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Master of arts in teaching English language arts

Master of Arts in Teaching English Language Arts

English Department, Boise State University

This degree is intended for American teachers in U. S. schools in grades K-13 who are interested in learning more about effective teaching of literacy (writing, reading/literature, and language/linguistics) and applying their learning to their own teaching.

The broad-based program allows students to combine work from several university resources, including courses in English, Literacy Education, and the Boise State Writing Project.  The program works within the teacher’s current instructional context to connect research and theory in literacy learning with effective classroom teaching practices.

Three major strands in the program requirements (writing/composing, reading/literature, language) reflect the concentration areas highlighted by the standards of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Professional Board of Teaching Standards (NPBTS).

English Education Faculty, Boise State University:

Program Director:
Bruce Robbins
LA 211 F; 208-426-3036

Jim Fredricksen
Gateway Ctr 103 A; 208-426-4881 

Jeffrey Wilhelm
Gateway Ctr 103 B; 208-426-1199

All three English Education faculty members are experienced secondary school teachers of English with doctorates in the teaching of English language arts.

On this page you can find information about the program, including the following:


Application and Admission Requirements

For admission to all graduate degree programs, Boise State University requires the following:

Admission to this program also requires the following:

  • At least two years of successful teaching experience.
  • Two letters of recommendation from people who can describe your academic ability and your experience with and commitment to effective teaching.
  • A statement of 500-1000 words describing your professional goals and the ways in which the program can help you achieve them.

(Statement and letters of recommendation may be uploaded using the online application program.  If that does not work, contact the program director.)


If you have already been admitted to a different Masters degree program at Boise State and you wish to transfer to the Masters in Teaching English Language Arts, you do not need to repeat admission requirements and fees.  Instead, you need to initiate a “program change” by completing and submitting the Program Change Form, which can be found at:

Submit the form to the Graduate Admissions Office.


Q & A about Admission to the MA in TELA Program

Q: I have already taken some graduate courses.  May I use them in this degree program?

A: Yes, it is possible to bring into the program up to 10 credits of relevant previous graduate-level course work, subject to approval of the program director at the time of admission You may use prior credits with grades of B or higher if: 1) you have not used these credits to earn a different degree, 2) the credits come from an accredited college or university, 3) the course material has direct application to this program, 4) these are not continuing-education credits, and 5) the credits are relatively recent (last 5 years).  The maximum number of previous credits you may bring into this degree is 10.  When you apply for admission to the program, that is the time to request any credit for previous coursework that you think may apply.

Q: Is it possible to simultaneously pursue two or more Masters degrees?

A: No.  As the Graduate Academic Regulations in the Graduate Catalog states, “A student at Boise State University may be enrolled in only one graduate program at a time,” and courses used for one degree may not be used again for another degree.  However, “a student may be enrolled simultaneously in (1) a graduate degree program and a graduate certificate program or (2) two graduate certificate programs.”

If you have questions about the admissions process or about your application status, contact the Program Director.


Program Steps / Chronology in Brief

  1. Apply for Admission to Program
  2. Upon acceptance, familiarize yourself with program requirements and deadlines, and meet with Advisor. (Your first advisor is the program director).
  3. Start taking course work and building portfolio.
  4. When you have earned 12-15 credits, form and meet with your Supervisory Committee—usually three faculty members you select.  Share with them your plans for further course work and your portfolio. On the Graduate College web site, complete the form “Appointment of Supervisory Committee” and bring it to your committee meeting for the faculty to sign.
  5. Continue taking course work and building your portfolio.
  6. 2 semesters before you plan to finish, complete and submit “Admission to Candidacy” form .
  7. The semester before you plan to finish, apply to graduate (online).
  8. Finish all course work.
  9. Enroll in ENGL 592 Portfolio credit, and complete your portfolio.
  10. Make a public presentation of a selection of your work.  (Usually this is the “Project” from your portfolio).
  11. Present (“Defend”) your portfolio to your Supervisory Committee.  (Committees may ask for revisions in order to meet standards.)
  12. Supervisory Committee approves your completion and submit your portfolio grade.
  13. Graduation!  Also you complete a self-assessment, and email to your employer the link to a survey for them to fill out.

