Developing a Bilingual, Culturally-Relevant Writers’ Workshop in the Elementary Grades: Supporting students in discovering their voice as writers
At many schools with a large bilingual population, student’s cultural and linguistic resources must guide instruction in order for children of color to find success in the current educational system. Caroline Sweet and her colleagues at Perez Elementary School in Austin, TX hoped to develop on site a model of writers’ workshop that embraces bilingualism and incorporates students’ cultural backgrounds. They believed that what is developed at Perez can guide other campuses desiring a high-quality bilingual writers’ workshop as a model for developing students’ written expression while simultaneously giving students agency in their learning.
What were the project goals?
The goals of their project, Developing a Bilingual, Culturally-Relevant Writers’ Workshop in the Elementary Grades, fall into three categories.
- Implement a writers’ workshop model in language arts instruction across the campus in Kindergarten through 5th grade.
- As Caroline’s school has a strong dual language program, they needed to merge their dual language program model with the tenets of writers’ workshop to reflect the biliteracy development of their students as readers and writers.
- Caroline also wanted to ensure their students develop a positive self-identity throughout their school experience. To accomplish this goal, they used culturally-relevant literature as mentor texts throughout writers’ workshop.
What was their process to accomplish their goals?
- They consulted with the Heart of Texas Writing Project (HTWP) at the University of Texas to train K-2 teachers on the foundational concepts of writers workshop.
- They partnered with the Austin Independent School District to provide, two full-day professional development sessions to where their consultant from the HTWP and a language arts curriculum specialist from the district trained K-2nd grade teachers on writers’ workshop as this method of teaching was new to most of the teachers in the sessions.
- The trainers of the professional development sessions modeled lesson ands and teachers watched writers’ workshop mini-lessons conducted by their colleagues.
- Caroline co-taught with a first grade teacher for a week long unit.
- Their consultant from the HTWP co-taught with a first grade teacher once a week for 6 weeks.
- Their first grade team members provided peer observations frequently.
What did they accomplish?
- They have helped teachers change their mindset about what is writing through lengthy conversations among colleagues about how letter formation and handwriting is an element of instruction outside of the writers’ workshop. They are working on valuing the production of our emergent writers.
- They celebrated the writing products of their youngest writers with writing displays and held celebratory publishing parties in K-2 in which parents and community members were invited to read students published work
- The built a community that continually supports teachers
- Caroline has planned a full day planning session with their constant from the HTWP.
- Caroline and their consultant from the HTWP have invited all K-5th grade teachers to attend two trainings in which the goal of the trainings is for teachers to create at least a two week unit based on a genre study framework.
- Some of the teachers at Perez Elementary school submitted proposals to present at professional conferences regarding the writers’ workshop methods they are using their classroom. They hoped they will grow many teacher leaders.
- Several of the teachers have been accepted to the Heart of Texas Writers Project Summer Training Program, which is part of the National Writing Project to further their knowledge and training in the teaching of writers.
What are their ideas for improvement?
- Peer Observation: continue more focused peer observations in K-2nd grades that include debriefs to allow for support especially in content focused coaching and utilize explicit protocols that involve pre-conferences, observation, and post conferences
- Evaluation of Student Products: Allow for planning time to continue to create and improve the rubric for K-2nd grades and then create the differentiated rubric for 3rd-5th graders. Further discussion and planning should occur regarding language of choice and building opportunities to create variety in audience choice.
- Buy-in: some teachers were ready and willing to try new ways of teaching based on the training they received. Some teachers had more difficulty understanding the need for writers workshop in their classroom. They would like to create a shared mission to allow students to guide learning and implement responsive teaching practices.
- Planning: More planning time was needed to create units with culturally relevant texts to give students experience in a variety of genres. They are thinking the planning component with culturally-relevant texts might need to occur as part of their professional development days.
