Literacy Outside ELA

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

shutterstock_171031157Recently I had the pleasure to conduct professional learning sessions on literacy with three separate groups of teachers. The teachers spanned every discipline, which is understandable, given the trends in education throughout the country.

Ever since the adoption of college and career-ready academic standards in Michigan, and throughout the country, more emphasis has been placed on nonfiction reading’s important role in all disciplines. All learners benefit when science teachers, social studies teachers, and math teachers take the time to deconstruct their texts, which helps students understand how to read them. This is true for both traditional print resources and online resources.

To this extent, content-area teachers have realized that they must also become teachers of reading. This realization helps students best access course content and achieve greater understanding.

Real Reading at Hamtramck High

In our professional learning sessions, we emphasized the Reading Apprenticeship approach to teaching reading.

The approach was developed by WestEd, an educational research and services agency. As the agency describes it:

Teachers using the Reading Apprenticeship framework regularly model disciplinary-specific literacy skills, help students build high-level comprehension strategies, engage students in building knowledge by making connections to background knowledge they already have, and provide ample guided, collaborative, and individual practice as an integral part of teaching their subject area curriculum.

This approach helps educators appreciate their important role in teaching students to read and comprehend course content, whether in a traditional English class, a physics class, or physical education.


Hamtramck students in a lab

The approach is useful for a school like Hamtramck High School. Hamtramck is a haven for students whose families hail from all over the world. One of two small municipalities located entirely within the city of Detroit, Hamtramck has a sizable number of students from Yemen and Bangladesh.

For these students, educators realize the need to make esoteric academic language comprehensible. During the professional learning sessions, I clearly saw that these teachers not only had a passion for helping their students learn; they also had a willingness to embrace the approaches of the Reading Apprenticeship model.

Metacognitive Conversation’s Benefits

In the sessions, we explored metacognitive conversation and the four dimensions of literacy–social, personal, cognitive, and knowledge-building. And through this, the teachers came to understand their critical influence over students’ attitudes toward reading.

The metacognitive approach–which largely centers on “making thinking visible”–enables educators to demystify their thought processes as they read and engage with a text. As a teacher explains what is going on in his or her head while reading, students are able to understand the thinking, and gain easier access to course content. This demystification of content also clarifies how information is acquired and why it matters.

So, when educators consciously engage in self-talk during a lesson, students benefit. Furthermore, these skills are very transferable. Students realize that they can apply these newly acquired content-area reading strategies in other disciplines.

This can having lasting effects. Teachers who engage in metacognitive strategies truly help their students, creating a future where the power of reading is enshrined as a lifelong value.

rick josephRick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5/6 grade at Covington School in the Birmingham Public School district since 2003. Prior, he served as a bilingual educator and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. Rick is thrilled to serve as the 2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year. Through Superhero Training Academy, Rick’s students have created a superhero identity to uplift the communities where they learn and live.

Mississippi: The Most Southern Place

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

This blog was written before the recent horrible events at Delta State University. My thoughts are with the community and its many warm and kind people. 

shutterstock_80645992A few years back I recognized that I was getting stale—not bad, just not good—and that I was becoming calcified in my self-assurance. I don’t remember an exact moment when I noticed it. In any case, I didn’t want to become the teacher who boasts 20 years of experience, when he really means two years of experience repeated 10 times. I looked around until I found a seminar given by Columbia University and Theater for a New Audience, on teaching Shakespeare. I applied and was lucky enough to get in.

That first experience took me apart. It changed everything about me and how I teach, and I’ve been addicted to seminars ever since. In the years since then, I’ve been all over the country, attending just about anything that’ll let me in. The results have varied from transformative to “at least I got a free poster.” I like it best when I come away changed, when I feel like the ground has shifted under my feet and I need to rebuild. For me, that’s the marker of effective professional development.

PD’s Broader Purpose

Sometimes, though, a seminar isn’t as much about learning a new approach or finding something to build into my own practice. It’s about the landscape and the people I meet. It’s about changing the way I think about myself, as a teacher, a student, and a human being.

I find that being around really good teachers—smart, inspired, creative, risk-taking teachers—is what changes me. I like being in the “learning chair”: the worst teacher in the room, the least informed person in the seminar. It means I’ll be learning.

IMG_0514This year found me at Delta State University in Mississippi, “the most Southern place on Earth.” There, among outstanding teachers from all over the country, I spent an exhausting week working through everything that the Delta has to offer.

The Delta is a place of conflicted history and rich culture. Teachers and caretakers there are charged with the task of tending a dying region, while parceling out the memory to everyone they meet. And so this seminar fell into the category of ground shaking and attitude changing. It forced us to think about places almost none of us had visited, from an old cemetery for Chinese immigrants, to an aging Jewish synagogue, to Po’ Monkey’s Juke Joint, perhaps the last “true” juke joint in the Delta, and a place where people dance with abandon as the night grows late.

Rediscovering Mockingbird, in the Courtroom

One afternoon, my classmates and I were able to participate in a panel discussion on the Emmett Till case. On the panel were the last people, other than his murderers, to see Till alive: his uncle and an FBI agent who reopened that case in 2004. The discussion took place in the actual courtroom where the original miscarriage of justice occurred.

