Last week I got to work with an amazing group of eight social studies teachers. They are collaborating to teach writing with efficacy in their classrooms so that students can more easily access their content. The big burning question that underlies the work with this group is: How do we have students write proficiently so they can better access the geography content?
What is incredible about this group is that as we move through the school year, they come to the table with honest difficult questions to figure out. At first we thought we would simply have students write, share the writing with one another, during our time together in PLCs, and then decide what to teach based on the writing we see before us.
What is difficult is that each teacher has a very different group of students they are working with. They have students who are on IEPs and need things like sentence frames in order to write all the way to preIB students who are taking their first AP course. Each of these classes has very different needs to be sure. And this can be frustrating when trying to come to a consensus.
The latest task set before this group of eight is to come up with a common prompt where they will use a common rubric our school developed to grade it. Last week we met to plan for this. I brought in the C3 frameworks to help the group think about the standards for geography and look at possible prompts. I also brought in the Task Bank from the Literacy Design Collaborative to frame their thinking.
Once we decided on a good prompt using these tools to discuss the latest wave of migration from the middle east, the task was to figure out which texts to use. This is where things got really difficult. Remember, this particular group of eight teachers has all levels of students. This makes agreement on texts really difficult. Where all want more rigorous texts, the fact of the matter is that some students need different text types to create rigorous thinking: maps, tables, pictures, etc.
Because of time constraints, we had to stop before everyone really got to share their thinking. So here are my questions to all of you:
- When developing common writing, how do you account for huge ranges in ability levels?
- How do you decide on texts to use that will engage all levels of students?
- How do you help teachers in these tough situations come to agreement?
- Are there other tools you would use to assist this group of teachers?
While this work is difficult, it is worth investigating. It is worth figuring out how best to teach students content through how they are able to write about it.