Two years ago I couldn’t have foreseen how facilitating teacher inquiry meetings would impact my own professional development. I’ve invested approximately 240 hours as a facilitator, looking at student work and exploring next steps in student learning and teacher instruction. But I didn’t learn in isolation; my colleagues were present for each one of those 240 hours. They were at the table with questions, ideas and records of practice, and I learned from them. I continue to learn from them. My colleagues are my teachers.

And they didn’t just teach me. They taught each other. For two years they focused on improving students’ written communication, engaged in reflective practice and used assessments to inform instructional decisions. They found their way with a job embedded learning model that was new to our secondary schools. They brought student and teacher work to the table and kept student achievement at the core of all conversations.

By the end of the 2009-10 school year, it became clear that students need explicit instruction in subject-specific literacy skills. For example, if we are to improve how students support their thinking when writing in different subject areas, students need to understand how the types of evidence vary from one subject to another. Overall, students need subject-specific instruction in:

  • the questions they should ask of texts;
  • the background knowledge required to decode a subject’s texts;
  • the types of evidence required to support thinking in particular subjects.

With this new lens on subject-specific literacy, I wanted to know how each subject would define literacy if they could make the ‘literacy rules’. I wanted explicit statements of what it meant to be literate in transportation technology, for example. I closed the school year with subject-based focus groups that worked on developing these definitions. In some cases, the focus groups also looked at the types of texts they use in the classroom versus the authentic texts of their discipline. Our goal in each session was to expand the definition of literacy beyond reading and writing tasks. Below you will find the thinking that came out of our focus group sessions in a slide show created by a collective of Avon Maitland teachers. This is a work-in-progress and it will evolve, but with this work our learning continues.