Those of us in the language arts huddled afterward to talk about the connections to To Kill a Mockingbird. Being in the place makes the emotions of the novel more real. The ghosts are real and the voices seem to seep in from the gallery, and I feel closer to the truth of the books I’ve taught for years.

Keeping Traditions Alive in the Classroom

IMG_0649On our last day in the Delta, I made a mojo, a little pouch that contains bits and pieces of the places you visited, people you met, and sites you want to return to someday. You display it somewhere people will see it and ask about it, and every time you talk about it, the magic of the mojo gets stronger.

Like that mojo, Mississippi offered a strange mix for me. I didn’t walk away with a notebook full of new techniques—I did get some, though. But when I see a guest lecturer pick up a diddley bow—a guitar made out of a cigar box, broomstick, and a single string—and pull so much emotion out it while he teaches a class of rapt students about the history of the blues in the Delta, I understand how important passion is to teaching. I see how being able to demonstrate something, and let students try it themselves, makes learning so much richer.

Even though so much of what I saw showed me something that was slipping away, or already gone, I wasn’t sad. It’s another of those weird paradoxes of this place. All of the people I met have a sense of duty, to the past but also to the future. They tell stories to us, teachers from all over the United States, trusting that we will carry them back with us and teach them to our students, so that the sound of the blues, that heartbeat rhythm, won’t disappear.

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.


Executive Function Skills for Success in the Classroom

Click here to REGISTER for the Multidisciplinary Educator All-Day Session!
Click here to REGISTER for the Parent Evening Session!
Grade Levels:  3-8

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech-language pathologist and national speaker on developing and supporting executive functioning skills.  Sarah led a session at Oakland Schools in March 2014 and will be back to facilitate a one-day multidisciplinary session that provides practical, hands-on strategies to build executive function skills for success in the classroom.  She will also present an evening session designed to support parents in working with their children on homework.

The term ‘Executive Function’ is used to describe the skill set required for setting goals, carrying out organized steps, and modifying a plan to complete a task successfully, all of which are vital for academic and social success in elementary and middle school classrooms.  Sarah’s multidisciplinary session will focus on strategies that help students:

  • Increase their awareness and tune in to what is happening around them so they can understand how information, events and their actions will impact their goals and objectives, both now and in the near future.
  • Develop a memory for the future so that they can set personal goals and  use self-initiated organizational strategies to achieve those goals.
  • Improve self-awareness skills so they can “read a room” and use higher-order reasoning skills to “stop, think and create” an appropriate action plan with anticipated possible outcomes.
  • See and sense the passage of time so that they can accurately and effortlessly estimate how long tasks will take, change or maintain their pace, and carry out routines and tasks within allotted time frames.
  • Organize their homework space and personal belongings so they can create and use strategies to track and organize their materials.

Sarah’s parent session will focus on simple techniques that parents can use to help their students:

  • Close the homework circle by supporting students in recording, bringing home, completing and returning assignments.
  • Create a positive and productive environment for homework completion.
  • Learn to organize and process information for assignments, long term projects and study skills.
Dates and Times:

Multidisciplinary Session for Educators: January 19, 2016  (9:00 am – 3:30 pm)

Parent Session: January 20, 2016  (7:00 pm – 9:00 pm)

Intended Audience: 

Multidisciplinary Session for Educators:

3rd- 8th Grade: General Education Teachers, Speech-Language Pathologists, School Psychologists, School Counselors, School Social Workers, and Special Education Teachers

Parent Session: 

Parents of students in Grades 3-8 who struggle to complete homework

Consultant Contacts: Michele Farah Ph.D. , Literacy Consultant, Oakland Schools and Diane Katakowski, Speech-Language Pathologist Consultant, Oakland Schools

Event Contact:
Angela Emig, [email protected], (248) 209.2351

To hear Sarah describe some of her strategies, check out her short video clips:

  Strategies for Middle School StudentsSara Ward YouTube

  Tools for Middle and High School Students

  Resources for Parents

  Parent Tips

“One of the best presentations I have attended through Oakland Schools!  I appreciated the practical tips for use with a wide age range of students.  Please bring Sarah back- this information would be so helpful for classroom teachers!” – Past Participant at Oakland Schools



Let’s Talk About Student Engagement

Consultants' Corner Oakland Writing Project

Last week, teacher blogger Marcia Bonds explored the idea of engaging her students through developing a learner identity, an identity that she too needs to have and models daily with her students. As I read Marcia’s blog, I couldn’t help recalling how many times over the past two months I’ve heard the topic of “engagement” raised.

493533923Engagement–what does it mean? How do we foster engagement in our classrooms? Like Marcia, I see learner identity as a key part of engaging learners. The idea of mindset playing a role in how a learner engages is well researched. But I’m also encountering more conversations about engagement via digital tools. The use of social media tools in the classroom, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Instagram, or Vine, continues to be debated as a possible way to re-engage students. I can’t help but wonder: could there be a relationship between learner identity and digital tools in the classroom?

