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Team Commitments Made by a High-School English Department

By Kim Marshall
Team Commitments Made by a High-School English Department

“Commitments on Curriculum” at The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, Texas, June 2021; Wiggins can be reached at [email protected].

Alexis Wiggins and the English department she leads at their Texas school recently agreed on a series of commitments for the coming school year. Here’s a paraphrase:

Curriculum for core courses:

• Students regularly experience, analyze, and create content that spans different genres, time periods, settings, authors, and text types, including:

  • Literature (fiction, poetry, memoir, drama);
  • Journalism and creative nonfiction;
  • Graphic novels, films, print and digital media, advertising, propaganda;
  • Interviews, speeches, debates, songs.

• Students have regular exposure to and experience with the following skills:

  • Schaffer paragraph method for analytical and rhetorical writing;
  • Timed in-class writing;
  • Close reading;
  • Self-evaluation and reflection;
  • Student-led discussions;
  • Oral presentations;
  • Independent research;
  • Learning and analyzing literary, poetic, rhetorical, and cinematic devices;
  • Grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and usage;
  • MLA in-text citation and works cited.

• All courses begin with a formative benchmark in-class essay to provide a snapshot of students’ writing at the beginning of the year.

• Courses are framed by Essential Questions that get at the heart of the texts, themes, skills, and concepts teachers want students to understand.

Teaming and collaboration:

• Meeting as an English team once per cycle to work on:

  • Calibrating every major assessment, with each teacher contributing at least one sample;
  • Filling in the course scope and sequence by the end of each quarter, aiming to complete the year’s scope and sequence for core courses by the end of the school year;
  • Using a teacher-designed (or chosen) electronic pacing guide to plan lessons, share resources, and keep everyone aligned;
  • Sharing teaching resources, materials, and ideas.

• Committing to the “twin philosophy” – namely, that twins in two different classes will experience common:

  • Assignments and deadlines;
  • Pacing guides;
  • Assessments and rubrics;
  • Grading procedures;
  • Teacher approachability and availability of extra help.

• Communicating openly, honestly, and equally with team members so everyone is an integral part of the team; issues that can’t be resolved at the team level are raised with the department chair, academic dean, and/or principal.

Feedback to students:

• Providing students feedback on their learning and development with these qualities:

  • It’s specific, useful, and timely.
  • Major and minor assessments are returned within two calendar weeks of completion.
  • Student work, including graded work, is accessible to students throughout the course (using Turn-It-In, Teams, or folders in the classroom).
  • Grade 11 student writing is kept until December of students’ senior year.
  • Students may take photos or ask for scanned copies of their work or feedback at any time.
  • Parents are contacted by e-mail whenever there’s a concern about a student.
  • Teachers regularly write “kudos” to praise student improvements or breakthroughs.


• All major assessments:

  • Will use department-wide rubrics and grade boundaries;
  • Will come with a student handout of instructions and the department-wide rubric (or AP rubric) that will be used for grading;
  • Won’t be considered “tests” (with the exception of AP practice tests);
  • In-class essays will be hand-written, in line with the College Board (with exceptions for pandemic teaching, students with accommodations, etc.);
  • Typed assessments must be submitted to Turn-It-In.

• Assessments will follow the department philosophy and be in sync with the team, namely:

  • Using department criteria and grade boundaries on rubrics;
  • Using identical gradebooks for teammates on assignments, percentage values, criteria;
  • Not including behavior, completion, effort, or extra credit in grades;
  • Assessing as a team, not individually – for example, the team might decide to drop the lowest grade for all students, but only with team agreement.

• Students are integral to their own learning and assessment, and should partner with teachers to ensure transparency and clarity. This philosophy means:

  • Encouraging students to talk with teachers about assessment criteria, expectations, questions, and concerns;
  • Scheduling extra help outside of class and during office hours for all students who want more clarity, feedback, or practice;
  • Encouraging students to ask about their grade/average at any point;
  • Allowing students to request a “re-grade” on a major assessment, on the condition that the whole grade-level team will be involved in the re-grade, and whatever grade they decide will stand, even if it is lower.


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