Two birds with one stone
By Ariana-Stanca Vacaretu and Maria Kovacs, Asociatia LSDGC Romania
In this blog, we first describe how we built on our experiences and partnerships to develop a European project called Get Readers on the Wavelength of Emotions (GROWE). Next, we share the conceptual model that underpins the GROWE project, and some findings about the impact of the GROWE teacher training program.
When we first thought of the GROWE project, our motivation was to collaborate with European partners to work out a way for the secondary classroom to tackle disciplinary literacy and social-emotional learning simultaneously. We had had the experience of the Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking (RWCT) program, and that of the EUMOSCHOOL project to build on. And we had a clear picture of who would be good European partners in this project.
RWCT, our association’s flagship program, was initially developed by leaders of the International Reading Association (currently, International Literacy Association) who, between 1998 and 2002, volunteered to work with teachers in former communist countries to share reading and writing strategies, in a highly engaging, workshop-style approach. These strategies were usable across the curriculum and helped teach literacy and critical thinking. RWCT did not promote or use the term `disciplinary literacy`; however, as it happened, the best teachers who participated in the training program soon realized that the engaging reading, writing and discussion strategies did exactly that: helped them get their students more profoundly into a mathematician’s or a chemist’s or a biologist’s or a geographer’s thinking and communication style. In RWCT, we did pay attention to emotions albeit it was never the focus, but especially in the cooperative learning strategies for improved literacy we always paid attention to students’ relationship skills and self-awareness.
EUMOSCHOOL (2015-2018) was a project in which we tested an approach to social-emotional learning, the Didactics of Emotions, and developed resources for classroom use – mostly with young students. However, as many of our members teach secondary school, what we had got from EUMOSCHOOL proved insufficient. Thus, we first got the idea that we needed tools for older students and for teachers of secondary school disciplines. These tools would not be add-ons, but rather build-ins, and should probably pertain mostly to the HOW of teaching rather than the WHAT (which is quite non-negotiable as it is given in the national curriculum). We share our history of doing the RWCT program with one of the GROWE project partners, Modern Didactics Centre from Lithuania, so this organization would be one the partners in GROWE. And we share our EUMOSCHOOL project experience with the University of Gloucestershire (UK) and Centro per lo Sviluppo Creativo “Danilo Dolci” (IT), so they became the other two GROWE project partners.
One of the first things we did in GROWE was to lay out our thinking in the form of a graphic organizer, which turned out to be a sort of Venn diagram. The two overlapping circles were social-emotional learning (SEL) and disciplinary literacy (DL), and the portion they share is where we focus: both work best if we use a good text to start with, an authentic text as we came to specify, and the exploration of this text would engage students in deep discussions centered on the ideas therein, but at the same time in learning how to work together, metacognitively thinking about themselves as learners and their way of building knowledge together. Both DL and SEL fare better with social and metacognitive pedagogies (see figure below).
What we did during the project was develop and test a 50-hour in-service teacher training course, and various resources for teachers so they could (and would) apply the GROWE model. If students are to enhance their DL and social-emotional skills (SES), then teachers – we believe – need to master the following general competences (C):
C1. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of what DL and SES are and how they can be developed;
C2. plan and facilitate learning that fosters the development of DL and SES;
C3. assess students’ DL and SES and their progress in the development of these skills;
C4. reflect on student learning outcomes and adjust teaching to better respond to students’ DL and SES development needs.
Figure 1. The GROWE model of simultaneous development of DL and SEL with the use of authentic text.
(Better version of Figure will follow)
In practical terms, we conceptualized DL as a) reading with comprehension, b) writing for thinking and c) collaborative talk, while in terms of SES we focused on d) self-awareness and e) relationship skills. In the lessons that the teachers taking part in the training planned and delivered, we insisted that they pick at least one DL and one SES to work on with their students.
The COVID pandemic forced us to deliver the training online, and although we noticed teacher fatigue, in Romania we managed to support over 20 teachers to successfully complete the course, which included an action research component as well seeking effective ways of embedding DL and SEL in their lessons while using an authentic text for the students to explore. During this pilot phase, we collected data from the trainers, the teachers and their students, and reflected on our findings. A comparative analysis of the participating teachers’ assessments of their students’ DL and SES prior to and after applying the GROWE model in their lessons reveals that their students made progress in both DL and SES over the piloting period. The 15.9% increase in DL skills and the 12% increase in SES reflect the shift in explicit focus the GROWE training course has achieved in the participating teachers’ pedagogy and their increased professional development in using targeted strategies.
Both DL and SEL are highly important competences, and with the GROWE project, we are confident that we have managed to draw teachers’ attention to how they can build them into various lessons in the secondary classroom while developing their students’ subject-specific competences.
Butler, E. (2022). GROWE: Data analysis (unpublished)
GROWE Get Readers on the Wavelength of Emotions. https://groweproject.eu/