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National Writing Project
Local Site Research Initiative
LSRI Cohort V
North Star of Texas Writing Project
Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction for Adolescent English Language Learners
June 1, 2010
Dr. Carol Wickstrom
Dr. Leslie Patterson
Dr. Juan Araujo
Dr. Jennifer Roberts
Dr. Lori Assaf
Dr. Angelica Fuentes
One of the greatest challenges facing U.S. middle and high school teachers is the need to
improve academic success among English language learner (ELL) students. Both the high school
dropout rate and the college-enrollment rate provide compelling evidence of this need. This
report documents one attempt to meet this challenge, a National Writing Project advanced
institute focused on improving academic writing among adolescent English learners. The
institute engaged teacher-consultants in exploring and implementing “culturally mediated writing
instruction” (CMWI), a set of research-based principles and practices. The ultimate goal was to
improve students’ academic writing, but this report also documents the diverse and sometimes-
surprising ways that these teachers integrated CMWI into their classrooms.
In year 1—studied through a descriptive cross-case analysis—six teacher-researchers
from one middle school and two high schools in north Texas participated in the project. Their
students were diverse: some were relatively new to the United States, and some had attended
U.S. schools since kindergarten. Most of the English learners were Hispanic, but other language
groups were also represented. Data included pre/post writing samples, classroom observations,
teacher interviews, and teachers’ written reflections. The teachers each chose a target class,
resulting in a study total of approximately 45 middle school and 70 high school students. The
writing samples were scored using NWP’s Analytic Writing Continuum. Although gains were
noted in each writing area across all grade levels, the only statistically significant gain was
among middle school students’ use of vocabulary to express their ideas (diction) t =2.83, df = 24,
p = .009. The analysis of qualitative data in year 1 also yielded refinements to CMWI principles
and practices, which were integrated into the year 2 professional development institute.
In year 2 the research followed a mixed-methods, quasi-experimental design. Nine
middle and high school teacher-researchers from four Texas Writing Project sites (Central Texas,
North Star of Texas, Sabal Palms, and West Texas) participated; seven of the teacher-researchers
were new to the project. Student diversity was similar to that in year 1. Research questions again
focused on CMWI’s influence on student writing and also on how teachers integrated the CMWI
approach (including how their use of CMWI practices changed over time). To answer our
questions about the influence of this approach, the design included a comparison of student
writing scores from program teachers’ classrooms with those from matched cases. Data sources
again included pre/post writing samples, classroom observations, teacher interviews, and
teachers’ written reflections. Qualitative data were analyzed inductively; input from the teacher-
researchers helped refine the emerging categories.
Findings from a quantitative analysis of year 2 data show that CMWI was indeed
effective for middle and high school students, as evidenced by gains in all areas of the Analytic
Writing Continuum for 56 middle school students and 22 high school students learning English
as a second language. The quantitative analysis of the student writing samples provides initial
evidence that CMWI was effective in increasing middle and high school students’ writing
proficiency. For middle school students, improvement was statistically significant in the areas of
holistic score, content, and structure, for high school students, in stance, diction, conventions.
The most salient finding from the year 2 qualitative analysis is that program teachers
orchestrated complex and responsive instructional support, or mediation, both for individuals and
groups of students. That is, teachers—through differentiated instructional decisions— built what
we call an “instructional landscape” and invited students to appropriate selected language and
literacy practices to navigate that landscape. Specifically, findings point to four interdependent
dimensions of learning that teachers prioritized in various ways: social and cultural capital,
academic content knowledge, thinking strategies across sign systems, and linguistic knowledge.
By providing different degrees and kinds of support for individuals and groups in these areas,
teachers mediated language and literacy learning according to their judgment about what each
student needed. They knew when to move in with stronger support and when to step back to
provide more opportunities for independence. In the process, not only did teachers recognize
multiple diversities among their students, but they also attempted to build on students’ identities,
knowledge, and skills, always with the goal of moving toward academic success. The teachers
recognized a range of cultural resources for mediation (in addition to ethnicity): they used
popular culture, technology, and students’ personal interests as opportunities for mediation. No
five-step scheme, computer program, or scripted lesson plan could offer such individualized and
“just-in-time” mediation for language and literacy learning. Thus, by portraying effective
teaching as a complex process of mediation, this study contributes to the understanding of how
teachers can effectively differentiate instruction in order to meet the particular needs of diverse
learners in each of four dimensions comprising language and literacy learning.
Finally, the findings in this report suggest that there were unique patterns in the ways
each teacher appropriated CMWI practices. These patterns were influenced both by external
constraints and by teachers’ beliefs about what would most benefit their students. Future research
could productively focus on the interaction between these constraints/beliefs and teachers’
options for decision making. It could also productively focus on the extent to which CMWI helps
students appropriate language and literacy practices that will lead to academic success in the
ever-changing national and global environment they will be entering after high school.
At the fall 2006 Texas state network meeting, NWP site leaders and teacher-consultants
explored possibilities for collaborative research. We talked about issues we all face, and our
collective concern about our adolescent English learners quickly surfaced. Most of our students
were achieving academic success, but, like many teachers, we were frustrated that our growing
numbers of English learners did not progress rapidly enough. Frankly, we were puzzled about
how to help them build their proficiency in spoken and written English so that they might be
successful in high school and beyond. This concern triggered the work described in this report.
Our review of the literature showed us that we were not alone in our frustration. The
number of English learners is growing rapidly in Texas and across the country. In the 2003–04
school year, ELL services were provided to 3.8 million students (11% of all U.S. students). In
Texas alone, 0.7 million students (16% of all students) received ELL services (National Center
for Education Statistics 2000). The Texas ELL population more than doubled between 1991 and
2004 (U.S. Department of Education 2008). In Texas middle and high schools in 2007–08, more
than a quarter of a million students were identified as “limited English proficient” (Texas
Education Agency 2008).
Although Texas elementary English learners receive various types of assistance (e.g.,
inclusion, pullout, dual-language, sheltered, and bilingual programs), middle and high school
students are not supported in the same way. They are typically moved into mainstream classes as
quickly as possible. Although some secondary schools provide sheltered instruction, particularly
for English/ language arts, most secondary teachers have insufficient training in supporting
English language learners. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during
1999–2000 only 26% of teachers received training specific to the needs of English learners; 68%
of teachers who received such training participated in only one to eight hours of professional
development (2000). Clearly, the need for research and professional development related to the
general instructional needs of these middle and high school students is urgent (Short and
Fitzsimmons 2007; Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll 2005).
More specifically, there is a need for research on academic writing instruction for these
students. For example, researchers claim that “ELLs in U.S. high schools receive insufficient
writing instruction in ESL, insufficient oral and structural language support in mainstream
English, and insufficient support in bridging the gaps” (Panofsky et al. 2005). Likewise, The
Neglected “R”: The Need for a Writing Revolution the 2003 report of the National Commission
on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges—points to the “special needs of English-language
learners” (34) as they struggle to achieve academic success.
FOCUS AND BACKGROUND OF THE PROGRAM
Since our 2006 conversation at the NWP state network meeting, we have built a
professional development initiative designed to support teacher-consultants as they plan and
implement academic writing instruction to support sixth through twelfth grade English learners.
This project was framed as an advanced institute, with follow-up support during the
subsequent school year. All teachers in the institute had participated in an invitational summer
institute and thus were teacher-consultants. The purpose of the advanced institute was to engage
teacher-consultants in exploring a set of principles and practices we call “culturally mediated
writing instruction” (CMWI). CMWI consists of a set of principles and practices that we gleaned
from published research, with the goal of improving writing instruction for adolescent English
learners. Funding from the NWP Local Sites Research Initiative (Cohort V) made the research
on this professional development initiative possible.
Major activities and central features
CMWI is an inquiry-based instructional approach focusing on improving students’
academic writing. Grounded in the research base summarized below, this approach includes five
central features (no priority is implied in this listing):
1. The use of reading/writing workshop practices to engage students as readers and
2. An emphasis on authentic messages to real audiences about significant and relevant
3. An inquiry cycle to guide curricular and instructional decisions;
4. A focus on academic writing proficiency; and
5. An understanding that teachers must mediate individual and group learning according
to students’ unique backgrounds, strengths, and needs.
CMWI is not a formulaic approach, but a set of principles and practices that can inform a
teacher’s instructional decisions. Teachers can use these principles and practices to provide
appropriate support for all their students, but particularly for their students who are learning
English as their second (or third, etc.) language. The findings from years 1 and 2 of this project
inform our understanding, and future institutes will integrate these findings into this evolving
In year 1 we focused on the work of six teacher-consultants who participated in the three-
day advanced institute during summer 2007. Our goal was to document and analyze how they
integrated the principles and practices into their instruction and to describe each teacher’s
patterns of implementation. Findings from year 1 helped us prepare for year 2, when we planned
to study the influences of this professional development in classrooms around the state.
In year 2 we worked with nine teacher-consultants from four Writing Project sites across
Texas. That advanced institute, in summer 2008, was five days long with online follow-up and
three face-to-face meetings during 2008–09. The principles and practices in the second year were
consistent with those of the first year but included refinements based on year 1 data analysis.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE: HOW AND WHY CMWI CAN IMPROVE THE
ACADEMIC WRITING OF ADOLESCENT ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
CMWI is consistent with what Ann M. Johns (1997) calls a socioliterate approach to
writing instruction, one in which learners are “constantly involved in research into texts, roles,
and contexts and into the strategies that they employ in completing literacy tasks in specific
situations” (15). CMWI invites students to take an inquiry stance toward issues of interest and
significance. This approach offers a rich and dynamic landscape of literacy tasks, routines,
materials, and dialogues that motivate students to inquire. Further, CMWI sets up a series of
guided inquiry cycles through which students write to authentic audiences for significant
purposes. As students engage in these inquiry cycles, the teacher observes them carefully,
supporting and mediating for the group and individuals as appropriate. Four bodies of knowledge
inform CMWI: classrooms as “communities of practice” (Lave and Wenger 1991), pedagogy
built on inquiry (Burke 2010; Wilhelm 2007), cultural identities as “funds of knowledge” (Moll
et al., 1992), and instruction mediated in response to students’ individual needs (Vygotsky 1978).
First, we look to the research on communities of practice. In a CMWI classroom, we can
identify Etienne Wenger’s (1998) three features of a community of practice:
• mutual engagement (reading, writing, and dialogue about significant issues)
• joint enterprise or shared work (the work of becoming effective writers)
• shared repertoire of practices (classroom procedures and practices).
Teachers who work toward developing such a community among their students often frame their
literacy instruction as the work of a particular discourse community—like authors in general or,
more specifically, memoirists, investigative reporters, etc. (Edelsky 2003). In a community of
practice, all members, regardless of skill level, are considered to be active participants. Ana
Christina DaSilva Iddings (2005) found that English learners developed a strong sense of
solidarity and friendship, and adapted well to an English-dominant classroom, when they were
part of such a community. Although Jean Lave and Wenger conducted their research with adults
outside schools, we find the concept of a community of practice to be a useful way to talk about
the collaborative work and learning that takes place in a classroom of writers and readers. This
sociocultural approach emphasizes learners as apprentices (Rogoff 1990; Tharp and Gallimore
1988) and literacy learning as the appropriation of cultural practices. The vehicle for
appropriation is semiotic mediation (John-Steiner and Mahn 1996; Wells 2007), the use of
meaning-making tools to support learning. In CMWI classrooms, teachers’ actions, comments,
and instructional tools provide semiotic mediation.
