts of the standards: “Interacting in Meaningful Ways” and “Learning About How English Works.” The texts and writing tasks in ERWC are challenging in all of the best ways. I loved teaching ERWC because of the complex content. Students continually impressed me with their reactions to the material and their reflections about the learning goals they identified. I was a better teacher, particularly for my multilingual students, because the modules empowered me to enjoy the intricacies and intersections of language and literacy. Planning with language in mind made each module more impactful.

Chris Lewis is currently a Teacher on Special Assignment supporting multilingual learners at Mountain View High School in El Monte, CA. He is also a part-time lecturer in Attallah College of Educational Studies at Chapman University. He serves as a board member for the California Council for the Social Studies. His research interests include youth voice, dystopian fiction, civic engagement, and LGBTQ literature and history. He wrote two chapters for the 2021 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, Pedagogies of With-ness: Students, Teachers, Voice and Agency. Follow Chris on Twitter at @chrislewis_10 or www.ateachersponderings.com.

Editor’s Note: The theme of the 2023 ERWC Literacy Conferences, to be held June 20th in Sacramento and June 26th in Pomona, is “Doing Language: Rhetoric, Identity, and Power.” Plenary and concurrent sessions will explore ERWC’s approach to language learning and linguistic justice, including modules and resources for designated English language development. Please watch for a Call for Presenters in January.

Will AI Make English Teachers Obsolete? A Conversation with ChatGPT

By Tamara Tate, Daniel Ritchie, ChatGPT, & Mark Warschauer

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the blog for the WRITE Center at UC Irvine and has been republished with its authors’ permission (although we didn’t actually ask ChatGPT). See the original post here.

Headlines scream “The End of High-School English” — social media is filled with examples of what ChatGPT can produce using AI.  What does it mean for educators? To address this question, we asked ChatGPT itself to write a blog post for high school English teachers. We present ChatGPT’s response as a dialogue, with our own comments italicized in-between. Bold text face was added by us for readability. So, will ChatGDP make English Teachers obsolete? Let’s hear from ChatGDP itself.​

[ChatGPT] As a high school English teacher, you may have heard about ChatGPT, the powerful language model trained by OpenAI that can generate text based on prompts. While ChatGPT offers many potential opportunities for enhancing the teaching and learning of English in high school, it also presents some challenges that teachers should be aware of.

Though many people have heard of ChatGPT, they may not know how it functions. ChatGPT and tools like it are based on large language models (LLM), machine learning algorithms that recognizepredictsummarize, and generate text on the basis of an enormous corpus of previously written texts**. The tool will generate text based on a prompt from the user. Researchers note, “despite the simplicity of the interface, prior models have demonstrated proficiency at a wide variety of tasks—from storytelling to code synthesis and email auto-completion. Such applications are often powered by models trained for a particular purpose, such as autocompletion, or neutralizing bias***.”  

The new LLMs have the ability to perform tasks that they have not been specifically trained for, making them flexible and more economical than previous tools which required highly specific training.  The writing corpus is based on historical works and writing done on the Internet that have been gathered to provide the algorithm with millions of examples of language.

[ChatGPT] One of the main challenges that ChatGPT poses for high school English teaching is the potential for plagiarism. With ChatGPT’s ability to generate text based on prompts, some students may be tempted to use it to produce essays and other written assignments without doing the work themselves. This can be a serious problem, as plagiarism can damage a student’s academic reputation and result in serious consequences, such as failing a course or being expelled from school.​ To combat the potential for plagiarism, teachers can take a number of steps. For example, you can educate your students about the dangers of plagiarism and the importance of doing their own work. You can also use plagiarism detection software to check for copied text in student assignments. Additionally, you can require students to submit rough drafts and outlines of their work, which can make it more difficult for them to use ChatGPT to produce complete essays without doing the work themselves.

The issue of ChatGPT and plagiarism is an important consideration, and the AI pointed out some good ways to tackle this but some suggestions seem off the mark to us. Current versions of plagiarism detection software are unlikely to do any good in detecting original texts created by ChatGPT, though attempts are underway to “watermark” texts created by the software. In the meantime, we suspect that some teachers will instead assign more in-class writing so they can monitor student work. Another strategy is requiring students to cite specific types of sources, as ChatGPT is not (yet) good at that.