- Collaboration with Biliteracy Committee: They will work with the biliteracy committee to add writers’ workshop into the biliteracy framework as an essential pedagogical element in each classroom whether the classroom is a dual language classroom or not. They would like to define how they use language in the writers’ workshop that promotes biliteracy.
- Empowering Students as Multilingual Writers with Writer’s Workshop
- 5 Ways Culturally Responsive Teaching Benefits Learners
- Fostering Identity Safety in Your Classroom
Teachers and students need textbooks to be useful and relevant. With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013, the Science Department at Chapman High School in Chapman, Kansas, wanted to find a way to incorporate the NGSS as well as the Common Core Standards into classroom curriculum. In the process, they discovered that the textbooks they were currently using no longer met the needs of their students and classroom. In this update from Future 2,000 Common Core, you’ll hear about how educators used eBooks to meet curriculum goals for Physical Science, Biology, and Chemistry and improve understanding of standards while improving the students’ access to resources and increasing their motivation.
How does eBook creation improve curriculum?
Chapman High School science educators led by Sara Cook explained that starting with a blank canvas enabled them to “include the essential curriculum that students need to know rather than having them sifting through unnecessary material.” They planned to integrate multimedia, virtual labs, student work samples, projects, activities, and more. eBooks would allow their curriculum to come alive in ways that would engage students more than normal textbooks do. They focused on featuring student work to increase the expectation for projects over time. “They will make studying and teaching more effective,” Cook stated, “most importantly, we have the ability to revise and edit the books to best meet the needs of their students.”
According to project report, the goal was to create a book that met “the individual learning needs of their students, and better incorporates the Common Core Standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards.”
An additional goal was to produce a textbook that the students would be able to access at anytime that could be easily updated with a changing curriculum. By saving a .pdf copy of the iBook and uploading the iBook to a website, the students could have access to the book on any web-based device.
How did educators evolve their curriculum with eBooks?
Participating educators started the project with a professional development day to learn how to use iBooks Author, a free software created by Apple for eBook creation on the Mac or iPad. Throughout the year they scheduled 4 other professional development days to work on eBook creation. During the school year, they collected student work to be featured in the book for the next group of students. Sara Cook published the eBooks online for all students to access and to share the project progress, you can view them at:
Below are some screenshots from a few of the eBook offerings created by Future 2,000 Common Core.
What did they discover?
All of the iBooks, except one, were used with students over the course of the year. The students are enjoyed viewing and using the books on the iPad and Computers. Students liked having access to the book at home especially when they were absent from class. Also, students loved competing to become “published.” They seemed to be excited about their work being used as an example for future classes.
As far as teaching, the creation of the eBooks allowed the department time to become more familiar with both the NGSS and Common Core standards. They were able to find better videos, animations, labs, websites and other resources to meet the needs of the new standards. Cook stated, “We personally feel like we have a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses of our curriculum than we did last year at this time. Since our iBooks are Standards Based, this has also allowed us to start discussing the possibility of integrating Standards Based Grading into our Curriculum. This would allow us to better see what our students know and don’t know in relation to the NGSS. Most importantly, this grant has provided us with time to collaborate and develop content that can be used in our classroom, which directly benefits our students.”
What advice would they give to others?
The biggest challenge for this team was the time that it takes to complete the eBook. It was their hope that they would complete more curriculum during the first year of the project. After the first work session, they quickly realized this process would take many more hours than initially expected. eBook creation is a time-consuming process to obtain content and find media appropriate to make the books as interactive as possible. However, they do feel that the time they are spending is well justified if it helps them meet the needs of their students.
One area of improvement for next year will be to come to the work sessions with all content, pictures and other resources already saved into files on the computer and ready to place into the book. This would allow more time to be spent on implementation & editing instead of gathering content. They plan to continue with work sessions during the summer and through next school year.
From a budget perspective, the project team learned that there were subscriptions for interactive simulations and labs that they wanted to incorporate into the eBooks. They decided to consider that as an important item in the next year’s grant budget, as the funding was not available from their institution.