Second, CMWI principles and practices are grounded in research that views inquiry as
integral to literacy instruction and to writing instruction in particular (e.g., Short, Harste, and
Burke 1996; Wilhelm 2007). Progressive educators have long argued for instruction framed as
advocated inquiry into topics of interest and relevance to students. Through inquiry, learners
maintain their curiosity and take risks as they seek answers to significant questions. Although the
teacher guides the process, questions should ultimately be generated by students, allowing them
to “own” the learning. A long tradition of instructional approaches supports an inquiry stance
(e.g., Ballenger 2009; Dewey 1910; Freire 1993; Shor 1997; Short, Harste, and Burke 1996;
Wells 1999; Wiggins and McTighe 2005; Wink 2010). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) suggests
that an individual who generates his or her own questions, and is able to pursue answers to those
questions, experiences a sense of “flow.” Flow also allows the individual to have a positive
outlook on learning and passionately seek answers and understandings. Therefore, students who
work within this framework, supported by teachers who incorporate CMWI principles and
practices in their teaching repertoire, are more likely to develop into lifelong learners.
Third, CMWI draws from sociocultural perspectives that view cultural identities as
“funds of knowledge” (Moll et al., 1992). Teachers who embrace CMWI practices acknowledge
and value the cultural identities of their students (Ball, 2006; Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings 1997;
Lee 2007; Nieto 1992). In their choice of reading materials and their options for inquiry topics,
teachers can make it possible for students to use their cultural funds of knowledge, including
ethnicity but not limited to that one aspect of culture. Cultural connections that frame students’
identities beyond ethnicity include their knowledge as males and females, adolescents,
technology natives, athletes, dancers, musicians, and so on. In traditional classrooms where these
identities may be marginalized, students may suffer from institutional discrimination, which
privileges the knowledge and cultural practices of a particular ethnicity, linguistic background,
socioeconomic level, race, gender, or religion. Research shows that a mismatch between home
and school practices may be a source of school failure (Cazden 1988; Heath 1983; Michaels
1981; Taylor and Dorsey-Gaines 1988). By viewing students’ cultural and experiential
backgrounds as “funds of knowledge,” teachers who use CMWI can better support students’
success in school.
Fourth, CMWI acknowledges the complexity of the instructional decisions that each
teacher must make in response to students. Similar to the goal of differentiated instruction (DI),
teachers who employ the tenets of CMWI seek “to maximize student growth and individual
success” (Tomlinson and Allan 2000, 4) by knowing the particular array of each learner’s
strengths and targets for learning. Student growth for English learners, of course, must attend to
the research on second language acquisition and literacy development (e.g., Collier 1995;
Cummings 1979; Krashen 2002; Lantolf 2006; Thompson 2004). This knowledge is essential in
order to vary the degrees of support and the type of mediation to meet these needs. Thus, the
teacher must know his or her students well. Knowing students well is not simply a matter of
knowing them one-on-one but also knowing how they engage in a range of tasks. Effective
mediation includes gradual release of responsibility (Pearson and Gallagher 1983) to students,
but it also includes the use of the “just right” tool that will match students’ current
understanding. In other words, Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the zone of proximal development
is central to his concept of mediation.
CMWI PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
Drawing on these four areas of research, we developed a list of CMWI principles and
practices for the 2007 advanced institute; the list was then refined by the year 1 teachers as they
read and discussed the research literature and their students’ responses to CMWI in their classes.
These principles guide the decisions of the CMWI teachers whose work is reported below:
• We learn best with opportunities for social interaction.
• We need opportunities to make strategic choices about what, when, or where we learn
and how we read and write.
• We respond positively to purposeful, challenging tasks.
• We learn best when we can make connections to our lives.
• Our sense of identity influences our academic learning.
• We learn more easily and powerfully within a community of practice.
• We learn best (as individuals and communities) through inquiry.
• We need to participate in dialogue and critique about significant issues (including our
own learning strategies).
CMWI principles suggest that teachers should invite students to engage in various combinations
of these research-based practices:
• Inquire, write, and publish together.
• Build on experiences outside and inside school.
• Activate prior knowledge and provide common experiences.
• Frame significant issues as springboards for inquiry.
• Demonstrate strategies and resources for inquiry, reading, and writing.
• Provide time for individual and shared investigation.
• Respond and revise, and provide feedback for revision and editing.
• Publish and present findings in a variety of ways/media/genre to a range of real audiences.
• Invite further inquiry and opportunities to apply what we have learned.
• Assess learners’ strengths and targets for growth; use assessment data to inform instruction.
• Use state and district curricular frameworks and standards to guide instructional decisions.
These CMWI practices are enacted from an inquiry stance and can be organized as a series of
inquiry cycles (appendix A) adapted from the work of Kathy Short, Jerome Harste, and
Carolyn Burke (1996). These are the overlapping phases or components of this recursive cycle:
• Exploring (reading, prewriting, discussing, etc.)
• Focusing (framing issues and questions, etc.)
• Searching (gathering information from many sources)
• Synthesizing and evaluating (putting the information together, making sense of it
• Creating, publishing, and presenting (composing a message, drafting, revising,
editing, and publishing/presenting to authentic audiences)
• Reflecting, assessing, and moving forward (evaluating the product and the process
of the inquiry, looking for new questions)
CONTEXT AND EVOLUTION OF THE PROGRAM
This program, then, was our response to the clear need across Texas for middle and high
school teachers to learn more about how to help English learners become proficient and
confident academic writers. From the beginning, we viewed this as a statewide initiative among
NWP sites, although in the first year our focus was on six north Texas teachers implementing
these principles and practices in their classrooms. In the second year, we expanded our focus to
nine teachers from around the state and expanded the research design to include a matched
comparison of the writing scores of participants’ students with those of nonparticipating
teachers’ students. More detailed information about the demographics of the participants is
included in the research context sections below.
In both years 1 and 2, the CMWI program was planned and led by one of the site’s co-
directors with assistance from a teacher-consultant. In year 2 some of the teacher-researchers
from year 1 also led demonstrations during the institute, showing how they had integrated the
CMWI principles and practices into their instruction.
2007 Year 1 Institute
In the 2007 advanced institute, we planned for participating teachers to 1) investigate
current research related to writing instruction for adolescent English language learners; 2) plan,
implement, and evaluate culturally responsive writing instruction for ELL students in our
classrooms; and 3) disseminate what we learned to colleagues in the NWP Texas state network.
During the three-day institute, we worked together as a community of practice, imagining
ourselves as investigative reporters exploring how students’ potential funds of knowledge could
serve as resources for literacy teaching and learning. As part of the process, we interviewed one
another and other adults who were academically successful English language learners.
We also used Authors in the Classroom (Ada and Campoy 2003) as our central text to
explore how we might encourage students to write their stories. To illustrate how the process
might work with students, especially as we move toward more formal writing for academic
audiences, we followed an inquiry cycle, which we later revised and continue to use (appendix
A). At the end of the three days, the teachers revised the CMWI principles and practices to be
more useful for themselves and future project participants. Although this time was too brief for
detailed instructional planning, the teachers agreed to develop ideas for implementing these
principles in their classrooms in the coming year.
During the fall and spring of 2007–08, we held four Saturday-morning debriefing
sessions including the research team and the teachers. These discussions proved helpful to both
groups in deepening our understanding of how the principles and practices might be enacted in
our particular contexts and also how we might best gather and analyze the observational and
interview data documenting the teachers’ work. It was during these sessions that we began
thinking of the teachers as teacher-researchers because their insights were making a significant
contribution to the goals of our research.
2008 Year 2 Institute
The feedback from year 1 teachers and our ongoing study of published research helped us
revise the content and structure of the 2008 institute. First, we met for five days rather than three.
Second, we revised the principles and practices to be more concise. Third, we revised the inquiry
cycle and used it more explicitly as a planning guide for instruction. Fourth, our preliminary
findings from year 1 helped us talk about the complexity of the decisions the teacher-researchers
seemed to be making as they supported their students, including their English learners. We were
able to provide examples of how these teachers seemed to be stepping in to support students and
then stepping back to let them build independence. At that time, we characterized these kinds of
mediation, or support, as interpersonal/personal, content/concept development, literacy
skills/strategies, and linguistic mediation. The year 2 teacher-researchers left the institute with
two instructional plans. One was a specific inquiry cycle for the beginning of the year to help
them build a community of practice early on. The other was a more general idea for an inquiry
cycle to be implemented in the spring—when the research team would make their observations.
Intended Influence on Student Outcomes
Based on the research outlined above, we speculated that CMWI would positively
influence both student engagement and writing performance. To document changes in student
writing, we compared fall writing samples to spring writing samples in years 1 and 2.
This project was guided by our questions about the influence of CMWI on student
writing, as well as our questions about whether and how teacher participants would adopt and
adapt these principles and practices. Our questions spanning the two years were:
1. What, if any, is the influence of CMWI on student writing performance?
2. How, if at all, do participants integrate CMWI into their instruction?
3. What, if anything, influenced teachers’ integration of CMWI into their instruction?
4. How, if at all, does participants’ integration of CMWI change over time?
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
Our goal in year 1 was to describe how the participating teachers adopted and adapted the
principles and practices of CMWI. We not only planned to identify and fully describe relevant
features of CMWI instruction to guide our analysis in year 2, but also hoped that our findings
would inform the ongoing revision and refinement of the CMWI institute. Year 1, therefore, used
a multiple-case-study design: we followed the six teacher participants in the summer 2007
institute into their classrooms during the school year.
Our goals in year 2 were to continue refining our description of CMWI and to establish
whether the integration of CMWI principles and practices would influence student writing. In
year 2, therefore, we used a mixed-methods, quasi-experimental design. In addition to an
inductive analysis of qualitative data to describe how the teachers integrated CMWI into their
instruction, we addressed the question about student writing with a matched-pair comparison.
One teacher from each matched pair participated in an advanced institute, then students of both
participating and nonparticipating teachers were administered a pre/post writing assessment. The
student writing samples were sent to the NWP Scoring Conference in Chicago, Illinois, for
Years 1 and 2 Data Sources and Research Questions
The relevance of the four primary data sources to the guiding research questions is
represented in table 1. The research questions called for qualitative methods to describe the work
of the teachers and a statistical analysis of the students’ writing scores.