For Graduate College forms:

Degree Requirements

Master of Arts in Teaching English Language Arts
Course Number and Title Credits
Writing/Composing. Courses to be selected from the following:ENGL 501 The Teaching of Writing

ENGL 502 Teaching Creative Nonfiction, Poetry and Fiction Writing

ENGL 561 Theories of Composition

ENGL 562 Theories of Rhetoric

ENGL 563 Teaching Basic Writing

ENGL 579 Boise State Writing Project Invitational Institute (6 cr)

ENGL 582 Selected Topics in Teaching English Language Arts when topic concerns writing instruction

ENGL 583 Topics in Rhetoric and Composition

ENGL 594 Workshops concerning writing instruction*

ED-LTCY 545 Writing Processes, Instruction, Assessment (K-8)

Reading/Literature. Courses to be selected from the following:ED-LTCY 541 Assessment and Instruction: Reading Difficulties K-12

ED-LTCY 546 Advanced Children’s Literature

ED-LTCY 547 Advanced Young Adult Literature

ENGL 581 Literature for use in Junior and Senior High Schools

ENGL 582 Selected Topics in Teaching English Language Arts when topic concerns reading/literature instruction

ENGL 594 Workshops concerning reading/ literature instruction*



Language Study/Linguistics. Courses to be selected from the following:ED-LTCY 548 Psycholinguistics and Literacy

ENGL 505 Linguistics

ENGL 567 Grammar and the Teaching of Writing: Theory and Practice

ENGL 582 Selected Topics in Teaching English Language Arts when topic concerns language/grammar instruction

ENGL 583 Topics in Rhetoric and Composition when the topic concerns second-language writing or the teaching of grammar

ENGL 585 Selected Topics in Linguistics

ENGL 594 Workshops concerning language instruction*

LING 407G Applied Linguistics in Teaching English as a Second Language

Research.  Course to be selected from the following:ENGL 500 Research Methods in Literary Studies

ENGL 554 Research Methods in Rhetoric and Composition

ENGL 577 & ENGL 578 Teacher Research in Literacy parts I and II

ENGL 582 Selected Topics in Teaching English Language Arts when topic concerns teacher research methods.

Electives to bring total graduate-level courses to 30 credits.  Use courses from English, Literacy, or other approved courses.* 0-9
Culminating Activity:ENGL 592 Portfolio 3
* The total number of credits cannot exceed 10 for ENGL 590, 594-598, 696, 697, and any pass-fail and undergraduate courses (or equivalent transfer credits); see Restrictions on Certain Courses for details.  No more than 6 credits of 400-level G courses may be counted toward the degree.  No teacher in-service credits may be used.  



Advising and Supervisory Committee 

The Program Director will serve as your first advisor.  Any time after admission you may select a faculty advisor based on your own preference.  Any Boise State University faculty member who is also a member of the BSU Graduate Faculty may serve as your advisor, although the English Education Faculty probably know this degree program best.  In the first half of your program, your advisor can discuss with you course selections, portfolio strategies, and degree requirements and deadlines.

Supervisory Committee  

After one year in the program, or else by the time you have earned 12-15 credits (whichever comes first), you need to select and meet with your Supervisory Committee.  The Supervisory Committee consists of three or four BSU faculty members who know you and your work or who may have an expertise in an area of study of interest to you.  Committee members need not be members of the BSU English department, but it is strongly recommended that at least one of your committee members be an English Education faculty member.  Your committee will give you guidance and feedback on your degree progress and your portfolio plans and materials.  They also make the final determination about your final completion of the portfolio and degree requirements.

Most students begin to form their Supervisory Committee by selecting a faculty member to be the committee Chair.  This person then also officially becomes your advisor.  Then you can discuss with the Chair some ideas about other faculty members who might serve on your committee.  Normally you are the person who asks faculty members if they would be willing to serve on your committee, and at that time they may ask you about your work and your interests.  (They do this partly to determine whether they think they have something to offer you.)  You are free to pick whomever you want on your committee; university faculty members are used to this process and do not take it personally if you do not pick them.  You may even change committee members later if you want to.

When you have selected your faculty committee members and they have agreed to serve, then fill out and submit the “Appointment of Supervisory Committee” form on the Graduate College web site.  Bring it to your first committee meeting for the faculty to sign, then turn it in to the Graduate College office.  Graduate academic regulations require you to turn in this form within one year of the onset of your coursework in the degree program.


You will, of course, select and take your graduate courses based degree requirements, topics that interest you and you presume will advance your professional development, and on when the courses are offered.  Here are a few more things to keep in mind.

