Writing Is Everyone's Business

By Baxter, Thelma | Momentum, April/May 2008 | Go to article overview

Writing Is Everyone's Business


Baxter, Thelma, Momentum


Today math teachers are called upon to teach students how to write and explain math problems in words. That's one benefit of writing across curriculum.

At one time math teaching consisted of instructing arithmetic, algebra, jeometry and trigonometry. Now, suddenly, math teachers are called upon to teach their students how to write and explain math problems in their own words. Students must clarify the steps they used to approach the problem. They must describe how it was solved, not only using numbers and variables, but in English-in actual writing. In fact, the new mantra is Writing Across the Curriculum. Teachers now are expected to know strategies of effective instruction, teaching their pupils to both write about math as well as solve math problems.

Generally, people associate math only with numbers. But today students must be able to write their thoughts and solutions. It is important for teachers to understand that a student's writing can signal how well he or she is learning. If a student is unsure of the answer or is experiencing difficulty, the teacher will recognize immediately the student's struggle in writing. When writing, the student must recall previous information and incorporate new concepts with the previous ones. For students who are verbal/visual learners, writing can make math more accessible and meaningful. Writing, according to experts, helps students to think, learn and retain more information, including math concepts.

Traditionally the teaching of writing and its improvement were seen as the sole responsibility of English teachers. However, in this day of increased testing and more stringent requirements for writing in all content areas, every teacher has to become a writing teacher. To meet these increased demands successfully, all teachers should adopt the mantra that writing is necessary in every class everyday. The expectation is that the more the students write down mathematical ideas, processes and solutions, the better they will do in math and other subjects.

Universal Language

The new universal language for school is writing. Everyone, from principals to assistant principals, teachers and teacher aides, must develop increased skills in writing and in teaching writing. All educators must learn more language techniques for engaging students effectively in the writing process.

Many teachers will complain that they are teachers of a specific content area-math, history or even physical education-and that writing is neither their responsibility nor their forte. They will claim that writing is the responsibility of English teachers.

This excuse is not acceptable. All teachers have earned college degrees that required them to pass courses in English and to write on other subject areas. Almost all college students have written numerous research papers. So no excuses can be accepted from the pedagogical staff.

Starting at the first faculty meeting on the first day of the school year all staff should be introduced to writing as the focus of the year. By placing an emphasis on writing, teachers will focus on it and students will practice writing everyday in every class. Here are seven steps to institute a comprehensive writing program:

TRAIN teachers in writing techniques. Schools and superintendents could consider providing college classes at the school site for staff. Encourage teachers to take courses in the writing process and even suggest that administrators attend along with them.

VALUE writing by placing emphasis on it. Every bulletin board and every conversation has to revolve around writing. All communication about the curriculum and the expectations should feature writing (activities, tips and expectations). Presenting famous essays or commentary by famous writers will teach writing by example.

SCHEDULE writing. Every month during the faculty, department and grade meetings, there should be a writing component for all staff. …

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