Table 1: Years 1 and 2 Data Sources and Research Questions
1. What, if any, is the influence of
CMWI on student writing
2. How, if at all, do participants
integrate CMWI into their
instruction? 1 & 2
3. What, if anything, influences
teachers’ integration of CMWI into
their instructional decisions? 1 & 2
4. How, if at all, does participants’
integration of CMWI change over
1 & 2
Year 1 Research Context and Participants
In year 1 the six teachers (five females and one male) came from three midsize to large
suburban districts in north Texas. One middle school team comprised two teachers; the other two
teams (two teachers each) were from high schools. These were all general education English
classrooms with varying numbers of English learners, some of whom were officially identified as
eligible for English as a second language (ESL) services. (In Texas eleventh- and twelfth-graders
receive no ESL services, regardless of their English proficiency.) Typical of classrooms
throughout Texas, Spanish was the native language of most English learners, although one high
school included significant numbers of other language groups as well as Spanish. These teachers
were also typical―native English speakers with varying levels of knowledge about support for
English learners. Although their teaching experience ranged from one to fifteen years, their
experience at their current 2007–08 grade level ranged from zero to four years. Table 2
summarizes these teacher characteristics.
Table 2: Year 1 Teacher Characteristics
Code Gender Native
language Ethnicity Degree
level Kind of class No. of
P1Yr1 F English Anglo Master’s 12
English IV 7-10 2
P5Yr1 F English Anglo Master’s 10
English II 1-3 2
Year 1 Qualitative Data Collection
To build rich descriptions of the implementation of CMWI principles and practices in year
1, each of the six classes was observed at least five times throughout the school year. (For the
purpose of the study, each teacher chose one section or class of students for data collection.) The
first visit provided an overview of the classroom and school environment. During subsequent
visits research associates took field notes, recorded classroom lessons, collected any papers
distributed to students, and conducted a follow-up interview after the observation. Student work
was collected when possible. Field notes of classroom visits were then transferred to the data-
collection protocols developed prior to the study. Research associates added their inferences
about CMWI principles and practices as they worked through the transcripts.
The six research associates were members of the North Star of Texas Writing Project
community. Four of the six were teacher-consultants who had taught in classrooms where
demographic changes had occurred, so they had strong background knowledge of the kinds of
accommodations teachers must make for a diverse population. Prior to collecting any data, the
research associates met for eight hours to develop a working knowledge of their task. Data-
collecting techniques were shared, and tapes were viewed to practice the process. During the
year, the research associates met periodically to debrief. In spite of these attempts to ensure that
the field notes were comparable in focus and detail, the quality of the field notes and
documentation was somewhat uneven. Where possible, the research team gathered additional
details through observations, conversations with teachers, and a focus-group interview the
Year 1 Qualitative Data Analysis
The qualitative data were analyzed inductively to identify patterns in teachers’
implementation of CMWI principles and practices. To begin the analysis, one set of data from
each participating teacher was read and coded. Initial categories that emerged from the data
included oral response, written response, and high expectations. The emerging categories were
similar to concepts in the CMWI principles and practices. These preliminary categories were
then used to perform a more thorough analysis of data from each teacher’s classroom, a process
that helped us refine low-inference codes in light of elements of CMWI principles and practices.
This analysis in turn provided the foundation for higher-inference categories. Debriefing sessions
with the teachers were also instrumental in affirming and refining these codes. Using NVivo, one
team member then analyzed the qualitative data. Two additional codes were added as a result of
this analysis. Further discussion refined and confirmed those codes, helping us identify patterns
within and across teachers’ instructional practices.
Year 2 Research Context and Participants
In year 2 the nine program teachers (all females) came from five campuses representing four
school districts across the state. These nine teachers participated in the summer 2008 CMWI
institute and collaborated on data gathering and analysis throughout 2008–09. As in year 1, all
were mainstream teachers, not pullout ESL teachers. Two teachers came from a campus in north
Texas; three from central Texas; three from the Rio Grande Valley, near the Texas/Mexico
border; and one from a small rural town near El Paso, two miles from the Mexican border. Five
were middle school teachers, and four were high school teachers. Data about their ethnicity,
language proficiencies, and teaching experience are reported in table 3.
Table 3: Year 2 Program Teacher Characteristics
Code Gender Native
language Ethnicity Degree
level Grade level
7th & 8th
7th & 8th
9th & 12th
Source: Teacher Data Form
Nine comparison teachers were matched as closely as possible with each of the nine
program teachers in year 2. Table 4 displays the demographics for the comparison teachers.
Matched pairs can be identified by the corresponding number. C1 through C5 are middle school
teachers; C6 through C9 are high school teachers.
Table 4: Year 2 Comparison Teacher Characteristics
No. of years
Years teaching at
C4 F English Anglo Bachelor’s+ 6
Source: Teacher Data Form
The Year 2 teachers’ school and community contexts were more diverse than in year 1. In the
central and north Texas classrooms, the English learners were in the minority on campus as well
as in their particular classrooms. The south and west Texas students were almost all native
Spanish speakers, and one of their teachers was a native Spanish speaker. All the schools were
typical of schools in their geographical areas. For example, the schools in south and west Texas
had high percentages of Hispanic students and English learners. Although program and
comparison schools were closely matched in racial diversity, statewide implementation made it
challenging to obtain close matches on all potentially significant school variables. Details about
the comparative demographics for program and comparison schools can be found in appendices
B and C.
Year 2 Qualitative Data Collection
For the purpose of the study, each teacher again chose one class of students for data
collection. Similar to year 1, each class was visited by a data collector at least four times during
the school year. One of the teachers dropped out of the study in the fall, leaving a total of eight
teachers who completed the year with the research team. The statewide team, joined by two new
observers from south and central Texas, met in September to establish data-gathering
conventions, including an observation/interview protocol. The team met again in November and
January to debrief about data collection and discuss preliminary analyses.
Our year 2 data collection was informed in two ways by our experience during year 1.
First, from the first day of the institute, we let the teachers know that they were research team
members, helping us gather data and providing insights to answer the research questions. We
changed our language, calling the participants “teacher-researchers,” and changed our practices
to include them as full partners in the project. This action seemed to reduce teacher resistance,
which we had encountered during the early months of year 1 when those teachers did not
understand their important role in the research project. Most of the year 2 teachers posted
monthly online reflections on their instructional decisions and their students’ responses to
CMWI, as we had requested. Second, we held a two-day writing retreat in July to support
teachers in writing their reflections on the entire year. Five teachers and seven researchers
attended. And third, we focused more intently on establishing shared understandings and
practices among the data collectors. With generous support from the NWP staff, the team
collaboratively developed observation and interview protocols along with data-gathering
guidelines and note-taking conventions. Each observation was followed up, when possible, with
an interview about the teacher’s rationale for his or her decisions regarding integration of the
CMWI principles and practices.
The first visit provided an overview of the classroom and school environment. In the
spring semester, the observer focused on an inquiry cycle in process. During each classroom
visit, research associates took field notes, recorded classroom lessons, and collected instructional
documents. Student work samples were sometimes collected as illustrations of the instructional
activities. The research team posted their completed observation and interview protocols to an
online discussion group to make the data set available to all on the research team. This password-
protected online discussion group also served as an essential communication tool to coordinate
the work of our statewide team.
Year 2 Qualitative Data Analysis
In year 2 the observation and interview protocols were coded (according to the year 1
coding dictionary) and entered into NVivo. Various NVivo coding summary reports corroborated
the patterns we were noticing in how the teachers implemented the CMWI principles and
practices. Next, team members used the protocols and coding summary reports to inform case
narratives for each of the eight year 2 participants, with excerpts from the data supporting claims
in these case narratives. These case narratives synthesized what we knew about the teachers and
were useful in our cross-case analysis (represented in table 5 below). This analysis allowed us to
identify cases for which we had strong or weak evidence of each of the categories and
subcategories and helped us identify how some of the teachers changed over time. We continued
to consult published literature to inform our understandings of these emerging themes and
identified two overarching categories of patterns. One was related to teachers’ intentions or their
emphases on particular dimensions (social and cultural capital, academic content knowledge,
thinking strategies across sign systems, and linguistic knowledge). The second was related to
how features of CMWI were manifested in these eight classrooms. Once these themes were
sufficiently defined, we revisited the interview protocols and the teachers’ written reflections to
find further examples of the four dimensions and four features in the data for each teacher. Both
of these categories are explained below and are proving useful as we revise the CMWI institutes
planned for 2010 and 2011.
Year 2 Quantitative Data Collection and Analysis
To answer our second research question (how, if at all, do participants integrate CMWI
into their instruction?), program and comparison student writing samples were collected in
September 2008 and again in May 2009. The samples were scrubbed, labeled, coded, and
shipped to the NWP offices in Berkeley, California, for individual processing. During the
September collection period, the middle school samples size was n=127, and the high school
samples size was n=78. In May the middle school samples size was n=95, and the high school
sample size was n=42. The difference is attributed to student mobility, student program exits,
and student reassignments.
The quantitative data (student writing samples) were scored by NWP at the annual
scoring conference. Results were reported to the research team, and comparisons of the fall and
spring writing scores proceeded.
Quantitative evaluative framework
To ensure technical rigor and credibility, scoring and data processing were conducted
independently of the local site. The scoring was based on the NWP Analytic Writing Continuum,
a modified version of the Six+1 Trait Writing Model (Bellamy 2005). The Analytic Writing
Continuum, which includes refined and clarified definitions of the constructs measured, assesses
the following elements of writing:
• Content (including quality and clarity of ideas and meaning). The content
category describes how effectively the writing establishes and maintains a focus,
selects and integrates ideas related to content (i.e., information, events, emotions,
opinions, and perspectives) and includes evidence, details, reasons, anecdotes,
examples, descriptions, and characteristics to support, develop, and/or illustrate ideas;
• Structure. The structure category describes how effectively the writing establishes
logical arrangement, coherence, and unity within the elements of the work and
throughout the work as a whole;
• Stance. The stance category describes how effectively the writing communicates a
perspective through an appropriate level of formality, elements of style, and tone
appropriate for the audience and purpose;
• Sentence fluency. The sentence fluency category describes how effectively the
sentences are crafted to serve the intent of the writing, in terms of rhetorical purpose,
rhythm, and flow
• Diction (language). The diction category describes the precision and appropriateness
of the words and expressions for the writing task and how effectively they create
imagery, provide mental pictures, or convey feelings and ideas; and
• Conventions. The conventions category describes how effectively the writing
demonstrates age-appropriate control of usage, punctuation, spelling, capitalization,
A national panel of experts on student writing, along with senior NWP researchers, determined
that the Six +1 Trait model, while sufficiently comprehensive, required certain modifications to
make it more appropriate for use in research studies. The following modifications were
implemented in the NWP Analytic Writing Continuum prior to the scoring conference:
• The scale of the rubric was extended from four to six points in order to ensure
sufficient discrimination and therefore allow increased sensitivity to any changes that
might be observed.
• The language defining the traits was clarified to enhance the reliability of evaluative
• The evaluative judgments were modified to focus exclusively on the student writing
(where, on occasion, the rubric previously included references to the reader’s
reactions or the writer’s personality as the basis for judgment).
• Particular traits (notably content, including quality and clarity of ideas and meaning;
structure; and stance) underwent considerable revision in order to bring conceptual
coherence to the constructs and thereby enhance the reliability and validity of the
scores relevant to those constructs.
Scoring of the writing samples
The writing samples were among those from seven LSRI sites scored at the NWP
National Scoring Conference held in June 2008. Student writing was coded, with identifying
information removed so that scorers could not know any specifics of the writing sample being
evaluated (e.g., site of origin, group [program or comparison], or time of administration [pretest
or posttest]). Of the 4,571 papers from students in the middle and high school grades, which
included all of the student samples reported in this research project, 855 (19%) were scored twice
so that reliability could be calculated.
