When it comes to English language arts, incorporating writing into curriculum isn’t new. A heavier emphasis on argumentative writing and supporting colleagues with teaching writing, however, is new.
As the resident experts on writing, ELA teachers have an integral role to play in a school- or district-wide literacy initiative. ELA teachers are the go-to resources on how to incorporate writing into a lesson, approach a complex text for text-dependent-analysis, or provide effective feedback on student writing.
In this guide, we’ll share practical advice for ELA teachers looking to support administrators and content-area colleagues in the implementation of a writing across the curriculum initiative.
At the beginning of the year, ELA teachers can support a WAC initiative by spearheading certain writing exercises, like assigning baseline assessments, which can be used to deliver cross-departmental insights on students’ writing abilities.
Additionally, a short lesson on argumentative writing, led by ELA teachers, might help content-area teachers feel more confident in supporting their students with writing. Similarly, the ELA department can also guide colleagues on how to provide actionable feedback to students on their writing before the initiative rolls out.
ELA teachers have the wonderful pleasure of helping students find their voice and grapple with important questions about themselves, their world, and their beliefs. Creating opportunities to write about, discuss, and debate ideas gives students confidence in the their ideas. Show your colleagues how literacy can spark courageous thinking.
In talking with content-area teachers about the writing process, assure them that they will fare better by selecting highly-engaging and sufficiently complex texts and debatable prompts worthy of winning over students who are inundated with distractions like social media.
As ELA teachers know, students should be given many opportunities to collaborate throughout the writing process. Share ideas for facilitating peer-to-peer discussion and collaboration across teams so that all teachers benefit from these best practices. Not only will students produce better writing as a result, but they will be far more engaged in the content material when they can discuss it with peers or in other classes.
When it comes to teaching students grammar, mechanics, and organizational writing structures, ELA teachers know best. Don’t be afraid to own this part of writing instruction.
Simply telling colleagues that they don’t need to take time from their math, science, or social studies classes to teach the intricacies of comma uses can be helpful, especially for those who don’t feel confident with grammar themselves.
The purpose of writing in non-ELA subjects is to deepen content-area knowledge and critical thinking skills. Content-area teachers need to think of writing as a way of improving learning, not just proving learning. As such, reinforcing that grammar instruction belongs to the ELA department will likely strengthen buy-in among your colleagues.
As the owners of foundational reading and writing instruction, ELA teachers have a special role to play in leading a WAC initiative. You can support the adoption of writing across content areas by helping students understand the basic conceptual underpinnings of a written argument. One way to do this is through the CERCA Framework.
ThinkCERCA’s recommended literacy framework, CERCA, provides students with a research-based approach for engaging in the writing process across subjects. With CERCA, writers learn how to:
By introducing students to this shared language, teachers across the curriculum can leverage the same working vocabulary in their instruction. This way, each content area can spend less time teaching the same concepts. Colleagues across the school reinforce these literacy skills and provide feedback on them in their courses, thus amplifying the power of the ELA team’s instruction.
Another time-saving practice ELA teachers can spearhead is introducing a shared rubric for providing feedback. By showing teachers and students how to use rubrics and exemplars, you can build a common set of high expectations across the school.
Imagine a grade-level team that shares the insight that a particular student’s quarterly growth focus is “selecting and integrating evidence.” Across the team, teachers can deemphasize the many other opportunities for growth, and instead collaborate on this core challenge. As a result, the student has a clearer sense of goals and can truly own his or her growth.
The power of small data cannot be emphasized enough in writing instruction. When students can see small, but visible, improvements, their mindset can shift towards growth, motivating them to continue to work with confidence. There is also nothing more rewarding than working together as a team to help a student truly grow toward college and career readiness. Common language, shared rubrics, and coordinated efforts make that initiative possible. Specificity is the friend of growth, and teachers need look no further than a few student writing samples to pinpoint the next personal growth focus together.
In collaborative teams, ELA teachers can also help support content-area teachers by teaching to topics or themes that align with lessons in other disciplines.
For example, have students read a novel like The Wright 3, which incorporates geometry and architecture into the plot, while they learn about similar topics in math class. Or, assign The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as students learn about cells in biology. Students can also analyze historical or political documents that relate to a social studies lesson taught at the same time.
Aligning these lessons across subjects requires partnership from the start of the year. It’s important to look at proposed class schedules to see how units could overlap. By analyzing and writing about topics from multiple lenses, students can solidify their literacy skills and make interdisciplinary connections to topics. Student engagement increases with the depth of knowledge they bring to the subject. Through collaboration around both skills and knowledge, students can achieve more in every discipline.
While argumentative writing is a common way to incorporate writing into other content areas, it is critical that the skills of narrative, informational, and research writing remain emphasized for students. And there’s no one better equipped at exposing students to other forms of writing than an ELA teacher.
You may remember the widely-used college textbook, Everything’s an Argument. Whether a student is analyzing Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essays, or even Sandra Cisneros’s vignettes, using the lens of argument to analyze a text can be extremely powerful in showing students how to strengthen their writing skills through narrative, informational, and research writing instruction.
In everyday practice, writing rarely exists within one genre, the way it does in academic course descriptions. English classes are often the home of the narrative writing instruction and, often, the sole home of novels, short stories, and poems – the great mentor texts that provide inspiration and models for young writers.
Informational and narrative writing play critical roles in the development of career and college readiness. While these genres have not been discussed in-depth in this guide, resources for teaching more types of writing and literacy skills are available at ThinkCERCA.com.