Arcs and Spirals

Editor’s Note: California State University is hosting an in-person literacy conference in June of 2022. All are welcome! Sessions feature strategies for teaching texts rhetorically, fostering language awareness and exploration, and promoting equity and inclusion. The $50 registration fee includes lunch and a choice of location and date.

Sheraton Fairplex – Pomona, CA June 21, 2022 | Registration link: https://calstate.eventsair.com/2022-erwc-literacy-conference/event…

San Jose Marriott – San Jose, CA June 27, 2022 | Registration link: https://calstate.eventsair.com/2022-erwc-literacy-conference-san-jose/event


By Jennifer Fletcher

In mathematics, a fractal is a geometric shape in which each part has the same characteristics as the whole. The pattern repeats across different levels of magnification, giving the sense of endless complexity and connections. Worlds within worlds.

The patterns in a fractal recur at progressively larger or smaller scales.

California State University’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) is also characterized by intricate patterns that repeat across the curriculum and that mimic the infinite nature of civic and academic conversations. Someone says something, someone responds, and then someone else builds on or challenges that idea in the endless production of texts. The conversation arcs from speaker to listener, or from text to text, and spirals through progressively nuanced iterations. These arcs and spirals represent the dynamic rhetorical exchanges that form the basis of the ERWC instructional modules.

Arcs

The idea of the ERWC “Arc” is an essential part of the ERWC’s course design. The arc enacts the recursive literacy processes that connect the texts students read to the texts they compose. Completing an ERWC module means completing the arc.

The arc is also a key structure for promoting transfer of learning. As students shift from “reading like writers” to “writing like readers,” they transfer the rhetorical moves and literacy strategies they learned from studying professional models to their own acts of communication. The reciprocity represented through the two sides of the arc illustrates the application of rhetorical reading strategies to rhetorical writing. In other words, the reading strategies–for example, descriptive outlining or rhetorical précis–become writing strategies during the composing process as students repurpose these tools for the texts they create.

The ERWC Assignment Template


This recursivity emerges from a shared design structure, the ERWC Assignment Template, that creates coherence both within and across the individual modules, as well as throughout the ERWC literacy network. The generative principles that shape the ERWC and its community are embedded in the template; this is the “DNA,” or protean structure, of the curriculum.

Here we find the ERWC’s core ideas and practices: reading and writing rhetorically, transfer of learning, the cultivation of expert learners, and English language development. All ERWC modules are designed using this common template, including a new collection of modules with designated English language development currently being developed for grades 6-8

Spirals

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The modules also spiral up through increasingly complex texts and tasks over the course of the year. This is what gives the ERWC its scaling shape: the ascending turns through the Assignment Template.

The repeated turns students take through the template over the course of a year-long experience affords them frequent opportunities to develop and internalize the rhetorical literacy skills and academic habits of mind that are essential to postsecondary success, such as the ability to read with and against the grain, to negotiate different perspectives and meanings, to analyze writer’s craft, and to respond to a variety of rhetorical situations. The spirals through the template are important and intentional; they support students’ growth as expert readers and writers.

At the same time, ERWC teachers might also think in terms of a “vanishing Assignment Template” when using these materials. As our students start to develop greater fluency and automaticity in key skills—for instance, surveying or annotating a text—we may no longer need to provide direct instruction in these areas. Some template sections will start to disappear from our lesson plans as our students progress from novices to experts.

Feeding the Feedback Loops

An effective ERWC course design allows us to teach the full arc of each module and to complete several turns through the ERWC Assignment Template. The year-long course should spiral up through increasingly complex texts and tasks while providing an ongoing feedback loop for learners. For instance, students might begin the year by studying a mentor text provided for them in preparation for writing and then end the year by finding their own mentor texts as part of their full consideration of a rhetorical situation–a consideration that includes independent genre analysis at advanced levels. Formative assessment is key to creating meaningful arcs and spirals that are appropriate to our students’ needs at different stages of the learning continuum.

Photo of a fractal by Fiona Art on Pexels.com

The course’s arcs and spirals are designed to foster deep and internalized learning. ERWC thus presents a template for transfer—an iterative process for engaging and responding to texts that sharpens students’ ability to detect similarities in dissimilarities. Like fractals, this curricular model is unendingly generative.

The approach we aspire to take in ERWC is as complex, creative, and beautiful as the students we serve. At its best, the curriculum takes learners on a journey guided by the intricate movements of their own intellectual growth.


*ERWC is a rigorous, rhetoric-based English language arts and English language development curriculum for grades 7-12. Teachers access the instructional modules through Cal State University’s introductory ERWC professional learning sessions, available free-of-charge to educators in California. Please direct queries for out-of-state ERWC professional learning opportunities and curriculum access to jbathina@calstate.edu.

For more information on the ERWC, including how to register for a 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 a former high school teacher. She serves as the Chair of the ERWC Steering Committee. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenJFletcher.

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.

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.

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.