So I just began reading (and finished in a day) Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman. It got me thinking about how much literacy work we try to cram into ELA time, while neglecting it in other content areas. I had some real ah-has as I began to consider how we spread out the meeting of the ELA standards across disciplines, especially in the intermediate and middle school grades. I just started in my new district about 6 weeks ago and I have been struck about the collaboration between the ELA middle school teacher and our science and social studies teachers. Currently in 7th grade, they are working on Research-Based Argumentative writing. Both the science and the ELA teacher are working collaborating to support the reading and writing of text across the two content areas, not only using the same structure and exemplars for essay writing, but also thinking about the kind of reading within research topics they need to do across the two settings. Similarly, during the historical fiction reading unit, the Social Studies and ELA teachers collaborated, with the ELA teacher focusing on the fiction aspects and reading within the unit, while the Social Studies teacher increased the amount of nonfiction reading within those time periods to help the students gain a greater depth of understanding and background knowledge to support their ELA work. They have also gone so far on their cross-content area teams to study the same samples of student writing, to discuss the different lenses with which they examine the content and structure of the writing in order to get a better sense of how to assess the overall development of a writer. I have to say, while I have always thought this kind of work should be done, this is new thinking for me about how we teach literacy skills in content areas. It is also new thinking for me in how we achieve the demands of the common core. I am finding many places buying loads of nonfiction purely to satisfy the ELA demand of 70/30 in the upper grades, when in fact, we maybe need to closer scrutinize what we are currently using in our content areas, whether it is just right reading material and whether we are teaching the skills to read and analyze the texts well, as a source for meeting that lofty goal. I have a better understanding of the possible purpose behind the focus on nonfiction in common core; that we stop trying to cram it all in during our 90-120 minute blocks, and start thinking smarter about how literacy is infused across the day and how we are all teachers of literacy.
As I have embarked on the journey to move back into literacy coaching, supporting new and veteran teachers just beginning to use the Calkins Units of Study, I find myself reaching out to my friends and colleagues who have been part of the newest TCRWP work and thinking around workshop teaching, intervention, and enrichment. I decided we need a place to collaborate together, to share ideas, ask questions, and work together around shared inquiries and staff development. My hope is that eventually we can use this place to develop our own Think Tank to further our work as coaches. More heads are better than one!
Erin School Literacy Coach