How the ERWC Fosters Independent Learners

By Anne Porterfield

A key pedagogical strategy embedded in California State University’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) is for teachers to release control to students so that students can guide their own learning. Findings from a study of the ERWC, which was funded by an Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant, suggests that many of the teachers who taught it were successful in supporting students to take ownership of their learning.

According to some teachers, the texts and topics are highly engaging because they are relevant to students’ lives. For example, two popular modules–On Leaving I On Staying Behind and The Distance Between Us–include stories about immigration; some of the students saw their own families’ stories in those stories, which allowed them to enter the conversation with the text and one another.

In addition to the ERWC soliciting a high level of student engagement, teachers in the study reported that the ERWC prepares students for college. One way ERWC teachers in the study did this was by structuring discussions in ways that invited students to participate. This built students’ confidence and motivation to participate, allowing the discussions to become more student-led and inquiry-based. The hope is that, when students get to college, they will know how to engage in meaningful discussions with their peers without scaffolding.

Helping Students Set Meaningful Learning Goals

Despite all of the progress ERWC teachers saw their students make towards becoming independent learners, there is still one major area of growth: supporting students to set meaningful learning goals. The most prevalent concern among teachers is that learning goals are inauthentic for students. In other words, students just write down what they think the teacher wants to hear. 

ERWC Steering Committee member Dr. Ginny Crisco suggested some possible solutions in our forthcoming publication, which included teaching students how to look at data in order to develop learning goals and creating a climate of self-assessment and reflection. One tool teachers can use to do that is the Cycle for Cultivating Expert Learners, which includes the following components:

  • Emphasize a culturally sustaining and accessible inquiry approach to learning.
  • Practice mastery oriented goal setting  – focusing on both academic and academically related personal goals – to help students highlight how they are purposefully moving through a process of literacy development.
  • Offer choices for learning via engagement, action and expression, and representation, emerging from goals, that are also culturally sustaining and accessible.
  • Integrate formative assessment – that both students and teachers complete in relation to students’ work – to provide regular feedback about “where am I going?,” “where have I been?” and “where to next?” (Unrau 2019).
  • Evaluate student performance (and have them evaluate it) through summative assessment.
  • Cultivate constructive metacognition (Gorzelski et al 2016) through reflection across writing contexts and tasks.

Please see the ERWC Teaching Resource “Universal Design for Learning for the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum” for more information on the Cycle for Cultivating Expert Learners.

Do you have suggestions for how to support students to take ownership of their learning goals? If so, please use the comment box below to share your ideas! 

Anne Porterfield is a Program Associate at WestEd and one of the authors of the new report Expanding the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum: An Evaluation of an Investing in Innovation Validation Grant (2022). She tweets @anneporterfield.

References

Fong, A., Porterfield, A., Skjoldhorne, S., & Hadley, L. (2022). Expanding the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum: An evaluation of an Investing in Innovation Validation grant. WestEd. https://www.wested.org/resources/expanding-the-erwc-evaluation/

Unrau, N. (2019). Formative assessment for ERWC. Curriculum Overview Document. Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, 3rd Edition. Long Beach, CA: California State University. https://writing.csusuccess.org/content/formative-assessment