Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum
A district instructional leader shares her model for making writing a part of every subject.
By Debra Ramm
As a longtime math and science teacher, I’ve learned from experience that you can’t do science or math without reading or writing. Every science project involves making claims, supporting them with evidence, and providing reasoning, and this requires writing clearly. A few years ago, when I was first moving into project-based learning (PBL), I also explored engaging online programs that I could use to help my students write. One of those tools was a collaborative writing site called BoomWriter.
At the time, I was teaching 4th-grade students, and we were having a horrible winter. There were no Mondays because every single one was a snow day. After the first snow day, most of my students came back and said they missed everything we were doing in class. Students were so excited to write that some of them had worked during the snow days. Parents were thrilled!
Through BoomWriter, I was able to extend some of the vocabulary in science and math by incorporating my own word bank. I also used the StoryWriter feature where the kids were able to collaborate on a story. As a class, we wrote a book called Snowball Fight: An Epic Showdown.
We began with a “story start” to inspire the students, who then each wrote what they thought should be the next chapter of the story. During the writing process, they were able to explore different ideas, develop their characters, and really utilize all of their lessons in free writing. Then the whole class voted anonymously on which version of each chapter was the best. They were really torn about which chapter to vote for, and the winners were so excited to be selected. It was so authentic and inspirational.
BoomWriter compiled the winning version of each chapter into a printed book. Every student got a copy, and students loved showing off their books and having their friends sign them. Working collaboratively and being able to hold the results of their work in their hands increased their skills and motivation and also got them excited to explore other edtech tools in the classroom.
Writing at the District Level
I have since become the instructional technology coordinator for my district; and in this role, I am continuing to emphasize strategies to increase engagement in all content areas, including writing. Our district has an incredible ELA coordinator who writes units of study at the elementary level, and I support teaching and learning in these classrooms. This year we went 1:1 with devices, so we have a wide range of tech tools to explore. As part of my professional development efforts for teachers, I offer professional learning opportunities for both grade and competency levels. When collaborating with these groups of educators, I always encourage them to “start with one thing.” I help teachers identify their problem of practice and engage them in the process of determining potential solutions through educational technologies that enhance blended and personalized learning.
I also recently hosted my first Edcamp. Teachers came together to create, collaborate, and explore using various edtech tools (including BoomWriter). It was a challenge at first because teachers are used to having a facilitator deliver content and instruction, but giving them voice and choice over the path and pace of their learning was a powerful experience. Teachers were able to collaborate, explore and share, and challenge themselves in the style that has become the “blended learning” model of our district.
Debra Ramm is the District Instructional Tech Coordinator for the Johnston Public School System in Rhode Island. Prior to taking this leadership role, she spent nearly two decades as a 4th-grade teacher. Her focus in that role was taking writing across disciplines, specifically in math and science. She was a 2015 PBS Lead Digital Innovator and 2018 PBS All Star, her district’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, a FuseRI Fellow since 2014, and an awardee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching in 2014. She is the current president of the Rhode Island Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.