Sunday, February 25, 2018

Writing Across the Curriculum

“… Reading and writing are two side of the same coin. whereas the writer works to make a text sensible, the reader works to make a text sensible, the reader works to make sense from a text. As a result, the two processes, rooted in language, are intertwined and share common cognitive and sociocultureal characteristics. Both reading and writing, for example, involve purpose, commitment, schema activation, planning, working with ideas, revision and rethinking, and monitoring.”[1]

“The relationships between reading and writing have been a source of inquiry by language researchers since the mid-1970s.”[2]  My parents where strong advocates of reading, specially early reading because they believed that good readers make good writers.  As Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca, authors of Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum point out, “students who are good readers and writers perceive themselves as such and are more likely to engage in reading and writing on their own.”[3]  There is no mystery to that observation.  The challenge is how do you encourage a student who is a weak reader and a weak writer to become stronger in either area?  Both ends of the spectrum are self-reinforcing scaffolds.  As a student increasing become frustrated with their writing, they are equally frustrated by difficult or challenging reading material.  How does a teacher break the cycle?  On suggestion is short and informal writing tasks: Writing to Learn (WTL).  Using ‘quick-writes’ which focus on capturing an student’s ideas, or concepts very quickly and spontaneously – they spend less time frustrated with composition and more time focus on expression and understanding.  “WLT should not be confused with learning to write”[4]- rather student concentrate on “summarizing and extending their thoughts about a subject.”[5]

Vacca explains another writing technique that is creative, nonthreatening, and fun - POVG (point of view guide) are designed to "trigger thoughtful reading and writing by having students 'get inside the skin' of a character or a subject under study.”[6]  This exercise is simple and short, to have the student think outside of themselves in a creative fashion.  Students involved in a POVG can, ask questions in an interview format; or role-play; or use first-person inquiry to help overcome the fear or frustration of writing.  Once a student is comfortable writing, nearly anything, then as an instructor, we can introduce additional structure to their writing.  “Using a variety of instructional activities, including microthemes, POVGs, unsent letters, biopoems, dialogues, and admit/exit slips”[7] – all do the same, they allow the student to write without fear of failure.

Vacca uses Anne Frank, the world’s most famous child diarist, as an example of the merits of keeping a personal journal.  Does he anticipate our student’s experiences to equal hiding against Nazis and the death camps as the motivation to write?  I think journaling is an excellent activity to encourage a student to write without fear of evaluation or judgment.  Great writing can be developed if the student is allow to “freely express their feelings and thoughts in response to what they are reading and learning.”[8]

[1]      Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum Close, Hull, & Langer 2005. p.282.
[2]      Ibid., p.283.
[3]      Ibid., p.283.
[4]      Ibid, p.285
[5]      Ibid., p.285.
[6]      Ibid., p.286.
[7]      Ibid., p.285.
[8]      Ibid., p.294.

No comments: