Academic journal article English Journal

From English Language Arts Teacher to Literacy Expert: Reimagining Our Roles

Academic journal article English Journal

From English Language Arts Teacher to Literacy Expert: Reimagining Our Roles

Article excerpt

As districts continue to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), English language arts (ELA) teachers and content-area teachers may find themselves collaborating in sur- prising and welcome new ways. The CCSS's empha- sis on reading and writing across all content areas provides an opportunity for ELA teachers to emerge as "literacy experts" in their schools and beyond. Since 2011, teacher-leaders in the Missouri Writing Projects Network1 (MWPN) have embraced this challenge. Supported by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MWPN sites designed professional learning programs that focused on literacy learning in both the content- area and career and technical education (CTE) class- rooms. Although no two programs were the same (see Table 1), as we shared our experiences across the network we identified common themes and developed a framework of beliefs to guide our work. In this article, we share our framework along with examples of strategies and activities that could be adapted by teachers to lead literacy efforts in their own contexts.

Our Framework

As members of the National Writing Project (NWP), we are guided by NWP's core principles (see http://www.nwp.org). Included in these is a belief in teacher agency, a belief that teachers are the most important leaders in their own development and in school change. As we considered literacy- focused professional development for content-area and CTE teachers, we knew we had to focus on the specific needs and knowledge of these teachers. Non- ELA teachers had to be expressly invited to join the community of literacy educators; they also had to feel that their own expertise was acknowledged and honored. The literacy strategies we provided had to be grounded in the authentic contexts of their class- rooms and serve their real teaching needs, includ- ing a need to teach vocabulary and a need to help students reflect on their learning. Each of these ideas became one of the key elements of our framework.

Building Community

For many non-ELA teachers, the prospect of teach- ing literacy strategies-and specifically of asking students to write-can be terrifying. Therefore, creating a culture of collaboration is essential to effective literacy professional development for these teachers. We found several strategies useful in cre- ating this sense of community.

First, professional learning facilitators need to establish credibility with participants. One of our sites chose a team of content-area teachers to lead the professional development, with an ELA teacher in the role of mentor or coach. These content-area facilitators had experience using literacy strate- gies in their own classrooms, but also knew well the sense of discomfort the participants might feel. They were able to serve as experienced guides, with the ELA teacher available to offer additional strate- gies or ideas. Other sites selected facilitators with experience collaborating with colleagues across dis- ciplines. Many of our programs included content- area and CTE teachers in the planning and design of professional development; facilitators in this project approached the work with humility and a willingness to learn from non-ELA participants.

Dedicating time to community-building activities was a second component to building trust. Professional development participants were asked to take risks in their classrooms and to share the results at meetings; without a sense of trust in the group, this would have been an unfair request. Facilitators deliberately selected community-build- ing activities that included literacy strategies and could be used by participants in their own class- rooms. The Kagan Inside Outside Circle strategy proved to be popular as the group quickly realized it could be used for purposes ranging from com- munity building to clarifying and comprehending new material to reviewing for a test. During this strategy, students form two different circles: half of the group stands in a circle facing outward while the other half forms a circle around them facing inward. …

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