[ChatGPT] Another challenge that ChatGPT poses for high school English teaching is the potential for students to become overly reliant on the technology. While ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for helping students generate ideas and structure their thoughts, it’s important for students to develop their own writing skills and ability to think critically. To prevent students from becoming overly reliant on ChatGPT, teachers can encourage them to use the tool as a starting point, rather than a substitute for their own writing. For example, you can ask students to use ChatGPT to generate a list of possible ideas for an essay, but then require them to select one of those ideas and write an essay based on their own knowledge and understanding.

As much as we may want to keep these tools away from students, the cat is out of the bag. Just like calculators, which are no longer banned in advanced math instruction, we believe that students have to be taught to understand AI communication tools’ functions, affordances, and biases. We should teach students how to find and access AI tools that can assist with writing tasks; how to use expert prompting strategies with these tools to yield the maximally beneficial information; and how to incorporate AI-provided material into their writing in ways that are both effective and ethical. Researchers and educators will need to create guidelines for future use.

[ChatGPT] One potential opportunity that ChatGPT offers for high school English teaching is the ability to provide students with personalized feedback on their writing. By using ChatGPT to generate detailed feedback on student work, teachers can help students improve their writing skills and better understand the requirements of an assignment. This can be particularly useful for teachers who have large classes and may not have the time to provide individualized feedback on every student’s work. However, it’s important for teachers to carefully evaluate the feedback that ChatGPT provides, and to consider whether it is appropriate for the specific student and assignment.

We have to acknowledge the capacity for Chat GDP  to provide timely formative feedback on writing. If any teachers doubt this, just go over to ChatGPT and give the prompt “Please provide feedback from a teacher to a high school student who submitted this essay” [and paste in a sample essay]. You may be startled by the result. You can also include criteria for ChatGDP to use, such as those found in writing rubrics. For now, we have no suggestions to teachers as to how to make use of this capacity, but we just want to provide the same warning we offer to students; any text produced by ChatGPT may well be flawed or biased, and should thus be reviewed and edited before being used!

[ChatGPT] Another potential opportunity for using ChatGPT in high school English teaching is for at-home writing assignments. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, many students are learning remotely and may not have access to the same resources and support that they would have in a traditional classroom. ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for these students, as it can help them generate ideas and structure their thoughts, even when they are not in the classroom. However, teachers should be careful to monitor students’ use of ChatGPT and ensure that they are using it in a way that supports their learning, rather than replacing it.

We would argue that ChatGPT is probably less helpful, rather than more helpful, during remote learning, because there may be fewer opportunities for teachers to monitor and support students’ ethical and effective uses of it outside the classroom walls. But we agree with the caveat in your last sentence!

[ChatGPT] In conclusion, ChatGPT offers many potential opportunities for enhancing the teaching and learning of English in high school. However, it also presents some challenges that teachers should be aware of, such as the potential for plagiarism and the risk of students becoming overly reliant on the technology. By carefully considering these challenges and opportunities, teachers can use ChatGPT to support the success of their students and improve the quality of education in high school English classes.

ChatGPT, nice summary, but, and please don’t take this wrong; it’s a little formulaic. If we were teaching high school English, we might challenge our students to improve this conclusion, and indeed this final paragraph. Which raises an excellent point. Having students critique and edit ChatGPT output can be an important instructional activity in the classroom, just like having students critique and edit Google translate output has become an essential activity in foreign language translation instruction.

We know that you may not always be here for us, ChatGPT, and we doubt that you will always be available for free. But whatever happens to you, we are certain that large language models are only going to proliferate. So, moving forward, it is crucial to think about the opportunities and challenges these tools present. Like the calculator, they will be here for better or worse. It is important to remember that we, as educators, have some control over whether “better” or “worse” will be more prominent.

* Tate, Ritchie, and Warschauer are affiliated with the University of California, Irvine. ChatGPT is affiliated with OpenAI.

