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What is implementing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work in English Language Arts?

Each discipline has norms and routines that reflect the ways people in the field construct and share knowledge. These norms and routines vary across subjects, but often include establishing hypotheses, providing evidence for claims, and showing one’s thinking in detail. Teaching students what they are, why they are important, and how to use them is crucial to building understanding and capacity in a given subject. Teachers may use explicit explanation, modeling, and repeated practice to do this.

Disciplinary norms, or what we will refer to as “subject-specific” or academic norms to prevent confusion with procedural or behavioral norms, define and maintain shared standards of work across a broad community of practitioners. In the context of classroom work, norms are drawn from a given discipline to guide the study of a given subject. English language arts, uniquely, encompasses multiple disciplines including literary, rhetorical, communication and media studies as well as composition and linguistics. The norms of each discipline in ELA don’t necessarily overlap, demanding that teachers guide students in learning to recognize the norms of different genres and fields as they read, write and discuss. Take, for instance, norms about tone in various kinds of writing: Informational text typically takes an objective tone, where the expected tone in memoir writing is subjective. In order to be widely recognized as competent practitioners of each kind of writing, students need to be able to hew to these norms or, in deviating from them, to do so purposefully.

Routines, as we think of them, are specific ways a norm is regularly practiced in a particular context or setting such as a classroom. For instance, where a norm of composition is to extensively revise drafts, a routine that supports students to understand and practice that norm may be using a particular revision checklist. Where a norm of literary studies is making and supporting claims about a text, a close reading routine would be one way to support students in learning and refining that practice. Worth noting is that unlike norms, routines vary from one setting or practitioner to another: Different classrooms will approach close reading (among many other examples) using different routines.

How can implementing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work in English language arts advance justice?

As academic disciplines are defined and governed by shared norms, students must be able to use and navigate these norms in order to actively participate in the construction and critique of knowledge. In other words, norms and routines are part of initiating students into the disciplines of English language arts by offering them tools to participate as insiders in making, evaluating, and communicating meaning (Moje, 2010).

Teachers of literature, for instance, who empower students do more than ensure they understand literary elements and the plots or themes of individual works. They offer the “keys to the kingdom” that enable students to unlock texts themselves. Those “keys” consist in large part of the norms of literary study: the things that experts understand about how to read, think, and communicate about literary works. When left unnamed or implicit, students are left to deduce them on their own, leaving many without access to them, left to believe that literary interpretation is a magic trick that is beyond their capability. Students who are explicitly taught the norms and routines of literary studies, however, use them to engage with literature, making meaning for themselves that they can then develop and enrich in conversation with others.

At the same time, we recognize that norms privilege certain ways of knowing and thinking and exclude others. They represent modes of discourse developed and sanctioned over time by those with the power and privilege to determine what is recognized as competence in a disciplinary domain. Teachers must remain mindful of these inescapable dynamics, introducing norms and routines not as replacements for students’ funds of knowledge and ways of reading the world, but as additions to their already rich repertoires.

Also of special importance to teachers of English language arts are the norms of language—more often referred to as conventions. When conventions of academic English are viewed as sacrosanct, other varieties of English — particularly those that have been deemed “low prestige” such Appalachian, Chicano and varieties of African American and Caribbean English — may be pathologized, further marginalizing students who speak them. In order to responsibly teach conventions of language, teachers must have a linguistic perspective by which they understand the power dynamics which underlie language variety and change.

How do we decompose the practice into learnable parts?

The decomposition below represents the practice of implementing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work, broken into areas of work that novices can learn and practice with coaching from a teacher educator. Teacher educators can zero in on specific areas for additional support as needed, before novices recompose them in the P12 classroom.

The practice is comprised of four broad areas of work: After preparing for to implement, a teacher introduces the norms and/or routines, gives students opportunities to practice them with feedback, and maintains their use over time through prompting, reteaching, and revision based on students’ development and needs. It is worth noting that, given the ongoing refinement, maintenance, and revision and even sometimes re-introduction that is required for this teaching practice, it is more cyclical than linear.Download Decomposition

What is challenging about learning to implement norms and routines for classroom discourse and work?

In addition to the challenge of critical consciousness described above, it can be difficult for novice teachers to raise to the level of conscious awareness the disciplinary norms and routines on which they draw to make sense of and compose text. As disciplinary insiders themselves, novice teachers have likely read, discussed, and written about a wide variety of texts and topics; their deep understanding of those processes leads to the enjoyment and appreciation that likely motivated many of them to want to teach the subject in the first place. In most cases, however, their understanding of the ways readers make meaning with text is tacit; they feel like second nature. Thus, even as they skillfully engage in disciplinary work, novices may not be able to conceptualize it in enough detail to be able to unpack it for learners. Practice developing metacognitive awareness of their own disciplinary processes is a valuable component of implementing norms and routine for classroom discourse and work.

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