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.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the ERWC, including how to register for a workshop, please visit the following websites:
ERWC Online Community:
CSU Center for the Advancement of Reading and Writing: https://www2.calstate.edu/CAR/Pages/erwc.aspx
ERWC Workshop Registration:
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.