Wanna Teach Hawkeye? Get the Books Now!

By Meline Akashian

There are two main audiences for this post:

  • 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.

Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: Part 1

By Robby Ching

NOTE: The following post is the first in a special series featuring excerpts from the new professional learning resource “Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: A User’s Guide.” This resource can be found with the “Overview Documents” under the 3.0 tab in the ERWC Online Community.


Since Cicero, rhetoricians have recognized that the ability to craft effective sentences is a critical part of convincing an audience of an argument’s validity. How writers form sentences is part of their ethos. Even more important is logos. An argument is based on the logic and coherence of its sentences, and that logic and coherence depend to an important extent on grammar.

The sequence of events is conveyed through the verb tense system. The nuances of a writer’s position are presented through the use of active and passive verbs, modals, and qualifying words and phrases. The logical relationships among ideas are expressed through coordination, subordination, and the use of transitions and parallel structures. The logic of an argument can be strengthened by supplying additional information, and appeals can be made to pathos through the use of adjective clauses, participial phrases, appositives, dashes, and colons. Effectively and accurately integrating the texts of others into one’s writing provides evidence for the argument. Rhetorically effective verbs introduce evidence. And following the conventions of the intended discourse community provides clarity while contributing to the writer’s credibility (for more on this rhetorical approach to teaching grammar, see Kolln and Gray, and Micciche).

For grammar instruction to be worthwhile, you will want to make strategic decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. Writing that students do in your class can be used formatively to help you make these decisions. Some students may benefit from more basic instruction about sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, sentence boundaries, and verbs while all students can benefit from exploring more deeply the interface between grammar and rhetoric, including the ways writers qualify their assertions, logically connect their ideas, add information to sentences, and incorporate the texts of others into their writing.

California English Language Development Standards

California adopted the California English Language Development Standards: Kindergarten Through Grade 12 in 2014. These standards represent a shift in how teachers approach grammar from teaching “grammar as syntax, separate from meaning, with discrete skills at the center” to

“an expanded notion of grammar as encompassing discourse, text structure, syntax, and vocabulary and as inseparable from meaning” (164).

California English Language Development Standards

In ERWC modules, rhetorical grammar activities highlight the relationship between meaning and grammar and provide opportunities for students to learn how to use English to accomplish their rhetorical purposes. In ERWC modules, rhetorical grammar activities highlight the relationship between meaning and grammar and provide opportunities for students to learn how to use English to accomplish their rhetorical purposes.

Modules labeled ELA-ELD contain activities focused on language and aligned with the CA ELD Standards for ELA classes with Integrated ELD and for Designated ELD classes. They are designed to encourage students to notice and analyze particular grammatical features in the texts they read and then apply what they have learned to their own writing as they learn how English works at the word, phrase, and sentence level, and over stretches of discourse as specified in the ELD Standards

Multilingual students, whatever their level, are entitled to this language-focused instruction integrated into their ELA classes, and all students can benefit from attention to academic language. You may, therefore, decide that you want to supplement other ERWC modules with additional language-focused instruction to support your students’ development of academic literacy. ERWC offers a variety of resources to help you do this, including the rhetorical grammar instruction provided with ERWC 2.0 modules, the High Impact Strategies Toolkit to Support English Learners in ERWC Classrooms, and this User’s Guide.


For more information on ERWC’s rhetorical approach to language learning, please see “Essential Pedagogies for Integrated and Designated English Language Development 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.

Join Your ERWC Colleagues at CATE 2022!

By Lori Campbell

Two long, stressful years have passed since we last gathered in person for the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) Convention, and I am sure we could all use a “booster” as we exit the allegorical cave of COVID. This year, CATE’s theme is “California Dreamin’: Reimagining the Future of English Education Together.” And the ERWC strand for this coming convention presents best practices not only in the traditional classroom, but also in light of the new world in which we educators find ourselves and our students.

You can choose from sessions that address the difficult subjects of inquiry, transfer for learning, metacognition, scaffolding, and integrating ELD into the ERWC course. There are also sessions that apply a digital face to ERWC by including media studies, writing for the ERWC blog, and looking at the recently fully Quality Matters (QM) certified ERWC blended course for Canvas. You will probably need to bring some colleagues with you because some of these sessions occur simultaneously.

There is still time to register for the CATE Convention. This video can show you what to do. If you have already registered, here are some helpful hints as you get ready to journey to Long Beach. Safety protocols are in place to ensure the wellness of participants and speakers, and the ERWC community is so excited to have this opportunity to reconnect with our wonderful teachers.

