"Because writing is thinking and learning requires thinking, students who write as they are learning think more and thus learn more."
Moore, D. W., Moore, S. A., Cunningham, P. M., & Cunningham, J. W. Developing
readers and writers in the content areas K-12
While writing is a crucial part of students literacy, writing also has a crucial place outside the language arts curriculum. Writing across the curriculum, writing in all content areas, has been used for almost 150 years to support student learning. As students express and explain their learning, they reflect and think about content in ways that improve their comprehension.
The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts even have specific standards for writing in the History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
So how do digital writing tools fit in?
In 2008, a project from the MacArthur Foundation completed three-years of research on youth and new media. They found that today's young people have an "always-on" relationship with digital media.
Combining multimedia and online forms of writing can help us connect with learners in ways that are relevant, authentic, and meaningful to them. Another of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts for writing in the History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects hints at these new forms of writing (although I am not sure that was their intention!).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Digital writing tools are more than just text, and include options for sharing information through illustrations, diagrams, photographs, and voice narration.
What follows are a few ideas for ways you can incorporate digital writing across the curriculum.
Create and publish student writing as eBooks
Students want to know that their ideas, work, and effort matter. It is important to share their writing with the wider world and digital publishing tools make that easy. Wixie makes it easy to simply share a URL or embed student writing in a blog, but students can also export and publish their writing as an eBook (ePub). These files can be shared on tablets and other digital reading devices.
Students want to be published, so even if you don't have the technology set up to share this, be sure to print and share. You can use Wixie to print a 4-page project as a booklet to print, fold, and share. Students can write about the stages in a cycle like metamorphosis and then print as a booklet to have a tangible copy they can take home to review with parents.
Get creative with digital storytelling
Digital storytelling is not just a creating a video about something. Digital storytelling showcases the author's perspective about an event or idea. This validates what a learner is thinking and prompts them to reflect on content.
"Designing and communicating information requires students to deepen their understanding of content while increasing visual, sound, oral language, creativity, and thinking skills," share Bernajean Porter in her article The Art of Digital Storytelling. In Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum, she elaborates, "The digital storytelling process helps us transform isolated facts into illuminated, enduring understandings. By 'living in the story,' we make information come emotionally alive."
Share informational writing through products students know.
The visual nature of comics helps students cement ideas through nonlinguistic representation. Because of the limited space for text in a panel students must summarize, helping them learn to analyze content to evaluate which information is critical to share. Both of these are important strategies found in Classroom Instruction That Works.
Even if they aren't Pokemon or FIFA fans, most students have traded cards on a topic they are passionate about. Ask students to write informational text about historic figures important to a time period, domain-specific vocabulary, or even elements on the periodic table.
This might be my favorite option (I even have an entire blog post on interview ideas). Interviewing a person, place, or thing is a great way to 1) keep students from simply copying and pasting information without thinking, as well as 2) build skills in learning how to ask questions. In today's world of overwhelming information, it is less important to know, and more important to know how to question.
See more examples at this YouTube playlist of Interview samples
Many of our students have been watching television (ok, maybe digital videos now) since they could sit up on their own. While they generally don't like the news, I am always impressed at how quickly they turn into news anchors when they are giving a microphone. Like a comic, a news report requires students to pick and choose what information is the most important to share. It helps them see how to write informational text in way that isn't dry and boring.
It is more important to get started, than to get it perfect. (While it is good to teach students to take risks and fail forward, that doesn't mean we don't edit.) If you aren't sure about jumping in from an instructional side, use these science and social studies lesson plans that incorporate writing through interesting digital products.
No matter what content your students are writing about, or which media they choose to share their understanding, creative digital tools can help you motivate students to write across the curriculum in ways that help them engage with the content and build solid understandings.