The scorers participated in six hours of training at the beginning of the conference. Their
scoring was calibrated to a criterion level of performance at that time and then recalibrated
following every major break in the scoring (meals and overnight). At the middle and high school
levels, which were the focus of this study, reliabilities (measured as interrater agreement,
defining “agreement” as two scores being identical or within one single score point of each
other) ranged from 83% to 93%, with an aggregate across all scores of 87%. (See appendix D for
a complete analysis of the reliability of the scoring of student writing.) All data were entered via
optical scanning with built-in checks for acceptable score ranges and the like. The resolution of
all discrepancies produced a highly accurate data file for use in our analysis.
Table 5: Reliability Rates for Writing Scores by Analytic Attribute
The scores were then forwarded to the local research site, where they were transferred to
Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 17 for statistical analysis. The CMWI
research team ran a repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) to find the between- and
within-subject gains. Repeated-measures ANOVA was chosen as the most appropriate due to the
sample size, data availability, and rigor; it is also appropriate for this statistical calculation
because it tests the equality of means. (A repeated-measures ANOVA is used when all members
of a random sample are measured under a number of different conditions. As the sample is
exposed to each condition in turn, the measurement of the dependent variable is repeated.)
Student scores of CMWI program teachers were measured against the student scores of
comparison group teachers. Further, comparisons of scores were made between pre/post scores
for the students of the CMWI teachers.
Research Question 1: What, If Any, Is the Influence of CMWI on Student Writing
CMWI had a mixed influence on middle and high school students’ writing performance,
as measured and analyzed by student writing samples during year 2. ANOVA results validated
the findings of the initial paired-samples t-test (see appendix E). The paired samples t-test
computes the difference between the two variables (pretest and posttest) for each case, and tests
to see if the average difference is significantly different from zero. ANOVA analysis also
provided additional information about significant results (p <0.05) between and within groups, as
well as the power (effect size) for each finding (for detailed results, see appendices).
The general findings are presented in tables 6 and 7 below (for more detailed information, see
appendices D and E).
Table 6: Year 2 Middle School Results of Repeated-Measures ANOVA―
Student Writing Scores
1 F values correspond to the test of significance of the interaction between group and time.
Table 7: Year 2 High School Results of Repeated-Measures ANOVA―
Student Writing Scores
1 F values correspond to the test of significance of the interaction between group and time.
Table 6 shows that middle school students made significant gains in holistic score, content
(MD=0.50), structure (MD=0.53), and stance (MD=0.55) scores. These results indicate that the
students were able write with perspective, then arrange, support, and develop their ideas
significantly better than at the beginning of the year. Table 7 also shows that high school
students made significant gains in stance (MD=0.79), diction (MD=0.64), and conventions
(MD=0.59). These results indicate that the students were able to write with improved
perspective, mature vocabulary, and stronger use of grammar and mechanics when compared to
the beginning of the year. These findings are consistent with CMWI principles and practices.
This quantitative analysis provides initial evidence that CMWI was effective in
increasing middle and high school students’ writing proficiency and leads us to the following
claims in response to research question 1:
1. Middle school students improved in all areas of the Analytic Writing Continuum;
furthermore, their improvement was statistically significant in the areas of holistic
score, content, and structure.
2. High school students improved in all areas of the Analytic Writing Continuum except
structure; furthermore, their improvement was statistically significant in holistic
score, diction, and conventions.
Limitations on the quantitative findings
The relatively small student writing sample size must be taken into consideration when
interpreting the findings. Initially, the sample size for middle and high schools students was more
than 200. However, the sample size was reduced before the first collection point due to low
student enrollment and teacher placements. The size was again reduced at the second collection
point due to student mobility and students who were exited to mainstream programs. After the
second collection point, middle school n (total) = 95 and high school n (total) = 42.
Because of budget, time, and local site constraints, it was difficult to find comparison
teachers with characteristics (such as students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch,
professional development, students’ academic attainment, and school size) similar to the
program teachers; this was especially true at the middle school level. The discrepancy between
the pretest scores of the middle school program and comparison groups helps explain the
differences in the results shown in table 6. However, it is not clear whether this discrepancy was
due to variable support during the administration of the writing prompt or to inherent differences
in student writing proficiency. (See appendices D and E for detailed graphs of the error bar for
student mean achievement at 95% confidence intervals.)
Research Question 2: How, If at All, Do Participants Integrate CMWI into Their
Initially, the research team had difficulty seeing patterns in the teachers’ discrete
decisions or actions revealed in the data. On closer analysis, however, the layered and
interdependent nature of these teachers’ instructional decisions became apparent. As we
identified recurring patterns in teachers’ integration of CMWI, we also revisited relevant
published research and checked our emerging insights with the teacher-researchers. The
following discussion is grounded in the analysis of qualitative data from four year 1 teachers and
eight year 2 teachers. The analysis revealed rich diversity in the ways these teachers integrated
CMWI into their instructional decisions.
Although CMWI teachers enacted the principles and practices they learned in the CMWI
institutes in diverse ways, we found two general categories of patterns related to
implementation—one related to the teachers’ goals for their students (which we call dimensions
of student language and literacy learning) and one related to their instructional decisions (which
we call features of the instructional landscape). First, the findings suggest that CMWI teachers
focused in various ways on four dimensions of language and literacy learning: 1) social and
cultural capital, 2) linguistic knowledge, 3) thinking strategies across sign systems, and 4)
academic content knowledge. Second, across these four dimensions we found evidence of four
features of complex learning landscapes in the classrooms of CMWI teachers: 1) caring
communities of practice, 2) invitations to make connections, 3) inquiry and dialogue, and 4)
mediation. Table 8 synthesizes our findings in response to research question 2, showing teacher
changes in each of these categories.
Table 8:Summary Chart: Dimensions of Literacy Learning and Features of CMWI
+++ Evidence of CMWI as organizing framework for instruction
++ Evidence of routine use of CMWI
+ Evidence of minimal use of CMWI
+ ---> ++ Evidence of increasing use of CMWI during study
0 ---> + Evidence of initial use of CMWI during study
Yr 1, 2,
Dimensions of literacy learning
Features of CMWI classroom landscapes
0 ---> +
0 ---> +
0 ---> +
0 ---> +
0 ---> +
0 ---> +
0 ---> +
The influences of CMWI on the teachers’ instructional decisions are more fully addressed
in the findings related to research question 3 below, but because those complex influences
provide the context for our findings related to teachers’ integration of CMWI, we mention them
here. Each teacher brought unique experiences and priorities to the institute, and they returned to
unique campus and classroom contexts. Each was cognizant of their particular curricular
mandates and the need to prepare students for the state-mandated tests. They were also sensitive
to their students’ developmental and affective needs. These differences meant that each teacher
interpreted and adapted the CMWI principles and practices in particular ways. That is, contextual
differences made it difficult for the teachers to replicate the CMWI practices in any standardized
Despite individual differences in how CMWI was interpreted, two overarching categories
of implementation patterns emerged: 1) teachers’ instructional goals or intentions, which we see
as interdependent dimensions of student language and literacy learning and 2) teachers’
instructional decisions, which we describe as features of the instructional landscape in each
classroom. The following discussion explains and illustrates the findings presented in table 8
above. Teachers’ names are pseudonyms; students are referred to by initial.
Teachers’ intentions: Four interdependent dimensions of language learning
In answering the second question—how these teachers integrated CMWI into their
instruction—we noticed four dimensions of literacy that the teachers who embraced CMWI
emphasized in various combinations. These four emphases were consistent with the components
of Virginia Collier’s (1995) “pyramid model” of language acquisition: 1) social cultural, 2)
linguistic, 3) cognitive, and 4) academic. Some teachers saw these as interdependent dimensions;
others saw them as competing and felt some level of conflict about how to set priorities.
1. Social and cultural capital. Most of the program teachers acknowledged and built on
students’ social and cultural capital in one of two ways—by building interpersonal relationships
or by encouraging students to use their cultural knowledge.
Social/interpersonal relationships. The CMWI principles and practices were most
evident in classrooms where teachers saw interpersonal relationships as central to their
communities of practice. These teachers saw positive personal relationships with the students as
connected to the students’ willingness to take risks in their reading and writing. Chloe, a ninth
grade teacher, provides a good example; she wrote in a reflective letter at the end of year 1:
E’s language gaps were obvious from the first day…. After spending a couple of weeks
getting to know her, I found out that she has moved around a lot. Originally from Mexico,
her family has moved from California to Texas in the last few years. E started to
accelerate in her reading and writing progress about a month into the year. She was
thrilled to have choice in what she read, looking for characters who resembled her or
books that had Spanish words in them…. I wish I had more personal writing from E in
addition to the responses she writes in her journal to her reading. I think that had I been
able to provide writing time after the class wrote their poems, E’s would have been rich
in voice and she would have drawn from the craft of the author we were reading.
Haley, a seventh grade language arts teacher, offers another example of the importance of
interpersonal connections in CMWI classrooms. When asked why she chose to attend the CMWI
summer institute, she recalled having to tell a seventh grade ELL Latino student, A, that he had
failed the state mandated test again. She explained:
I had to tell my A that he did not pass either of his TAKS tests. He was my only student
[who did not pass]. How did he not pass? I felt so ashamed having that conversation with
my innocent, fun-loving A. What I wanted to say to him was ‘I am sorry.’ I did not feel
that A failed. We failed A: I failed A. After a year of supporting A through individualized
instruction and encouragement, A improved but did not pass the TAKS…. The reality of it
is that A was not prepared…. I have to admit, neither was I. I believe CMWI will be a
huge step towards my preparation for the future A’s that will walk into my classroom.
Haley’s interpersonal approach was also evident in her instruction, as an observer wrote:
During the “Fear” unit, Haley placed students in small groups and asked them to share
their ideas for their fear paper. Students were encouraged to “steal” ideas from each
other. I sat in on one group’s conversation and was amazed at how many of the students
related to the Mexican myth of La Llorona: The Weeping Woman. Some of the students
shared family stories of the myth while others reported actually seeing La Llorona during
summer camp. Another [time] Haley asked about students’ names as a springboard to a
writing assignment. Haley asked, “What do you like about your name?” All of the
students shared personal stories of where their names came from or what they meant.
Like Haley and Chloe, CMWI teachers consistently focused on personal relationships
with their students and the social interaction among students. They used readings, discussions,
and writing assignments as opportunities to learn more about their students as well as to share
information about themselves and to deepen these personal relationships. By forming strong
positive relationships with their students, program teachers were able to learn more, not only
about students’ personal realities but also about their academic strengths and needs.
Cultural knowledge. Program teachers also helped students use their funds of knowledge
( and Amanti 1992; et al. 1993; Moll et al. 1992) to mediate their language
acquisition and content learning. CMWI teachers often defined funds of knowledge as the
student’s home culture or ethnicity, and most of them selected reading materials and writing
assignments with this in mind.
