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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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