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Writing to Learn Across the Curriculum

Author: NYCWP

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LEHMAN COLLEGE

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INSTITUTE FOR LITERACY STUDIES

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Tel: (718) 960-8758

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THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK

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250 Bedford Park Blvd. West

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Fax: (718) 960-8054

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Bronx, NY 10468-1589

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NEW YORK CITY WRITING PROJECT

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Writing to Learn Across the Curriculum

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1) Using a chart (on big paper or blackboard), list subject participants teach; then, elicit:

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  • WHEN do students write in your classes (for ex., “do now” to start the class)?
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  • WHAT do they write?
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  • WHO reads it?
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2) Looking at our list, what can we deduce about how writing is used in our classes? (We are likely to see it’s done after learning has taken place, for a teacher, etc.)

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3) Let’s look at two different functions of writing:

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  • Transactional writing – usually an account of something that has already happened.
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  • Usually factual, confirmable, and logical. The language of science, reporting, persuading, informing and school. No expectation or likelihood that a personal response to the information is included or necessary.
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  • Expressive writing – usually the writer him/herself is of interest to the reader. The writer has freedom to move among facts, speculation, anecdote, emotion without being “penalized” for it. The form of writing closest to speech, it is useful for trying out and coming to terms with new ideas.
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4) Much school writing is expected to be transactional. This expectation of and/or demand for impersonal writing can inhibit learning because it separates what is to be learned from the students’ learning process, which is inevitably personal and expressive. So there’s a logic to inviting expressive writing before students are asked to do transactional writing.

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5) Let’s look at a way t do this with a new lesson/new test/new information.

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  • Expressive writing to introduce a topic can

    1. Motivate interest in a topic
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    3. Invite students to identify what they already know
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    5. Help students make connections between their experiences and the topic
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    7. Place the topic in a larger context
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    9. Invite students to express their opinions and attitudes
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NOW LET’S EXPERIENCE WRITING TO LEARN

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Topic: chocolate

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WRITE A BRIEF RESPONSE IN YOUR JOURNAL TO THESE QUESTIONS:

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  • What do you like/not like about chocolate?
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  • What’s difficult about the topic of chocolate, or what might get in the way of your understanding of this topic?
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  • What are your experiences with chocolate?
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  • Do you think it’s important to know about this topic? Why or why not?
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  • What facts do you know about chocolate?
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  • Make up something crazy about chocolate. How would it affect your life if chocolate didn’t exist?
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  • What was chocolate like 100 years ago? What’s it like now? What might it be like 100 years from now?
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  • What metaphor can you think of for chocolate?
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  • What does it remind you of?
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  • What is chocolate related to?
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  • Create your own definition for chocolate
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ASK FOR A FEW VOLUNTEERS TO READ A FEW OF THEIR ANSWERS

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  • What common themes have emerged?
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  • What new realizations do you now have about chocolate?
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DISTRIBUTE John Ernsley’s “Aztec Dreams – Phenylethylamine (PEA)” (from Molecules at an Exhibition: The Science of Everyday Life Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1998: 3-6)

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  • Speculate about the title
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  • Share a few speculations
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  • Start reading, and annotate as you read – reactions, thoughts, questions as you read
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  • When you finish, think out loud on paper about what you read
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  • Hear 3-4 shared responses: listeners jot down strategies they think the reader used to make sense of the reading selection.
    • Define, give examples of strategies
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    • For example,
      • Stopped and re-read
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      • Imagined a picture of
        • Look back at your own “think aloud” writing – do you see additional strategies? Share with the group.
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WRITE A BRIEF RESPONSE TO A FEW OF THESE QUESTIONS

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  • What didn’t you understand?
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  • What do you want to know more about?
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  • What information surprised you?
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  • What thoughts did you have before reading the article that were changed by your reading?
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  • What learning experience, memory, or person does this material remind you of?
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  • What seems to be left out?
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  • Hear a few shared responses.
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ADDITIONAL POSSIBLE WRITING ACTIVTIES

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  • Write a dialogue between…
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  • Explain the concept in the article to a younger person
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  • Explain it to a being from another planet
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  • Pretend you are chocolate (a piece of chocolate, a chocolate bar, etc.) and write about your worries, hopes, likes, dislikes
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The idea is that by adding a few of these expressive writing activities before and during a lesson and reading assignment, students will have more opportunities for engagement. To quote James Britton, “it is only when school writing becomes an integral part of ongoing observing, experiencing talking, reading, and thinking that it can fulfill its own particular function to the full.”

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IF THERE’S TIME, PROCES WRITING/TURN AND SHARE

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This workshop is adapted from the NYCWP workshop “Writing and Learning

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Across the Curriculum” (© 1982) prepared by Robin Cohen, Bill Delaney,

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Susan Lesser, Noreen Perlmutter, and Marcie Wolfe

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Adaptation prepared by Margaret Fiore 2003

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LEHMAN COLLEGE

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INSTITUTE FOR LITERACY STUDIES

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Tel: (718) 960-8758

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THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK

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250 Bedford Park Blvd. West

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Fax: (718) 960-8054

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Bronx, NY 10468-1589

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NEW YORK CITY WRITING PROJECT

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Writing and Learning Across the Curriculum

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“It is only when school writing becomes an integral part of ongoing observing, experimenting, experiencing, talking, reading, and thinking that it can fulfill its own particular function to the full.” James Bretton

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When teachers assign writing in subject area classes, they are usually checking how much of the material has been learned. Homeworks, tests, essays, and reports all serve the same function- evaluation of students’ understanding of the subject after some or all of it has been taught. While this use of writing is certainly worthwhile, it limits writing to an end product in the classroom. Writing can be used effectively while students are learning, to make links between what they already know and the new information.

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What are transactional and expressive writing?

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Transactional writing is usually an account of something that has already happened. It should be truthful and logical. It is the language of science, reporting, persuading, informing and school. Although it is valid writing, it is also impersonal. There is no sense that a personal response is being made to the information set down.

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In expressive writing, the writer is of interest to the reader. The writer has the freedom to jump from facts to speculation to anecdote to emotion without being penalized for it. Since it is the form of writing closest to speech, it is crucial for trying out and coming to terms with new ideas.

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The problem is that in much school writing, the students are expected to present their work in an unexpressive, transactional way. This demand for impersonal writing can actually inhibit learning because it separates what is to be learned from the student’s learning process, which is personal and expressive. So, expressive writing should come before students are asked to do transactional writing.

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Why use expressive writing or writing-to-learn strategies?

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To focus students’ attention on subject matter

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To engage students actively with the subject matter

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To arouse the learners’ curiosity about what’s being studied

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To help students discover disparate elements in subject materials

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To help learners make connection between the subject matter and their own lives

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To help students make their own meaning from subject matter

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To help students think aloud on paper in various ways – associating, analyzing, synthesizing, etc.

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To provide opportunities for learners to identify what they do and do not know about a subject

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To diagnose students’ learning successes and problems

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To better prepare students for subject matter discussions

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DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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