To capitalize on these funds of knowledge, some of the teachers worked hard at learning
about the students’ lives outside school. For instance, Olivia lived in a small town just four miles
from the Texas-Mexico border and had firsthand knowledge of her high school students, the
community, and issues that affected their daily lives; she deliberately integrated her students’
funds of knowledge into her instruction. Religion was important to the community and her
students, so these values emerged in classroom discussions of literature that was heavily focused
on issues of religion, like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. She
invited students to engage in critical examination of social issues—migrant workers, the border
fence, discrimination, and immigration—through the lens of their own experience as members of
a poor, predominantly Mexican American community.
Program teachers also defined funds of knowledge more broadly to include popular
culture and media. For instance, Caroline regularly brought in magazine and newspaper articles
as well as books not typically taught in high school English classes. She often used Internet
resources to support students’ inquiries. She not only brought community resources into the
classroom, but she also took her students into the community, including a field trip to work at a
local soup kitchen and a visit to the local university. Similarly, Haley saw that a student was
really interested in video games and knowledgeable about the game structure, plot, and rules.
The next day she asked him and other students to discuss their interest in video games and
promised “I am going to find a way to use video games in our class!”
These are just a few examples of how CMWI teachers integrated students’ funds of
knowledge to support their learning. In reading and writing activities, students were commonly
asked to make personal connections and to rely on their cultural resources to help them make
interpretations. Thus CMWI teachers’ knowledge of students’ experiences and value systems
informed their instructional choices and mediated students’ learning.
2. Linguistic knowledge. We define this dimension as the knowledge students have
about one or more of the linguistic systems—semantics, syntax, phonemics, grapho-phonemics,
and pragmatics. It also includes conventions like spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
Students learning a second (or third) language use this knowledge in cross-linguistic transfer,
code-switching, and the use of cognates. Researchers in second language acquisition agree with
Collier (1995): “To assure cognitive and academic success in a second language, a student’s first
language system, oral and written, must be developed to a high cognitive level at least through
the elementary-school years” (np). This means that English learners’ native language is an
important resource as they build proficiency in English.
Accordingly, most of the CMWI teachers allowed or encouraged students to use their
first language as they were thinking or talking about what they wanted to write, or as they were
discussing unfamiliar vocabulary or the meaning of a challenging literary passage. In this way,
the linguistic knowledge dimension of learning intersected with the social/interpersonal
dimension and supported students’ developing English proficiency. For example, Olivia, whose
students were almost all native Spanish speakers, often listened to students as they asked
questions in Spanish, but she always responded to them in English. Her stated goal was for them
to be able to function successfully as English speakers and writers in college courses. She knew
that they would use Spanish as a thinking tool, but she encouraged them to write their final
products in English.
Sometimes the teachers framed instruction about linguistic conventions not as a resource
for thinking and writing, but as a necessary task of test preparation. For example, Haley
explained that her students’ benchmark test scores were low in the areas of conjunctions,
independent/dependent clauses, pronoun antecedents, capitalization of proper nouns, transition
words, verb tense, and revision for clarity. She believed it was her responsibility to teach her
students to master these objectives. She explained to a student, “Baby, you are going to learn
how to use independent and dependent clauses because that is my job. My job is to teach you
well, and your job is to learn.”
Finally, CMWI teachers often addressed the linguistic knowledge dimension using
mentor texts—literary selections that illustrate particular syntactical constructions or effective
word choice. An observer in Haley’s class noted:
The students are reading the book and writing sentence structures independently and in
small groups. They are examining The Giver for examples. After the sentence lesson the
students are reading along as the teacher reads the book. There is a lot of practice in the
beginning with compound sentences by looking at The Giver as a mentor text. The
students recognize that Lois Lowry writes many complicated sentences that they cannot
name…. Haley encourages collaboration between the students and encourages them to
help one another.
Although these are clear examples, we saw less evidence of CMWI teachers’ focusing on
the linguistic dimension than on the other three (social and cultural capital, thinking strategies
across sign systems, and academic content knowledge). These “mainstream” teachers, who were
not primarily responsible for ESL instruction, may not have been thoroughly aware of how
linguistic knowledge can help students build competence in academic discourse in English. Most
of these teachers were themselves monolingual, so they did not have personal experiences to
support the use of this dimension with their students. Also, most of these teachers had few
newcomers in their classes; a focus on linguistic issues might be more evident in their work with
students at beginning levels of English proficiency. Finally, we acknowledge that our
understanding of this dimension is more detailed than when we first designed the CMWI
institutes. We are modifying the content of future CMWI institutes to better address linguistic
knowledge as a resource for thinking, reading, and writing.
3. Thinking strategies across sign systems. A third dimension of language learning
focuses on cognitive strategies, a category in which we include problem solving; “levels” of
thinking as in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl 2001); and
reading/thinking strategies such as predicting, connecting, visualizing, summarizing,
questioning, self-monitoring, etc. (e.g., Flower and Hayes 1981; Graves and Liang 2008; Harvey
and Goudvis 2007; Olson and Land 2007). We use the phrase “across sign systems” because we
noted that these teachers encouraged students to use these strategies with graphics, drawings, and
media presentations, as well as with linguistic texts.
Attention to these strategies is clearly significant for English learners. Judith Langer and
colleagues (1990), who studied bilingual fifth-graders, found the “use of good meaning-making
strategies rather than degree of fluency in English, differentiated the better from the poorer
readers. . .” (463). In documenting the effectiveness of a cognitive-strategies approach to writing
instruction for secondary English learners, Carol Olson and Robert Land claim that “it is the
teacher’s responsibility to make visible for students what it is that experienced readers and
writers do when they compose; to introduce the cognitive strategies that underlie reading and
writing in meaningful contexts; and to provide enough sustained, guided practice that students
can internalize these strategies and perform complex tasks independently” (2007, 274). CMWI
teachers prioritized strategy instruction in various ways:
• Caroline worked with high school students who had not passed at least one English
course and/or were judged to be at risk of failing the state-mandated test. She helped her
students create the chart in figure 1, which became a well-used anchor and reminded
students of target reading strategies.
Figure 1: Anchor Chart Traits of Good Readers
• Elizabeth, a ninth grade teacher in year 1, emphasized the cognitive-strategies dimension
when teaching the classics. While her students read Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth helped
them make sense of the story by using a graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
She combined reading, retelling, and discussion to support her students’ understanding.
She and the students discussed and wrote scene summaries and predicted what might
happen next. They discussed why the illustrator represented the characters and action in
particular ways. Elizabeth’s students also wrote learning logs from one character’s
perspective. As they wrote she moved around the room, supporting them individually
rather than leaving them to use these strategies on their own.
• During her read-alouds to seventh-graders, Haley frequently stopped and talked about
how she was making meaning: “I just read the word ‘subordinate.’ I don’t know what that
means. I am going to write it on the board and see if I can figure it out.” Haley then
separated the word into syllables and asked the students to help her define the prefix and
suffix. She encouraged students to do the same when they read and acknowledged
students with a class award if they showed her their own word bank of unknown
• Faith also used interactive read-alouds with her seventh-graders, even within the
curricular framework and instructional plan mandated by the school district. An observer
in her classroom described how she focused on strategy instruction:
After the students’ (daily journal) writing, Faith reads a story aloud, stopping to engage
the students in conversations about the story and what the moral might be. The students
are relaxed and all of them participate, commenting and making connections with
personal stories. Then Faith takes the students through a structured activity, helping
them summarize each part of the story. She moves around the room, helping individuals
as they need support, checking to make sure students indent their paragraphs and
reminding them to use transitional words…. At the beginning of the year, Faith offers a
great deal of structure for her students--prompts for the journal writing, a graphic to
guide the summary writing. She is expected to follow C-Scope, a curricular framework
and instructional plan, but Faith substitutes culturally relevant reading selections…. She
clearly knows her students and strives to plan instruction that will invite students’
enthusiastic and joyful participation.
• Chloe, a ninth grade teacher in year 2, framed her strategy instruction as the “four Ps”:
purpose, prior knowledge, previewing, and prediction. She wrote to the research team:
As a reading acceleration class (test preparation) speeding ever so swiftly toward March
5th (the state testing date), we are of course in the throes of practicing reading strategies
and critical reading of texts.
As these examples illustrate, differing curricular expectations across districts and grade
levels meant that CMWI teachers integrated thinking strategies across sign systems into their
daily or weekly routine in particular ways, yet they saw this dimension as central to their work
4. Academic content knowledge. Academic content knowledge is the final dimension in
our data analysis that seemed to reflect teachers’ intentions or priorities. We define this
dimension as student learning related to curricular standards and mandated assessments. As
Virginia Collier (1995) explains, “With each succeeding grade, academic work dramatically
expands the vocabulary, sociolinguistic, and discourse dimensions of language to higher
cognitive levels.” (np). More specifically, we see academic learning as including both a body of
disciplinary knowledge (in this case the overlapping content areas of language, literacy, and
literature) and a specialized discourse: the language and social practices used in language arts
and literature classes. Jeff Zwiers (2004–05) makes a strong argument for a focus on academic
learning: “Many English language learners need to learn English at accelerated rates to perform
on grade level. Fluency in social language is not enough to help close the achievement gaps that
are often created by a lack of academic language. We must train our students to hear, harness,
and own the academic language that they need for success” (63).
CMWI teachers used multiple strategies to make the academic dimension meaningful and
accessible to their students. For instance, Layla, a twelfth grade teacher, faced the challenge of
helping English learners learn about British literature. She began the year by leading the students
in thinking about definitions of culture, posing six questions about cultural practices in the
students’ communities. Later, when it was time to read Beowulf, Layla recalled:
I gave the students information about the culture of the Anglo-Saxons before starting.
About halfway through the story of Beowulf, we stopped and answered these six
questions again, but this time about the Anglo-Saxons. It seemed to be an effective way to
help them think about how history and life conditions affect the values a culture adopts.
After this unit, Layla’s students read definition essays by professional writers, then wrote their
own definition essays using those six questions about their own communities to suggest topics.
Similarly, Olivia, the high school teacher in the small town on the Mexican border, chose
challenging literature for her students, but she made it accessible to them by using a
transactional, problem-posing approach that engaged them in highly academic work and
conversations. In one exchange, a student asked Olivia a question about Toni Morrison’s The
Student: Is he trying to help her or hurt her?
Olivia: He does rape her…. ‘At least he loved her enough to touch her.’ What kind of
comment is [the character] making by saying that? What does that tell you about her?
The student seemed a little unsure, so Olivia added, “The only person that loved her enough to
touch her did something horrible. This is the best treatment that she could get. What does that tell
you about everybody else and the way they treated her?” Olivia told the student to think about it
for a little while and then they would talk about it. This exchange illustrates how a transactional
approach (asking questions and posing problems, rather than just supplying a correct answer as
in more transmission-oriented models) can make academic content accessible to students.
With the middle school students, academic content knowledge often focused on
vocabulary development and reading/writing skills in preparation for standardized tests. Faith’s
example illustrates how teachers used students’ first language to help them learn English
academic vocabulary. Because the majority of her students were bilingual, Faith encouraged the
fluid use of English and Spanish in her classroom, accepting both languages at all times from
herself and students. Faith built on students’ knowledge of their first language to enhance their
acquisition of academic English, making the English academic vocabulary more accessible to
English language learners.
