Third Grade ELA EISD Literacy Philosophy
Eanes ISD is committed to the literate lives of our students. Our educators use creative approaches and adapt their methodologies to respond to individual learners. We respect diversity in teaching styles and expect pedagogy that exemplifies sound theory and effective practices. In support of that expectation, teachers have access to ongoing professional learning to improve their craft. According to the International Literacy Association, “Teachers of all disciplines ‘must know how to create a classroom culture of engaged academic literacy’ for student success” (“Collaborating for Success,” 5). Although literacy practices vary depending on the academic discipline and teacher, all disciplines, at every grade level, can develop students’ literate lives through reading, writing, listening, speaking, and thinking. In a broad sense, literacy in the 21st century can be defined as the ability to-
- Gain proficiency with tools of technology
- Develop relationships with others and confront and solve problems
- collaboratively and cross-culturally
- Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
- Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
- Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
- Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.
- (“The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies”)
In Eanes ISD, our goal is to ensure every student has not only the capacity to proficiently perform these actions but also the depth of understanding and skill to be innovative and iterative.
The Eanes ISD Graduate Profile outlines target skills and characteristics for our students. Descriptors in four of the five areas of the profile closely mirror the National Council of Teachers of English definition of 21st Century Literacies.
While descriptors of success guide our work in Eanes ISD, careful planning for student growth over a thirteen-year educational career and beyond makes achievement of the profile possible. That planning entails creating a guaranteed and viable curriculum, a key characteristic of successful schools identified through the research of Dr. Robert Marzano. “There are two distinct components in the concept of a guaranteed and viable curriculum: The fact that it is guaranteed assures us that specific content is taught in specific courses and at specific grade levels, regardless of the teacher to whom a student is assigned. The fact that it is viable indicates that there is enough instructional time available to actually teach the content identified as important” (Marzano, Dufour, 90). Eanes’ educators design our curriculum documents beginning with the end, the Graduate Profile, in mind. The documents that capture the planning of Eanes’ educators include a scope and sequence for the year’s instruction and individual unit plans that provide deeper detail. A vertical alignment document maps informational and persuasive communication tasks representing key state standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). This document provides a clear picture of a student’s journey to become an Effective Communicator.
However, literacy does not spring from documents, no matter how thoughtfully designed. Delivering that curriculum through the best instructional practices and assessing student growth along the way are the craft of the classroom teacher. In order to build this craft, professional learning in our district has been focused on backward curriculum design, best instructional practices for student-centered learning and effective assessment to inform instruction and provide students feedback. All of this work is vital; transfer of literacy skills and understandings from kindergarten through graduation is no small task; however, success is non-negotiable since “literacy soon becomes the currency for all other learning” (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 3).
Designing Literacy Learning Experiences
The key to designing a powerful curriculum is to begin with the end in mind as outlined in Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe. Literacy work is anchored in the Graduate Profile’s Effective Communicator, one who “exchanges ideas and information through multiple forms of expression.” We are charged with designing a scaffold of opportunities for our students to explore the work of others, critically analyze craft, create original products, and hone their art in response to effective feedback. Backward design means sequencing those opportunities from the last in 12th grade down to the entry point in kindergarten, and designing those activities with a consideration for where we want students to end in 12th grade.
Across grade levels, disciplines, and genres, teachers can vary content to challenge students in a developmentally appropriate way in order to build their confidence. The balance between challenge and self-efficacy is crucial to vertically articulating the learning experiences of our students; therefore, design of reading, writing, speaking, and listening tasks is complex and recursive. A plan must be flexible enough to be responsive to student needs while ensuring learning experiences across a breadth of literacy skills and understandings. The Eanes ISD Oral and Written Communication Vertical Articulation document not only outlines guaranteed learning experiences but also reinforces continual growth in a workshop setting where students can study the work of others, create their own work, collaborate as apprentices, share their pieces with others and reflect on feedback in a safe environment. It is through this full process that transfer or long-term understanding occurs, and the goal of graduates who are effective communicators is realized.
Delivering Literacy Learning Experiences
The best curriculum plans will fall short if not delivered through the best instructional practices. These instructional practices affect student achievement—in this case, achievement in the craft of literacy. Consider how craft in any area is developed. Artists grow their craft through the study of others’ work, experimentation in the studio and feedback from colleagues and patrons. Artists spend endless hours in their studios, practicing techniques: in museums, copying works of masters to uncover how visual effects were created; in labs, experimenting with their media and tools, or using technology to create their work. They can be found at galleries, fairs, and exhibitions simultaneously “publishing” works and gathering feedback from patrons and colleagues for revision. The instructional practices for developing literate readers, writers, speakers and listeners parallel the development of the artists’ craft. For this reason, Eanes ISD has adopted the genre-based workshop model of instruction best described in Study
Driven by Katie Wood Ray (80).
Time A regularly scheduled, healthy chunk of time when students work on pieces of writing and develop stamina for the process.
Talk A predictable time and space where students talk with others about their writing.
Expectation An expectation that students will regularly finish pieces of writing. filling a portfolio by year’s end.
Vision An expectation that students will write with vision and that for their finished pieces of writing they can answer the question, “What have I read that is like what you’re trying to write?”
