RLTA Study Group: Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School


School: Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School
Study Group Leader: Megan Fair
Study Group Members: Emily Gandolfi, Megan Wales, Catherine Jarvis, Sarah Van Wolvelear
Texts: No More Low Expectations for English Learners and Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad|
Goal: Best practice strategies to better support ELL students more equitably

As unusual as this year has been so far and will likely continue to be as we return to simultaneous teaching and hybrid learning in our school building, our Rochelle Lee book club has engaged in a great deal of learning around empowering our students, especially our English language learners, to recognize themselves in the culturally relevant material that we are working with in class and to be advocates for their own learning throughout their education.

In our first text, No More Low Expectations for English Learners, we discussed and practiced a variety of techniques that we can use to make our students and their families feel valued as a part of our classroom and school communities and ways to make sure that we are as teachers approaching all of our students with the mentality that they are excellent learners and have a variety of strengths that they bring to our classrooms. When we shift our mindset to view our students as possessing a multitude of strengths that they can leverage in the classroom rather than perceiving our students through a deficit mindset, we help our students find their own agency as learners and center that agency in the proficiencies and strengths that they have brought to our classes. In addition to this mindset shift, we have also learned a variety of practical strategies for helping all classrooms —not just literacy classrooms – help their students with vocabulary acquisition, particularly practicing academic vocabulary in the four domains of communication — reading, speaking, writing, listening.

In our second book, Cultivating Genius, we learned about the critical importance of culturally relevant teaching for all students. The author, Dr. Muhammad, grounds this book in the idea that students need to understand and take pride in their own identity as a foundational base on which all learning must be built. If students cannot see themselves reflected in the texts and experiences that they are engaging with in school, they will be much less motivated and may perceive school as an inauthentic experience. But we cannot simply start the school year off with an exploration of students’ identity and then allow that to fade as the year progresses – instead, Dr. Muhammad argues that identity development is a crucial part of why we study literature.

In addition to the knowledge that we have gained by reading our selected texts together, discussing them, and creating transfer goals for each month to embed our new learning into our classroom practice, our group has been very focused in our discussions about how we can make these literacy best practices a greater part of our school culture. This means that our discussions have been very fruitful because they include discussion of how these literacy practices might be embedded at different levels within the school and how we might vertically align them so that students are receiving a coherent literacy program grounded in best practices for English language learners as well as a focus on the importance of identity and culturally relevant literature throughout their elementary and middle school experience.

All of our knowledge and discussions led us to creating a form for EL students that would follow them throughout their elementary and middle school career. We thought this would be something that would be incredibly beneficial for students and teachers alike. We are very fortunate to teach in a school with over 30 languages spoken and students from all over the world. Being able to know information about EL students at the beginning of each year would set teachers up for success in better teaching our students. We are hoping to make this a school wide initiative so that we can gather information about all EL students. This form would house information such as home languages spoken, additional languages they read and write in, school history, interests, academic strengths and weaknesses, and family involvement.