I’ve been looking for a good literacy chat on Twitter, and just stumbled upon one that I really enjoyed: #teachwriting.
The discussion this week was on writing across the curriculum. First, let’s just define writing across the curriculum. I love this definition from @sandyrotto:
I’d also add that to me, writing across the curriculum should be taken one step further to disciplinary writing. When we teach disciplinary writing, we start students on a learning trajectory where the eventual goal is for learners to think and write like experts in the discipline. This is not to say that students have to become experts in every discipline; rather, that they have the groundwork necessary to succeed in any area they might choose.
The question in the chat that really resonated with me was around the challenges teachers face when they try to bring writing into the content areas.
Folks mentioned things like nervousness about the teacher’s own writing ability, a belief that assessing writing meant nitpicking grammar, etc. Of course, one of the issues mentioned over and over was time. And, more specifically, people mentioned lack of time because of pressure to cover standards and prepare for assessments.
I’ve been thinking about this challenge a lot lately and discussing the issue with my fellow coaches as well. Doing any kind of meaningful writing- doing any kind of meaningful performance assessment, really- requires time. And that means that teachers need to sit down and determine which standards to target, which means determining which standards to leave out. Figuring out which standards to leave out is an essential step, at least until we’re all operating from a short set of thoughtful, curated standards. Even then, I think teachers need to decide where they’ll focus their time and attention.
I think some of my literacy work has failed because teachers haven’t had the time or space to do this necessary first step- curriculum mapping based on a highly focused set of outcomes. And I’d argue that lots of other initiatives fail for the same reason. As a teacher, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that it was ok that I hadn’t covered a certain percent of the seemingly endless Texas English standards. I would have to remind myself that covering didn’t mean learning. But some teachers are under such pressure they can’t even imagine leaving standards out. We’ve got to shift curriculum planning from a focus on covering standards to a focus on learning standards- and doing so might allow us to bring in some of those deep and meaningful instructional practices, like writing, that simply take time.
And if we want students to begin to appropriate the writing and thinking skills of experts in the discipline, we have to give them the time to think, and write.