You can find course choices in your BSU Student Center.  After logging in to your My Boise State account, click on Student Center (left menu).  On the next screen, click on Search for Classes (upper right), then select the desired semester and courses numbered greater than 499 (500).

Be careful not to take too many workshop-numbered courses.  Boise State Writing Project courses and workshops are intended to be included in your degree work.  However, keep in mind that many BSWP offerings have workshop course numbers, and the Graduate College limits the number of workshop credits you can count toward your Masters degree.  As the catalog and check sheet note says:

“The total number of credits cannot exceed 10 (inclusively) for ENGL 590, 594-598, 696, 697, and any pass-fail and undergraduate courses (or equivalent transfer credits); see Restrictions on Certain Courses for details.  No more than 6 credits of 400-level G courses may be counted toward the degree.  No teacher in-service credits may be used.”

However, if you took the 6-credit summer Invitational Institute, ENGL 579 BSWP Invitational Institute, those credits are not counted in the workshop credit total.


The research course often supports the Project in your Portfolio.

Research courses often ask you to do a research project as you learn research skills.  We advise you to pick a research project that connects to your teaching and could be used as the basis of the Project portion of your Portfolio.

Among the research course options is ENGL 577-578 TEACHER RESEARCH IN LITERACY.  Designed specifically for our grad students, this course spreads the work across a school year (1 credit in fall and 2 in spring).   This course focuses on classroom-based research that teachers can do.  It introduces teacher research traditions in areas such as ethnography, action research, reflective practice, frame experiments, quasi-experimental methods, and narrative inquiry.  Participants will be guided through the process of developing, pursuing, completing, and presenting a teacher research project.  The process of teacher research helps teachers to use student work and classroom activity as data, and to develop conscious competence about their pedagogical practices.  Teacher research also helps teachers to enter data driven discussions about educational practices and policies.  Participants will be coached across a school year through the creation, pursuit and sharing of a complete study, which is why the course will be conducted over a complete academic year.


Q & A about Courses

Q: What if I try to register for a graduate course and I get a “Conditional” registration or get blocked?

A: The computer does not always recognize that students in one program (MA in TELA) may take courses offered primarily in another program (e.g. MA in English, or in Education Literacy).  Email the instructor and explain which program you are in and why you want the course.  If there is room in the course, that usually takes care of it (unless you have missed a prerequisite course).  However, you may be trying to get into a course reserved only for students in a particular program, as are many of the courses in the English M.F.A. in creative writing.  Again, try emailing the instructor.


Q: What if I want to use a course in my degree program that is not listed on the Degree Requirements list?

A: Talk to your advisor and/or the Program Director about why you think the substitution makes sense.  If they agree, fill out a form called the “Request for Adjustment of Academic Requirements” available on the Graduate College web site, get the necessary signatures and submit the completed form to the Graduate Office.  Then the course can be counted toward your degree.


Q: What if I want to use a course that I took more than seven (7) years before my graduation?

A: This could be a problem.  The official rule is that you cannot use courses more than seven (7) years old to meet your current degree requirements.  To try to get an exception to this rule, complete the “Request for Adjustment of Academic Requirements” form available on the Graduate College web site.  Your advisor (chair), the program director, and the Graduate College dean or associate dean must be persuaded by your explanation.


Q: What if I need a course for a specific degree requirement (like a Language Study class) and I don’t see any course offerings in that area?

A: Remember to check both the English and Education Literacy offerings.  But if you continue to have trouble getting a course in an area that you need, let the Program Director know.


Course and Program Assessments

Your feedback helps us continually improve our program and do our best for you.

Student course evaluations for English Education and Ed Literacy courses should address the following goals:

(1) Course produced new knowledge, skills, and awareness

(2) Course employed perspectives from a variety of resources, including research, in order to inform the analysis of professional situations

(3) Course blends theory and research with professional application in order to guide what I might do in practical/professional settings

We will also consider carefully what you tell us during mid-point and final committee meetings, and what you say about your courses in your portfolio.  However, if at any time you wish to share a perspective on an aspect of the program or a suggestion for improvement, please speak to one of the English Education faculty members.


