Looking back on 2017, there were some consistent trends of topics that dominated the national dialogue with regards to ELA instruction.
First, empathy. Empathy can, and should, be taught across all content areas. For example, in technology courses, students can learn to be empathetic by considering the needs of people when they design and make/code. However, the nature of ELA offers a myriad of ways to develop empathy. Reading stories and analyzing character’s actions, choices, and behaviors can offer great opportunities to be more empathetic, as well as analyzing an author’s argument while considering their background and experiences. Another way is to focus on developing responsible and compassionate readers. Robert Probst, co-author of Disrupting Thinking, describes a responsible reader as a person who is open to letting the text confirm, challenge, or change his/her thinking. A compassionate reader is willing to see through another person’s eyes and is open-minded towards another person’s arguments or beliefs.
Another hot topic was developing student voice. With the nature of state assessments requiring more formulaic writing, many teachers feel it’s hard for students to develop their own voice when writing. Author Joseph Bruchac argues that the first place to start is by having kids write about one of their four roots: ancestry, family, place, or personal experience. Every person has these four roots, yet they are “diverse and different in their content for every one of us”. Having students write personal narratives about their family, for example, is a way for students to write about something specific to their own lives. Author Nic Stone suggests focusing on subvocalization, which means being able to hear what’s on the page. She suggests having students do a short quick write, having them change the punctuation to support the sounds they are trying to convey, and then having a classmate read the writing out loud to see if the writing sounds the way the author intended.
Finally, fake news dominated many scholarly articles, blog posts, and news reports. There are two main issues with fake news: 1) the discrediting of sound and valid news organizations/articles and 2) the susceptibility of believing fake news. Educators need to teach kids how to check sources, yet the fact that even adults cannot spot fake news means we need to teach more media literacy skills in our classrooms. Some of these skills include being able to examine URLs that appear unusual (websites that end with .co, for example), to discover low quality and grammatically incorrect work, and to check if other media outlets are reporting the same news. The Newseum in Washington D.C. also offers an acronym to teach kids how to spot fake news: ESCAPE (Evidence, Source, Context, Audience, Purpose, Execution).
Our upcoming BOCES offerings, such as the MS/HS ELA CLC, will be focusing on these important topics and more. We look forward to sharing the learning!
By: Brendan Keiser, CA BOCES Professional Development