by Erin Dye
For more than thirty years, there has been an emphasis on using reading and writing “across the curriculum” to promote student learning—activities that come part and parcel with teaching ELA, but seem more difficult to integrate into a geometry class. The underlying principle is simple: purposeful reading and writing activities help students better understand and think critically about content, no matter the subject.
With many states adopting the Common Core State Standards to direct instruction—which includes a set of standards just for reading and writing about history, science, and technical subjects—there is a renewed emphasis on the inclusion of purposeful reading and writing activities both inside and outside of the ELA classroom.
Reading across the curriculum means more than reading an assigned chapter in a textbook. Students might also read related essays, letters, speeches, reports, and so on to better understand a particular topic. Students in an American history class, for example, might read an online excerpt from one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to better understand how politicians viewed the issue of slavery before the Civil War, using a program such as Diigo to annotate the text as they read. To kick off a new unit in a math class, students could read an excerpt from John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences or Keith Devlin’s Life by the Numbers to answer that age-old question, “When am I ever going to need to use this?”
But reading subject-specific texts isn’t enough. To develop understanding, students need to produce related writing. There are two main types of writing activities that teachers can use to promote student learning in any classroom—“writing to learn” and “writing in the discipline.”
When students write to learn, they produce short pieces of writing that help them process the content that they have learned. For example, a student in a chemistry class might use a “learning log” (using a program such as Evernote) to reflect upon a week’s concept—recording their initial reactions and questions. These types of assignments typically require only a cursory review by teachers.
When students write in the discipline, they produce longer pieces of writing that also adhere to the conventions of a particular discipline. In an ELA classroom, for example, a student might produce a research paper that adheres to MLA guidelines. The chemistry student would develop a lab report to document an experiment.
Reading and writing can be integrated in any class to further student engagement and learning. Find ways to make “writing to learn” activities a regular activity in your classroom and ways to incorporate “writing in the discipline” activities as long-term projects, and you will make your students engaged, thoughtful learners.
Erin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.