Blog

Welcome!

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:
https://writing.csusuccess.org/
CSU Center for the Advancement of Reading and Writing: https://www2.calstate.edu/CAR/Pages/erwc.aspx
ERWC Workshop Registration:
https://www2.calstate.edu/CAR/Pages/professional-learning-workshops.aspx

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 at @JenJFletcher.

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.

Upgrading to ERWC 3.0: Why You Should Be Excited!

“Finally!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Supporting Literacy through Student-Centered Discussion

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

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

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

3. Expanding the Inquiry Space

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

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

Let’s Connect!

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

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

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


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

Better, Faster, and More Equitable Feedback

12,600 hours. 12,600 hours of grading student writing. That would be equivalent to working full-time, 52 weeks a year, for 6 years.

For this episode’s guest, the above was a calculation he worked out earlier in his career that would bring clarity to the pain he was putting himself through. In episode two of The Teaching ERWC Podcast, we hear from Matthew M. Johnson, an English Teacher from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is author of the book Flash Feedback: Responding to Student Writing Better and Faster–Without Burning Out.

When it comes to carrying the weight of the responsibility of assessing stacks of student writing, Matthew has walked the walk. He nearly left the profession due to the crushing expectations he had heaped on himself to get his students timely feedback in an effort to become better writers. In earnest, after year three, he did walk away from teaching for a number of years, expecting never to return. Eventually, he did made his way back, developing feedback practices that freed up his calendar and helped his students grow as writers.

As I have interacted with Matthew over the years on his blog and social media, putting into practice his sage advice, I have not only claimed back more time for myself, my students have received timelier feedback, that was more effective than ever, and has reached every student, improving the writing skills of all.

On April 20th, Matthew Johnson will delivering a webinar that dives deeper into this reality. Did I mention, the webinar is FREE? More details below.

Want to contribute to the podcast?

The Teaching ERWC Podcast is produced, written, and developed by members of the ERWC Community, who is made up of many voices from many backgrounds. The community invites its members to be part of the content being produced here.

If you have any interest in contributing to the podcast, please fill out this Google Form.

Connect with ERWC on social media

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.

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.

Not My Power, Our Power: A Teacher’s Response to Matthew Kay’s Webinar “How to Talk About Race in Your Classroom”

“It is hard for a student to unlearn empathy, to forget discernment, to dismiss the importance of solid evidence once they’ve grown used to demanding it… if we are training the next generation of teachers, entertainers, lawyers, and politicians; if we are molding thoughtful citizens, wise counselors, and people of righteous passion; then our classrooms must be deliberate in their approach to conversations about race. The next generation needs to be far better at this stuff than we have been. They are coming of age in a world of artfully disguised injustices, most of which will stay both invisible and vicious if people never learn to learn to meaningfully discuss them.”

–Matthew Kay, author of Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Conversations about Race in the Classroom

By Frank Mata

It is clear that Matthew Kay is aware of the barriers that block educators from broaching race with both colleagues and students–fear of backlash, defensiveness, the potential re-traumatizing effect, “not knowing enough to foster discussion,” or ultimately, a potential loss of professional standing. (There are so many ☹.)

In an hour-long professional development session recorded in 2016 (“How to Talk about Race in Your Classroom”), Kay first challenges listeners to identify exactly what it is that “gets in the way.” Immediately, he spotlights participants’ humility when asked of their fears. At that moment, I found this approach as defying conventional classroom power dynamics. Through a teacher’s admission of humility, to not be the expert on race, this approach invites students’ voices to be an added and authentic means of “teaching the teachers.” It showcases what “assets-based teaching” looks like. In the autonomy of our four walls, dare we welcome this while resisting the presumed duty of measuring students’ responses?

The question then surfaces–are we, as teachers, ready to detach ourselves from the professional authority we hold in the classroom, the very entity that we often base our professional identity, our academic pride, or sense of intellectual security, in the manner that equalizes us with our students? Clearly, the culture of education does not promote such vulnerabilities, as evidenced in the presumptions of merit as associated with years taught, letters after our full name in our email signatures, or even our ability to cold-read aloud a poem with that academic accent juxtaposed to youth language.

