Almost two months and quite a lot of reading have gone by since I first cracked open Because Writing Matters, and I’ll be honest, the specifics haven’t stuck with me. I’ve flipped through the book multiple times, and though I did quite a lot of annotating, underlining, and dog-earing, there aren’t any Great Big Thoughts jumping out at me but one. The one thing I walked away with was to take my English teacher writing tricks and carry them with me into my HiSET prep labs.
For the HiSET, we are covering all areas, so while we do quite a lot of writing for the writing test and maybe a little bit for the reading, we haven’t done any writing in math, science, and social studies. Well, I’ll amend that: we hadn’t done any writing in those areas until the last couple of weeks of school, after I had read the first three chapters of Because Writing Matters and realized what a massive disservice I was doing to my students by not making them write all the time, though they may tell you otherwise.
While we are still very much in the fledgling stages, and many of my ideas are still just that, ideas, because we’re on summer break and I won’t be able to try many of the out until later this summer at the earliest, I have experimented with some writing in each subject area. Below is a very brief summary of what I’ve tried and the results, which are are by no means scientific, because they’ve essentially been done with just one or two students.
Science: Rather than just reading a text and answering multiple choice questions, students (two women in their 30s) have taken on mini-research projects that have asked them to look at animal life cycles and biomes. The research projects still requires a lot of reading, but rather than simply answering questions about their reading, they are writing about what they read and explaining their thinking. While I don’t currently have any evidence to say this had deepened their understanding of the topics presented on the science HiSET exam (they haven’t taken a pretest yet), it has piqued their interest and alleviated some boredom.
Social Studies: I had a student (a man in his 40s) reflect on what he felt independence meant before he read the Declaration of Independence (both the original text and a more simplified version). After reading the Declaration and answering some multiple choice questions, this student reflected on how his definition of independence compared to the Found Fathers. Again, this writing may not have expanded on comprehension, but it made the learning more personal and sparked a great conversation and more writing from this student than I had seen before.
Math: I had two students (sisters in their 20s) who pretty openly hated math and would do a lot to avoid doing it (like, not showing up to class on days when they knew we’d be working on it) write brief reflections talking about their most positive experiences with math. I emphasized the experience did not have to be in a classroom, but they had to explain very clearly why the experience was positive and what we could do in class to recreate the circumstances that made those previous experiences so good (and they couldn’t include attractive men or buying new cars — sorry). It was a fantastic way to get these two women thinking about math in a positive (and kind of hysterical) way and allowed us to segue into a lesson that, as they would admit, wasn’t all that bad.