As these examples illustrate, perhaps our most important finding related to academic
content knowledge is that, although all the CMWI teachers acknowledged its importance, not
one of them focused solely on this dimension. Academic content knowledge was always
developed in the context of social and cultural capital, linguistic knowledge, and/or thinking
strategies across sign systems. It is perhaps the integration of these four dimensions of
learning—albeit operationalized and prioritized in various ways—that makes CMWI so flexible,
robust, and adaptable to different groups of students in diverse contexts.
Features of CMWI learning landscapes
The second overarching category in the qualitative data we identified as “features of
CMWI learning landscapes.” These teachers shaped four primary features of their classroom
learning landscapes: 1) caring communities of practice, 2) invitations to make connections, 3)
inquiry and dialogue, and 4) mediation. Each of these aspects of the learning landscape is
explained below; for an example of how one-seventh grade teacher integrated them all into her
classroom, see appendix F.
Caring communities of practice. A community of practice has three characteristics: 1)
mutual engagement in a 2) joint enterprise or shared work for which they develop a 3) shared
repertoire of practices. In the CMWI classroom data, we can clearly identify those three
characteristics of a community of practice; in addition, we also see a consistent emphasis on
Caring. CMWI teachers encouraged mutual engagement in these communities of
writers by encouraging respectful and caring relationships among their students (John-Steiner
2000; Noddings 2005). This built trust and encouraged students to take risks. For example,
Brianna encouraged this risk taking in her seventh grade class by setting expectations for student
interactions. She reminded students to respect others’ answers and contributions, she allowed
students to share freely without having to be called on all the time, and she accepted and
acknowledged all contributions and validated students’ responses. In this nonthreatening
environment, students took risks, changed their minds, shared, and learned. Brianna said that all
the students’ answers “were right” so this “makes them feel good.” In her mind, students’ desire
to share and participate would “build a better community.” She added, “They are not afraid; they
get involved; they ask questions.”
Mutual engagement. Mutual engagement can be described as a respectful stance
toward shared work. Brianna demonstrated this stance when she used one student’s success as a
model for others. Brianna began with “I would like to share the beginning of one student’s story,
but I need to get his permission”.” After obtaining the boy’s permission, Brianna shared the
introduction of his story with the class; the student smiled as she read.
Joint enterprise as writers. To achieve student engagement in this joint enterprise
as writers, CMWI teachers sometimes framed literacy instruction as a set of literacy practices or
tasks inherent to the work of a particular discourse community—e.g., readers, authors, scholars,
or investigative reporters (Edelsky 2003). Most CWMI teachers seemed to establish these “joint
enterprises” implicitly and subtly; others named the joint enterprise explicitly and made sure that
all students were engaged as members of the community. For example, Olivia treated her
twelfth-graders like college English majors, helping them write literary critiques of challenging
novels and making formal presentations to one another as if they were attending a conference.
Caroline, whose students were assigned to her class because they had either failed the state test
or an English course, focused on helping her students build identities as “successful students,”
heavily emphasizing study strategies, habits, and school achievement. Elizabeth set up a writing
blog for each of her ninth-graders, who posted an original piece every other week. When she
realized how eager most students were to have a safe place to publish their writing, she said, “I
am amazed at the online community of writers I have created! . . . It’s as if they have been
writing all the time at home and just needed somewhere to showcase their work.” These are just
three examples of how teachers established a joint enterprise in the classroom:
Shared repertoire of practices. A shared repertoire of practices is understood by
each of the members of a group, in this case the teacher and students in the class. For the teacher-
consultants and their students, the practices are related to the workshop model of writing
instruction. The practices include time for reading and writing, often at or for specific time
periods, writing in a writer’s notebook/journal, conferring with the teacher or peers, revising and
editing written work, and publishing work for authentic audiences. The teacher-researchers in
this study had all experienced these shared practices during their invitational summer institute.
Evidence of these shared practices were evidenced in the teacher-researcher classrooms through
posters on the wall, such as in Brianna’s classroom, and through time schedules for events such
as journal writing or sustained silent reading that were seen written on the agenda in Layla’s
One of the most difficult expectations in the shared repertoire is the notion of authentic
audiences. The teacher-researchers made strong efforts to make this happen for their students.
For example, Olivia used her college textbook with her students. In this way, she was preparing
them for college, and thus the work they created needed to be appropriate for a college audience.
With this high expectation, her students wrote gothic novels and learned to discuss literature like
The Crucible and Paradise Lost. Their final work was put into an anthology the students created
on their own.
Invitations to make connections. A second feature of CMWI learning landscapes was
that teachers continually invited students to make meaningful connections—with students’
cultural backgrounds, interests, and prior knowledge and connections within and across texts.
Luis Moll and others’ (1992) concept of funds of knowledge as curricular resources supports this
emphasis on personal and cultural connections. Furthermore, research on reading comprehension
emphasizes the importance of making connections between and across texts. CMWI teachers
helped students make all these kinds of connections as they read, wrote, and thought about
Elizabeth, a year 1 participant, focused on helping her students make personal
connections. She led her students through an inquiry cycle that culminated in a multi-genre
project. One student’s project (a collection of pictures, poems, and narrative) focused on her
mother. One of her poems was called “The Stone I Love”; the narrative, which included stories
of her family who were immigrants from Lithuania, told how her mom is “nutty, out there.”
Layla used whole-group discussions with her twelfth-graders to help them make
connections to literature. “I use discussions as anticipatory sets—I get them talking and thinking
about something in their own lives, and then I move into, ‘Well, let’s see what Hamlet thinks
about that.’” Because her classes include immigrants from Central America, Cambodia, and
Vietnam, Layla understands the challenge of helping her students see connections to ancient
British literature (which is not always easy for native English speakers either). Through writing
and discussion, Layla encouraged students to think about connections to cultural practices and
folk literature―even about monsters in their cultures—before reading about the Anglo-Saxon
hero Beowulf and his monster, Grendel.
Brianna emphasized the importance of multiple kinds of connections: her writing
assignments revolved around students’ lives and friends, subjects that motivated them to write
and talk. At the same time, Brianna was teaching adjectives, literary elements, dialogue, and so
on. Brianna also began making explicit connections from day to day, unit to unit, in an effort to
help students see and understand the “big picture” for learning: “I want you to think about
everything we are doing here…. I have a plan … figure out my plan …we are looking at the
model. Anytime we look at an example, we do it for a purpose … we look at our examples and
the author’s example. What are we trying to build here?” (One student yelled, “A connection!”)
Brianna noted that the CMWI model had allowed her to see the importance of activating
students’ prior knowledge and helping them see connections to that knowledge in new learning
experiences. This is particularly noteworthy because Brianna was in the first year of
implementing a mandated curricular/instructional framework that prescribed fairly rigid rules for
how teachers should move through the discrete skill lessons. Helping her students make
connections proved to be one way for Brianna to exercise her own judgment about instruction
despite a fairly rigid new system.
Inquiry and dialogue. Because the inquiry cycle was a central component of the CMWI
advanced institute, we were not surprised that CMWI teachers integrated inquiry into their
instruction. (We pair “inquiry” and “dialogue” here because of the inevitable connection between
the two. As Gordon Wells (2007) points out on page 266, “When students pursue investigations,
they develop ideas and acquire information that they want to share and debate.”). What did
surprise us was the wide range of ways these teachers enacted inquiry and dialogue in their
Various participation/dialogue structures. Teachers used various participation
structures to encourage different kinds of dialogue. Layla moved from the whole group to
individual writing to paired response to writing and back to the whole group, a rhythm she
seemed to tailor to students’ needs in the moment. Natalia spoke to the whole class as she made
assignments and conducted brief lessons, but as soon as the students were busy, she moved from
individual to individual, engaging each student in a private conversation. Caroline used both
whole-group discussions and individual work time, usually within one class period. Brianna used
small-group tasks. Elizabeth used student blogs to facilitate online conversations among
students. These are just a few of the participation structures we observed in CMWI teachers’
classes. All of the teachers who attempted to integrate CMWI used a variety of participation
structures, choosing them deliberately to encourage various kinds of dialogue. (When teachers
struggled with student engagement or with student performance, we noticed that they seemed to
be depending on whole-group explanation/discussion as a default participation structure.)
Long- and short-term inquiry cycles. Some CMWI teachers planned and
implemented long-term inquiry cycles to frame the reading of literary texts, strategy lessons, and
writing opportunities. For example, Elizabeth and Natalia planned comprehensive inquiry units
that culminated in multi-genre projects. Chloe and Layla worked with the other twelfth grade
teachers on their campus to organize their British literature course into inquiry cycles, focusing
on issues like social class and culture. Haley and Hannah framed their inquiry as I-Search
projects (Macrorie 1988). Hannah introduced multiple technological tools for her students to use
in their inquiries. At Haley’s middle school, the I-Search project developed during the second
year into a campus-wide initiative. With her high school students, Caroline began with a whole-
class reading of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, moving from an issue-oriented inquiry
cycle about hunger in the local community to a social action project and field trip to a local soup
Other teacher-researchers used smaller inquiry cycles in their daily interactions with
students. For example, Haley and Olivia consistently responded to almost all individual student
questions by asking deeper and more probing questions. Faith also deliberately used questions
with middle school students (even within her restrictive curriculum framework). She recalled:
Throughout the year (at the beginning of each class), instead of my old “TLW” (The
student will be able to . . .), I placed a burning question on the whiteboard. Students knew
that this was the focus of our learning, and that by the end of the unit they should be able
to answer that question. After almost a whole year of me posing the essential question,
students selected their own “burning question” for the photo story project. Now they had
an opportunity to pose their own questions―the only criterion was that the question had
to deal with something about them. I wanted this project to be something personal to
them, something with meaning that they could look back on years from now and get a
glimpse of how they were when they were twelve (or thirteen). . . . Some [students’]
burning questions included:
• What is my purpose in life?
• Why is life so beautiful?
• Why does everything have to change?
• Why is life so hard?
In May, Faith said the best evidence that her students were “getting it” was that “they [were]
creating their own questions.” She said this led to improved attitudes toward writing. She also
reported that, before she tried it, she thought it would hard to use the inquiry cycle, but that it
was a “more natural process” than she had expected.
Caroline’s experience offers another example of how teachers integrated inquiry into
literacy instruction. Caroline attended the CMWI institute in summer 2008 after her first year of
high school teaching. Although she already believed in an inquiry approach, she wanted to
incorporate that process in her teaching. As she wrote, “At the beginning of the year, I wanted to
help my students become expert ‘noticers,’ but I often found myself providing answers instead of
letting students search and explore.” Caroline wanted to leverage students’ everyday experiences
and apply them to what they were learning in school. She also wanted to make sure that all
students felt successful, had an opportunity to share what they knew already, and could explore
their individual learning goals. She began by framing reading and writing as inquiry processes:
What do good readers do? What is the writing process? However, after a year of work with the
CMWI team, she came to see the need for inquiries about content as well as skills or strategies.