The onus is within our position as facilitators, not teachers, when it comes to conversations about race. Matthew Kay introduces and implies to fellow facilitators, in the same inviting way we ought to embrace students’ voices, experiences, and knowledge for all of us to learn from.

In order for the safe space environment to allow for this to happen, Kay highlights his three listening norms of the classroom: 1) to listen patiently, 2) to listen actively, and 3) to police [our teacher] voice. He concludes that through this purposeful structure of how to listen, “it creates a built-in reflection space,” which exposes to us how these norms create the culture of invitation for all of our vulnerabilities.

Hearing this specific tip creates a tangible skill-set for us not as teachers, but as fellow race-discourse participants, to authentically engage with each other. However, to do so, we teachers must be ready, willing, open, and secure enough to set free our conditioned, even mythical, sense of power when engaging in meaningful conversations about race. Though we might spend our own dollars, energy, or efforts in creating the literal learning environment to our tastes or liking, this same space is not exclusive or limited to our own platform. As teachers, our presence is not paramount.

Frank Mata has been in the classroom for seventeen plus years. His current project is developing an ELA 12th grade course focusing on social justice and equity. He teachers at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, CA.

Work Cited

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

Reimagining Aristotelian Ethos


By Glen McClish

As a teacher of classical rhetoric and composition, I’m struck by the ways ancient concepts both empower and limit how we help students understand persuasion. Take, for example, the power and constraints inherent in the Aristotelian concept of ethos, or the rhetorically constructed character of the rhetor—the speaker or writer.

Ethos, according to Plato’s most famous student, is a form of proof comprising three interrelated components. Here is George Kennedy’s translation of the well-known passage from the Rhetoric briefly describing the trio (I’ll leave out the Greek):

There are three reasons why speakers themselves are persuasive; for three things we trust other than logical demonstration. These are practical wisdom and virtue and good will; for speakers make mistakes in what they say through [failure to exhibit] either all or one of these; for either through lack of practical sense they do not form opinions rightly; or though forming opinions rightly they do not say what they think because of a bad character; or they are prudent and fair-minded but lack good will, so that it is possible for people not to give the best advice although they know [what] it [is].  These are the only possibilities. (112–113)

There’s power in Aristotle’s ostensibly exhaustive groups of three, and this trio is practical, authoritative, and convincing. Yet what he neglects is telling. The ablest of observers, Aristotle describes the rhetorical practice of ancient Athens, a racially homogenous, stratified society in which privileged, native-born men dominated the public sphere. They argued about many things, but their debates were more pragmatic than ideological because they shared common standpoints and beliefs.

Thus, Aristotle’s components of ethos assume that a convincing speaker would have more in common with the audience than otherwise.

But this homogeneity—and its effect on ethos—does not characterize all cultures, particularly ours, in this or most eras of its existence. Therefore, establishing an effective ethos in our society is not always simply a matter of checking off the categories of wisdom, virtue, and good will—other features may be as or more salient in crafting persuasion.

Let’s consider a specific example. Here is the late poet and activist Audre Lorde, speaking at the “Second Sex Conference” in 1979:

Why weren’t other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered consultation? . . . In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, “We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art out of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work out of most feminist publications expect for the occasional “Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s text off your reading lists. (113)

In this famous speech, Lorde’s ethos strays from the sort advocated by Aristotle; exposing her audience’s entrenched racism cannot be described simply as “good will,” at least not as the Greek text suggests. In fact, Lorde chastises her audience with the force of a scolding parent—or perhaps, more accurately, a prophet, fearlessly speaking truth to power.

Beyond the scope of Aristotle’s theorizing, this prophetic character—known in scholarly circles as the Jeremiadic ethos after the Old Testament prophet—distinguishes African American rhetoric since the early nineteenth century. To more fully appreciate this construction of rhetorical character, consider this passage from Frederick Douglass’s prophetic speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852), in which he diminishes the assumed primacy of logos (as well as Aristotle’s practical wisdom) while cataloging the scalding rhetorical strategies he yearns to marshal to melt the moral complacency of his degraded country: “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke” (71).

When different values or perspectives separate those who—inhabiting the same space—must work together for the common good, the characters rhetors create to persuade may not conform to Aristotle’s tripartite formulation of wisdom, virtue, and goodwill. They may make audiences profoundly uncomfortable. Yet doing so may effect profound change. This is one of the key lessons about ethos gleaned from outsider rhetors such as Lorde, Douglass, and—most recently—leading voices in the Black Lives Matter movement.

