Writing in the subject areas

 

Different subjects and vocational areas make different writing demands on learners.  When you have examined the essential literacy content of your subject, you will have a good idea of the kind of writing learners must be able to do as part of the relevant subject or vocational area.  Consider whether all of the writing they do with you arises from the essential demands of the subject area, or from the methods and materials you are using, or from the requirements of assessment processes for certification. 

When you have clarified what learners need to be able to write, you can help them to develop skills and confidence to handle the writing tasks that come up in the subject or vocational area.

  • Clarify the different types of writing learners will need in your course: for example, making rough notes for plans; writing lists, labels, captions, sentences, paragraphs, extended prose.
  • Explain the various stages of writing – planning, drafting, editing, writing and proofing.  Explain and demonstrate how they apply to the specific kinds of writing learners do on your course and/or in the related workplace or other role.
  • Explain the appropriate structure for the particular written task.  Demonstrate: work through an example with the group. For example, agree a topic for a writing task and demonstrate how to plan the content. Help learners identify the possible main points they could make, and a few detailed points for each one.  This will help learners to structure their written work appropriately. 
  • Facilitate teacher-guided collaborative writing, in pairs, small groups and whole group. For example, assign a different aspect of the topic to each group, asking them to research it and write a piece on it to (a) help their colleagues to understand that aspect of the topic well; and (b) contribute to creating a whole-group text that they and future classes can use as a resource for learning in that topic. 
  • Develop routines of self-assessment and teacher feedback.  This is a strategy that applies to all areas of the work, not just to writing.  In relation to writing, an example might be as follows:

 

Before asking learners to do written work in relation to the subject area, take time to develop and agree with them the criteria for the work.  Do this by encouraging learners to ask themselves, How will I know if this is good enough?  Help the group to develop an agreed short checklist to answer that question.  Ensure they pitch the agreed criteria at a reasonable level for the group at that time: challenging and achievable with effort by your learners. 

After the learners have completed the written work, encourage them to self-assess their work against the agreed criteria, forming their own judgement of its strengths and of where they might make improvements.

Give your own feedback based on the agreed criteria. 

This process of self-assessment and teacher feedback helps learners to develop learning- to- learn skills as well as specific writing skills, as part of working on the course content. 

  • If learners present written work in your subject which appears untidy or is difficult to read, do not assume that this is carelessness or laziness. Often, it can represent a lot of learner time and effort. Respond respectfully to learners’ written work; focus on the content, and give guidance on presentation, spelling, punctuation and other aspects as relevant to your course objectives and to your learners’ needs.
  • Encourage learners to keep a learning journal. This will reinforce the subject learning and it will give useful, relevant practice in writing and will also help learners to take increasing control of their own learning. 
  • Discuss in the group a range of strategies for learning spellings.  Explain that what works for one person may not work for another: the important thing is to know when it is important to have accurate spelling, to try out a range of strategies for learning spellings, and to use those that work best for us.  Encourage learners to use the key words on word walls and in glossaries as a resource to aid learners with spelling.  Have a printed dictionary available to learners at all times, and encourage them to use their smartphone or tablets to access online dictionaries.
  • Share suggestions in relation to other sub-skills of writing, such as punctuation, as appropriate to your learners.  You could have a ‘tip of the week’ approach, focusing on particular punctuation or spelling points as relevant to your learners’ needs.