As she put it, “Deep, rich content helps make powerful inquiries that provide students the
opportunity to practice their literacy skills in a meaningful context.”
By spring 2009, Caroline’s classroom walls provided evidence of many inquiry cycles,
including topics related to the Middle Ages, what good readers do, revenge, and effective
research skills. Her spring inquiry cycle, “My Life in Ten Years,” was designed to help students
start thinking about what they needed (educationally) to get the things they wanted in ten years.
She explained that this inquiry cycle was intended to provide both meaningful lessons that would
keep students engaged at the end of the school year and a competitive advantage when they went
to college or to begin their careers.
As these examples illustrate, each of the inquiry cycles conducted by CMWI teachers
served as a framework: sometimes for a long-term curricular project, sometimes for a daily
lesson plan, and sometimes for a two-minute reading conference. Across all of our examples,
questions played a central role in opening possibilities for English language learners (and native
English speakers) with diverse cultural backgrounds and varying language proficiencies to make
sense of their worlds on their own terms and to share what they were learning with other
members of the community.
Mediation. Our findings support James Lantolf’s (2006) argument that second language
acquisition occurs when people participate in authentic social and cultural situations, appropriate
and internalize oral and written language practices and concepts, and eventually create original
responses and adaptations. The supporting structures (concrete and symbolic/semiotic) that
facilitate this process are “mediational tools.” Drawing on Jerome S. Bruner (1966), Lantolf
Bruner (1966) proposed that activities, artifacts, and concepts function as
cultural amplifiers and suggested that as with physical tools―hammers amplify
our strength and sticks amplify our reach―symbolic artifacts (e.g., literacy)
amplify memory and increase our capacity to organize and communicate knowledge
(cited in Lantolf, 2006, p. 70).
The teachers who most clearly integrated CMWI set up predictable routines, made
challenging and interesting resources available, and invited their students to engage in inquiry-
based reading and writing practices―all of which served to mediate students’ language and
literacy learning. This mediation seemed to help students 1) make sense of their experiences, 2)
appropriate particular language and literacy practices, 3) internalize meanings, and 4) create and
express new representations and messages. Once this basic classroom “landscape” was in place
to help mediate their students’ language and literacy learning, CMWI teachers observed their
students so that they could step in with more mediation when needed and step back, giving
students more independence, when possible. More specifically, our findings suggest that these
CMWI teachers regularly used a range of concrete tools to mediate their students’ learning. The
two we saw most often, anchor charts and mentor texts, are described below.
Anchor charts. An anchor chart is a handmade poster, a graphic representation
that serves as a reminder of something students are learning. Posted in the classroom, it becomes
a concrete reference tool that “anchors” key concepts students are using in their ongoing work.
After participating in the academic literacy program, Layla noted her understanding of the
important role concrete tools like anchor charts can play in mediating students’ learning: “The
next time I do this unit, I want to focus on the word culture first, as one of my beginning-of-the-
year activities…. I envision some kind of poster hanging in my room with an exploration of this
term, so that I can refer to it throughout the year.”
An incident in Haley’s class illustrates how an anchor chart supported one student: As
Haley was conferencing with the student, she turned to the back of the room and pointed to a
poster with a large pizza drawn on it. She explained that the student was trying to write about the
whole pizza but that she wanted him to write about one piece of the pizza. This helped the
student understand how to write small, detailed “slices” of an event. Haley regularly referred to
instructional posters to support her students’ understanding of skills and strategies, as well as
reminders about how to manage their time during the writing workshop.
Like Haley, Caroline also used anchor charts regularly. She gradually built an anchor
chart on the research process with her students. At the outset, she said, she “wanted to know
what my English IV seniors already knew about the research process, so I had them draw
pictures to represent the different steps.” During the following weeks, they each wrote a
research proposal explaining what they wanted to research, why, how they would do it, and
how they would share their learning. During that time, the class also experienced many mini-
lessons on academic writing: incorporating quotes, including analysis, revising, and
organizing. At the end of that time, Caroline asked her students to generate a list of skills
needed to complete a research project. Their list was much longer and included advice such as:
• Pick good, reliable sources.
• Think outside the box.
• Interpret what the author means.
• Include your thoughts/analysis.
• Write―claims, evidence, analysis.
• Examine different points of view and cultures.
• Think about the audience.
• Know your purpose.
• Be interested
From this student-generated list, Caroline created the anchor chart shown in figure 2; the
anchor chart thus both mediated students’ current learning and became a point of reference
for their future research projects.
Figure 2: Anchor Chart Generated by Caroline’s Students About Their Research Process.
Mentor texts. CMWI teachers used multiple genres and mentor texts to illustrate
strategies and provide examples of an author’s decisions. Mentor texts thus provided mediation
for learning meaning-making strategies students could then apply on their own. Elizabeth
explained her use of mentor texts early in fall 2007: “We all made life maps to help generate
ideas for personal writing. Then we looked at five different examples of memoirs and talked
about how the details in each contributed to the author’s voice. We then set to work writing. A
few days after we let the dust settle, we revisited our memoirs and took them through the
revision step.” As the year went on, Elizabeth’s use of mentor texts became more frequent and
sophisticated as she integrated mentor texts with other practices and tools:
My students have strong voice and are good at ideas, but they lack details and have
trouble with capitalization and compound sentences. Because of this, I would like to show
my students more samples of strong sentences and look for mentor texts that come from a
multicultural author or have a multicultural theme…. I now use more mentor texts before
I set them free to write.
Like other CMWI teachers who reported using mentor texts to help students with their
academic writing, Haley used many different mentor texts in her units. For example, she used
“The Raven,” by Edgar Allen Poe, as a mentor text during the “Fear” unit. Haley read the poem
aloud while the students listened and annotated their responses in the margins. After the class
read this text, the students and Haley talked about how Poe’s linguistic choices created a
suspenseful mood and fearful tone.
Research Question 3: What, If Anything, Influenced Teachers’ Integration of CMWI into
Their Instructional Decisions?
In reviewing the data to determine what influenced teachers’ integration of CMWI into
their instructional decisions, we noted six predominant influences. Four of these were grounded
in teachers’ beliefs about what would be most beneficial to their students: 1) to validate their
students’ identities/lives, 2) to apply teaching to the real world, 3) to help their students see
themselves as readers, and 4) to maintain students’ interest. Two additional influences—which
teachers experienced as barriers to decision making—came from 5) personal demands and 6)
campus and community demands.
Positive influence on CMWI decisions: The need to validate student identities
At the same time that the teachers were developing their classroom communities, they
were making instructional decisions in an attempt to validate students’ experiences. Chloe wrote
that she “noticed from the first week’s activity [the life map] that the students struggled pulling
their own experiences together to find relevant details.” She had personally found this activity
satisfying and had “anticipated using the activity for ideas or prewriting in later workshops,” but
when she looked at their work, she “stuffed them quickly back into the students’ folders and
haven’t referred to them since.” Chloe had discovered that validating students’ identity is not as
easy as it might seem. But she did not give up and chose to read Nancy Farmer’s The House of
the Scorpion with her students, a text she described as “a strong read-aloud.” She saw this as a
text that lent itself to shared reading and would also engage her students, who had a wealth of
diverse language experiences, through a story that “touched on the idea of identity and what it
means to be human.” Her decision was clearly an attempt to validate the students’ experiences
while at the same time build on their connections with—and understanding of—the characters.
Layla was intent on building her curriculum around her twelfth grade students’
experiences. She said, “Before the year began, I planned to center all my units around cultural
and community concerns. I wanted to help my high school students think about their own
identities and use these identities to help them become better writers.” Like Layla, Natalia made
the decision to use her community-building activities to help her high school students be
academically successful and to validate their life experiences. As she set CMWI in motion in her
classroom, she stated firmly that she would start by connecting to students’ lives:
This began with day one of class. I talked about myself and gave samples of my writing. I
revealed personal things, not superficial, about my own life and some struggles I faced as a
young person. In telling about myself I mentored our first two assignments, the life map and
a life essay (autobiography). We took our first draft of the life essay through the writing
process which included peer review and teacher consultation and created our first published
piece of writing.
Positive influence on CMWI decisions: The need to write for the real world
Teachers and researchers claim that many adolescents feel that school has nothing to do
with their lives. As adolescents seek to learn more about themselves, they also need to see how
what they are currently doing is relevant. For example, Olivia was intent on giving meaning to
the work she did with her students. She had come from their community and wanted the same
success for her students that she had experienced. Now enrolled in a graduate program, Olivia
believed that her students were also headed to university, and she wanted them to see college in
their future. She decided to use a college text, one used in her graduate program, in order to help
prepare them for higher education.
Chloe also wanted her students to connect classroom instruction to their lives. In a letter
to the research team, she explained how her decision to use a particular book had played out:
It was important to me to remind the kids of the value of literacy and the right to
education, so I chose Gary Paulsen’s Nightjohn (1993) as the first read-aloud. The kids
were quickly engaged in the book, and we discussed it when questions came up after a
day’s reading, but it was never forced. The students began asking each other if the title
character’s decisions were good or bad, if they would make the same decisions, and they
slowly brought up connections to their life experiences.
Like Olivia and Chloe, many CMWI teachers made decisions based on their desire to help their
students understand the importance of reading and writing to their lives.
Positive influence on CMWI decisions: The need to see students as readers and writers
In 1987, Frank Smith encouraged teachers to invite their students into the “Literacy
Club.” This invitation was directed to everyone. He purported that if we were in the company of
readers and writers, we would naturally be able to see ourselves in this same light; you “become
like” the company you keep. This same theoretical frame was held by teachers using CMWI
when making instructional decisions. For example, Faith made a strong statement in regularly
greeting her students with “Good afternoon, writers!” Hearing this phrase on a daily basis can
help students envision themselves as learners and writers.
Likewise, Chloe already saw her students as readers and writers. She explained why she
modeled various aspects of the literacy process with her students:
I try to model for them the types of responses that provide deeper thinking about texts
(questioning, connecting, predicting). My hope is that they will begin to apply the
strategies we use when reading together to their independent reading. I also am watching
for them to think about themselves and reflect as readers. I plan to have them go back
through their journals and think critically about what they wrote to reflect on their goal
from the beginning of the year and who they are as readers.
Positive influence on CMWI decisions: The need to keep students engaged
Engagement is an important issue when thinking about the work that students do in a
classroom. Teachers using the CMWI model want their students to be more than engaged. They
want the students to be challenged by the work they do. As Caroline explained:
At dinner tonight, I was talking to my mom about what I am doing and am planning to do
with my English 4, British literature, classes. Right off the bat, she said, “Oh, British
literature. That is boring.” I said, “No, listen to how I am going to teach it.” After I got
done, I was like “Wow, I’ve figured out how I am going to teach British literature
through inquiry!” She was like “Well, that is not boring!” I don’t know how it is going to
turn out, but I am a little more excited about moving forward with my classes!
When the teacher is excited and engaged, this enthusiasm often bleeds over into the students’
engagement. Later that month, Caroline posted again about her work with British literature. She
centers her decisions on what will make the work challenging and engaging for students:
It was by no means a completely student-directed conversation; however, it was the most
back-and-forth conversation that has happened in this class all year. I think what was
reaffirmed for me the most was that even these struggling students (many who are on the
edge of not graduating) have something to say! These are the very students who sit in
their classes and say nothing, yet with the right topic and some scaffolding they carried
on a very passionate and insightful conversation [bold added].
