What They Say
I have been amazed throughout this year, as our school has taken on the Seminar work, by how quickly the students have taken this learning on and how much it is already reflected in their work during the Seminar time, as well as across all subject areas. As a special education teacher, I work with students with special needs in a variety of classrooms and grade levels. I am impressed at how this work allows these students to have access to the learning through the use of visual supports and the way tasks, thinking, and learning are broken down in a way that they can understand. Also the language and questioning that teachers are encouraged to use, helps these students feel confident to share their thinking about the texts and to take risks in doing this sharing. The manner of questioning gives students the chance to share during a class discussion without feeling as though there is only one correct answer. Also being given the chance to add on to each other’s thinking and building ideas together gives everyone the chance to be a successful participant in understanding the themes and main ideas in a variety of texts. I have seen students who were disengaged or unable to access the curriculum before we began the Seminar work, become completely engaged, enthusiastic, and encouraged to actively participate and pay attention during the Seminar lessons. The vocabulary that the students are taking on, even those with disabilities that affect their speech and language, is impressive. For example, a student with learning and speech disabilities transferred what he learned from the first fiction unit to the pre test for the first non-fiction unit when he wrote that the text was really about survival and was able to begin explaining why he thought that. I have not seen students think like this nearly as well until we began this work. I have also seen collaboration between myself and the general education teachers improve as we take on this work together. Having the whole school on the same page and working towards getting all of our students to engage in critical thinking about their reading has given us a common focus and common goals to work towards together.
-Special Education Teacher, San Diego
The level of discussions among students and conversations between teachers has deepened considerably since we have been exploring critical literacy. I now personally read and think about all text in a whole new way. By determining character traits and emotions in fiction and realizing they are our human traits in real life, students begin to understand the world in a way that prepares them for what they will meet in their future. It gives them understandings and tools that hopefully transfer into ways to handle situations they will encounter. If nothing else, it teaches them to consider, reflect and reconsider their understanding of concepts in text.
The non-fiction units give students access to knowledge using organizational tools to make sense of it. Critical literacy seminars teach us to categorize and synthesize information into more manageable, useful units of understanding. The fiction units are awesome, but for me, the non-fiction units take learning to a new level!
- Principal, Alameda County
JTL has helped me to understand that learning is more than a set of skills, but a process that is continuously evolving. Throughout our conversations, my students (and I) struggle with meaning, redefine our ideas, and elevate our expectations. This has helped to create a fluid learning environment full of questions and discussions around answers. Overall, I believe we’re teaching them how to think about their learning, not just how to react to what is given to them.
-Teacher, Alameda County
As a Vice Principal, I have seen a shift in our teachers thinking on how to teach and support learning for all students. Our teachers’ approach has evolved from using worksheets during their literacy and excluding English language Learners and Special Ed. Students, to listening to all students. This curriculum encourages higher level thinking, writing, develops language, confidence and brings success. The seminar work has brought our staff closer collaboratively and has given us a clear focus for student learning. In addition, the seminar work supports teacher planning, text selection and promotes student interaction. The seminar work raises the level of vocabulary and gives students the opportunity to show their thinking. As I walk around the classrooms, I clearly see that teachers plan for student thinking, prepare lesson plans, discuss writing and have conversations. The students who once didn’t have a voice, like our English Language Learners and Special Education, now successfully and eagerly share their thinking. Now, all students contribute their thinking with confidence using ideas that they come up during partner talk, discussions or when referring to the text. This curriculum has carefully selected text that brings deep conversations and understanding to human life. This is created with deep questioning that elicits deeper understanding and conversations. Using Critical Seminars, creates an equal level field for all learners, elevates student’s thinking, vocabulary, and love for literature, and encourages discourse between their peers which in turn builds success and confidence.
I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to roll out the Critical Seminars and look forward to implementing the next phase in the coming year!
-Vice-Principal, San Diego
After working with teachers to implement the Seminars in Critical Literacy (at two sites), I’ve seen the dramatic impact on both teaching and student learning. One of the things that stands out to me the most is the shift in the way teachers work together collaboratively with a focus on instruction. Because of the cerebral nature of this work, I have seen teachers come together like never before. They are engaged in thinking that honors diverse interpretations and divergent thinking. New voices have emerged in our staff and people feel empowered because of how deeply they themselves are now thinking about texts. They are discovering what it truly means to understand when reading. Teachers have gone through a process similar to that of their students and the growth in adult learning has been remarkable. This work has been part of a very positive change in the culture of how our school operates.
When it comes to student learning, there isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not blown away by something I see, hear or experience in a classroom. Young children are thinking and talking deeply and critically about texts. Students are proud and eagerly share their learning around read aloud and shared reading experiences with the Seminars. When I walk into classrooms, children often pull me over to an arc or concept blurb and can’t wait to talk about their understanding. As a passionate educator and a mother of school age children, it fills my heart with joy and hope to see students engaging with texts in such depth. Just as adults have been empowered, the same is true for our students. So many of our kids have found a voice. They no longer sit and have information imparted to them; they now engage in the construction of meaning together and can truly think and understand. It’s beautiful!
I’m so grateful our staff and students have had the opportunity to engage in this work. We are all (teachers and students) in such a good place to continue to learn and grow because of our experiences with Just Think Literacy – thank you!
-Literacy Coach, Alameda County