For more information on CATE 2022, please visit https://www.cateweb.org/convention/cate-2022/.

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.

“What Is A Text?”

By Jonathon Medeiros

I often tell my students that our job is to be curious, to be critical, to notice the way everything around us is manipulating us, bending our behaviors. They smirk as I ramble on, assuming paranoia or overzealous, curmudgeonly zeal, worthy of temporary entertainment, and nothing more. I go on, asking them to tell me everything they know about text.

“What is a text?”

“It’s on my phone.”
“Words.”
“Books.”

“Is this a text?” I ask, holding up a poem. “And this?” playing a snippet of a song. “And is this a text?” pointing to a painting.

Yesses, and umms, and unsteady nos.

Eventually I reveal my full crazy idea, that anything created by a human for a purpose is a text. We quickly make it through essays, books, poems, and songs being texts. They think they are clever to state that movies are texts, because they can’t read the words. Slowly, we agree that paintings and pictures and sculptures are texts, crafted by humans, afterall, to communicate some idea. The creator of each made specific choices to reach their goal. I eventually push it too far, trying to convince the students that the desks they are sitting in are texts, built to communicate a certain belief system, to manipulate students into behaving in a specific way, purposefully designed to communicate to students that they need face this way, they need to work and listen and write right here, feet on the ground, separate from neighbors.

In my experience using the ERWC, these fundamental yet expansive ideas about text, about reading and writing rhetorically, about the rhetoric that is beyond printed words, are key to helping students to understand their role in making meaning out of the world around them. I have found that one of the most effective ways to help students understand these fundamental ideas is through visual rhetoric. If you have time, I suggest starting the year with a mini unit on the basics of ethos, pathos, logos, on speaker, audience, purpose, but to do so with “texts” that contain no printed words. The ERWC mini-module “Introducing the Rhetorical Situation”–a short unit that uses paintings as its central texts–is a good starting place.

Practicing reading pictures rhetorically is novel enough for most students to find the learning enjoyable, but it is also a way to remove a barrier your EL students might face. For a person just learning about rhetoric, the ideas can be alien enough. If you also struggle with the dominant language, that may be a barrier too many. Once students master and internalize the work of rhetorical analysis and the associated jargon, by practicing on images without printed words, they are more able to put into use the same work as you and your class move through more complicated texts. (See Glen McClish’s post “Reimagining Aristotelian Ethos” for an example of what this next step might look like.)

Yearly, I receive cards, messages, or emails, sometimes passing lines in essays or speeches, talking about the rhetoric of the chair, and I smile.

Jonathon Medeiros has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for fifteen years with students on Kauaʻi. He frequently writes about education policy and 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.

Simple Formative Assessment

By Jonathon Medeiros

“Question your most dearly held beliefs.” Puanani Burgess teaches this as a way to help us build community. Questioning our beliefs, especially those we hold most dear, helps us to understand why we believe what we do, helps us to discover when our beliefs need to change, when they are holding us back, when they are counterproductive. The interrogation of our beliefs should be commonplace. We should go through this life assuming we can learn, change, grow. Too often, we prefer the opposite, shoring up our ideas, walling them off from potential questioning. 

Our large systems, like public schools, are purpose built to function on a set of “unquestionable” beliefs, beliefs so unquestionable as to be rendered invisible. Often we do not even know we are clutching to a belief, they way we do not always notice that we are breathing.

Over this strange year, we have been faced with many hardships, many forced changes, many problems to face down. But also, this year has been full of countless opportunities to question our beliefs about school, about what school is, what it is for, how learning happens and why. We’ve had the opportunity to struggle with questions of attendance, of late policies, of where and when and how to hold classes, how to encourage learning, to encourage growth, and how to measure it, if we should even try to measure it. Those of us willing to grapple with these questions, to interrogate our old beliefs, have come away with new answers, with new perspectives, with more energy and safer, more effective and inclusive classes.

One question I grappled with was how to track student growth when I can’t see students in person regularly. I think the most effective formative assessments are simple, frequent, useful to the student, and repetitive. We learn by working and part of my job, even when assessing learning, is to make sure students are always pushing themselves, still learning and growing. Assessment should be part of the learning work that students do, not something that is done to them. 

Assessment should be part of the learning work that students do, not something that is done to them. 