** Okerlund, J., Klasky, E., Middha, A., Kim, S., Rosenfeld, H., Kleinman, M., & Parthasarathy, S. (April 2022).  What’s in the chatterbox? Large Language models, why they matter, and what we should do about them.  University of Michigan Technology Assessment Project. 

*** Yuan, A., Coenen, A., Reif, E., & Ippolito, D. Wordcraft: Story writing with large language models. IUI ’22: 27th International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces, Helsinki, Finland, March 2022

ERWC and Teacher Preparation

By Amy K. Conley

What do K-12 administrators, literacy instructors, and literacy researchers think should be included in literacy coursework?

I have taught the CSU Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) for more than a decade, but I didn’t expect my experience as an ERWC teacher and facilitator to be so relevant in my recent EdD dissertation. I surveyed 233 California K-12 administrators, literacy instructors of preservice teachers, and literacy researchers to ask what should be included in literacy coursework to eventually replace the Reading Instruction Competency Assessment required for new elementary and special education teachers.

After the survey, I used focus groups to really delve into what participants thought should be included in literacy coursework for preservice teachers.

I was surprised when the three big takeaways about the needs in preservice literacy instruction also resonated with what teachers have told me in ERWC certification workshops. Preservice teachers need less standardized testing and more instruction in these areas:

  1. Culturally sustaining pedagogy for both methods and materials
  2. Supporting foundational literacy, especially for older readers, based upon a focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, morphology, and writing
  3. All teachers need more support in teaching writing. Being able to write is not the same as being able to teach writing.

In the ERWC community, we discuss the recursive nature of reading and writing, but that research-based idea holds true for every level of reader and writer. To grow reading, students need to use the language to write, whether we call those related ideas orthographic mapping, reflective writing, or revising rhetorically. To grow writing, students need to decode independently, get a chance to acquire academic language, and learn to read rhetorically.

There is also a growing realization in all levels of education that everything we do must be culturally sustaining. It must be the sea in which our students swim, not an add-on. ERWC has long tried to create modules with engaging topics, with support for emergent bilinguals, but is now actively considering how best to incorporate home languages, empowering topics, translanguaging, and diverse authors into its profusion of modules for teachers to choose from to meet student needs.

ERWC has long been a professional development model to support high school teachers and students. It’s interesting to see how it could translate to work with preservice high school and middle school teachers.

You can read in more detail what stakeholders think should be included in literacy preservice coursework in the executive summary. Please see the updated “Theoretical Foundations for Reading and Writing Rhetorically” for more information on ERWC’s efforts to create more inclusive and representative learning experiences.

Amy K. Conley is a lecturer and supervisor at Cal Poly Humboldt in literacy in the education department. She served as a high school English teacher for 20 years, where she worked to promote educational programs that foster excellence in service-learning, literacy, and equity. Her dissertation for her doctorate in educational leadership from CSU, Fresno examined what stakeholders believe should be included in a coursework replacement to the Reading Instructional Competency Assessment.

How the ERWC Fosters Independent Learners

By Anne Porterfield

A key pedagogical strategy embedded in California State University’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) is for teachers to release control to students so that students can guide their own learning. Findings from a study of the ERWC, which was funded by an Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant, suggests that many of the teachers who taught it were successful in supporting students to take ownership of their learning.

According to some teachers, the texts and topics are highly engaging because they are relevant to students’ lives. For example, two popular modules–On Leaving I On Staying Behind and The Distance Between Us–include stories about immigration; some of the students saw their own families’ stories in those stories, which allowed them to enter the conversation with the text and one another.

In addition to the ERWC soliciting a high level of student engagement, teachers in the study reported that the ERWC prepares students for college. One way ERWC teachers in the study did this was by structuring discussions in ways that invited students to participate. This built students’ confidence and motivation to participate, allowing the discussions to become more student-led and inquiry-based. The hope is that, when students get to college, they will know how to engage in meaningful discussions with their peers without scaffolding.

Helping Students Set Meaningful Learning Goals

Despite all of the progress ERWC teachers saw their students make towards becoming independent learners, there is still one major area of growth: supporting students to set meaningful learning goals. The most prevalent concern among teachers is that learning goals are inauthentic for students. In other words, students just write down what they think the teacher wants to hear. 

