Tag Archives: Assignment 3

Writing Across the Curriculum

This post is my response to the Module Writing Across the Curriculum in my Literacy in the Content Areas course.

Besides teaching students how to write lab reports, I am not used to thinking about how writing differs between disciplines.  The ability to write in a variety of situations is becoming increasingly important and the YouTube video by Koppelman illustrated this fact very clearly.  Students need to understand how to write emails, brochures, blogs, reports, business letters etc. (Koppelman, 2011).  It established the fact that students need to understand how to write more than the 5-paragraph essay usually taught in English classes.

Math in the Margins: Writing Across Curricula into Community Heritage was an inspiring article.  It illustrated how writing can be brought into a math class in an interesting and meaningful way for students. It was great to see the students’ progression in the letters to their pen pals and how they incorporated math into their correspondence.  Using circle graphs to plot and compare their daily activities allowed students to connect with their peers (Sunstein et al., 2012).  Students were also encouraged to think about how they use math in their daily lives and communicate it with others.  Some examples of student writing from the article are:

  • “When I’m in my uni-loader at work I spin the diameter of a circle to dump the food into the cattle banks.”
  • “I sleep at least 8 hours (118 degrees), 33% of a day, the same amount of time I’m in school. I only have 14% of a day free, give or take a few, to do whatever. How about you?”

(Sunstein et al., 2012)

I think math is one subject that students feel most disconnected from as having little relevance to their lives.  Yet math is essential in understanding how our world works and necessary for almost any career a student may pursue.  One of the author’s experiences attests to this fact.  She states that “the culture of school math had turned me off” (Sunstein et al., 2012) but her decision to become an English teacher did not completely isolate herself from having to do math.   Within her teaching practice, the author had to learn how to analyze test scores and interpret graphs as well as solve other complex problems (Sunstein et al., 2012).    By providing students with occasions to talk and write about math in contexts other than “math class”, teachers can create authentic learning opportunities for their students.

The reading I spent the most time on for this module was the e-book, Guidebook for Teaching Writing.  Writing is an important part of literacy education.  Reading instruction is often emphasized over writing, but the two are interconnected (Urquhart & McIver, 2005).  The authors state that studies show students have better recall of text they read if writing is involved (Urquhart & McIver, 2005).  In this world of copy and paste, and fill-in-the-blank lesson notes, students have gotten out of the habit of writing what they are learning.

The book emphasized the importance of including the teaching of the writing process across subject areas if we want to help our students improve as writers.  This e-book was truly a “guidebook” with lots of examples, activities and strategies teachers could use to teach writing.  As a teacher who has not taught writing, I really appreciated all the ideas and hope to use many in my teaching practice.  Though I have not read all the strategies in detail yet, there are a few so far I would like to use.

I liked a couple of the Prewriting strategies as I think students often overlook this step in the writing process.  The Prewriting Think Sheet would be a good way for students to clarify their purpose in writing about a specific topic, and the Focusing Your Thoughts mind map would allow them to represent their ideas visually and help them focus on what is important to include in their writing.  I also appreciated the discussion about Blooming Sentences.  It is important for students to understand that sometimes less is more.  When loading sentences with unnecessary words, the writing may seem more refined, but the message may be lost (Urquhart & McIver, 2005).  This is especially important in science and math where writing needs to be clear and concise.

I love the idea of incorporating technology by having students complete e-journals/logs/portfolios.  However, I would go a step further than what is in the book and give the students the ability to share their writing with people other than their teacher.  I think students would take more care in their writing if they knew their peers (or even their parents or other adults) would be reading it.  It would also create opportunities for students to learn how to write comments of others’ work or ideas, a form of writing that is prevalent on the Internet.

Writing instruction is one area of literacy I want to continue to learn about and develop.  Though the articles in this module have convinced me of its importance in all subject areas I don’t know if the argument “time set aside for the writing process is time well spent” (Urquhart & McIver, 2005) is enough to convince discipline area teachers, especially in high school, to include writing instruction as part of their teaching practice.  Therefore I see my role as a teacher-librarian to try and convince classroom teachers of writing’s importance and/or collaborate with them to take over some of its teaching myself.

Works Cited

Koppelman, Z. (2011). An introduction to Writing Across the Curriculum. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXyxLRSQsoI

Sunstein, B.S.; Liu, R.Z.; Hunsicker, A.W.; Baker, D.F. (2012). Math in the margins: writing across the curricula into community heritage. English Journal, 102, 2, 16-26. Retrieved from

http://www.ncte.org.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/EJ/1022-nov2012/EJ1022Math.pdf

Urquhart, V. & McIver, M. (2005). Teaching writing in the content areas. Taylor Francis. ebook. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ubc/docDetail.action?docID=10083781

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Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners

We had a couple of readings for this Module, from which I learned a lot about teaching reading to culturally diverse learners.  It is an important aspect of my learning as in my school district we have numerous international and ESL students.

As a TTOC I haven’t had a lot of experience teaching students whose first language is not English.  Therefore, I learned quite a bit from Module 3 and wanted to include it for this assignment.

The first reading from Anderson and Gunderson opened my eyes to the complexity of trying to provide reading instruction to culturally and linguistically diverse learners.  I had never really thought of the disparity between cultures of how to teach reading, though it makes sense, as reading is not biological but cultural, so different cultures would view it in different ways.  The authors feel that immigrant students often do not do well in school because of these differing views of learning between themselves, their parents and their teachers (Anderson & Gunderson, 2008).   This makes a teacher’s job extremely difficult because within a class of culturally diverse learners, there is no “one size fits all” strategy for reading instruction.

