Writing Across Contents

  • High School
Mary Moser

This past week, a wave of educators swarmed Seattle’s downtown to attend AVID Summer Institute. As an attendee, I had the chance to attend one of their newest offerings:  writing across the content areas.  This strand asks us to consider:

  • How do you do writing in your discipline?
  • How, when and where do your students encounter writing in their academic world?

While the room was heavier on ELA teachers, I kept thinking about how starting this conversation with all your content teachers would be helpful to any school. I wonder about how best to start that conversation and not make writing sound like “another lift” to staff.  If you have experience with this or possibilities, I’d love to hear.

We covered a lot in the three days.  One of my favorite things to do after a conference is a Thinking Visible routine that I often use with students: connect, extend, challenge.  In this routine, you ask what did you learn that connected with previous learning, what extended your thinking into new ideas and what challenged your thinking.  Coming in at 456 pages, the writing for disciplinary literacy is a behemoth of learning, tips, templates and routines.  But, I’ll limit myself to 3 specific take-aways.

Connect– Trash or Treasure routine

How many of us can lament the lack of student effort to read comments and feedback on a piece of writing – either form other students or ourselves?  The rough draft is submitted, you spend time reading and commenting, asking questions, coaching the writer to a better essay. You receive the final draft submitted and find yourselves making the same comments and sometimes even the same comma, semicolon, and punctuation edits.  I’ve tried various things, some more successful than others, to help students see that feedback is a crucial piece to writing and to time manage their work to take the feedback into account.  AVID offers up “Trash or Treasure”, which asks students to separate feedback on the paper to either be trashed (meaning they won’t use it) or treasured (meaning they will use it) and explain why.  I love this idea because it’s a concrete image, it forces feedback to be read, it helps you as as instructor to use and give necessary feedback and asks students to analyze why they write or choices they make as a writer.

Extend– Survey students

I’ve often given surveys, questionnaires, introductory personal narrative essays in the opening days of schools as a way to get to know students. But, I’ve never been as explicit about their writing history and their personal feelings about writing.  I’ve also not considered to ask students what writing they have done in the past.  Instead I guess at what I have heard middle school or other grade levels say about the writing happening in their classroom.  And, how often have you heard from a colleague “they know how to do XYZ. We did that.” Yet you’re met with a “what is that?” look from your students when you ask them to quick write a paragraph.

Challenge: Tracking Student Writing

When I had an advisory, I had a great sense of what was happening in all the 9thgrade classrooms in school because I made sure to keep a class calendar to help with homework, big assignments and time management for students. I could predict when students were going to get super stressed and make decisions to change my own unit deadlines and assignment dates when I saw things piling up for students.  The idea of tracking student writing (or really insert anything you want to school wide track) takes this to a new level and makes the practice more systematic.  Instead of only tracking the stress level and work expectations for students, tracking student writing across all disciplines and all school year helps you see what academic expectations are happening for a student.  Track what is being asked, who is the audience of the writing, what type of writing it is, dates of writing and reflection on how the writing helped student learning.  Now, you will see that it appears that everyone is always assigning expository writing only, or the audience for your student writing is always a teacher.  In some ways this challenges me, though, because that’s a lot of data to track and buy-in from teachers and trust from colleagues that it’s an accurate representation of their work and not going to be used as a gotcha.

I’m looking forward to starting my school year and having these conversations.  We are all writers.



  • English Language Arts
  • Literacy
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Mary Moser Board

Library Media Specialist at Clover Park School District

I work as a high school Library Media Specialist in the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Washington. This is my fifth year as a LMS, and my tenth year as a teacher.Before switching to the library, I taught 9th grade Humanities, which is the area that I certified in National Boards in 2013.