The four arms are:
- Learning how to write: this is what you teach daily in your writing workshop
- Writing to learn and think
- Writing to respond
- Writing to assess
In his book, Teaching Adolescent Writers, Kelly Gallagher expands on how to use writing to learn and think in your classroom.
Gallagher states that writing to learn is based on the following concepts:
- Understanding that writing occurs anytime our mind is engaged in putting words to paper.
- Learning is an active process rather than a passive one.
- Understanding that vocabulary is enriched in all subjects when the learner is actively producing language in responsive reading and listening and most importantly in writing and talking.
#1: Writing helps students to draw on relevant prior knowledge and experience as preparation for new activities. Some ways you can draw on relevant prior knowledge are:
- writing from a word-this is strategy that prompts thinking concerning what a learner knows about a given topic. The word may be a word from an upcoming unit.
- writing from a question-this question might spark thought concerning concepts within a unit of study.
- writing from predicting
- writing from a picture -can be a picture or you could use a primary source.
- writing from music-can be taken from a specific time period or be related to a science topic.
- prediction chart with justification-this is what we did with the photosynthesis example below.
- writing from a list-this is what we did with the story Sit In below.
- Bobbie wrote three items on the board before reading Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down with us. The three items were: 1960, MLK, and inequality. She then asked us to take one minute to write how we thought the three items were connected. Bobbie walked around as we were writing to quickly notice the information we already knew about this subject.
- Another way we drew on prior knowledge was by creating a t-chart on the board. The t-chart stated, "Plants need water for photosynthesis." We were instructed to take a Post-It note and put it on one side of the chart to express our opinion. The choices were "Yes" or "No." After we chose whether we thought that plants needed water for photosynthesis or not, we were asked to go back to our notebooks and explain why we had that opinion.
#2: Writing helps students to consolidate and review ideas and experiences. Some ways you can consolidate and review ideas and experiences are:
- exit slips-students are asked to respond to a question or prompt at the conclusion of a class or the conclusion of a unit of study. These work well for special area teachers who only have their students for a short period of time.
- dash facts-this technique helps students to consolidate and summarize the new knowledge they have gained from a particular unit of study: This strategy can be found in Of Primary Importance by Anne Marie Corgill.
- writing breaks-this is what we did with the story below. This can also be used during a discussion, while listening or reading a lecture, etc. Stop and ask students to write what they are thinking and/or what they are understanding.
- writing into the day-a daily writing assignment at the beginning of the day meant to review information previously taught. This can be done individually or with groups of students.
- As we read Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, we stopped periodically in the reading to take a writing break. We were asked to write our thoughts at two different points in the text. I found that this strategy made me listen to the text for more detail as the teacher read the story.
- During the lesson about photosynthesis, we consolidated and reviewed after watching a brief lesson that was projected where we labeled the formula for photosynthesis to take place in a plant. We were asked to simply write the word photosynthesis and write our thoughts about it.
- free response
- looping-this is what we did with Sit In below.
- pass-the-response-this activity encourages students to extend their thinking through written responses they produce and through the written responses they read.
- conversation logs-these help students extend their thinking through writing. Conversation logs can be used with multiple classes if you switch classes or would be fun if you shared with a teacher at your same grade level. You could also try this with an older grade level with a younger so that the older students could share what they've learned and the younger can respond. It allows students to explore their thinking anonymously with one another through daily written entries in their conversation logs. You could also do this between students by using a blog and having a partner from one class blog with a partner in another.
- When we finished reading Sit In, we were assigned to write what we would have done if we were living during the time that the story took place. After we wrote, we were asked to take one important line from our writing and write off of that line. We were then asked one more time to take one line from our second piece, underline it, and write off of it. So we looped and wrote off of one idea three times. It was funny to me that I found that my thinking changed drastically each time that I wrote off of my own writing.