Writing across the Curriculum
When we talk with content area teachers, they often share their reluctance to assign writing. This reluctance seems to be fueled by the fear of “grading” the writing–not actually “reading” the writing. We want to get teachers beyond that fear by focusing on what can be gained instructionally for both teachers and students by requiring students to write.
A popular saying goes: Writing is thinking on paper. We firmly believe that! And if we want to know what our students are learning and thinking, then a great way to find out is by having them write.
Setting Standards for Conventions
Content area teachers do not have to mark every spelling and punctuation error. Rather, they can use a simplistic rubric to evaluate the correctness of conventions by using the following scale:
- No noticeable errors in paper (5)
- Few errors that do not interfere with meaning or flow of writing (4)
- Some errors cause minor interference with flow of writing (3)
- Errors present and interfere with flow of writing (2)
- Too many errors that make reading and understanding writing difficult (No Grade)
Essentially, this simplified rubric allows teachers to assign a holistic score to the “conventions” portion of the writing without taking time to mark or comment on individual errors. And notice what happens when there are too many errors–not a LOW grade but rather a NO grade. Many convention errors that students make are basically carelessness. When the same word is spelled five different ways in one paper, that’s carelessness, and we’re not doing any favors to students by giving them credit for that type of work. Instead, hand it back to be redone.
Many teachers and schools have found the following two strategies successful for helping students become more careful spellers. Create a “no excuse” list of words that ALL students at the grade level or in the school will be held responsible for in all writing. These no excuse lists (words like their/there/ they’re, are/our, it’s/its, and other commonly misspelled words) can be posted in the classroom, laminated and taped to desks, or given to students to keep in their notebooks. Set the standard that if these words are misspelled in a paper, the paper will be returned without a grade to be corrected.
For content area classrooms, create a word wall that includes the words unique to the course that students will need to use in their writing. Students should be encouraged to use the word wall as a resource whenever they write.
Focus on Content
Once classroom standards are established for conventions, content area teachers can then focus on what they most need to focus–the content that the students write. The following techniques will lead to good content writing.
1) Read Aloud Mentor Text:
First, teachers need to share and read aloud mentor text, written text that is an exemplar for the type of writing they want their students to complete. This might include essays, small sections from books, articles from newspapers, or online resources. When reading the piece aloud, teachers should “think aloud” to bring the good elements to students’ attention.
2) Model Writing:
Secondly, teachers need to model writing. They need to actually do the type of writing that they are asking the students to do–while they think aloud about what they’re writing. With SmartBoards, this process is simplified, as all students can easily see what the teacher is doing. It’s not necessary to write an entire piece, but it’s important to do enough so that students see what it is you are expecting. Just as teachers model how to solve a math problem, they need to model how to write.
3) Have Students Share Writing:
After students have had time to write their pieces, then they need to share them and read them aloud in small groups. This step helps to clarify and bring to light parts that might not make sense. After this, they can revise/refine/edit their papers to get ready to turn them in.
4) Share Exemplars:
Finally, don’t forget to share the exemplars with the class. Talk about what made some papers stand out.