This year’s CATE Convention is set in beautiful Monterey, and the theme for 2023 is “Sea Changes: Traditions and Transformations in California English Language Arts.” If you have not yet registered for the conference (Friday, March 3rd through Sunday, March 5th), please see your registration options. And if you will be attending the conference, check out this helpful video before you arrive: Know Before You Go .
CATE 2023 provides a special opportunity to engage with ERWC teacher leaders, steering committee members, and your ERWC colleagues as we all look forward to an exciting series of ERWC-focused sessions. This year, we have a record 11 sessions in the ERWC strand. Consider attending some of the ERWC sessions, all of which exemplify the ways in which equitable learning opportunities are nurtured and sustained through ERWC’s rhetorical approach to literacy and language learning.
Please join our ERWC community in Monterey as we embrace this opportunity to learn from one another, share best practices, and engage in professional learning together in this beautiful seaside setting. Watch for an announcement about a Saturday evening ERWC reception, too.
And new this year will be the addition of an ERWC booth in the exhibit hall. Join us at the ERWC booth to connect with ERWC Steering Committee members, teacher leaders, and your colleagues for the latest ERWC information, give aways, and more!
Please share the save-the-date flyer and Call for Presenters for this summer’s annual ERWC literacy conferences with interested colleagues.
Chris Street is a Professor of Secondary Education at California State University, Fullerton. He helps lead the statewide implementation of ERWC as a professional learning facilitator, module author, and member of the ERWC Steering Committee.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on Matthew Johnson’s blog and is republished here with the author’s permission. The ERWC community is excited to announce that Matt will be the featured speaker for our February 16th webinar at 4:30 p.m. PST. Registration is free!
At NCTE 2022 Matt Kay once again proved why he is one of the all-time greats when he made an argument for writing teachers to approach community building as thoughtfully as they approach designing a lesson or crafting a writing prompt. His reasoning went like this: The primary audience for students–especially in a modern classroom that is full of group work, discussion, projects, and choice–is not the teacher; it is each other. As adolescents, they are constantly and somewhat obsessively watching, comparing and contrasting with, and performing for each other. If they have strong community and relationships, or in other words, their relationship with their primary classroom audience is strong, everything done in the classroom will benefit.
I have a hunch that most teachers reading this will likely know this already at some level. They will know how smoothly discussions and peer response and projects go in that section that has truly gelled and how difficult those things can be in the class that hasn’t quite come together yet. What makes Kay’s point different and important from the general argument that community is important is that he points out that even when we know that community is important, we also tend to quietly and often unconsciously downgrade it as a second tier concern. It is something to focus on during the first few weeks of the year or after the lessons are planned, email is cleared, and all papers have responses.
At NCTE Kay sought to remind us that community building is a top-tier concern, one that we should loudly proclaim as important and keep our eye on, not just during the first week, but throughout the whole school year.
Kay also gave a simple, effective recipe for how to build a strong, supportive community all year long:
First, explain directly why community building matters. Don’t assume that students know why sharing good news or engaging in a silly competition or having a cookie contest before winter break will help them.
Then systematize it. Community-building is often the first thing to get bumped and it can be scattershot. Kay argues that when community building is dropped in favor of content or done haphazardly, the message is clear to students: it doesn’t matter as much as other aspects of the classroom, which can cause them to disinvest from it. Kay’s suggestion to avoid this is to ritualize it: “[When building community], make sure there is an every Monday we do this. Every Tuesday we do this. Every Wednesday we do this…” By systematizing it and pinning specific community building elements to specific days we can show its value and protect against dropping it when things get busy.
Then keep it up all year. Community building in the first few weeks is expected, but continuing it once the crush of our class’s content comes upon us is not always easy. If we want community to run deep though our classes, we need to have the same commitment in week 34 that we have in week 1.
I have written a lot about community over the years because I feel that it is the secret sauce for what makes a learning community–and especially a writing learning community–truly great. And yet, truth be told, I’m not sure I explain its value enough after the first week, have it as organized as it could be, or am as dogged as I could be about ensuring it doesn’t get bumped as the year pushes forward.
Kay’s reminder was just what I needed, as I have a feeling that community will be critically important when we face the challenges of 2023, ranging from making it through this tripledemic winter of illness to the rise of AIs like ChatGPT.
Matthew M. Johnson is a teacher, author, and literacy leader whose books include Flash Feedback and Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Middle and High School ELA with Matthew R. Kay and Dave Stuart Jr. You can follow Matt @a2matthew and chat with him live during the ERWC webinar on February 16th at 4:30 PST.