The following blog post was written by Dara MacKay, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. Dara currently teaches in the Youth in Transition program. Her learners generally are at a CLB 6 or 7 in writing and are preparing for future studies.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you some of my ideas around teaching writing in the classroom. Writing is probably my biggest passion, and for me to share my thoughts is a great privilege. I’ll write about my philosophy, instructional process, and assessment. Today’s post is about my theory on teaching writing.
For me, teaching writing has to be a balanced effort...it is an incredible way to share ideas, thoughts, information, and art.
Teaching writing is many things to many people. Some find it tedious and laborious. Some find it formulaic, focused on grammar, mechanics and the mundane workings of technical writing. Still others, like myself, find it inspiring, exciting, and creative. For me, teaching writing has to be a balanced effort. My philosophy is that it should be three things: organic, needs driven, and holistic. The way I view writing is that it is an incredible way to share ideas, thoughts, information, and art. The way we craft words can shape so many things. By encouraging my learners to pick up the pen (or keyboard) and communicate, I believe I am giving them a way to transcend just one mode of communication.
Writing is organic
As I said, I have three keys to writing in my classroom. First and foremost, I think it should be a natural extension of learning. It needs to be connected. Organic writing can look a variety of ways. It can grow from texts you read. It can be in response to a class discussion, a question, or issue raised in class or a topic you are studying. I believe strongly in thematic teaching, and writing that grows out of what you are already experiencing in class has the ability to have a greater impact on the learner by creating those connections in the brain that deepen understanding and learning.
Writing is needs driven
Next, classroom instruction about writing should be needs driven. We all understand the competencies and outcomes that set the standards for our teaching, but the learners’ needs should go hand in hand with these things. In order to be needs driven, we need to understand both their academic needs and their communication needs. If a learner needs to communicate with his/her child’s teachers, the writing will look much different than if a learner needs to write persuasive essays in their future academic endeavors. We should assess not only what outcomes we have to reach, but how the students will use writing in their lives, and mesh the two together.
Writing is holistic
This leads me to the last piece – that writing should be holistic. We write to communicate in a way we don’t verbally. We need to teach grammar, conventions, and format, but we also need to teach how to communicate. In writing, we don’t have facial expression, gesture, or tone of voice. We only have the power of words. We need to teach the power those words can have by approaching writing as not just function, but as expression.
Read Dara's other blog posts on writing: