In Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other Peoples’ Children, Lisa Delpit makes the point that it is extraordinary to witness how much can be accomplished when teachers are allowed to . . . . . . teach. Just teach! Delpit is writing about the obstacles to actual instruction faced by public K-12 teachers during the No Child Left Behind era of high stakes standardized tests and accompanying restraints on curriculum--how rare it can be to witness actual instruction guided by a teacher’s expertise, attention to culture, formative assessment, creativity and joy--but her insight holds true in post-secondary contexts as well. While college instructors have a high level of control over curriculum and assessment, we face our own unique constraints that limit how empowered we feel to teach in the ways that we think will best support deep learning. Here are some of them:
- Overwhelming official lists of course outcomes and objectives that make it feel impossible to “unstuff the curriculum” and design for deeper learning
- Department mandated textbooks or common syllabi that make innovation feel out of reach
- Deep expertise in content, but limited knowledge and/or experience in designing effective learning experiences
- Professional learning options to build pedagogical expertise are haphazard, incoherent, and/or insufficient
- Departmental or disciplinary culture that discourages active, inquiry-based, equitable approaches as “dumbing down” curriculum
- Students who are accustomed to passive learning experiences and balk at opportunities to actively collaborate to co-construct knowledge
Not all teachers face the same constraints; in this context and every context, positionality matters. It is safe to say, though, that creating active, equitable, effective, inquiry based learning environments--just teaching!-- is harder than it looks.
How do we empower students and teachers to access their brilliance and full potential? This website features the work of instructors who are making use of the Reading Apprenticeship framework to support their efforts. Focusing on engaging learners in metacognitive conversations, Reading Apprenticeship pushes us to reconsider the core building blocks of designing learning experiences: text and talk.
We know from extensive brain based research that learners need to talk (externalize, elaborate, articulate, etc) to learn, but teachers often feel stumped about how to get students actively engaged and participating. Making active and collaborative learning functional requires careful consideration of talk. What counts as “talk”? (Speaking to the whole class; speaking in small groups, chatting in Zoom, posting to a discussion forum, participating in FlipGrid, TikTok, Discord . . . . .) Who gets to talk? How can airtime be equitably balanced? How can teachers design for productive "talk"? And--what are the learners talking about?
To design for productive and equitable talk, we also have to reconsider what we think of as “texts” and, specifically, what kinds of "texts" are worthy of spending time talking about. Instructors often feel that textbooks are unhelpful to learning in several ways: 1) students don’t read them; 2) in many cases, even the teacher doesn’t want to read them; 3) we don’t feel like we know how to help people read with comprehension. The Reading Apprenticeship framework disrupts the assumption that "text"=textbook by asking instructors to lean into their disciplinary expertise and consider what kinds of texts are critical to mastering core concepts in the discipline. What would it take to “apprentice” students into the disciplinary ways of tackling those texts--whether they be paragraphs, problems, graphs, simulations, proofs, primary research, etc.? What might the instructor need to model? What kinds of practice do students need to become conversant in these disciplinary ways of reading, thinking, questioning, problem solving, and writing?
The Text-Based Activities featured on this website represent the efforts of CSU and CCC instructors across the disciplines to think through all of these questions about TALK and TEXT in order to joyfully TEACH. They have considered the concepts they want students to grapple with, the disciplinary habits of mind they want students to practice, and the text(s) that can support that learning. They have considered how to structure their activities so that students’ thinking, talking, problem solving, and writing are at the center. Without full participation and all voices and perspectives, active learning, inquiry-based learning, community responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogies can never fly. We offer these resources for students and teachers, because there is no limit to what we can accomplish when teachers are empowered to teach!
About the author: Nika Hogan is an Associate Professor of English at Pasadena City College, Lead Designer of Professional Learning at 3CSN, and the College Coordinator for Reading Apprenticeship at WestEd.
To share your own Text-Based Activity Plans, please email Nika Hogan at email@example.com.