by Alyssa Cunha, SPCS ELA, Writing, and Drama Teacher
Writing across the curriculum is by no means a new topic in education. It’s a movement that began about forty years ago but has recently gained more attention due to changes in common core standards. The idea is simple; students should be reading, writing, and thinking across the curriculum all of the time. The intent is to enhance students’ critical thinking skills by demanding they engage in writing in all subject areas.
Why should I incorporate more writing in my class?
Writing is not reserved for the English classroom, and it never was. One of the best ways to facilitate impactful learning in any subject is to get kids writing. There is simply no better method for encouraging students to assume an active role in the classroom and to take ownership of their learning. When asked to write, students are really being asked to independently explore, process, and express what they are learning or have learned. They are being asked to engage authentically with the content we have provided them with and then find their own words with which they can confront it. If we want to confidently declare that our students understand what we’re teaching them, we must ask them to put it into their words and not ours. That’s the marker for genuine understanding. While it may be more labor-intensive on your end, using writing as a tool for assessment is more thorough and reliable than most tests or quizzes.
Before you let the dread of grading essays overwhelm you, take a moment and consider the other ways you can use writing in your classroom. Just because you are using writing as a form of assessment does not mean you need to limit your students to paragraph responses or essays. Students can and should write for a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes. Consider having students conduct independent research reports, write articles, or even compose blog posts on a topic relevant to your class. Use technology to your advantage so students may collaborate on a piece of writing and publish it to a wider audience. There are hundreds of ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic while also being creative and having fun.
Writing does not always have to be formal. Informal writing can be a great way to raise the level of student engagement in the classroom. Starting class with a quick-write, for example, is an effective way to hook students in at the beginning of a lesson. Likewise, engaging in a think-pair-share activity will invite participation from even the quietest students, and it often leads to more balanced class discussions. If you’re not accustomed to incorporating writing into your classroom routines, consider starting small by using one of these engagement strategies to prompt more thoughtful responses. Once you start to make space for writing, you’ll start to see a difference in student behavior and in their work.
Won’t all of this take away from my content?
Absolutely not! What you’re being asked to do when someone suggests that you support student writers in your content area is that (a you ask students do some reading and writing, which is pretty much a given. And (b) when they do that, you support their use of certain skills. Students should be practicing writing with a certain amount of detail, incorporating evidence appropriately, and organizing their thoughts logically.
There is a common misconception that when it comes to teaching writing, you’re doing it to check for mistakes. You’re underlining their misspelled words, adding forgotten commas, and pointing out their flawed grammar. While those things are essential, they are just a small part of what it takes for a student to become a strong writer. The focus should primarily be on the concepts students are learning, and whether or not they are expressing them clearly.
It’s important to remember that you are not being asked to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching the writing process or grading papers. You have enough on your plate already! Instead, you’re encouraged to support your students’ writing skills by offering them more structured opportunities to practice them. While they’re working on their writing skills, they will also be more engaged, focused, and receptive to the content that you’re working on in your own class.
Writing Strategies for Any Classroom
- Exit slips
- Gallery walks
- Information go arounds
- Reading summaries
- Math manuals
- Research reports
- Lab reports
- Blog posts
- Newspaper articles
- Journal reflections
Tips for Supporting Student Writing
1. Focus on the process
- Good writing comes from pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, then publishing. Include more of these steps and student writing will improve.
- Let students learn from your example. Model how you plan, execute, and revise your own writing.
3. Provide sentence starters
- Provide students with sentence starters to help get them going.
4. Write in class
- Writing tasks are more likely to be done, and done well, if they are done in class. Students are more motivated to use their time wisely. With you there, students can also get help or feedback.
5. Have students share their writing
- The best way to revise your work is to read it aloud. Try having students share their work with a partner or with the rest of the class.
6. Grade with students
- Score samples of student writing as a class using a rubric.
7. Let them revise
- We want students to learn that writing is a process. They aren’t always going to get it right on their first draft, and that is ok. When possible, offer students the opportunity to revise their work.