If you would like to useeBook creation as a way of improving your curriculum, we recommend the following resources.
- Build Your Own Textbook (Audrey Watters, Edutopia, 2011)
- How to Create Your Own Textbook With or Without Apple (KQED Mindshift, 2012)
- CK12 Standards Aligned Flexbooks (CK-12 Foundation, 2016)
- Students as eBook Authors (The Creative Educator, 2014)
- NeBooks Teacher Resource Center (Nebraska Department of Education)
- Reading and Teaching with eBooks (EdTechTeacher)
It’s no secret that Lesson Study works.
There are many, well documented success stories and it has been used to great effect in Japan.
There’s a reason Japanese students consistently score in the top ten in the Organization for Economic Operation and Development’s Programme for Student Assessment. But today’s blog isn’t about Japan, it’s about improving the quality of elementary level science instruction and how the educators at Long Branch Elementary in Liverpool, New York are doing it.
What is lesson study?
For those that may not know, Lesson Study is a widely utilized collaborative professional development practice (2015, Wikipedia). Lesson Study starts with a group of educators that pick a content focus with the express purpose of preparing a research lesson. That group will convene regularly to share research, discuss national, state and local education policies and standards correlating to the subject at hand. This enables teachers from a wide variety of subjects and disciplines to cross-pollinate their ideas and research with one another in a directed and focused environment. By observing and critiquing each other’s lessons and delivery these educators are able to elevate each other’s abilities and knowledge base. And by the transitive property, the students are exposed to a well-constructed lesson plan.
How are the teachers at Long Branch Elementary using lesson study?
These educators decided to focus their lesson study efforts on the sciences, including studying a national framework for science education and how they could adopt it to fit their specific needs.
According to their proposal, they wanted to be guided by the following three questions:
- How do we design science instruction that makes students’ thinking visible?
- How can we meet our students’ needs and simultaneously address the new science framework?
- How will evidence of students’ learning be used to help us revise our original lesson?
What did they learn?
The project at Long Branch Elementary has been so successful that their program and teaching tools have spread to two other schools in the region, with educators from those schools now participating in the lesson study program. In addition, at the time of their report, they had three out of the four research cycles completed and implemented, with the final research team in the midst of their own cycle and well on their way to completion.
The educators participating expanded their knowledge base about claims/evidence, science content knowledge, and constructivist methods for teaching elementary science. The teachers also expressed “self-efficacy and confidence in regards to teaching claims and evidence, using inquiry-based instruction and teaching with student science notebooks.”
Teachers weren’t the only ones to benefit. Students had the opportunity to collect data, engage in scientific experimentation and increased the level of science knowledge throughout the course of the cycle.
How did Lesson Study support improved science instruction?
Understandings gleaned from the Lesson Study were used to inform instruction. For example, educators learned that it can be difficult to facilitate discussions with students with varying levels of comfort with the subject matter. Teachers report that teaching students to make claims based on evidence has been a bit of a pedagogical challenge, as the students tend to confuse evidence with claims. They also found that without visual aids, such as graphs and charts, the difficulty in communicating these ideas increased exponentially. These valuable understandings of what wasn’t working in the science research lessons provided educators with specific modifications they could make in their lessons to make student learning more effective.
What did they learn about implementing Lesson Study?
The structure of their school is not very supportive of lesson study which has forced them to start their meetings during the summer. They found they cast too wide a net when it came to getting the research groups started and think that scaling down the research lessons will improve the speed in which they can be implemented.
How can you make this work at your school?
Research and texts on lesson study are not hard to come by. The biggest challenge you can face is that your school does not have the time or resources to implement the necessary bits and pieces at study inception, however, once the process gets going the road gets easier as the work invested makes future studies easier. Bottom line? Lesson study works. Make it work for you.
Learn more about Lesson Study
Addressing the Knowledge Gap
Among the many challenges facing us in education one of our most formidable foes is the comprehension gap, across all content areas, between students of low socioeconomic status and those of high socioeconomic status.
