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Writing Across the Curriculum—What Is It?

I am teaching an online course this semester called Writing Across the Curriculum. Hence, I am trying to dig more deeply into the topic of “writing across the curriculum”—what does that phrase actually mean to me?

I am beginning my journey of discovery here and now with you all. As I was writing this morning, I realized that just the act of writing my blog is exactly what we mean by writing across the curriculum. This was the natural and almost unintentional process I went through when trying to think more deeply about writing across the curriculum:

book covers of books by Harvey Daniels

During some of the above research and reflection, I read a review of The Best Kept Teaching Secret: How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, and Grow Fluent Writers…, The reviewer wrote:

Just what make written conversations so potent? An ongoing, thoughtful correspondence between students, and between students and their teachers, written conversations, above all else, catch and ride the wave of social interaction, which in turn makes school matter to kids. It’s that simple. Structure by structure, from beginning to end, Smokey and Elaine describe four variations of these “silent writing-to-learn discussions,” during which all students in a classroom think and “talk” at once in writing, instead of one at a time out loud.

I ended my thinking with some questions that I want to investigate more with my students this semester:

  • Writing and reading always go hand in hand. Is this even more important for writing across the curriculum? How much back and forth should students engage in when trying to understand a topic?
  • The writing I have engaged in this morning has opened up more questions for me and taken me down a path that was not prescribed—I have gone where my interests have guided me. Is this always true for students in our classrooms?
  • Written conversations. Is that what makes our on-line learning experiences so powerful?
  • Writing to learn and writing across the curriculum: how do others use writing to inform their thinking and learning?

In one of my earlier blog posts, I included a quote a teacher said about her students: “writing is like a cup of morning coffee—my students have to have it every day.” How do you write every day? Do you use writing to help you think and learn?

Isabel Sawyer, PhD, is a Regional Director at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She presents keynotes, workshops, presentations, and professional development for teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators across the country. Previously Isabel worked as a lead instructional coach for Albemarle County Public Schools and as an instructional coordinator for an inner-city school in Charlottesville, Virginia. Isabel holds her PhD from the University of Virginia and serves as an adjunct instructor in UVA's Curry School of Education. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences and worked with schools across the country as an independent consultant. 


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Comments (9)

Izzy....WOW!  this is great!

Izzy....WOW!  this is great!  Very detailed, good info and love the layout and pics w/ additional info.  Very impressive....YOU GO GIRL!  

Nice job, Isabel! When we

Nice job, Isabel! When we meet, I want to hear all about your class and these resources - thanks for sharing!

Marilyn and Ashby, You all

Marilyn and Ashby, You all are too kind--thanks for the compliment! I am excited about teaching on-line--it it a new experience for me and really reinforces how just the act of writing can help push our thinking on topics in directions we might not ordinarily go. Happy to share my reflections as the course moves along! Would love to hear yours!   Isabel

As a first grade teacher of 9

As a first grade teacher of 9 years and then this year teaching second grade for the first time in a really long time, I stressed about how to get writing across the curriculum to fit into my daily schedule.  Just as stated above about the "cup of coffee" analogy, students do it naturally if given the time.  I've asked students to write out their explanation and thinking while solving a math problem or write their thoughts about a science or social studies topic.  I expected groans or "I can't do it" but my students proved me wrong.  The first time they did it, I learned a lot about how they solved and where misconceptions  were made.  I soon began having my students not only write in math, science and social studies, but used their writing as springboards for conversations and discussions in the classroom.  This strategy has proven to help my ELL and shy students speak up where they might not have if put on the spot.  Writing Across the Curriculum has me less stressed knowing my students are benefitting from it.   Thanks for sharing your thoughts and additional books to read.

So appreciate this, Isabel!  

So appreciate this, Isabel!    I was just thinking about the integration of SS with reading and writing.  I was going to reread Best Practices and focus on the SS chapter.

In my own writing, I am a big note taker (written or typed). I feel like it helps me to attain to what I may be learning.  I have also found that I enjoy blogging as a form of writing and expressing my thoughts.  It seems less formal yet powerful.

Are you going to continue this as a series?  I hope so! 

Tya--Thanks so much for

Tya--Thanks so much for posting. Love that even at such a young age your students are writing about their thinking before sharing our loud! Can I share your comment with my students? 

Gina--let me know what you

Gina--let me know what you find out after your re-reading! I'd love to hear! I am absolutely going to try to conitnue the series--fingers crossed I can fit it all in. Finding connections between my real work, my blogging, my on-line teaching will be very important! Miss you! Isabel

  Great questions you have

  Great questions you have posed!  I too love the analogy of students needing writing like some of us need that morning cup of joe.  The integration of reading and writing and the content area should go hand in hand...these are not isolated subjects that we transition between throughout the school day. I have seen sample lessons lately where in math 3rd graders were encouraged to stop and jot down their thinking before turning and talking to a classmate.  This also works well with close reading (in any subject).  If students write about their intial thinking and track in writing (possibly using a different color) how their thinking changes following collaboration, the teacher has a powerful record to use as a formative assessment. Thanks for sharing the above book titles.  I look forward to exploring these. 

Hi Rena, Thanks for

Hi Rena, Thanks for commenting--so, it sounds like you are describing a Think, Write, Pair? I love the idea of using different colored pens to track their before and after thinking! How helpful that would be for students to see how their thinking shifted and morphed after talking with a friend and hearing new ideas! I would love to try to use this in staff development sessions as well! Best, Isabel