As the 2019 school year kicks into high gear, hundreds of middle and high school teachers are practicing new ways of establishing a classroom culture centered on collaboration, problem solving, and reading challenging texts. Supported by a 2018 SEED grant, teachers in California, Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington are trying out teaching routines they were introduced to this summer in Reading Apprenticeship Institutes. They attended the institutes with cross-disciplinary teams of three to six teachers from their school.
As the SEED grant teachers are learning, getting your students to tackle tough problems with a variety of texts doesn’t mean you just dive into ‘harder books’ right away. In fact, Reading Apprenticeship emphasizes using classroom routines that support the social and personal dimensions of learning, especially at the beginning of the year. When students feel their own life and learning experiences are valued, and that the classroom is a safe place where they can voice confusion and curiosity, the conditions are ripe for challenging, collaborative text-based learning. Yet for many middle and high school teachers, investing precious class time in routines that support social and personal dimensions can make them feel less in control and at odds with “covering content.”
Teachers, just like their students, need safety, support, practice, and guidance as they shift from being transmitters of information to facilitators of learning. For this reason, the teachers participating in the SEED grant professional learning come together throughout the school year in small online professional learning communities (PLCs) facilitated by a Reading Apprenticeship expert. The PLCs are discipline specific and are a safe space for teachers to talk about what they are trying out, what changes they are (or are not) seeing in their students, and to learn new strategies. Teacher practice change is also supported at the school level as local Teacher Leaders facilitate monthly school team meetings focused on inquiry into practice.
Invariably, as they continue to collaborate, reflect, and practice routines that support both social-emotional and academic learning over the school year, teachers of every subject find that the content learning in their classroom has been accelerated – the literacy and collaborative learning routines they practice regularly result in increased student engagement, persistence, and reading comprehension tied to discipline-specific ways of making meaning.
There are really no short cuts. You have to take the time to work on those personal and social skills … and then the higher level stuff comes almost naturally, and almost magically, from it. (Alex, Grade 9 English Teacher, Chicago Public Schools)
If you would like to learn more about how to establish a classroom environment in which students are supported to do more challenging reading, writing, speaking, and listening, check out our resource library.