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.

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.

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 @JenJFletcher.