As a secondary teacher, I was interested to learn that the Chinese language has different characters “used to convey the sense of reading for pleasure and reading to learn” (Anderson & Gunderson, 2008).  They, along with other cultures, feel that “learning is the accumulation of knowledge” and that reading to learn (i.e. studying) is different from reading for pleasure (Anderson & Gunderson, 2008).  So from this perspective can students read non-fiction books for pleasure or are they able to learn anything from reading fiction?  Though this is at odds with how learning is viewed by many educators in Canada where the “how and when (students) are going to apply learning to practice” (Anderson & Gunderson, 2008) is becoming increasingly important, I don’t think we necessarily need to change the way we teach to accommodate a more “traditional” way of learning.  In our diverse classrooms, we have to be mindful of how other cultures may be comfortable learning, but it is precisely because of this diversity that we can’t continue to teach in a traditional way.  The Internet has made discussion, collaboration, and sharing of knowledge the new normal and classrooms need to reflect that.  Requiring students to memorize facts that are now literally at everyone’s fingertips does not prepare them for navigating all the information readily available.  They need to apply what they learn and learn to think critically about the information they find.

The Discovering Voice website illustrated how the sharing and collaboration of knowledge in a diverse classroom can help students think more critically about information.  While listening to the teacher in the video Creating the Conditions for Learning, talk about her students’ study of Louis Riel, I was reminded of Module 1; the study of history requires students to understand point of view and bias (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  When reading about historical events, students are not reading truth but are reading someone’s interpretation of truth and the source or “voice” of the author is important to the understanding of the text.  By studying Louis Riel from a variety of historical and/or hidden “voices” students were able to gain a richer understanding of the history surrounding Louis Riel than by reading the facts alone.  This, along with the study of the Holocaust through the picture book The Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust, emphasized the importance of giving everyone a voice and allowed students to share, collaborate and participate in their own learning.

Today’s diverse classrooms make it difficult for teachers to teach in a traditional manner.  However, teachers now have the opportunity to use this diversity to enrich their students’ learning by having them acknowledge the variety of voices that may have remained hidden in the past.

Works Cited

Anderson, J. & Gunderson, L. (2008). You don’t read a science book, you study it: an exploration of cultural concepts of reading. Readingonline. Retrieved from: http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/anderson/

Discovering voice. (2011). Curriculum Services Canada. Retrieved from http://resources.curriculum.org/secretariat/discovering/

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Literacy Matters

The following is my review of an article I read for my Literacy in the Content Areas course.  

As a future teacher-librarian I am concerned with literacy in the content areas.  I was not originally going to include Module 1 in this assignment as previous courses I have taken have discussed the importance of literacy in the disciplines and I felt it would be mostly review.  However, reading the article Teaching Disciplinary Literacy to Adolescents: Re-thinking Content Area Literacy changed my mind.  In it, the authors summarize the notion that current literacy programs are inadequate in improving the literacy skills of students.  The article clearly reviews why the current literacy instruction in schools does not work for 21st century students and highlights the first two years of a study, which shows the importance of teaching literacy in the content areas beyond the basic level.  

According to the authors, basic reading skills have often been thought to be generalist in nature; good enough to give students the knowledge they need to read anything successfully (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  However, they state that though the concentration on early literacy programs has increased the reading skills of young children, this has not led to literacy improvement in the higher grades (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  “Apparently, strong early reading skills do not automatically develop into more complex skills that enable students to deal with the specialized and sophisticated reading of literature, science, history, and mathematics” (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  The article states that advanced literacy instruction is needed for all students and that “disciplinary literacy” needs to be taught in the content areas to give students the skills they need to be successful.

Previous courses I have taken have discussed literacy and its importance in secondary content areas.  However, this article made it much clearer to me the difference in reading skills required for different subjects.  By bringing together “experts” from various disciplines, the authors (as literacy experts) were able understand how people of different disciplines approach reading and come up with ideas to help students develop reading skills geared to specific types of texts.  For example, math reading requires precision to understand meaning.  “…each word must be understood specifically in service to that particular meaning” (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  Students cannot read math quickly to get the general idea.  Chemists are more concerned with how information is transformed between different forms.  “…alternative representations (e.g., pictures, graphs or charts, text, or diagrams) of an idea are essential for a full understanding of the concepts” (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  Students need to be able to understand how to visualize information in different ways.  Historians however, consider possible bias before reading history texts.  They make sure to pay attention to the author or source of what they are reading.  They are “aware that they (are) reading an interpretation of historical events and not Truth” (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  When reading history, students need to understand they are not simply learning facts.

One thing I was struck by in this article is that all the teachers agreed it was important for students to understand how to read texts within their own discipline, but were reluctant to teach those reading skills in the classroom.  They “displayed some reluctance in embracing the idea of strategy instruction” (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  However, upon further study, it was found that they were reluctant to use general strategies, like KWL.  If a teacher within the discipline proposed a tested strategy or the proposed strategy “mirrored the kinds of thinking and analytic practices common to their discipline” the teachers were more likely to use the strategy themselves (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).

As a teacher-librarian, understanding the reading skills required in different disciplines is important if I am to support teachers in developing strategies for reading instruction.  I learned a lot from this article and hope to use the knowledge gained in my teaching practice.

Work Cited

Shanahan, T., and Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: re-thinking content area literacy. Harvard Educational Review. 40(78). 

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