Content Area Writing

September 26, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Posted by Lindsay Rusnak

My brother just started his freshman year at Villanova University. Last Tuesday, I got a text message asking me to proofread a paper for him. I ended up going through a five page paper from a class called “Traditions in Conversations.” Basically, it was a philosophy paper. Philosophy is not my area of expertise, but as a strong reader and writer, I was able to plow through it and make (hopefully) helpful contributions to his paper. Proof-reading his paper made me realize, that writing is every bit as important as reading within a content area. Writing is a main way of communication our thoughts. With this blog assignment, I wanted to focus on the idea that literacy is both reading and writing, but it seems to me that writing has fallen by the wayside in the world of text messages, Twitter, and Facebook statuses. As a Biology person, my writing assignments were always lab reports with a very strict protocol to follow. The reports remained similar throughout my education, just becoming more and more elaborate as time went on. I do not relish writing a lab report as when I got to college and my graduate work, my typical protocol was no longer applicable. However, I do believe that being able to express scientific thoughts in a cogent manner is critical to a science education.

Reading and Writing in the Science Classroom, although geared for an elementary school teacher, does give several relevant ideas that can be applied in a science classroom in high school. I’d like to call attention to the table in the article on science and communication skills. These skills rely on inferring, comparing and contrasting, experimenting, and drawing conclusions. The table introduces several key writing skills that can be addressed while developing these skills, such as outlining, creating lists and charts, and writing up experimental results. I think the article makes a good start at how to integrate content literacy into science, but I feel that it can be taken a step further. Integrating a lesson for students should almost always include some relevant written component. It is the struggle for the teachers to choose an appropriate assignment and offer the assistance needed to help students with their writing.

Connecting Reading and Writing has excellent resources for educators with a focus on writing resources. Many of them seem to focus on content literacy for an English teacher, but several of the links would be helpful to any teacher who wants to assign more than a lab report for their students to complete. There are many forms of writing that are appropriate in a science and/or the math classroom setting.

I was interrupted from writing this blog by a phone call from my sister. My sister was a math major in college, so I took the opportunity to grill her about her math writing. She told me the story of a paper that she wrote with a friend doing statistics on the prices of different grocery stores. She was very proud of the paper and ended up still using that information when grocery shopping. I was reminded that math is not just numbers and symbols, but is also words. I was actually surprised by how much math writing she did in college, but it seemed to me that she failed to do any of that kind of writing in high school. Students today are bombarded with a lot of work, but I think that it is worth it for students to do appropriate writing in all of their courses. Strengthening a student’s communication skills can only strengthen the student. Students need to be prepared with writing skills, not only for college, but for whatever path the students take as they walk out of our doors.

Where does science and/or math writing fall into the spectrum of literacy? If students are writing in other courses, is it acceptable to just focus on a lab report for the writing requirements in a science classroom? How does one “write” in mathematics? How can content area writing benefit our students, when we need to take so much time to work on content?

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  1. Lindsay,

    I think you bring up a really good point. For the majority of high school and my undergraduate years, I’ve been writing in science, MLA format. Now, in my special education class, we had to write a reflective paper and I got zero credit for it. When i got my paper back, it wasn’t that my content of my paper was wrong; it was the way I wrote it, which was bizarre to me. Shouldn’t what I wrote be worth more than how I wrote it? As I was expressing my frustrating to my peers, someone said to me, “well you need to know how to write.” I know how to write, just in a different format. For me, learning how to write a lab report or a research paper was not enough. I also need to familiarize myself with APA writing. But, as a science teacher, I think it is my role to teach my students how to write a proper scientific paper, or lab report. Unfortunately, there are standards or formats on how a paper should be written in different content areas. If it was up to me, as long as a student can express their thought on paper so that the reader can understand it, that would be writing to me.


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