Herman and AdVENTURE STEM have a long history using Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC). Writing instruction is most effective when it is integrated into subject matter and is closely related to the major learning objectives of coursework and content areas. All teachers implement reading and writing across the curriculum for all students in each content area three times per year in each subject area for a total of 18 formal essays annually. The belief that writing is the responsibility off the entire academic community is strongly embedded in our school culture. Tenets of our WAC program are:
Writing Across the Curriculum serves multiple purposes for our students. As we integrate writing as frequently as possible across the curriculum, students gain as learners and thinkers. The implementation of our WAC program realizes "writing to learn" and "writing to communicate" as significant outcomes for our students. Writing Across the Curriculum requires students to change their learning strategies from completing tasks and memorizing facts to thinking critically and communicating their learning. With this approach, students demonstrate what they know or have learned in various subject matter. Students also communicate their reasoning and justify their thinking in their essays. In addition, teachers correlate writing tasks to course instructional goals to emphasize the learning opportunities that writing offers.
Common Core Standards require active learning in all disciplines and writing plays an important role in student learning that our teachers recognize and embrace. Our school wide goal is to increase all students’ ability to read and write across the content areas while accelerating the results of our English Learners and Special Education students through formal essays. Every teacher is focused on our goal regardless of the subject area they teach. All Herman and AdVENTURE STEM teachers implement the Common Core Standards for ELA by Writing Across the Curriculum three times per year. Students demonstrate independent thinking and cite supporting evidence in their writing. Students use thinking, questioning, negotiating, and problem-solving skills. All teachers also implement content-specific Close Reading techniques and build academic language for their content area. All teachers assign high-level, complex tasks and activities related to the standards. During our COI, teachers utilize student data to inform and direct instructional planning and assessment.
Our focus on WAC supports Goals 1, 2 and 4 of the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP): Goal 1: All students will be proficient in meeting and or exceeding all Common Core State Standards. Goal 2: We will accelerate the academic achievement toward meeting or exceeding standards for English Learners (EL), low socioeconomic disadvantaged students, Foster Youth, and students of color, as well as increase the language proficiency for EL. Goal 4: Students will use technology to master the 21st Century Skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. The district will provide innovative strategies with support for technology implementation that would enhance student learning of core academic subject knowledge and meet technology standards. Actions and services in our LCAP ensure that professional development, materials, coaching, student access to technology, and assessment resources are priorities.
Implementation and Monitoring
At the beginning of the school year, the staff received professional development on Writing Across the Curriculum. Teachers from the ELA and EL departments, along with the instructional coach, collaborated to present a series of professional development workshops on Writing Across the Curriculum. This intensive staff development series ensures all teachers in every department have training on the components of an effective WAC unit that supports all students’ learning and writing. The components of a WAC unit include: subject matter articles, text analysis tools, discussions, graphic organizers, use of quotations, and rubrics for scoring. Teachers were trained in supporting students with text analysis through close reading, annotation, and discussion. The trainings culminated in creating three WAC units: narrative, informational, and argumentative.
Teachers are assigned three writing assignments via our school Google Classroom. All teachers are responsible for student writing formally three times a year. One of those formal essays must be argumentative format and include two supporting articles for students to use as evidence. The other two types of essays will be selected by the department from the remaining genres of narrative or informational. Each grade level content area team submits their writing prompt, rubric, and any supporting documents such as articles, graphic organizers, etc., to the instructional coach and administration. The prompts and supporting documents are reviewed and kept on file. All essays are graded and grades are entered, the point amount is determined by the department. Three graded essays are submitted via Google Classroom to administration with the scored rubric; student samples are collected for one student who exceeds standard, one student at standard, and one student below standard (samples also include at least one EL student and is the same student each submission for reclassification purposes). Teachers use genre specific common writing rubrics for their students (CAASPP writing rubrics) across the school in both general and special education classes.
WAC is monitored through the submission of the student essay samples three times a year through Google Classroom. These student work samples are used in our data reviews during PLCs and COI time. Student essays are also frequently used to reclassify our ELs and develop or revise IEP goals for students with disabilities.
Results and Outcomes
Including writing across the curriculum in all subject areas has both short and long-term benefits for teachers. In the short term, teachers are better able to gauge how well students grasp information and where they need elaboration of key concepts. In the long term, as teachers incorporate writing into their specific content area, students become more proficient at using writing as a communication and learning tool. Teachers in all disciplines have discovered that assigning writing in their classes helps students learn material and improve their thinking about ideas in the courses. Writing assigned across the curriculum also helps students prepare for the day-in and day-out communicative tasks they'll face on the job. Equally important, students need to learn about how writing is used within a discipline, and many kinds of assignments give students practice with forms and conventions.
Students often report clear connections between writing and learning. In general, students agree that writing about something leads to learning. Student experiences through writing assignments across their classes include: program proposals, formal lab reports, critiques of histories, case studies, and engineering memos. Students also report that these various tasks are valuable because they perceived that the reading, drafting, thinking, and revising required to complete the writing tasks were relevant and applicable to their futures. In addition to learning more about topics and professional approaches to writing in a discipline, students who write across the curriculum also learn more about critical thinking. We believe students who write in all disciplines improved their analysis and inference skills significantly, as well as, their evaluation skills. Herman and AdVENTURE STEM students show greater results on the SBAC ELA test than the State and District results. We attribute our annual growth in ELA results along with a higher than average reclassification rate for ELs to Writing Across the Curriculum.
SBAC ELA Scores:
State District Herman/AdVENTURE
2015 44% (at Standard) 47% 59%
2016 49% 51% 60%
2017 48% 50% 64%
2018 50% 54% 67%
Herman/AdVENTURE students out score the State by 17% and the District by 13%. We continually have the highest scores in the district, which we believe, is due in part to Writing Across the Curriculum.