Application for Admission to Candidacy

This form reports to the Graduate College Office the courses that you have taken and the courses you intend to take in order to complete your degree.  It mirrors your list of coursework on your Program Check Sheet, from which you should be able to simply copy.  (Do not include courses if the grade is lower than a C or P.)  This form allows the Grad Office staff to make sure that your plans will meet university and program degree requirements and you won’t have any rude surprises at the end.  It also lets the Graduate College know how close you are getting to completion of your degree.  You are not allowed to schedule a final portfolio review or apply for graduation until this form has been turned in.  With this form and review you become a “Candidate” for graduation.

Complete and turn in the Admission to Candidacy application after you are pretty sure which courses you will take to finish up.  After you have filled out the form, submit it to your Advisor/Chair and to the Program Director (currently Bruce Robbins) for approval signatures.  Then the form must be submitted to the Graduate Admissions Office no later than the semester prior to the semester you expect to graduate.  You must submit the Admission to Candidacy form BEFORE you may apply for graduation.

You may find the form on the Graduate College web site under Forms.  You may type on the form and then print it, or else print a blank form and hand-print on it.

On the form, please list the requirement category, followed by the courses you took in each category.  Your form should begin something like this:


ENGL 579 Boise State Writing Project Invit.               6 cr, A, Su 10

ENGL 501 Teaching Writing.                              3 cr., B, Sp 09


ED-LTCY 547 Advanced Young Adult Literature. 3 cr., A-, F10

(And so on)



Q: What if after I turn in my Admission to Candidacy form I need to substitute a different course than one I listed?

A: As soon as possible, complete a “Request for Adjustment of Academic Requirements” form available on the Graduate College web site (under Forms), get the necessary signatures and submit the completed form to the Graduate Office.


Q: What if I took a course that my Advisor or Committee approved that is not specifically listed in the degree requirements?

A: Same answer as above: use the “Request for Adjustment of Academic Requirements” form to show that this course was approved for you.


Culminating Portfolio Information

The Portfolio, a cumulative and summative assessment and tool for synthesis, should reflect the purpose of the program: to improve teaching within the specific context of the teacher’s classroom and school.

Specifically, the portfolio should demonstrate that you:

  • Think in more conscious, strategic, and theoretically informed ways about teaching in the areas of teaching reading/literature, writing/composing, language, and an area of interest.
  • Think more reflectively about classroom practice, learning from classroom events and from students how to teach more effectively.
  • Have developed and use a wider repertoire (expanded toolbox) of teaching techniques in the areas of teaching reading/literature, writing/composing, language and an area of interest.


You will create and collect portfolio contents over your whole course of study.  Some of the portfolio pieces may be created as course assignments.   The portfolio demonstrates your ongoing process of collecting your work, analyzing and reflecting on it, and culminates in a capstone sharing or and reflection about your learning.

To support your portfolio building, follow these steps:

  1. Near the beginning of your program, meet with your advisor.  Identify your main interests and goals.  Start your portfolio by writing about each course after you have completed it.
  2. About halfway through your program, select a faculty supervisory committee.  The committee should consist of at least one English Education faculty member (Wilhelm, Robbins, or Fredricksen) and two other BSU faculty members of your choice.   You select one of these faculty members to be the committee chair, and that person also becomes your Advisor.  Turn in a form that lists your Supervisory Committee members to the Graduate College office .  You select and invite the faculty committee members, and together you set a committee meeting time.  During your meeting you share your progress and the portfolio materials your have collected so far.  (You might want to give your committee members some of your materials before the meeting.)  During the meeting, explain to the committee your plans or ideas for the various elements of your portfolio, including your inquiry project.  After your meeting, you inform the program director that you have met.  Email is fine for this.
  3. Consult with members of your committee whenever you could use their assistance, feedback, or advice.  Keep your chair apprised of your progress on your portfolio.
  4. Near the end of your Masters program, make a public presentation for which you select a portion of your portfolio work to share.  (Often, it is the Project.)  Pick something you believe should be interesting and useful to other teachers.  The presentation may be scheduled as part of a Night of Inquiry (Boise State Writing Project), a conference presentation, or other professional venue.  Invite your committee to the presentation.  (Writing a journal article is another option for professional sharing.)
  5. Enroll for ENGL 592 Portfolio credit after you finish your courses and you are about to finish your portfolio.  Enroll for the semester in which you intend to finish the portfolio.  You cannot register the usual way.  Instead, ask your committee chair for a Permission Number.  (Your chair may need to have the English Department open a section of ENGL 592 for you, and that might take a day or two.)
  6. When your portfolio seems complete, or as you complete sections of it, share it with your chair/advisor.  (Portfolio materials may be submitted in paper form, in digital form, or a combination.)  The chair will usually work with you on improvements.  When the work looks ready, the chair will ask you to share your portfolio with your whole committee.
  7. Schedule a Defense (committee meeting).  Give the committee at least two weeks to read your work.  (If you have only one copy for the committee members to pass among themselves, give the process more time.)  During your committee meeting you will discuss your entire portfolio and any additions or revisions the committee feels may be necessary for completion.  In academic terms, this part is traditionally called the “Defense.”  In our program, this meeting is a conversation that is a clarification of and reflection on your teaching and your thinking about your teaching.  In particular, the committee wants to see that you can talk about your coursework and your teaching in both theoretical and practical terms.  As a result of this meeting, your committee may decide your portfolio is not passing work, or that it requires some revisions to be resubmitted and re-evaluated, or that you need to do a particular project designed by the committee to demonstrate a questionable aspect of understanding, or that your portfolio passes with no further work.  (The defense may be scheduled anytime during the semester and need not conform to other Graduate College deadlines for defenses of theses or dissertations.)  Portfolio credit may not be re-taken.
  8. When the committee deems the portfolio to be passing, the committee chair (your advisor and nominal teacher for your portfolio credit) assigns you a completed grade for your portfolio. That should complete your degree requirements.
  9. Apply for graduation.  (You can apply any time after your Admission to Candidacy form has been approved.)
  10. Celebrate Masterfully!  Then fill out a self-evaluation you get from the program director, and have your employer fill out an online evaluation form about your graduate program for the BSU teacher education program.



