Writing in the Disciplines
Last spring, we took a look at Disciplinary Literacy and the varying approaches to reading and interacting with content that characterize each subject area, or discipline. Disciplinary literacy is an important lens for us to use in coaching, particularly in our work with middle- and high-school teachers. Thinking about how literacy is used in different disciplines helps us tailor our coaching ideas to meet the needs of content-area teachers.
In February’s blog, we posted about Disciplinary Literacy at the elementary school level. This month, we continue the conversation with a look at disciplinary writing, or how writing is used in each discipline. Understanding the different forms and purposes for writing in each discipline helps us frame our coaching more specifically to teachers’ needs, regardless of the grade level they teach. We can then provide more targeted ideas and tools for teachers to use, and so, help teachers integrate more writing opportunities for students in their regular instruction.
The Annenberg Foundation has created a useful website with resources for teachers that focus on disciplinary literacy: http://www.learner.org/courses/readwrite/index.html. They describe some of the disciplines-specific uses of writing in the following ways:
How Historians Use Writing
- To establish claims and support them with evidence from the historical record:
- Summarizing and describing historical events, people, and phenomena
- Corroborating sources
- Interpreting historical events, people, and phenomena
- Developing evidentiary base to support claims
- Making arguments and supporting with evidence
- In History classes, students are expected to summarize and analyze historical events, people, and phenomena, identify patterns across time, and engage in research.
How Mathematicians Use Writing
- To document their thinking processes as they work toward a solution or a proof and to clearly and compellingly present these solutions or proofs to others
- To record and keep track of their calculations and “mathematical thinking,” through note-taking and analyses to record their thoughts as they tackle difficult problems or attempt new proofs
- To consolidate and communicate their ideas to others
- To interpret mathematical proofs and argue for their accuracy
- In Mathematics classes, students are expected to record operations, analyze mathematical problems, and explain mathematical problem-solving
How Scientists Use Writing
- To record data, including observations and results
- For the scientific record, including research report and annotations about findings/observations
- To annotate documents as they read, noting important or new ideas and approaches to problems and responding to the ideas presented in text
- To support/defend their findings and argue for the “correctness” of their interpretations or importance of their observations or test results
- To carefully document hypotheses, calculations, and experimental procedures
- To describe and analyze data and observations
- To provide interpretations, often including alternative explanations
- To succinctly summarize data, observations, and/or hypotheses
- To analyze, critique, or provide commentary on the ideas of others
- In Science classes, students are expected to record scientific processes and procedures, document observations, generate hypotheses, analyze data, record and interpret findings, and engage in research.
How Professionals Use English Language Arts:
- Proficient writing and communication skill in English cut across all professions and socio-economic lines. The ability to effectively write and communicate has become imperative for successful participation in our information-loaded world.
- Most professions require the ability to describe, summarize, request, explain, evaluate, analyze, and persuade with clarity, competence, and confidence.
- Professionals are also expected to be able to annotate documents as they read, noting important or new ideas and approaches to problems and responding to the ideas presented in text
- In ELA classes, students are expected to engage in literary analysis, journalistic writing, contrastive analysis, and various forms of genre study and narrative writing.
As coaches, we can gather information about writing in the disciplines and help teachers integrate more writing into their regular instruction. When we understand what characterizes writing in each discipline, we are better able to help teachers identify what strategies each discipline demands and determine teaching points accordingly. Supporting teachers’ implementation of disciplinary writing gives students more opportunities to engage deeply with content.
Teachers are sometimes hesitant to include writing tasks because they lack confidence in teaching students how to write. Teaching practices that are specific to each discipline can be even more daunting. We can offer support through co-planning, modeling, and providing examples of student work. We can also gather and/or co-create resources like graphic organizers and specific checklists for teachers to use during their instruction. Additionally, we can help teachers create rubrics to qualitatively evaluate the writing that they assign.
We all know the incredible value of writing as a tool for learning. Supporting teachers in integrating disciplinary writing into their instruction is an important component of our coaching.
Join the conversation! How have you helped teachers think about incorporating more writing into their instruction? Have you coached teachers in disciplinary reading and writing? What has worked for you?