It is important to make time for writing in the classroom and outside of the classroom (for homework), not only to create assessable
products, but to process ideas and analyze information. I strongly agree that "the reward of disciplined writing is...a mind equipped to think" (NCWASC, April, 2003, p. 11). When students
write they are pushed to look at things in new ways, to make sense of information, and to clearly communicate their thoughts to others. These are important elements of learning and critical thinking; and thoughtful writing takes time and practice.
In teaching literature, there are constant opportunities to use different kinds of writing to prompt students to think in various ways. I assign informal writing frequently, as I agree with Bruner's view of "language as providing the basis for concept formation, as a tool for cognitive growth" (Langer & Applebee, 1987, p. 139-140). For instance, I often give writing prompts meant to initiate student thought and discussion about a theme or concept in a piece of literature we are reading. This is also a great way to form personal connections with and among students, as we often share responses to these writing prompts. I often try to respond to the prompts, too, and share my responses; developing relationships with my students while also modeling my thinking. I also assign quick responsive writings after we view a video or read a poem, to encourage “realization of new relationships and new insights” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 5), and to ensure that I “’hear’ from every student” (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 83).
Additionally, I assign formal writing throughout all of my literature courses, encouraging analytical thinking, providing practice in developing an effective essay, and serving as a tool for “summative assessment” (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 86). Students are required to write essays throughout high school and college courses, as well as on our state’s MEA and on the SAT; so this is an important skill for academic success. Essay writing requires practice and support, and it is also a wonderful opportunity to “turn attention toward the effectiveness and structure of the argument as a whole rather than toward the parts out of which it is built” (Langer & Applebee, 1987, p. 139-140). This puts valuable writing tasks into a meaningful context. Again, this is also a skill students will carry for life; the ability to logically develop and support an argument.
Finally, the writing most students seem to prefer is creative writing. For example, I assign students to write their own myths while we study Mythology. This requires students to think factually about what myths include, to identify the themes myths express, and to think about the literary devices used by storytellers as myths are narrated. Students must then apply this learning as they create their own products. They have a great deal of freedom of choice as they write, and are usually eager to illustrate and share their myths with peers.
I assign creative writing frequently. When we read Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1951), I assign students to write a first person narrative; so that they identify with the both author and the main character of this novel. When we read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain, 1912), I assign students to write a letter from Huck to his father or vice versa; so that they demonstrate comprehension of the events of the novel, and they also empathize with the characters. Writing from a different point of view helps students "come to better appreciate the role of perspective in creating and interpreting" (Shellard, & Protheroe, 2004, p. 5). Additionally, both of these assignments include choice and imagination, and are therefore appealing to most students.
Duke, C. & Sanchez, R. (2001). Assessing writing across the curriculum. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.
Langer, J. & Applebee, A. (1987). Learning from writing in the secondary school: Accomplishing our goals. In How writing shapes thinking: A study of teaching and learning [NCTE Research Report No. 22] (pp. 135-151). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges. (April, 2003). The neglected "R": The need for a writing revolution. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from http://www.writingcommission.org/prod_downloads/writingcom/neglectedr.pdf
Salinger, J. (1951). Catcher in the rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Shellard, E. & Protheroe, N. (2004). Writing across the curriculum to increase student leaning in middle and high school. Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.
Twain, M. (1912). Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.