Whenever it fits, you may use in your portfolio selected assignments or artifacts you create for your course work and/or for your classroom.  The required categories of contents of the portfolio are listed below.  For your convenience, two versions of the Portfolio Contents are included here: first, the Portfolio Contents in brief list, followed by the Portfolio Contents with explanations, so scroll down for those.


Portfolio Contents—brief list

Cover letter

Reflection from each class you have taken

Lessons that you developed as a result of coursework in the following areas:

  • teaching or reading strategies or literature/a literary work
  • teaching of language
  • teaching of writing/composing
  • teaching of correctness in writing/composing
  • teaching in a designated area of interest (e.g. reaching ELL students, technology, etc.)

A unit plan overview that incorporates various elements from the preceding items in this list

A case study of student growth in literacy

Three 15-minute video excerpts with written reflections:

  • a whole class discussion
  • small group work
  • an area of interest



Portfolio Contents—with Explanations:

  1. Cover Letter

The cover letter introduces the portfolio and announces what it documents about your accomplishments and demonstrates your progress and growth as a teacher, general themes in your teaching trajectory, and where you intend to go next.  The items in the portfolio must be used as supporting data points for your discussion about how you have grown through the program and how the program has served your larger goals as a teacher.   Identify the major themes of your work, and trace how your thinking and pedagogy have changed over time, where you plan to go next, and how you will pursue that.  Cover letters are usually about five pages long and will serve as an introduction and guide for the reading of the rest of the portfolio.

The cover letter will be the first item in your portfolio, but the last item that you compose.

  1. Reflection from Each Class

A written reflection about each class you take in your degree program.  Explain how that course connects to and informs your teaching, and how you might use ideas from this course in your teaching.  (You should write these at the end of each class, while ideas are still fresh.)  Length varies, but the average is around a single-spaced page each.

  1. Lessons that you develop as a result of coursework in the following areas:
  1. teaching or reading strategies or literature/a literary work
  2. teaching of language
  3. teaching of writing/composing
  4. teaching of correctness in writing/composing
  5. teaching in a designated area of interest (e.g. reaching ELL students, technology, etc.
  6. a unit plan overview that incorporates various elements from the preceding items in this list.

Whenever possible, these should be lessons that you have created and taught.  Each lesson should demonstrate an explicit instructional intervention for a directly stated purpose, and should include student examples or other forms of data (e.g. teacher observations of the lesson) as well as your reflections upon the lesson.  For each lesson, include: your goals or objectives, what you planned, what you and your students did, and any assignments or assessments that went with the lesson.