147662769Not long ago, I came across Staci Hurst’s blog post that addresses engagement. Hurst highlights work stemming from the Schlechty Center on Engagement. Not immediately familiar with Schlechty’s name, I did some further digging that led me to his 2010 keynote in which he defines engagement. He claims four types of students exist: academically inclined students, “nice” kids, nice but won’t do much, and finally, those who are going to drop out of school. The real kicker comes when he contends that all but the academically inclined students are doing nothing more than complying in the classroom. He shares four types of observable engagement:

Strategic compliance: student does the work for extrinsic goals (grades, class rank, college acceptance, parental approval)

Ritual compliance: work holds no meaning or connection to the student, leading to the student focusing on minimum exit requirement (what do I need to do to get this over with?)
Retreatism: student disengages for multiple reasons–task holds no relevancy, emotionally withdrawn, task seems too unobtainable
Rebellion: student actively engages in acting out and recruiting others to do the same

So how does Schlechty define engagement? Persistence. An engaged student perseveres in difficult tasks with a personal emphasis to reach “optimum performance.”

Researchers477569935 who have closely studied engagement have developed a multi-dimensional measure of student engagement by tying together both cognitive and emotional components: the theory of flow. More simply put, flow is that magic moment where the learner is so focused in a task that they continue to persevere as complexity increases, finding enjoyment in the struggle.

I’m seeing a common denominator here–task design. Put more specifically, task design that elicits student investment. What I’m not yet clear on is if digital tools are critical to helping bolster students to persevere–to live in the magical flow moment.

Take Aways

So what do I walk away with from this mini-inquiry? I think the most critical take away is the need for opening up conversation between colleagues about how each of us interprets the word “engagement” and what tells us students are engaged. And we need to talk about the context of high engagement. What was the topic? How were students engaging in the lesson? What was the task or tasks?

Possible Conversation Starters

1. Select a video of an instructional session and discuss with colleagues how you would describe task design and evidence of student engagement.

● This 5th grade Social Studies lesson could be a useful artifact to study even for those teaching secondary grade levels.
● This short clip from Minneapolis Roosevelt HS could inspire a useful conversation about task design that engages students.

2. View Phil Schlechty’s keynote and open up conversation inviting colleagues to weigh in: What do they agree with? What do they not? What new questions do they now have about engagement?

3. Have colleagues read the Framework for Post-Secondary Success and describe what ideas it confirms and how pushes their thinking. How does the framework impact ideas about engagement and task design?

There’s no denying the power and role engagement plays in the learning process. It’s a worthy topic to explore both individually and with colleagues. I invite you to extend and deepen the conversation about student engagement. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Susan GolabSusan Wilson-Golab joined Oakland Schools in 2010 following 22 years of in the field 6-12 experience across two different states and rural, suburban, and urban contexts. Her research and practice focus heavily on the evolving definition of literacy, developmental learning progressions, and formative assessment. At the district level, Susan has served as classroom teacher, Literacy Specialist, and ELA Curriculum Coordinator. These experiences and study helped Susan in her role as Project Leader for developing a model 6-12 ELA curriculum for the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA)— a curriculum resource now globally available.  More recently, Susan launched Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative (MiTRC). The mission: to build collaborative participatory research between university and secondary teachers from around the state interested in exploring and developing the teaching and assessing of writing. In 2000, she joined the National Writing Project through the satellite Oakland Writing Project site based out of University of Michigan. She now serves as Site Director for the Oakland Writing Project.

Students w/ IEPs

SE PL The mission of Oakland Schools Special Populations Capacity Building Unit is to facilitate a continuum of responsive professional learning with special educators to increase student engagement and achievement.  Professional learning aims to facilitate access to and progress in the general curriculum for students with IEPs.


View Oakland Schools Literacy Professional Learning HERE.


Comprehensive professional learning, resources, and networking opportunities are available to assist school staff in providing high quality intervention and specialized instruction for:

  • The 1% of students with IEPs who have, or function as if they have, cognitive impairments and whose IEP Team has determined that general assessments, even with accommodations, are not appropriate. These students take alternate state assessments of learning.
Teachers of the 99%

Professional learning opportunities support educators who deliver specialized instruction and interventions for students with IEPs (99%) who participate in general education state assessments of learning.

These students receive core English Language Arts instruction aligned to the Michigan Standards, and their learning is accelerated when special education supplements the classroom core literacy program.

Access RESOURCES that support the professional learning of educators for these students HERE.

Teachers of the 1%

Professional learning opportunities are offered to support educators of students with IEPs with the most significant cognitive disabilities (1%) who participate in the alternate annual state assessment of learning.

These students receive their academic instruction, including English Language Arts, aligned to the essential elements of the Michigan Standards, in their local school districts or county centers for all.  The goal of instruction for these students is acceleration of learning, so that students progress through emergent and conventional phases of literacy learning.

Access RESOURCES that support the professional learning of educators for these students HERE.

OS Special Education Webpage

OS Special Education Webpage