November 2021 Updated March 2022
Or how to support the diverse learners in your ELA classroom.
Having taught applied & locally developed English classes for 15 years, I can honestly say the concerns about destreaming are legit.
The bad=students will struggle
The ugly=happening anyway (without additional funding)
You CAN do it!
If you managed to adapt, survive and perhaps even find success while teaching during covid, just imagine what you can do with this new adventure.
Prepare them for LIFE
You are no longer JUST preparing students for university. You are preparing them for life, and whatever that entiles (yes training for the workplace, trades, college and/or university but also how to find meaning & purpose beyond work). In an open class all doors are open to all of them. It also opens the door wide to lots of teaching opportunities (so go take the risk and go beyond the five paragraph essay).
Good pedogogy is good pedogogy
Use all the good pedagogy you already use (since even academic classes have a variety of students, including some who struggle) will help support struggling students in open classes: knowing the learner, DI (diffetentiated instruction), UD (universal design), gradual release of responsibility, assessment as/for/of learning…
Supportive Teaching Helps Everyone
When it comes to literacy in particular, there is a valid concern about basic skills (Why can’t my high school English students read?) but not to worry there is tons of support out there to help you on your journey of discovery.
And focusing on reading will only help your stronger students, as research and anecdotal evidence suggests, the students in your academic classes aren’t reading (your assigned class novel), see Why Students Don’t Read What They are Assigned in Class (https://youtu.be/gokm9RUr4ME)
Improving requires learning & understanding how something works and then practicing it to get better at it. Literacy is no different. You are a better reader now then when you started and studnets don’t stop improving their reading once they leave school. So teaching the basics of literacy will support students who struggling and help those who excell get even better.
Read about how I teach students about the invisible multi levels of reading: Introducing the 3 stages of the reading cycle to high school students and how to improve their reading strategies: Part 3-Teaching Reading Strategies (the rest of this blog series may be helpful as well).
Take One Step at a Time
You WILL NOT be perfect. You have not done this before (especially if you havn’t taught applied, locally developed or open classes). This is new to everyone. So give yourself, and your students, some grace.
Reading improves reading and writing so start there. See, Part 4-Fostering a Love of Reading
Focus on the Must Dos
Keep in mind that the academic and applied overall curriculum expectations are very simular, if not the same. Feel free to print them out or copy and paste them into a chart and you’ll see what I mean.
Overall expectations are what you are accountable for accessing. Specific Expectations are intended to support you and provide ideas/ways to meet the overall expectations. So focus on the overall expectations and look to both sets of specific expectations for examples. At least until we get a revised open curriculum.
Find a mentor. Start with someone who already successfully teaches the applied/locally developed students (believe me they are as worried about these studentsbfinding success as you are) and ask them how you can best support these kids. Learn from people in other provinces or around the world, who do not have streaming and are finding success with students in their classes. What are they doing that is different from what you traditionally do?
Work as a team. Encourage your English department to get together to discuss best practices and support each other through this new adventure.
Learn about best practices. Start a book club (with your department, or teachers in your board or on social media) and read books that support teaching a variety of studnets. I would suggest: Book love, Write a Beside Them, 180 Days, 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency* (Penny Kittle, * newest)
If you havent already, might I suggest you start with independent choice reading & conferencing, which I have found to have the biggest impact on reading ability. This way all students will improve their reading skills. See, 8 Strategies to Support Choice Reading in the Secondary Classroom, Finding Books for Your in Class Library, THE WHY: Diversifying your High School Texts and/or Classroom Library (Part 1) & THE HOW: Diversifying your High School Texts and/or Classroom Library (Part 2) for ideas.
Conferencing will also allow you to meet the needs of individual students, whether it be higher order critical analysis or pausing to think through what they are reading (by questioning, making connections…). See Part 2-Getting them to buy in & supporting their efforts
If your feeling really ambitious you can replace your class novel with book clubs, allowing for even more differentiation, choice and success.
Join the English Langiage Arts Network of Ontario @ELANontario to access their amazing resources including a video of the Ontario ELA teachers” panel discussion “A Novel Approach: Alternatives to the Whole Class Novel” https://elanontario.com/resources-2/ as well as others.
Turn to social media. Find mentors and supports online. Twitter is great for learning new information. Some of the best tweeters to follow:
Facebook also has some great groups where you can find resources and get support.
Know that you are not alone. We are in this together. We all want this to work. We all want the best opportunities for our studnets. We can do this together.
Best of luck on your new adventure. If you need support feel free to reach out.
Check out @mdlongpre as for support on destreaming English. She also shares some amazing resources!