Also write a reflection for each lesson.  (The reflection is usually the most important part.)  Your reflection should describe your students’ responses (including any assessments) and what you think the responses show, and what you will or could do next—perhaps to expand on this idea/technique in future teaching.  Connect your reflection ideas with one or more theories or ideas in literacy teaching; does it confirm a theory you have read about, or contradict one, or seem to offer a different slant from a theory in the field?  Also consider how this assignment is connected to your teaching story/trajectory of your teaching growth; how the design of each assignment demonstrates an area of growth in the areas of subject matter, pedagogy, or learners and learning for you as a teacher.  Each reflection should be approximately 3-5 pages in length.

Unit Plan Overview.  We usually think of “units” as coherent units of study over something like 3 to 6 weeks of instruction.  A unit overview gives the educator reader a good idea of what you plan to happen during the unit, or generally what did happen when you taught it.  Unit overviews usually describe what the unit is mainly about (e.g. the unit’s essential question or theme or main topic or object of study like a novel or type of writing), the intended learning goals and major assessments, and some of the most important activities, instruction, and student tasks involved, usually in sequence.  A timeline is helpful but not required; daily lesson plans are not included.  (But lessons from sections a-e may come from this same unit.)  Select a unit idea that reflects your best teaching, or a new approach to teaching that you are learning or figuring out (e.g. an Inquiry-Learning Unit).

  1. Case Study of Student Growth in Literacy

In the busy life of teaching, it is kind of possible to see all of our students and at the same time, none of them.  It is hard to find time to look really closely at the learning of individual students.  The case study asks you to focus on one or more of your students over a period of time (not less than a semester) in which you examine evidence of some kind of literacy growth and learning.  Case studies generally describe the student(s) and the learning context or circumstances (your classroom and instruction methods, for example); pose a question you have about the student’s/students’ literacy growth; and report the evidence or data you have collected and examined in order to answer your question.

Normally, like most effective writing, case studies combine generalizations with specific examples that support or illustrate the main ideas.  So once you have categorized and analyzed your data and at least tentatively figured out what the data tell you that seems interesting or important about the students and their learning as it pertains to your question, then select the pieces of data (usually short excerpts of student work or your specific observation notes or direct quotes) that seem to best illustrate or support that main points that you see.  Then as you write, you combine the pieces of data with your commentary about the significance of these items and how they go together with the other pieces or what they show.

  1. Three 15-minute Videos

Three 15-minute video excerpts depicting you teaching 1) a whole class discussion, 2) small group work, and 3) video of you teaching in any area of interest you have pursued in the program.  Take lots more video footage than you need, review it, and use a simple video editing program to select excerpts (clips) that seem especially indicative of something problematic, interesting, or important in your teaching.  In the whole-class video, try to include some of your students as well as yourself.  (Your committee will observe confidentiality and student privacy with your videos.)  For the small-group video, show yourself setting up the students for their group work as well as some footage of the students working.  What is in the third video is, of course, up to you.

Write a reflection for each video.  Discuss such things as your teaching goals or intentions or purpose; the context or story introducing your clips; what you did and what the students did; how you think the activity went; what you noticed in class and later when you viewed the video; what you think the video shows; what you will or could you do next, or do differently, next time; how the lessons or your observations connect to things you have studied in your grad courses, and/or new ideas about your teaching that the videos lead you to.

  1. Project

A special project that you create as part of your degree program work. This could be a teacher research project, a curriculum or unit development project, a special inquiry project you pursued in your classroom, etc.  The project idea should be negotiated with your advisor or committee.   It is usually larger in scale and more ambitious than a class assignment, though it could be built from an assignment from a class or include material you developed for a class.  The project should showcase your efforts to inquire into a problem or issue related to your teaching in order to reach a deeper or broader understanding of it in ways that impact and improve your teaching and expertise.

Projects ordinarily follow a traditional academic pattern of process and organization.  Typically they begin with a Question that arises from our teaching experiences (e.g. What can I do to engage my reluctant readers?  Why don’t my kids write very much? How might I make grammar seem interesting and purposeful to my students?  How could I make my class themes more personally meaningful to my students?  What assessments could I devise that would tell me what I need to know about my students’ learning?)  Next we find out what other teachers, researchers, and educators have had to say about our question or topic.  Such reading results in a Review of Literature where you report what you found out.  (The word “Literature” can be confusing to English teachers since in social science the word refers to anything that has been published, including research or teacher journal articles, books of education theories, or even teaching ideas from websites—not works of literature.)  The Lit Review need not be extensive (as it would be for a thesis), but it needs to set the foundation for how your work is related to the work of others in this field.  Typically, projects review something like 12-20 sources, but the number of references is less important than the foundational support they provide for your key ideas or how they help you understand your question and teaching experience.  Write about your readings less as a book report and more as an argument essay that leads up to your own idea and/or why you want to try a particular thing or do things a certain way in  your classroom.

