Mini-Modules: Teaching for Transfer

Mini-Modules. What are they? How do they differ from full length centered on issues? And why are my students saying that these were the most fun out of all the modules I taught this past year?

All these questions are answered in this episode of The Teaching ERWC Podcast, where I talk with Nelson Graff of California State University, Monterey Bay. We clear up the purpose of Mini-Modules, how they can help us ERWC teachers stay accountable to teaching transferrable skills to our students, and why they are designed to be fun and memorable.

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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.