What other productive ways is Aristotelian ethos complicated in the rhetoric of our multicultural society?

Glen McClish is a teacher of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at San Diego State University and a longtime advocate of K–16 language arts articulation. He has an abiding interest in African American rhetoric, from the American Revolution to the present day.

Works Cited
Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse. Translated by George Kennedy, 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 2006.
Douglass, Frederick. The Speeches of Frederick Douglass: A Critical Edition. Edited by John R. McKivigan, Julie Husband, and Heather L. Kaufman, Yale UP, 2018.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. The Crossing P, 1984.

Big Shifts in ERWC!

Welcome to the Teaching ERWC Podcast! This is officially our inaugural episode, and there is a lot to cover.

First, my name is Jeffery E. Frieden, an ERWC teacher at Hillcrest High School in the Alvord Unified School District. That’s it, just a teacher. Okay, I’m creating content for ERWC, so maybe not just a teacher. But other than a few clever networking opportunities I took using social media, I am just a guy trying to make his way through the modules.

In this episode, you will hear from Jennifer Fletcher, head of the ERWC Steering Committee. She lays out the vision for the future of ERWC, as well as the months ahead. Even though I have been teaching ERWC for a decade, Jennifer shared some details about ERWC that surprised me:

  • Over 15,000 teachers have been trained in ERWC
  • The curriculum in not only taught in California, but Washington state and Hawaii too
  • Leaders in the ERWC have presented on this curriculum internationally

Listen in anticipation about all the professional learning opportunities that are on the way and for an invitation to get involved.

Want to contribute to the podcast?

The Teaching ERWC Podcast is produced, written, and developed by members of the ERWC Community, who is made up of many voices from many backgrounds. The community invites its members to be part of the content being produced here.

If you have any interest in contributing to the podcast, please fill out this Google Form.

Picking Pathways

By Lori Campbell

My husband prefers to order fast food by numbers. He refuses to go to restaurants such as Chipotle because he has to make too many choices. I had the same reaction to the list of possible modules available in ERWC 3.0. In this column, we have the book modules, in the next we find the dramas, and now for the protein–we find 12 juicy issue modules. Don’t forget the mini-modules to support the best balance to put before our seniors. It can be daunting if we don’t already know our students’ needs and preferences. However, the choices mean that we can serve a curriculum that is custom built to provide opportunities for engagement, critical thinking skills, and, most importantly, the confidence to enter the world of adults. 

I appreciate the choice of  modules that are similarly available for the 11th grade year. I can spend that year introducing the basic skills that can bridge the wide gap between the 9/10 standards and the 11/12 standards. I am also able to extend the reach of the mini-modules so that we can build on the foundational skills when they become seniors. That 12th grade year imposes certain challenges for both teachers and students in the forms of applying to colleges, applying for financial aid, enjoying senior activities, and, in some cases, “senioritis.” I believe that senior year, and particularly the second semester, requires the most thought as teachers plan for these “soon-to-be” adults.  

I begin second semester with “Big Brother and the Authoritarian Surveillance State: 1984.” This is where I place the highest rigor because senioritis really hasn’t hit yet. FAFSAs have been completed. Hopefully, even the most procrastinating seniors have sent in college applications by this time. This is a remarkable season of maturity. It’s a decompression period for most seniors who can sit still for a time and focus on the important issues of the novel and its application to modern society. 

Then by the end of February, the pressure builds for my seniors. At this point, I want to provide my students material that gives them the opportunity to reflect on the society they are about to enter as adults and their positions in that community.  I next pair “Introducing Kairos” with “On Leaving|On Staying Behind.” The rhetorical concept of kairos, or situational time, also helps students recognize their current states. We can talk about why they might be feeling so unhinged and whether the certain decisions they make now really have a lasting impact on their lives.

Then the content of Diana Garcia’s poems on emigration provide students with a new perspective when they look at the daughter making her own decision to leave home. They find strength in this, and when it is time to write pieces about their own decisions, they feel a little better about them. The module provides several choices of a creative nature for the culminating writing task. Seniors appreciate this new opportunity because it is not “one more essay.” Writing poems that express their own social concern taps into a different part of their brain that they don’t often get the chance to use.

