Chapter 3: Writing to Learn
This chapter starts with a common fear of teaching writing: “time spent writing [i]s a time lost for learning ‘science’” (52). To overcome this, though, the chapter talks about how writing can become a part of the daily practice of class (with reading logs, practice essays, expressive writing, etc.). As a result writing can be easily integrated across the curriculum, because “expressive, informal writing tasks can improve learning retention” (54).
But these writing assignments must be genuine with real audiences and authentic tasks because “higher level thinking takes place with the authentic writing across curriculums” (47). As a result “in assignments, it means asking the student to construct knowledge through analysis, synthesis, and interpretation” (49), therefore creating opportunities for students to engage in a conversation and transform the assignment so that they can make the assignments their own.
Scaffolding is a part assessing students’ writing, though, and most common deficiencies are due to weak scaffolding and weak guidelines. Therefore the smaller pieces of writing can lead to the larger product, and teachers must remember this when assigning writing assignments in order to assess students’ knowledge.
Specific strategies for scaffolding include teachers speaking with their students about the students’ writing, students spending time on the process of writing (specifically the brainstorming and editing pieces of the writing process), students reflecting on their writing (as well as other assignments and readings), and teachers/students saving students’ work in portfolios for students to discuss with others during conferences or discussions. Reflections are integral when using writing to learn, and this isn’t just true for the students. Teachers can also benefit from reflecting on their planning, strategies, lessons, and assessments as well.
Overall, for writing assignments/assessments to aid in learning, the authenticity and investment (from both students and teacher) are necessary in order to motivate students to write, create, and learn.