Writing: Big Ideas
“The important thing to realize is that teaching students to do the intellectual work involved in writing about a subject—any subject—means teaching them to organize and elaborate on facts and ideas, to decide on priorities, to look at information through different lenses, and to entertain questions and see the answer to one question as leading to yet more questions.” – Calkins, L., Ehrenworth, M., & Lehman, C., 2012
While writing instruction traditionally has been considered the purview of English teachers, writing instruction within each discipline is now acknowledged as critical to understanding, interpreting, and evaluating essential, discipline-specific ideas. If we want students to develop expertise in various disciplines, we need to teach them the role and purpose of writing in each. The structure and visual features of text, author’s purpose, and precision or clarity of information are all critical in responding to ideas within each discipline. This requires explicit instruction in how to write like an “expert” to communicate ideas within each discipline. Students must learn that effective practices for reading and writing within disciplines differ based on the purposes, goals, and outcomes.
Writing instruction is, therefore, an important element of teaching within each discipline. The goal (and challenge) of teaching disciplinary writing is to provide students with the tools for understanding, representing, and responding critically to ideas based on the purposes, goals, and formats of written communication within the discipline. For example, composing a thesis based on writings about a historical event or time period requires an examination of the author’s stance and/or bias, time period, and supporting or conflicting reports. Students must consider these factors when constructing their own ideas. Writing in science and math requires attention to accuracy of details, sequence of procedures, and reliability of outcomes. Writing a literary analysis in English requires an understanding of both narrative and expository structures, and interpretation of events and characters based on integrating the text with their background knowledge.