So, I decided to just ask my students one simple question: What did you learn this week? I am not sure students are used to being asked this question, but it is a powerful self reflective tool, a way for students to prod and track their own learning, as well as a perfect way for me to see the students’ growth while giving regular, purposeful, useful feedback.

The question forces self reflection, allows students to dive into and identify what they are learning, how they are growing, and why. But it is flexible and can be tailored as needed. I can focus on developing writing skills. I can focus on speaking skills by having them record their responses. I can be extremely targeted and focus on supporting ideas with evidence or I can zoom out and simply focus on writing fluency.

The key is students are doing the work, investigating their own learning, mulling it over, finding pride and excitement in their own growth, particularly as the year goes on, so I can see their growth but the assessment doesn’t interrupt the learning.

Jonathon Medeiros has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for fifteen years with students on Kauaʻi. He frequently writes about education policy and 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

Is Homework Too Late to Check for Understanding?

By Marisol Puga

As a student in my teaching credential program, I was involved in a heated debate in my Global Education course regarding the controversial question of “should teachers give out homework?” I, of course, vehemently argued that homework is necessary in order for the student to demonstrate the skills that they learned in class that day. 

That was my trained opinion, yes, “trained” because through the span of my student career I was trained by all of my teachers from 1st to 12th grade to expect homework on a daily basis. Homework, by the way, I sometimes never saw again after it was turned in, and if I did, it was returned with a meaningless grade with no explanation behind it as to how I earned that grade. Or even, more importantly, what I could do to improve the skill I was applying for that particular assignment. 

It should be clear by now as a teacher in my fifth year in a classroom, that I no longer hold the same opinion on “traditional” homework. This is not to say that the concept of homework cannot be beneficial to students. If used correctly, “homework” can help build a positive digital classroom environment and community. This may sound complicated, but it is done by simply creating “homework” that does not require any physical product and that the students can choose whether or not to “complete.”

Currently, all of my distance learning CHOICE “homework” serves three purposes. First, to get to know my students and vice versa (since I always “complete” all of our homework assignments, too). This is done by assigning something as simple as “Ask your favorite person to describe you in 3 words.” Most students will jump at the chance to tell you what their friend or significant other said (especially via private Zoom chat)! Second, the choice homeworks facilitate communication between students and their parents; this is done with assigning something that will spark a conversation, such as “ask your parents what is their most embarrassing memory from when they were your age.” I can tell you that most of my students chose to complete that one (since it’s usually the parent witnessing or causing their embarrassing moments)! Lastly, my choice homework introduces students to being aware of their mental health by having them create a weekly “to-do” list of three things that they will try to do at least once a day to help them manage their stress.

However, as you might recall I did not start off with, what some might call  a “New Age” idea behind homework’s use. This type of homework promotes positive rapport, an inclusive classroom culture, and builds community that bridges the gap between the school, parents, and their students. Facilitating such bonding and relatable content, sparks increased socioemotional learning, connection, and engagement when students and families need it the most. 

As a meek novice teacher, I continued to follow the educator’s norm of assigning “traditional” homework (i.e., we did this in class, so surely that means you can apply this skill perfectly on your own) even if I did not always see the value of it. 

The main issue I constantly encountered, however, as I would walk the class and grade their work, was I found myself RETEACHING yesterday’s essential skill to at least one student per group. This would happen DAILY. Sound familiar to you? As to be expected, I was frustrated, but I could only blame myself for not doing more…This pattern helped me realize, why wait until the following day to see what your students didn’t understand. Better equipped with this self reflection, I immediately solved this issue by transforming what would have normally been homework into an exit ticket, which was then checked in real time during class. By using this strategy, I was able to address the miscommunication right then and there!

Since distance learning began, at least from my experience, I have witnessed many teachers assigning homework as a means to squeeze in material that they could not cover in class due to shortened instructional time. This creates more workload and subsequently more stress  for BOTH teachers and students. My suggestion is to concentrate on what skill they are supposed to practice that day and create an opportunity for them to demonstrate their level of proficiency,” Therefore, establishing a stress free and manageable check for understanding, enabling students and teachers to monitor their learning.

I know that we can no longer for many reasons “lurk” over our student’s shoulders to check for their understanding, BUT, thanks to easy to maneuver online learning platforms we are still able to accomplish the same means digitally! For this purpose I prefer Google classroom, Padlet, or Peardeck since these all allow you to view what the student is doing in real time. 

This real time check for understanding exit ticket using technology eliminates the need to assign homework for your students to demonstrate what they know or don’t know. Thus, avoiding student disengagement and excess stress for all parties involved by checking for understanding in class when there is still time to correct student-teacher miscommunications. And if you must assign “homework,” then please consider using your homework as a means to nourish the class environment at a time when student buy in is extremely vital for their success. 

Marisol Puga is the favorite (ONLY) freshman English Teacher at Health Careers Academy in Stockton, CA. When she is not teaching, you can find her running, reading Victorian novels, and posting her “Teacher Outfit of the Day” on Instagram. You can follow her @marisolpugarangel.

Digital or Print: Putting Readers in the Driver’s Seat

By Molly Berger

Getting students to engage with their reading, to read deeply as we say, has always been a multifaceted challenge. Now we add one more complication: the impact of digital texts on comprehension. The issue is driving much research and is frequently debated. However, the question should not be whether print or digital is better, because our students will be reading both. It should be, “How do we read well in any format?”

Goal setting and the metacognitive and reflective questions in the ERWC Assignment Template lend themselves to delving into this issue with students because they put the student in the driver’s seat. It is up to the individual to determine what works best for them. Additionally, to help students in determining this, we must ask the students two questions:

How do you read best?

            and then,

How do you know this?

While students may be able to voice their preferences, few have truly explored their options or can articulate how or why it works for them. Most simply read when the teacher says to. Others pretend to read and wait for the class discussion to get the gist of the assignment. So how do we develop student motivation and skill to be self-directed readers? How do we become the warm demanders that both expect and support this?

I shouldn’t be but always am surprised by the students’ ability to solve their own learning challenges. My role is to present them with options and guide them in finding what works best for them. Modeling strategies and allowing students time to share with each other what works gives them the opportunity to understand themselves as learners, which results in self-knowledge and a lasting impact.

Consider these strategies and let the students tell you what works from there.

Manipulating Text

One of the strongest assets of digital texts is the ability to manipulate the way we see it. From font size and background color to layout and design, students can choose what helps them focus and comprehend. Modeling this process is key as some students may choose what they think looks good compared to what actually helps them read. For example, they may love creative fonts such as Edwardian Script or Curlz MT, but these will most likely be difficult to read in longer texts. Have them set criteria for how they will know their design choice works best and then experiment. Have them consider

  • Background color: decrease the contrast of print and background.
  • Font size: find the just right size
  • White space: manage by line spacing

Ebook devices or apps have reader choices for this. Web browsers allow for increasing of font size but note the reader view features explained below for further options.

Managing Distractions

Our students are so used to advertising and links in their reading that they may not even see them as distractions. Modeling how to eliminate advertising and when to open a link or skip it, can focus their attention on this.

  • Block pop-ups: Check the security section of whichever browser you are using. (Search for block popups in Chrome or whichever browser you use.)
  • Open the reader view:  This feature will take out the advertising, pictures, buttons, etc. (This is in the title bar of Firefox and Explorer and is an extension in Chrome.) Reader view also changes the font and background. Click here for an example of reader view.
  • Determine when to click or not click a link: Have the students consider if following a link will help their comprehension or interrupt it. Model this with examples of how some links may clarify meaning as with definitions and how others can lead us completely off track. Have the students develop their own guide for whether to click while they read, after they read, or not at all.
  • Practice highlighting and notetaking: Whether it is one of many apps or browser extensions available (Evernote, OneNote, Google Keep, etc.), a note taker in an ebook or whether students simple copy and paste the text into a Word or Google doc, getting adept at highlighting and notetaking will boost student comprehension and retention of what they read.

Ultimately, the success of comprehending digital or print texts derives not only from skill but from students accepting their role in their learning. If we want our students to be able to dip their “oar into the water” (They Say, I Say,  Graff and Birkenstein) in rhetorical reading, discussion and writing, then they need to see themselves as connected readers (Connected Reading, Turner and Hicks) who make decisions on how they read well based on their own experience.

Molly Berger is a secondary English teacher currently working as an English Language Arts specialist and program coordinator at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia, Washington. As a Washington lead for the ERWC i3 Grant, she has served on the ERWC Steering Committee, supported Washington teachers as a coach and workshop presenter, and written modules.

Works Cited

Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 4th edition. W.W. Norton, 2018.

Turner, Kristin Hawley and Troy Hicks. Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World. National Council of Teachers of English, 2015.

