The following blog post is a final project for one of my graduate classes this fall at Michigan State University – TE846: Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learners.
Disciplinary Literacy Project
The project calls for a unit that I teach to be reviewed and revised to embed literacy support and accommodation. Instead of sharing unit and lesson plans, the assignment encouraged us to share ideas in an effective way of our choice to showcase how students are supported within the classroom. I have decided to share via a blog post that way others can read about my thoughts about how I can provide best practice literacy support and accommodation for my students.
Article of the Week – Unit at a Glance
The Article of the Week (AoW) unit that is studied in my English courses was developed by Kelly Gallagher, an English educator and author in California. Gallagher’s purpose for assigning these nonfiction texts was to provide his students with information to enhance their prior and background knowledge in order for them to be stronger readers, writers, and thinkers.
I learned of this assignment after reading Gallagher’s Readicide (2009) during one of the graduate courses at Michigan State University that I took during my teaching internship year. The concept of providing students with current event and nonfiction articles each week was appealing because it allowed my students to learn about a relevant issue or topic, while also practicing literacy skills.
Upon entering my own classroom in 2015, I began assigning Article of the Week (AoW) to my students. Teaching 7th, 10th, and 12th grades that first year, allowed me to explore the assignment with a variety of learners.
Throughout that year, the assignment’s requirements developed into various tasks for the students to complete, such annotating the text, identifying important information, reflecting on their thoughts and opinions about the topic(s) covered in the article, and being prepared for small group and whole class discussions.
The reflective writing has students writing in a Writer’s Notebook. My idea for the Writer’s Notebook originated from Jeff Anderson’s set up of a Writer’s Notebook in Mechanically Inclined (2005).
During the spring semester, a final project was developed based on inquiry-based research and activism – the Take Action Project. This project tasked students to take action on an issue they previously read about or wanted to connect to within a previous Article of the Week.
This project was inspired by the book, The Activist Learner (2014) by Jeffrey Wilhelm. The book details how service learning can be fueled by student inquiry. The Take Action Project requires students to find a different audience than myself and their peers, be a positive activist, and negotiate with the new audience on a topic or issue that they care about.
This project spans a month and a half and includes the following assessments:
- Formative Assessments
- Project Proposal #1 – Individual
- Project Proposal #2 – Group Proposal or Revised Individual
- Weekly Check In’s with Mr. Woodcock to ensure progress
- Summative Assessments
- Individual/Group Presentation
- Individual Reflection
Disciplinary Literacy Support and Accommodation
When I was reviewing both the Article of the Week (AoW) assignments and the Take Action Project (TAP), I realized there needed to be more literacy support for English Language Learners and students who struggle with reading comprehension and writing tasks. This support would take note of the students’ strengths and build on them to help them feel more confident with the assignments within the unit,
The following are literacy supports for me to include moving forward. The AoW supports will go into affect immediately, while the Take Action Project supports will go into effect when the assignment is assigned this spring.
Article of the Week Assignment Supports
Reading nonfiction texts can often be tricky and difficult, especially for students who are English Language Learners or who struggle with reading fluency and comprehension. If I assign a text that has topics that students are not interested in, the task becomes even more difficult for them because the interest is not there.
One of the ways that I plan on combating these hurdles is to provide audio recordings of me reading the Article of the Week aloud. I am beginning to tinker with YouTube to figure out both privacy settings and copyright laws to be able to provide this service to students. Recently, I provided one of my classes with an audio recording of a short story that we read for class.
The audio recording will provide students with correct pronunciation of the words in the article and a guide for their own reading practices. Students will be able to listen to the text as many times as they need to listen to it, as well.
In addition to listening to an audio recording of the article, students who struggle with reading fluency and comprehension and/or who may be learning English will be provided with a vocabulary/common phrase list to help explain common words that native English speakers take for granted.
For example, a recent Article of the Week had a lot of my students concerned about what General Motors was planning on doing with their cars:
The use of the words “kill” and “killing” are being used in a different way than the common understanding. Words and phrases such as this will be identified in each Article of the Week to help students build on their prior knowledge and continue to strengthen their English and/or reading comprehension.
The AoW assignment promotes close reading and writing. For most students, regardless of ability, the writing requirement each week begins a tough task. “Write a full page about [topic]?! I can’t do that! I’ve never had to write that much in my life!”
As the year goes on and student practice reflective writing each week the task becomes less of a challenge. Student writing also improves along with the ability support thoughts and opinions about a variety of topics.
Some writers struggle throughout the year, most of the time on getting started with their reflective writing. Prompts often vary, but are always tied to a student’s thoughts, beliefs, or opinions connecting to the article.
Here are the reflective prompts from the AoW about General Motors:
- Do you think General Motors’s decisions are good or bad? Why?
- Do you think people will ever want to buy cars again in the future? Why or why not?
- Do you think President Trump’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s responses are appropriate or not? Why?