Barrier to CMWI decisions: School demands
After the CMWI advanced institute, our participants were eager to get back to their
classrooms to implement the ideas. However, barriers sometimes affected their ability to take
action and make decisions about what happened on their campuses. These barriers sometimes
came in the form of school district demands, and teachers’ responses differed. For example, at
the same time that Faith was hoping to implement some of the ideas from the CMWI institute,
the school district imposed some curriculum demands: the teachers were to use CSCOPE, a
“comprehensive, customizable, user-friendly curriculum management system” (CSCOPE
website 2010). The intent of CSCOPE is to guide the teacher’s instruction so that students will
be successful. However, like all scripted “packages,” CSCOPE does not necessarily meet the
needs of all students. Faith’s response was to follow CSCOPE but replace the recommended The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, with Xavier Garza’s Creepy Creatures and Other
Cucuys “since the stories are more familiar to the students in the border area.” Thus, Faith made
decisions based on both demands. At the end of the year, Faith indicated she had worked on
photostories before and was now modifying the project to work around both CSCOPE and the
CMWI inquiry cycle, In this case, rather than seeing barriers, the teacher determined that she
could base her decisions on both of these programs.
On the other hand, Lauren felt that district demands did not allow her to make decisions
to include what she had learned from the CMWI professional development. She indicated that if
it were up to her, she would “have [the students] take one scene and translate it according to a
different perspective, like how would a gangster interpret this or more modern--how could
[students] rewrite this as a romance or how could they rewrite it to relate more to their own lives.
I would want students to manipulate the language to play with it.” However, she did not see that
she had the opportunity to act on these ideas. She continued, “But I have so many restrictions.
Restrictions come from my team, the chair, and my principal. We don’t really have autonomy as
teachers. It is just difficult for me to do what I want. It is difficult to start something new.”
Lauren felt that the system trumped the decisions that she would like to make.
Similarly, Caroline explained that she was having trouble making decisions. She noted
that her instruction was influenced by what happened to students at other times of the day.
I am struggling between teaching strategies as we go through an inquiry cycle vs.
teaching strategies as I help students get through their academic assignments. You would
think this is the same, but it is not! I feel pressure to help my students be successful on
what external forces (other teachers, TAKS, etc.) are asking them to do,
yet I am frustrated because these assignments and assessments are in complete
opposition to an inquiry approach!!! If I could structure their assignments (or school was
based on an inquiry approach), the strategies and instruction would be so much more
If the decision were up to Caroline, the students would experience learning that was more
focused on their needs. In her view, her final decision could either directly align with CMWI or
be in direct opposition to the school’s expectations. Because it is early in the school year and
early in Caroline’s teaching career, it is difficult to know if she will be able to reconcile these
Barrier to CMWI decisions: Personal demands
When teachers learn something new to do in the classroom, it often requires that they
must “let go” of something they are currently doing. Many teachers find this impossible; we hear
teachers talk about “Mrs. A,” who has taught for 31 years and has taught the same class 31 times.
Change can be very difficult, but it is often necessary if we want to see progress. During the
program, Faith realized that she must let go of some of her ideas if she were going to practice
what she had learned during the professional development. In an inquiry cycle, she had students
develop their own questions to help her get used to letting go. The students “picked topics I
would not have picked,” such as abortion and gay rights and marriage. Faith decided it was OK
to let students pursue their interests. She explained that the students were willing to share and
writing in paragraphs. Many were working well in groups and had expressed their “joy for this
class.” Faith’s decision to let go had been rewarded, which might allow her to make other similar
decisions in the future.
While Faith was able to set aside some of her beliefs prior to implementing CMWI,
Lauren was not able to make that same decision. Lauren said that she “went to the CMWI
training to see if there were any skills I can learn, but it is like I already do that.” When asked
what she had in her class that related to CMWI, Lauren said, “Nothing. This is more teacher-
directed; CMWI wants me to be more student-directed. I didn’t do any student-directed activities
or teaching. I have a hard time figuring out how to fit in the CMWI stuff into my everyday
lessons.” Unlike Faith, Lauren stood firm that the prescribed curriculum had no room for the
ideas she learned in CMWI.
Olivia expressed one other barrier to her decisions about using CMWI practices in her
classroom. Many programs adopted by school districts claim to be the “silver bullet” or to have
the answer to improved scores. Along with such claims, these programs bring specific formats to
follow. Teachers are given “scripts” that sometimes narrow the lesson to exactly what the teacher
is supposed to say and how the student is expected to answer. However, CMWI has no set
procedures or guidelines. Thus, deciding how to use the principles and practices to guide
instruction becomes more difficult for the teacher. It causes the teacher to reflect on prior
lessons, determine what did and did not work, and finally decide what to try. In an interview
When I came back to school, that’s one of things I was looking at, how long I was
spending in each area [of the inquiry cycle]. It became confusing when examining if all
my lessons were truly inquiry, if all lesson should be, does it have to begin a certain way,
etc. Does it have to formally begin this way, do we have to be going through the cycle
formally, saying it to students overtly, making sure that the students knew they were
doing exploring, searching, etc.? How much did the students need to know when they
were going through the process?
As Olivia reminds us, if the new ideas or curriculum seem too confusing, teachers may not even
attempt the new approach.
Research Question 4: How, If at All, Does CMWI Participants’ Integration of CMWI
Change Over Time?
When teachers return to their classrooms after professional development, they may
incorporate the new practices to varying degrees. Some practices are ready to use “Monday
morning.” However, other practices require more time for teachers to determine how to
incorporate them into their classroom. For most CMWI teachers, this was a welcome and
relatively quick process, just a matter of getting organized for the new methods. Others—a small
minority—did not see the information as useful for improving their teaching. Furthermore, our
findings suggest that not only was there no one way to integrate the CMWI principles and
practices, but also that the ways each individual teacher incorporated these practices changed
Hannah’s implementation: Small adaptation with sudden, big effect
Although there was evidence of inquiry in initial observations of Hannah’s classroom
(“Memoir Investigation” was noted listed on the board along with a couple of probing
questions), the students acted bored and unengaged:
Hannah: Someone tell me what you think.
Student: She was old because of the 50.
Hannah: If no one shares, I am going to call on Eric.
Student: I am not sharing.
Hannah: Eric, do you have a sister?
Student: I do, but I am not sharing.
At the outset, Hannah’s questions were not dialogue generating, but she wanted more students to
participate. In the spring Hannah began using a “smart board,” and students started using their
clickers to ask questions, ask for help during class, and ensure that they had the information they
needed to complete their I-Search project. After months of struggling to achieve student
engagement, Hannah’s small adaptation—the use of technology in the I-Search project (Macrorie
1988)—finally provided the mediation her students seemed to need and resulted in a dramatic
change in their engagement.
Caroline’s implementation: Steady with dramatic adoption and adaptation over time
Caroline had just completed her first year of teaching and was eager to attend
professional development. She was already thinking about the changes she wanted to make for
her students. When she left the advanced institute, she had great plans and energy to take back to
her classroom: “I was determined to build a rich community in my classroom, a community of
readers and writers.” The researcher confirmed that many of the NWP principles were evident in
her classroom, where she worked with students who had not passed the state-mandated test.
Throughout the year Caroline attempted to use what she learned at the advanced institute.
In January she wrote:
I can’t say that I have been able to successfully implement inquiry units the
way I had envisioned. However, I have successfully built relationships
with these students and helped them to move forward academically. They
all started school in the U.S. in 5th or 6th grade and had to learn English. They
have successfully been passed from one grade to the next doing minimal reading
and writing and getting next to nothing out of the assignments they have been
given…. They are starting to understand the work it takes to read for comprehension and
write to communicate your ideas with an audience. We still have a lot of work to do, but I
believe we have built some common language and ideas with which to talk about our
reading and writing, and I have done more this year to foster enjoyment in these
activities rather than dread.
Caroline’s implementation was gradual despite her initial urgency. Yet although Caroline was
hoping for a greater impact on the students during that first year, she saw that she was making
progress. The following year Caroline continued to implement CMWI principles and practices.
She created opportunities for students to read for real reasons and to inquire about the future by
planning a trip to the local university and a soup kitchen. She is currently leading an initiative on
her campus to support freshmen in an innovative campus-wide pilot program.
Faith’s implementation: Intentional adoption, subtle but significant adaptation
As a middle school teacher of students who lived on the Texas-Mexico border with
diverse language backgrounds and experiences, Faith was intent on ensuring that her students
were ready for the mandated test and high school. However, her school’s recent adoption of
CSCOPE, a curriculum management system, constrained her ability to implement instructional
changes. Nonetheless, Faith found ways to incorporate CMWI approaches intentionally without
compromising the CSCOPE structure. For instance, she substituted texts that were culturally
relevant for the ones recommended by CSCOPE. She also incorporated small-group work. And
while she continued to follow the CSCOPE grammar sequence, rather than focusing the
discussion on the correctness of grammar, Faith changed the instructional format. The researcher
noted that she “led a lively conversation about punctuation, spelling, grammatical usages, etc.
Rather than using this as a ‘testing’ situation, she used it as a way for students to look closely at
appropriate usage and talk about the underlying rules.”
By the end of the year, Faith had rephrased the day’s objective on the board; instead of
“The student will …,” she now listed a “burning questions” related to students’ work, such as:
What makes a photostory super cool?
How can I enhance the mood of my story with narration?
Faith noticed that students were more engaged because they were coming up with their own
questions, something she connected to the CMWI approach. While these changes were not huge,
they were subtle and very intentional on Faith’s part. And most important, they were
accomplished within the framework of a mandated curriculum.
Lauren’s implementation: Little or no adoption
Lauren held high expectations for her students but considered herself to be in charge of
their success in school and their future: “I have to prepare them for college.” In her teacher-
centered classroom, students were expected to take notes from PowerPoint presentations and
complete the assignments she gave. She described her students as “ELLs as well as the other kids
who tend to have deficits.” Acknowledging that her style “is more teacher directed,” Lauren
explained why she did not adopt the CMWI approach, which “wants me to be more student
directed. I didn’t do any student-directed activities or teaching. I have a hard time figuring out
how to fit in the CMWI stuff into my everyday lessons.” (She did, however, begin to allow her
students to “retake a test and … let them go back and correct the answers and look for text
In a spring 2009 interview, she further explained why she did not adopt CMWI
I went to the CMWI training to see if there were any skills I can learn, but it is funny
because you think about the accommodations you make for kids, and I’m like ‘I already
do that.’ You assess them as you go.
In addition to her sense that she had nothing to learn from CMWI, Lauren felt that even if she
wanted to implement suggestions from CMWI, the district and campus expectations did not
allow that flexibility—a distinct contrast from Faith’s example above.
Brianna’s implementation: Gradual and deliberate, explicit adoption
Brianna was deliberate and explicit in integrating CMWI into her classroom. She
recognized that her students needed time to achieve her expectations. As she told a colleague at