Finally, I pair “Introducing Stasis Theory” with “Language, Culture, and Gender.” This is the perfect combination to help seniors enter that adult world with a plan. I also love the latter module because I can use this as a final exam for students since there are several texts. I ask seniors to apply the strategies they have learned for the past two years, including descriptive outlines, rhetorical precis, annotation, and annotated bibliography to analyze the articles. They must be able to use these tools to grasp the claims and rhetorical strategies of any text they are given now or in the future. They are free to choose the order in which they read and analyze the texts and which tool best fits for them. They discuss the value of each of the ways to analyze a text and why a certain one works for them. The hope is they will carry those tools into college. In addition, the culminating task of this module helps students recognize the importance of their compassion, their voices, and their skills in examining multiple perspectives. Finally, students wrap up the senior year with the Final Reflection portfolio to show them they are indeed ready for the next academic step they take.

In the 10 years I have taught ERWC, I believe part of what we need to impart is confidence, and between March and May in a senior’s life, that gets lost along with the student’s assignments. That final pathway should put the finishing touches on skills, but, more importantly, convince students that they are worthy of the diploma they are about to receive. I believe selecting the modules that can boost their confidence and not pressure them more than necessary will ease the tension. Once these young people adjust to the pressure placed on them by “adulthood,” they will be able to explore the  wonders of their new world beyond high school. 

Work Cited

“Senioritis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/senioritis. Accessed 29 Jan. 2021.

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.

Choosing Your Own ERWC Adventure

By Jennifer Fletcher

As an 80s kid, I well remember the joys of reading Edward Packard’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books. There was something thrilling–and slightly subversive–about being in control of the narrative. Choice confers power. It’s one thing to be the person just following the script, quite another to be a co-constructor of meaning.

This is what I love about ERWC: through the choices they make about learning goals and experiences, teachers and students act as co-designers of the implemented curriculum. One of the exciting changes to ERWC is that teachers now have the opportunity to create their own customized pathways from a wide selection of modules. ERWC 3.0 is the DIY ERWC. The new curriculum includes over sixty full-length modules for grades eleven and twelve, fourteen mini-modules, and nine full-length modules for grades nine and ten. Teachers now choose five to six full-length modules and five mini-modules (including two portfolio modules) to create a yearlong course.

If you are building your own ERWC 3.0 course for the first time, you might want to experiment with different combinations of modules before deciding on an instructional sequence. Each pathway has its own flavor and rhythm. Try starting by pairing full-length modules with mini-modules that foster rhetorical thinking. “Introducing the Rhetorical Situation,” “Introducing Ethos, Pathos, and Logos,” and “Introducing Genre as Rhetoric” make a great starter kit.

As you design your yearlong experience, you’ll also find that different pathways are driven by different areas of emphasis. Some, for instance, might have a special emphasis on particular literacy skills, such as argumentation or genre analysis, while others might focus on a theme, such as social justice, adolescence, or the environment. It will be up to you to create a cohesive, progressive course suited to your students’ needs and interests.

Keep in mind that you will probably need to add or remove scaffolding depending on your module sequence. Your students should need less support as the year progresses. That means that you might be able to drop more activities from the later modules, provided your students are already doing things like surveying and annotating texts on their own. If, however, you find that students still need lots of support for reading and writing rhetorically, you’ll want to continue modeling and practicing these skills in class.

ERWC 3.0 offers a “choose your own adventure” approach to curriculum and instruction. The pathway you choose should take you and your students on a meaningful intellectual journey.

A final bit of advice and encouragement as you embark on this adventure:

  • The repeated turns through the ERWC arc are strategic and intentional. Allow time for the spiraling; extended practice leads to automaticity.
  • Know that you and your students will experience productive struggle. Resist the urge to slip back to your comfort zone. Productive struggle is the path to mastery.
  • Remember that the curriculum runs on inquiry and discussion. Expand opportunities for students to interact with their peers and do their own thinking.
  • Read the Teacher Versions, Module Overviews, and Module Plans. They’re your guides to instructional decision making.
  • If you’re taking a student-centered, inquiry-based, rhetorical approach to texts, you’re doing ERWC!

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