ERWC Steering Committee member Dr. Ginny Crisco suggested some possible solutions in our forthcoming publication, which included teaching students how to look at data in order to develop learning goals and creating a climate of self-assessment and reflection. One tool teachers can use to do that is the Cycle for Cultivating Expert Learners, which includes the following components:

  • Emphasize a culturally sustaining and accessible inquiry approach to learning.
  • Practice mastery oriented goal setting  – focusing on both academic and academically related personal goals – to help students highlight how they are purposefully moving through a process of literacy development.
  • Offer choices for learning via engagement, action and expression, and representation, emerging from goals, that are also culturally sustaining and accessible.
  • Integrate formative assessment – that both students and teachers complete in relation to students’ work – to provide regular feedback about “where am I going?,” “where have I been?” and “where to next?” (Unrau 2019).
  • Evaluate student performance (and have them evaluate it) through summative assessment.
  • Cultivate constructive metacognition (Gorzelski et al 2016) through reflection across writing contexts and tasks.

Please see the ERWC Teaching Resource “Universal Design for Learning for the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum” for more information on the Cycle for Cultivating Expert Learners.

Do you have suggestions for how to support students to take ownership of their learning goals? If so, please use the comment box below to share your ideas! 

Anne Porterfield is a Program Associate at WestEd and one of the authors of the new report Expanding the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum: An Evaluation of an Investing in Innovation Validation Grant (2022). She tweets @anneporterfield.


Fong, A., Porterfield, A., Skjoldhorne, S., & Hadley, L. (2022). Expanding the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum: An evaluation of an Investing in Innovation Validation grant. WestEd. https://www.wested.org/resources/expanding-the-erwc-evaluation/

Unrau, N. (2019). Formative assessment for ERWC. Curriculum Overview Document. Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, 3rd Edition. Long Beach, CA: California State University. https://writing.csusuccess.org/content/formative-assessment

Question with No Answers

By Jonathon Medeiros

When does the river become the delta? When does the delta become the sea? Do fish see the water they breathe? Is that right, do fish breathe? When did the cavaquinho become the ukulele? Is dancing storytelling? Why is live music pleasurable?

I believe in questions, not answers. I believe in the power of curiosity. There is value in the work of being curious, in looking at or even imagining connections. I believe that we can build empathy by practicing curiosity, by examining the visible and invisible connections around us. Often, however, my students seem to think that empathy and curiosity and kindness are fixed personality traits; either we are or are not those things, in the way we are or are not 5ʻ9”. 

We can build the muscles of curiosity and questioning through practice, in the same way we can build our ability to run or climb or write. After all, we learn by asking and exploring the crevices of questions, especially those to which no answer is obvious. Finding correct answers is often not actually important to learning. Once an answer is deemed to be “correct,” we stop looking and consequently stop learning. The act of being curious, of following that curiosity, of following up answers with more questions, is key and this is what leads us to explore and expand our ideas.

While this may be true, convincing students of the importance of asking questions with no answers, and trying to make that kind of questioning second nature for students, can be difficult. Humans sometimes want to find an answer so they can stop working, but this mindset keeps us closed off from othersʻ ideas.

The ERWC mini-module “Introducing Inquiry Questions” is a wonderful way to introduce students to the simple but powerful idea that being curious is important. This mini unit makes explicit the benefits of asking questions without answers through a variety of activities and texts, including an engaging TED talk. Students investigate times that they have asked curious questions, reminding them that this was once natural for most of us, and then walks them through some texts that help clarify the power of picking that habit up again. Emma Chiappettaʻs new book Creating Curious Classrooms: The Beauty of Questions is another amazing resource focused on teaching us how to cultivate curiosity in our classrooms and with our students.

Jonathon Medeiros has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for seventeen years with students 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.

Let Sleeping Teenagers Lie

By Lori Campbell

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.” 

Module Background

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.

Three Things I Carried from Teaching The Things They Carried

By Rachel Schultz Nguyen

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.

Katelynne Hall

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. 

Thomas Hunter

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:

Dear Dad,

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.

Aubrey Stewart

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.

Eric Oceguera

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.

Sarah Hall

Carrying On

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.