Projects usually then turn to your first-hand work.  In a section usually called Method or Procedures, you explain what you did to try to answer your question.  Say what you decided to try, and why you thought that would be a good choice.  If you had a central question, put it here (e.g. What happens if I give kids more choices about what they read?)  And if you had a hypothesis, put it in this section (e.g. I think my students will spend more time reading if I give them more choices).  If it fits, include the timing or steps of what you did.  After that comes the Results section.  In this section you report on the data that you collected that seems best to answer your question or that gives you the most to think about.  Data could be lots of things, but often it means samples of student work, or assessments like test scores or grades or participation diagrams, or your observations of students’ behavior or reactions or comments.  Select the data that tells you something useful or important and report it.  Then comes the meaning you made from analyzing the data—where you explain the useful or important ideas you got from it.  Usually this section is called Discussion or Implications.  The Results section is like a report; The Discussion section is more like an essay where you share your thoughts about the results, or more like a literature paper where you finally explain your interpretation.  There are exceptions to this pattern of organization.  And while the description above usually describes a long written paper, other options for reporting may be available to you if they fit your project.  Check with your committee chair if you think your project should be organized or presented in a different way.

While project ideas and initial work on projects may come from any course, most often, project ideas and development come from the research course you take.  This is especially true for students who take ENGL 577-578 as their research course.



Usually, the project is the part of the portfolio that students share for the public presentation.

You will have spent substantial time and effort learning more about something than most other teachers know, or working more than most at solving a problem common to teaching.  So, one purpose of the presentation is for you to share your new knowledge for the benefit of other teachers.  In addition, we hope our program nudges you toward being a teacher leader, and the presentation is one way to step into a leadership role.

The usual presentation mode would be presentation at a professional conference or in-service professional development meeting.  This presentation should provide evidence of your academic/intellectual work in the areas of research and theory partly by references to the literature that pertains to the project.  The project should also evidence your ability to connect this theory to classroom teaching practice.

As an alternative to a presentation, the project may be presented by a written paper of which you are proud and that could be published in a professional journal for teachers.


Regarding Revision

You should work closely with your committee chair by sharing drafts of the sections of your portfolio as you prepare them.  Your chair is likely to suggest revisions; the chair’s goal is to make sure your portfolio is ready to share with the rest of your committee and likely to meet most expectations for culminating graduate work.  One of these important expectations is to see evidence of reflective thinking—both for specific teaching situations and about specific students, and in overarching themes and principles that are academically cited theories, research results, or key ideas.  Embrace revision suggestions as opportunities to improve your work.  Consider that it is much better to recognize and address problems in the revision stage than to risk having serious problems emerge during the defense.  Think of the evaluation of your portfolio as “Not Yet” until your chair tells you that your work is ready to share with your whole committee.  Even after your defense, it is quite possible that your committee will ask for some further revisions to meet the standards of everyone on the committee.  Expect this revision to be a normal part of the process.


The Defense

The final requirement for your portfolio is for you to defend it.

The term “defense” comes down from the Middle Ages when candidates stood before their teachers and peers and defended their viewpoints in something like a raucous debate.  These days in English Education, we intend the defense to be a conversation about your work and your understandings of teaching at this point.  That’s why we check your portfolio for possible revisions before we get this far, so that we have already done some of the evaluating.  So in the defense your portfolio, in effect, has begun the conversation that your committee members take up in the meeting by asking some related questions, giving you the opportunity to further clarify or comment on topics in your work, and/or to extend your ideas related to but going beyond what you were able to include in your portfolio.  As part of the conversation, your faculty committee members are likely to conversationally mix in their own ideas as they connect to yours.  The tone is more conversational than formal, but you should be ready to talk about any of your Masters work and how it connects to your teaching.

After the questions and conversation about your portfolio and course work, again in the medieval academic tradition, you will be invited to step out of the room for a bit while the committee talks about your work in terms of the program standards.  After this you will be invited back in and the committee will let you know their consensus decision, which might involve some targeted revision, or might be the successful end of your graduate program requirements.