Through the workshop model, our students engage in literacy practices through regular cycles of inquiry, collaboration, communication, and production and performance tasks. During these cycles, students learn that reading supports writing, and writing supports reading. Teachers “have a responsibility to share with students how to read, write, speak, listen, research, and think like experts in subject areas. In this model, students act as apprentices to a content area expert as the teacher helps students through their struggle with complex materials in ways that are relevant to the discipline” (Greenleaf et al., 2014). In order to successfully fulfill this responsibility, teachers participate in professional learning structured as a workshop, experiencing “challenge, self-efficacy and clear learning intentions with success criteria…the global factors that impact understanding.” (Fisher, Frey and Hattie 21). Teachers who have been able to grow their teaching craft through ongoing workshop-based professional learning are successfully providing Eanes’ students a similar setting in which to learn, grow and transfer the necessary literacy skills and understandings they must have in the 21st century. It is an Eanes ISD expectation that all teachers will participate in the professional learning within three years of joining the district.
Assessing Literacy Growth
Assessment is essential to inform instruction, adjust the curriculum plan, and, most importantly, encourage student growth. A continuum of assessment strategies provides data which guides both teachers and students through the grade levels. The most public yet sporadic assessment is the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). On this assessment, our students perform well and demonstrate growth in tested areas. Literacy instruction is key to this trend, and our teachers and students recognize this measure as meaningful; however, due to the nature of changing students, tasks and passages, and large gaps in time between writing assessments, it is very difficult to be confident about growth from year to year.
Other assessment practices include district common assessments designed by our teachers. These designated assessments are connected to the literacy tasks outlined in the course scope and sequence and the unit plans, and are designated in the vertical alignment document. Common assessments provide more valuable information for teachers and students than state testing because they can be compared across campuses and from year to year due to consistency of content and expectations.
At the district level, common assessments inform iterations of planning for a guaranteed and viable curriculum. At the campus level, our teachers collaborate through professional learning communities, asking themselves four key questions:
- What is it we want our students to learn?
- How will we know if each student has learned it?
- How will we respond when some students do not learn it?
- How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency? (Dufour, et al. 119)
Because of this work, our teachers are clear about what the expectations outlined in the guaranteed and viable curriculum really mean (question 1); they determine measures of progress at key checkpoints along the way (question 2); they plan what is needed to ensure the success, confidence, and self-efficacy of every student (question 3), and how they might challenge students who are already proficient in the task (question 4).
The most important assessments conducted in the workshop setting are formative in nature. Because of meaningful and timely feedback at key points in the reading and writing processes, students can respond immediately to improve their craft and understanding. Students use writer’s notebooks and reading journals to collect ideas and learning as well as portfolios to collect process work and completed pieces. Both writer’s notebooks and portfolios are resources for self-reflection on individual pieces or on trends over time. Self-reflection is a vital habit of an effective communicator and lifelong learner.
Developing the Graduate: Effective Communicator and Life-long Learner
Literacy practices in Eanes are guided by a belief that learning to read and learning to write are lifelong processes. We approach learning these processes in both intellectual and practical ways, particularly focusing on eight habits of mind that are essential to lifelong learning and effective communication. These habits of mind are defined in the
Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing:
- Curiosity – the desire to know more about the world.
- Openness – the willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world.
- Engagement – a sense of investment and involvement in learning.
- Creativity – the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and
- representing ideas.
- Persistence – the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and longterm projects.
- Responsibility – the ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others.
- Flexibility – the ability to adapt to situations, expectations, or demands.
- Metacognition – the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge.
In order to develop these habits of mind and 21st century literacy skills, our students need learning environments that cultivate an open mind set. In response to clear learning intentions with success criteria, they need opportunities to make choices about their own learning. In each field of study, such choices include the ability to use individual approaches to the processes of the discipline as well as literacy strategies anchoring their understanding. “The teacher does not hold any instructional strategy in higher esteem than his or her students’ learning.” (Fisher, Frey and Hattie, pg. 41)
Our students also need time to pursue their interests and time to talk about their studies and productions with others. This talk is part of collaborative time for producing together and receiving feedback on individual and collaborative work. For this talk to have the desired effect, students need a safe environment where they can take risks in their learning. The outcome is engagement driven by authentic desire to meet a challenge; it is in this realm that a true workshop setting nurtures creativity and ensures individual growth.
Students need strategies for adapting their work and ideas to address challenges they face in reading and writing. Finally, and related to these strategies, students need time to reflect on their own learning, how and why the processes they are using are or are not working. This reflection will help them transfer their learning from one context to another. In a larger sense, this work develops a sense of self-efficacy, which Hattie (2012) defines as “the confidence or strength of belief that we have in ourselves that we can make our learning.” (p. 45)
Overall, in Eanes ISD, we believe in the importance of literacy education for all students as life-long learners. Thoughtfully planned and vertically aligned literacy tasks guarantee a sequence of learning experiences designed to develop effective communicators (Oral and Written Communication Vertical Alignment). To that end, our philosophy is to grow together through the workshop model, carefully balancing opportunities to read, write, speak, listen, and most importantly develop effective communicators (Eanes’ Reading and Writing Philosophies).
Valerie Taylor, Humanities Instructional Partner, Westlake High School
Amanda O’Daniel, Assistant Principal, Eanes Elementary
Beth Keith, Director of Humanities