Writing for Content Learning

Writing outside the English classroom »
Emily, Eric, and Jenna discuss the various ways they use writing in their respective content areas. Writing is alive in history, math, and orchestra!
  • Assigning writing for the sake of writing or simply asking students to repeat the ideas of others are traps we can avoid as educators.
  • It’s important to recognize that different kinds of writing promote different kinds of learning. Expecting one kind of learning when we asked for writing that promotes a different kind is unfair to students.

Further Reading:

Some of the best advice for making journals work in the classroom. Theoretically solid
A rich resource for writing to learn practices
An adaptable resource for any subject which acknowledges the need for trouble-shooting when writing in the different content areas

Supplemental Materials:

But this isn’t an English class

Why Should I Use Writing In My Class

2+2=Writing In Math

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When I first started teaching, I used journals in the classroom–and, sadly, my primary motive was to give students something to do at the start of class so that I could take roll–and to settle them down (I hoped). They didn’t value the experience, and, quite frankly, what they wrote didn’t do much for them: it didn’t develop them as writers, it didn’t encourage learning, it didn’t even entertain very well. It took me awhile to learn that using writing purposefully would provide the benefits I really hoped to get from my first attempts.

“Some teachers associate only a few applications—journals, note-taking, free writing—with writing to learn, but the ways in which teachers can use writing to learn in the classroom are far more numerous and wide-ranging than that short list suggests”  (175).

  • How do you currently use writing to learn in your classroom?  What does it look like and (how do you use it to inform your teaching?) Do you grade it? Never look at it? How is it assessed?

“If students can have positive experiences with writing as a tool for learning, they will be more likely to write, even if it is sometimes challenging”  (169).

  • What are your thoughts or concerns about incorporating writing to learn in your classroom?

“Reflection helps learners know what they’ve learned and how they’ve learned it.  It requires them to consider themselves as learners, which means that they’re more likely to transfer practices helpful to their learning in one setting to another setting” (176).

  • How can using a variety of genres (letters, journals, scripts, etc.) help students demonstrate the desired learning? Which genres lend themselves to evaluation?  Analysis? Comprehension? Reflection?

“Prompts that ask students to do something more with their new knowledge—to make something of it, to connect it to other things they know, or to reflect on its value in their lives—are more likely to build new knowledge” (171).

  • How can the use of specific prompts help learners generate more meaningful metacognitive thinking?  Which principles can be used to guide you as you generate effective prompts for your students?

“Journals encourage learning more effectively when we give prompts that move students to do something, either with their new knowledge or with their process of acquiring that new knowledge” (176).

  • Think about the principles surrounding the effective use of journals or daybooks.  How can the use of the cover letter reinforce these principles? How might you structure and incorporate your own classroom journals, learning logs, or daybooks (differently to improve students’ learning)?
  • What learning about content do you anticipate in the next semester? Which writing to learn tools discussed in this chapter would best fit the kind of learning you want students to do?

Make a list of three writing to learn activities you will adopt in the upcoming year, matching the learning you want with the activity that will generate that kind of learning.