Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writing as a Mode of Learning

Another summary as I work my way through assigned Abydos Learning Trainee program readings
Carroll, Joyce Armonstrong and Edward E. Wilson. Chapter 13. 326-369 PLUS Appendix F in Acts of Teaching, 2nd Edition. New Hampshire: Heinemann/Teachers Idea Press, 2008.

In this reading, Carroll and Wilson explore writing as a mode of learning that is cross-disciplinary, not independent of that which is studied. Writing is an everyday experience, a holistic, or integrated, way of understanding and interpreting the world around us. Research, as cited by Emig in Appendix F, highlights the hallmarks of writing in schools and its powerful connections to learning.

What Vygotsky calls a “web of meaning” involves students totally immersed in study, aware of how knowledge connect and reconnects itself. Such an approach to writing as a mode of learning helps develop in students a way of thinking rather than a body of facts forgotten over time. Deeper studies of content areas through the use of writing can be accomplished through a variety of writing approaches, which the authors nickname “nuggets.”

Nuggets include 1) Admit and exit slips are brief writen responses that are collected as tickets in or out of class; 2) Learning Logs where students write what they have learned; 3) Listing; 4) Clips of meaning includes writing that encourages students to share what they are thinking. Writing such as this helps students process ideas, experiences, and information, but need not be graded or responded. Writing enables people to clarify/refine thought, and empowers.

Since writing is an everyday activity, it is incumbent upon teachers to write with their students, even though informal and formal surveys show that teachers most do not (King, 1979). The authors briefly review New Criticism theory, which recognizes the primacy of the text, and the transmission of expertise about that text from professors to students. A different theory known as “transactional theory,” or Reader-Response, involves the author who creates the text, while the reader co-creates it (Rosenblatt, 1978).

The factors that influence co-creation are varied, given that there are 200 different ways a person may respond to a given text (Purves 38-39). Reader-Response involves twelves sense such as touch, life, movement, balance, smell, taste, sight, warmth, hearing, word, thought, and, the highest-ranked, ego. Writing about reading helps student unpack, un-knot the transactions they are engaged in. A variety of writing approaches exist for unraveling the transactions.

These writing strategies for unraveling transactions include the following:
Read and retell where students in groups make predictions about the title of a text to be studied, discuss those predictions before reviewing the text, writing down what they remember after reading the text, then discuss the process.

Shielding involves students creating heraldic shields--www.heraldica.org--to to help them better understand the concepts of plot, theme setting, irony and symbolism, which form the 4 areas of the shield.

Students can also engage in projects that are performance-based solving of multi-faceted problems.

  1. Tri-fold involves students listening to a text being read, and writing down in each section of the tri-fold 1) what struck them most and why; 2) what came before they wrote in the center section; 3) what came after they wrote in the center. Students then share their before and after decisions, find similarities and differences, then reflect on what they have learned and discuss that.
  2. Dialectical Notebooks involve students dividing a notebook page down the middle, one one side students write notes about the text. On the other side, students write notes about the notes (metacognition). There are 4 stated benefits, including 1) Strengthening note-taking and listening skills; 2) Providing a valuable study and review tool; 3) Tool that can be used in other classrooms; and 4) Resource for future writing topic possibilities.
  3. Text Renderings involves students interpreting a text and then creating their version of it in small groups. 
  4. Text Tampering has students changing a text, including finding gaps where they may insert their own projects, writing new parts by crafting different leads/endings, extending the story with a sequel, and insert self into the story by becoming a new character, an observer.
  5. Sub Texting articulates and brings to the surface all the ideas and associations the reader has in response to the text.
  6. Sequence Charts, building meaning are other approaches mentioned that are not elaborated on in this survey.

The authors also explore 7 different implementation models that help teachers blend writing and reader response into their disciplines. Such a blending is important because students need to write in every situation they may find themselves, having writing as a mode of learning available to them when they need it.

Janet Emig points out that writing uniquely corresponds to powerful learning strategies. She first defines learning--after citing noted researchers--as the re-organization or confirmation of a cognitive scheme in light of an experience. Three major ways we represent and deal with actuality--and which writing achieves--include 1) Enactive--learn by doing; 2) Iconic--we learn by portraying it in an image; 3) Symbolic--restatement in words.

Writing that signals “without ambiguity the nature of conceptual relationships” is considered to be “clear writing.” Writing helps us build relationships between the past, present, and future, connecting the three tenses of our experience to make sense from them. In the notes about Emig’s work, Carroll and Wilson point out Emig’s implication of research findings for writing in schools: 1) Writing is activated by enabling environments; 2) These environments must be safe, structured, private, unobtrusive, and literate; 3) Adults are fellow practitioners and providers of possible content, experiences and feedback; and 4) Children need frequent opportunities to practice writing in play.

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