- Select a passage and respond to it.
Moving forward, I will provide reflection starters for students who have difficulties writing or getting started, along with students who may not know how to get started with their writing. This literacy support is intended for all students as raising writing efficacy is always a priority.
Reflection starters for the prompts above are provided
Do you think General Motors’s decisions are good or bad? Why?
Reflection Starter: I think General Motors’s decisions are __________ (good or bad) because __________ (list one or two reasons why). [Begin talking about your first reason and explain it.] [Now talk about your second reason and explain it.]
Do you think people will ever want to buy cars again in the future? Why or why not?
Reflection Starter: I think people __________ (will or will not) want to buy small cars again because__________ (list one or two reasons why). [Begin talking about your first reason and explain it.] [Now talk about your second reason and explain it.] [Also include thoughts, feelings, reactions, connected to you, your family, your friends, experiences in your life, etc.]
Do you think President Trump’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s responses are appropriate or not? Why?
Reflection Starter: I think President Trump’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s responses are __________ (appropriate not appropriate) because __________ (list one or two reasons why). [Begin talking about your first reason and explain it.] [Now talk about your second reason and explain it.] [Also include thoughts, feelings, reactions, connected to you, your family, your friends, experiences in your life, etc.]
Reflection Starter: I think (President Trump’s or Prime Minister Trudeau’s) responses to General Motors closing down plants and cutting jobs was (appropriate or not appropriate) because (list one or two reasons why). [Begin talking about your first reason and explain it.] [Now talk about your second reason and explain it.] [Also include thoughts, feelings, reactions, connected to you, your family, your friends, experiences in your life, etc.]
Select a passage and respond to it.
Reflection Starter: I selected the passage about (summarize passage) because (list one or two reasons why). [Begin talking about your first reason and explain it.] [Now talk about your second reason and explain it.] [Also include thoughts, feelings, reactions, connected to you, your family, your friends, experiences in your life, etc.]
I’m looking forward to seeing how these reflection starters assist students in their reflective writing practices.
Take Action Project & Presentation Supports
After students had taken action on the issue/topic of choice, it was time to come together and write the report. This report resembled a lab report and was very cumbersome to students and myself in both the creation of it and the grading of it. This can be shown by the rubric below:
After two years of reports, I decided to change the report into a digital one AND have students present on it. The modification allowed students to write digitally and organize their process and information in a way that made sense to them. Presenting allowed students to prepare a speech on their project and continue honing their presentation skills. Here is the rubric that was used to assess the presentations:
Writing digitally and for a presentation presents it’s challenges, and through my review of this unit, I learned that I was not teaching my students how to write and give an excellent presentation.
The literacy support that I will now provide students with this type of writing is a mini-unit on presenting. I have presentations that I have recorded over the years. I have each student’s permission to show their presentations as examples for future students. These mentor texts will provide my students with the opportunity to see peers’ presentations, along with their writing choices for the project.
Inquiry & Collaboration
Prior to being placed in a group or working individually on the Take Action project, I had been showing students a list of the topics covered over the course of the year through the Article of the Week.
Students would then mull over the options, flip through their Writer’s Notebooks, and then decide on which topic or issue they were going to investigate. Each student was then assigned an individual proposal to complete and then indicate whether or not they wanted to work with others.
Instead of merely providing them with a list, I think it would be better to ignite students’ thoughts, opinions, and beliefs once again by reviewing the topics through dialogic approach similar to what VanDerHeide, Juzwik, and Dunn suggest in their article titled “Teaching and Learning Argumentation in English: A Dialogic Approach” (2016).
Some Article of the Weeks (AoWs) are discussed at the end of the week, while others are not. This activity for dialogue about each AoW will provide students with a review of the topics covered, a chance to hear from multiple perspectives about the issues raised in the articles, and spark a desire for further inquiry into an issue or topic. Once students hear from their peers about all of the AoWs studied that year, they will then be able to make an informed decision about what they will want to tackle in the project and be able to explain their inquiry further in the proposal.
Collaboration between students is key to the Take Action project working. When placing students into groups academic abilities, particularly their strengths are to be considered. The current cap for students to work in a group for this project is four, but after reviewing this project’s lack of support systems, and I going to be more flexible and ensure that students are placed with other students that can provide academic support.
In addition, I need to be “out and about” in the classroom when students are working together to ensure that students are talking to each other and working cohesively on tasks assigned by both me and them to be successful with their project. Rather than play catch up or mediator at weekly progress check meetings and need to be more proactive in listening to my students’ thinking on a daily basis.
I am thankful for this project allowing me to reevaluate one of my favorite projects to assign my students. I believe that these literacy support systems will help my students build and strengthen their reading, writing, inquiry, and collaboration skills both in my classroom and in the future.
Do you assign a similar activist/service learning project? What does it look like? How do you support students’ learning and literacy? Let me know! Looking forward to hearing about it and learning from you!