Recently I started reading the book Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins. The book is written to help guide leaders in buildings who are using The Units of Study from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in their schools. The book has my mind absolutely ABLAZE with ideas about the value of writing across the curriculum.
To make sure we are all on the same page, let me tell you what I mean when I say writing across the curriculum. In my mind this means that we are providing meaningful opportunities for students to engage in writing activities in all content areas. No matter whether your subject area is typically considered a subject that would be considered a course on writing, we have to wrap our mind around the fact that we are all literacy teachers!
Let’s use social studies as the subject we focus in on to start with… In many social studies classes, at a wide variety of levels, much of the way students are taught involves lecture or direct instruction, some reading about the topic, maybe they are shown some video that goes with their subject, or played some music from the time period and location of study. But what do all of those things have in common for the students in the classroom? I would argue that all of those things are pretty passive ways of learning. Students are taking in information, but not being asked to do much of anything with it except absorb.
Now, even if our next step is to ask the students some questions, or respond to some worksheet (or possibly something we have created on Canvas), there isn’t really a whole lot of deep thought going on there.
Now take a moment to think about what you do when you are writing. You have to reflect on the information you’ve taken in. You might have to go back to a piece of reading and reread. You might even go do some additional research on a topic. Writing is a much more active process.
Whatever the subject area you teach, there are ways you could bring writing and literacy into your classroom. In science you could have students write up a lab report or keep a lab journal, math could spend time writing a response to a deep-thinking problem that they solved or journal about thinking and learning based on your current unit, social studies could write about a topic that you have been covering in class. Even our related arts teachers can get on board with writing tasks related to activities that they have been doing in class.
Again and again, the idea of writing across the classroom has been shown to have high level of impact on learning throughout a school because it is such an active process. I know that many of you are working towards creating integrated learning units that carry across multiple classrooms and subject areas. If you are not a language arts teacher, and don’t feel confident in where to start with having students write in your class, find a buddy you can work with to talk about your goals and how your work might support the writing goals of your language arts teachers.
What are your thoughts on writing in other content areas? What have you noticed when you try it? Share your ideas in the comments below!