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Editorial: Pressing Forward Together

Leyton Schnellert is Co-Editor of Update and and a part-time Faculty Associate, Field Programs, Faculty of Education, SFU. leyton_schnellert@sfu.ca

Why spend the entire summer assembling an edition of Update? Good question. Apart from the collective sigh of relief from the contributors to this edition (who doesn’t want an extra six weeks to rework the last draft of a piece?), it gives Krista and I a chance to sit back and reflect on how the year has gone and what lies ahead. We have recently done the same together with your BCTELA Executive.

In BCTELA’s effort to better support English Language Arts teachers we traverse the landscape of adolescent literacy research and practice. It’s an exciting and daunting task. In this edition of Update, Chelsea Prince talks of how teachers in her school shared ideas and lessons and approaches online. Similarly, at our Spring retreat the Executive looked at the BCTELA website and realized that in this information age we need something more interactive. How can members access past editions of Update and get the latest news in the most intuitive way possible? Stay tuned.

And then there are the new ELA IRPs. Important research-based and classroom-tested ideas and approaches – pedagogical considerations – BCTELA members have been exploring for years have found themselves in the Considerations for Delivery section of the new IRPs. What can we do as a collective body to support one another in exploring the clearer focus on oral language, the emphasis on formative assessment, outcomes specific to cognitive strategies, or ways to design curriculum with enduring understandings in mind?

BCTELA thinks that initially we can help in two ways. First, you’ll notice
that our Fall conference (see the Check This Out department) is
organized in strands based on the pedagogical considerations section
and learning outcomes of the new K-7 and the draft 8-12 ELA IRPs (the
latter will be posted on the Ministry’s website in September). Indeed,
we have sought out leading educators from across the province to
initiate thoughtful explorations of relevant and innovative practices.
Faye Brownlie will start us off on the Thursday night with a “fireside
chat” exploring interesting and exciting ideas to pay attention to in
the new IRPs. We think that our program for Friday (the provincial
pro-d day) may be the richest we’ve ever assembled with a careful
effort to feature innovative work from around the province.

Secondly, we see the time is at hand to re-envision our Curriculum Packs. Using
the same current research around unit design, formative assessment and
strategies instruction, we are developing updated criteria for
curriculum packs that we hope will better support those submitting
units and, in the end, provide exemplars for BCTELA members that help
to link student learning, practice, and research. See Krista Ediger’s
piece in this edition as an example of a teacher working (with the
support of colleagues) to incorporate these ideas into her planning and
practice.

While BCTELA always strives first and foremost to nurture and address the
questions and needs as they pertain to the teaching of English Language
Arts, we also see how, across the province, more and more English
Language Arts specialists are collaborating with and/or supporting
generalists, special educators, content area teachers (i.e. Math,
Science, Social Studies), teacher-librarians, and applied skills
teachers (e.g. Fine and Performing Arts, Home Economics). When we start
to have conversations about the students we teach and what learning is
in this information age we cannot help but begin to look across the
arbitrary divisions in the school day and see how our goals for our
students can overlap to create more engaging and meaningful curricula.
Reading and writing, speaking and listening, viewing and representing –
the use of language and literacy practices – are crucial to learning
and are present in pedagogy across the disciplines.

In this edition we take some initial steps to draw together underlying
concepts that inform literacy-related practices across the curriculum.
From Sue Schleppe and her colleagues’ inquiry unit in Science, to
Carole Saundry’s work on inferring with text in Math, to Joanne Panas’s
update on “second shot” approaches to literacy instruction for
struggling adolescent readers in Richmond, there is a common underlying
message. When teachers are creative and take different avenues that
support students’ active engagement in creating understandings,
students have opportunities to build content knowledge as well as the
strategies they need to make meaning, link ideas across texts and
contexts, and apply what they know to authentic tasks. Colleagues
working together help one another to model and explain their use of
strategies, and emphasize that the more students understand strategies,
the more likely they are to use them and help students to self-regulate
their meaning-making and application of key concepts and approaches.

Mara Brkich’s piece highlights how dedication to improving students’
literacy skills – particularly higher-level thinking skills – has
significantly more impact at the school level and not just at the level
of the individual teacher. Students build their ability to
self-regulate when they develop and use a repertoire of strategies that
are needed to accomplish complex tasks, and when introduced to similar
thinking skills in different classes and contexts, they have the
opportunity to understand themselves as learners who can apply and
generalize strategies and approaches. When teachers work together to
implement common goals across a school, classrooms, and disciplines,
they build better learners and thinkers.

We do make a difference when we work together to make a difference for
kids. Hopefully, as the Executive focuses on a few key approaches that
can make the biggest difference for members of the Association, you
will feel better supported in making the changes that you feel will
best lead to authentic and meaningful learning for your students.

Leyton for Krista and the rest of the Exec.

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