Using Antiracist Reading Practices to Help Writers Engage in Meaningful Revision

By Dutch Henry

In a recent meeting of English teachers one of my colleagues asked, “What are the things you see from students that make you say ‘oh no, not this again?’” Over the laughter, one of the other teachers said, “A ‘revision’ that is the same as the previous draft. I try so hard but I just can’t get my kids to revise. They feel so good about finishing something that they don’t want to keep working on it. They have so much to say and so much greatness in them, I wish I could get them to revise.” The chorus of agreement was so loud I had to turn down the volume in the Zoom meeting.

I think about this lament a lot and I always come back to what I’m doing to help my students meaningfully engage in revision. I’ve tried many different approaches over the years, but without much success. Finally, though, I’ve found that what works best isn’t about me at all. In some ways, it’s not about the writers either, it’s about their readers. Student writers care about the views of their peer readers in ways that are profoundly different than the way they care about me, the teacher-reader. 

In  Asao B. Inoue’s “Teaching Antiracist Reading”, he advocates for antiracist reading practices that “ask [readers] to…investigate the deep and hidden structures that make up their personal reading habits, personal reading habits that are also structural and social.” The varied practices Inoue outlines in the essay involve a series of steps that boil down to two core elements. First, Inoue asks readers to pause while they are reading and ask “What am I feeling right now reading this text? Why am I feeling that? What in the text did that to me?” Next, readers ask themselves “Where in my world do I get the ideas that help me respond this way? Where do those habits come from?” Using these two steps in the process of peer review can help readers engage with their fellow students’ writing in ways that improves their reading process and provides feedback that inspires writers to revise.

Based on Inoue’s ideas, I now ask readers in peer feedback to use these questions to share with their classmates how the writing made them feel and what specifically in the writing made them feel that way. Early in the process I support them with sentence prompts to make specific references to the writing. I also ask them to tell their fellow writers how their response to the writing relates to something in their life or experience. Writers, then, reflect on whether the response the reader shared is the one they were hoping for and how they might revise their writing to increase or alter the reader’s experience. This can then lead to more detailed discussions about how to apply the key elements of rhetorical reading and writing in ERWC.

It may be our lament as teachers that students don’t always reach the goals we set for them, but maybe it’s the “we” in that process that is the problem rather than the students. If we focus on what students are already doing and can do well, we can see them reach goals we hadn’t even anticipated for them. If we turn the experiences of reading and writing over to the students more fully we may find that they reach their own goals, which may be even better than the ones we dream of for them.

Dutch Henry teaches English at Shoreline Community College north of Seattle, WA. As the Higher Education English Lead for the Bridge to College Project in Washington, he has partnered with ERWC on module development, coaching, and professional learning.

Kicked Me in the Gut: Picked Me Back Up

By Meline Akashian

Maybe it’s rude in a blog post to tell you to read something else, but here it is: read Matthew Kay’s Not Light But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom.

And be ready. He says stuff like this:

Just as we cannot conjure safe spaces from midair, we should not expect the familial intimacy, vulnerability, and forgiveness needed for meaningful race conversations to emerge from traditional classroom relationships.

Frankly, that’s nothing compared to page twenty-seven. On page twenty-seven, my note in the margin is an expletive.

That’s where Kay chronicles an informal conversation between his poetry club students in the immediate aftermath of Ferguson–or, more specifically, in the immediate aftermath of a black student suffering through a class discussion about Ferguson.  Kay’s students offer raw revelation of what many students are probably thinking when teachers lead such discussions. 

My takeaways were layered, and they came in depressing waves, but here is a big one: Many kids wear masks during difficult classroom discussions. And during race conversations, some kids might wear the mask. I’m just going to leave that there for a second. For any teacher who wants to help students use their voices and activate their agency, it’s a crushing thought. But let’s be clear–the mask itself is not the problem. All of us disguise our vulnerabilities from most people, for good reason. All of us have public and private selves, and each of us alone decides who sees what. 

OK, so combine that reality with our reality, that nearly every ERWC module could be a touchy subject or tap into someone’s past trauma. ERWC teachers are routinely doing what Kay describes as opening “academic” discussions around topics that are “visceral” for some of our students. The whole course is designed around dialogue aimed at productive conflict.  But productive conflict requires openness and honesty.

