Thursday, October 23, 2008

Transforming Substance into Significance, Part 6: Authenticity—Writing to Learn

Consider the following findings from research:

Author and teacher Gloria Houston found that students who wrote at the conclusion of every class regardless of the discipline (i.e., they wrote at the end of math class, science class, social studies class…) made greater achievement than their non-writing peers. Houston (2004) reports: “At the end of the project,…every teacher indicated that journals were one of the most useful tools they had in helping their students learn…students who had been in the project for three years made remarkable gains on standardized tests. Aside from the test score gains, teachers believed that their students had not only learned how to be good test takers, they had learned how to be good learners” (p. 214-217).

Similar research reaches a similar conclusion: writing increases student achievement. Students who were engaged in writing in all classes during a school year gained three benefits over their peers who were not so engaged. First, they had final exam scores averaging seven points higher than their peers. Second, not a single one of these students earned grades of D or lower; there were no failing students in the writing group. Third, the writing students demonstrated more positive attitudes toward learning. Researcher John Franklin (2003) suggests writing as a “key to improving student learning” (p. 5).

Writing is a means of learning. “With every sentence you write, you have learned something,” claims Ueland (1987). “It has done you good. It has stretched your understanding” (p. 15-16). Writing experts refer to this aspect of writing as “knowledge transforming”—“constructing ideas and images through writing” (Fearn & Farnan, 2001, p. 183). In writing, “information promotes curiosity or speculation,” suggest Fearn and Farnan, “and the writer uses the information and the curiosity to construct knowledge not originally accumulated” (p. 183-184).

When students write, they deepen their learning and increase their achievement. An authentic instructional writing program recognizes the benefits or writing to learn and provides the training and resources necessary for every teacher in every discipline to engage students in writing.

Up next: successful instruction features several integrated elements.

Fearn, L. & Farnan, N. (2001). Interactions: Teaching writing and the language arts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Franklin, J. (2003, Summer). Breaking the barriers: How writing across the curriculum programs help students and teachers. Curriculum Update, 4-5.

Houston, G. (2004). How writing works: Imposing organizational structure within the writing process. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Ueland, B. (1987). If you want to write: A book about art, independence and spirit. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press.

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