E.D. Hirsch, The Case for Bringing Content Into The Language Arts Block and for a Knowledge Rich Curriculum Core for All Children American Educator, Spring 2006.
[T]his neglect of [content] knowledge is a major source of inequity, at the heart of the achievement gap between America’s poor and non-poor”
The Importance of Literacy Skills
While there are many factors that attribute to poor performance, one of the chief offenders is a lack of literacy skills. This is often noted at the college level when students are forced to take non-credit developmental education classes just to catch up to the basics. This both demoralizes the student as well as extending the amount of time they have to spend in, and thus pay for, college.
By expanding literary sources, however, we expand the sphere of knowledge surrounding the content areas. Students can gain a broader context of how a given subject fits into the larger narrative of the real world.
“If they want their students to learn complex new concepts in different disciplines, they [content teachers] often have to help their students become better readers…”Chris Tovani in her text Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?
Peer Assistance and Review (PAR): A Teacher Development Project
Teachers need to move beyond textbooks to increase their literary skills so that they can better communicate their subject to students. So how do we get a teacher to step away from the science textbook and into some Sagan or Hawking?
One of the ways we can work to address the knowledge gap is through the model of Peer Assistance and Review. In order to address inequity, our featured project at The School of the Future has done just that. With a Teacher Development Grant from McCarthey Dressman, The School of the Future helped improve the overall literacy of their teachers and subsequently their students.
Supports for Improved Content Literacy for Educators and Students
- Collaboratively Created Curriculum
Teachers in high school met after school and collaborated to develop, create, and implement a curriculum that would enhance their students’ ability to read and write in the content areas (History, Math, Science and Technology) across the 11th and 12th grade.
- Shared Texts Across Content Areas
The group worked together to come up with a list of shared texts across content areas. While history and science have obvious literary sources outside the textbook, with a subject like math the teachers could study the history of math and biographies of mathematicians to give a wider scope to how the content area applies to the real world.
- Content Literacy Support
Included was a training program for inexperienced or ineffective teachers to improve their literacy skills across their content area, specifically focusing on grades 11-12 to start.
The Difference: Educator Driven Approach
The difference between this program and previous initiatives aimed at teaching reading in the content areas was that previous efforts were top down administrative mandates that focused on ensuring uniformity in how reading, whereas the current effort was focused on expanding the teacher’s actual knowledge base. Past “one size fits all” approaches to teaching reading in the content areas failed to account for the fact that students read different types of texts in every content area.
The unique aspect to this program is its need for a personal “buy-in” from the teachers. Not a monetary buy-in, but those teachers who want to get involved will need to be willing to pull up their sleeves and put a little more time on the table.
The Impact: Students Identify and Analyze Printed and Non-Printed Texts
What have the teachers accomplished with this project?
During year one, five teachers (half the 11th/12th grade team) studied professional literature in their content areas to be able to implement a plan for teaching students to independently identify and analyze multiple non-fiction printed texts and non-print texts, at the student’s own instructional level, appropriate for the content of the class. Classroom visits and observations of each other in the form of Lesson Study, analysis of student growth, refinement of practice, creation of videos, continued throughout the year. In year two, participants in year one become “Anchor” teachers and shared best practices with the half of the team that was not previously involved (“Innovator Teachers”). For year three, the 11th/12th grade teacher team will mentor the 9th/10th grade team.
PAR provides teachers with the opportunity to work collaboratively to improve professional development. But it is not easy; successful implementation of PAR requires commitment, time, resources, cooperation and flexibility from the teachers involved. In successful PAR projects teachers play a key role in the support, assistance and review of their colleagues. Everyone has to pull their weight for the program to be successful
Teachers can look to existing program models, such as the California Peer Assistance and Review program to get some idea on how they can best start their own. Those who have experienced it emphasize that PAR models should only be used as reference tools, not as fixed templates, which could hinder the development and implementation of plans tailored to meet individual schools and students needs and goals.
Learn more about PAR