For me, the practical implication is this: it doesn’t matter if I think I’m an ally; it doesn’t matter what’s in my heart; it definitely doesn’t matter what I do with my free time; it doesn’t even matter if my students love and respect me. What matters is that my students trust me with their bruised and battered insides. And trust not just me, but their classmates. Only then can I hope that students will decide, when they are ready, to be real–in front of me and everyone else in the room. 

Like–I was already a person who loses sleep the night before a touchy classroom discussion.  So around page twenty-seven, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed, doubting Kay’s ability to offer a workable solution, particularly one for me, an especially private person myself. But then he got down to it.

His first chapter offers specific protocols to build a safe space. Three simple discussion norms and three routine activities honor students as individuals and develop a classroom culture devoted to building and maintaining relationships. They require class time and commitment, and perhaps a mild restructuring of the value system driving instructional decision-making.

His second chapter introduces discussion moves designed, not to eliminate conflict, but to help make conflict productive. For example, “Surfacing the Conflict”: teachers figure out what category of conflict is at hand (around fact? process? purpose? values?) in order to determine their most useful next move directing discussion traffic. I’m pretty excited about this approach, because in an ERWC class, the rhetorical thinking involved with categorizing the conflict can be farmed out to students, giving me more time to figure out my next move. 

More value added in Chapter Two? It closes with protocols for discussion prep using hypothetical case studies. By imagining various scenarios, I can anticipate the more likely conflicts or diversions that could derail discussion and ready myself with some “next moves” in advance. Then I can go to bed and actually get some sleep.

Though there’s 24k gold in the rest of Kay’s book, I’ll start by trying to implement Chapters One and Two–or maybe just Chapter One.  Whatever my measured first step, I’m all in to take it. Because when students’ sincere and passionate engagement with a topic is perceived as a risk, it’s a gross, malignant irony. And because Matthew Kay shows us, guiding real talk about hard things isn’t about being a natural-born Mr. Keating; it’s about the groundwork we lay in advance and our ongoing commitment to the cause.

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.

Work Cited

Kay, Matthew. Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. Stenhouse, 2018.

What Does It Mean to Value the Languages Students Bring with Them?

By Robby Ching

As teachers, we know in theory that we should value the languages that students use at home and in their communities, but what does that look like when we know that our task is to teach them to become proficient users of English? It turns out there are a number of ways to incorporate linguistically sustaining practices into ERWC classes, but teachers may not always realize what these practices are.  

Using Texts that Incorporate Other Languages

Perhaps most obviously, we can select texts for our students to read that reflect their experiences as users of other languages. Even better, some texts also incorporate those languages into the texts. Reyna Grande’s memoir, The Distance between Us, and the poetry of Diana Garcia in “On Leaving” and “On Staying Behind” both exemplify ERWC module texts where the use of Spanish is integral to the craft of the texts. 

However, we should not simply assume students will get the message that Spanish is a valuable resource that skilled writers use; in the spirit of an inquiry-based curriculum, we need to ask students to think about why Grande and Garcia used Spanish when their audience would include many English-only readers. What was their rhetorical purpose? How did they go about doing it so that English speakers were not excluded at the same time Spanish speakers were privileged (for a change!). And then the most important question–what can students learn from these examples about ways and reasons to incorporate their own languages and varieties of English (for example, African-American vernacular or Hawaiian Pidgin) into writing they do for school and beyond. 

Encouraging the Use of Other Languages in Class

Another strategy is to encourage students to use their dominant language as a tool in class. Although the days when students were physically disciplined for using their home languages in school are over, many teachers still believe students should leave their other languages at the door of their English classroom because how can they learn English if they spend time speaking and writing in Korean or Cambodian or Russian or whatever their primary language might be? But we now know that encouraging students to use that language strategically can actually facilitate their acquisition of academic English and not only because it strengthens their own sense of agency. 

Capitalizing on Multilingual Student Expertise

A recent document published by the California Department of Education, Educating Multilingual and English Learners: Research to Practice (Improving Education Publication – Resources (CA Department of Education)) makes this shift clear:

(Pamela Spycher, María González-Howard, and Diane August. “Chapter 6: Content and Language Instruction in Middle and High School: Promoting Educational Equity and Achievement Through Access and Meaningful Engagement,” 354)

Our multilingual students move among varieties of English and from one language to another constantly. Making them aware of this amazing capacity benefits them while using them as experts when questions of language and translanguaging emerge works to the benefit of every student in the class, whatever the varieties of English and other languages they have at the tips of their tongues. 

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.