Students need an arsenal of literacy strategies to apply in their personal and academic lives. The ability to locate, evaluate, synthesize, analyze, and compose content across multiple communication platforms demand educators to reevaluate their role in literacy. Middle school and high school teachers find this a daunting request, often confusing “Learning to Write” and “Writing to Learn,” and struggle to incorporate strategies to help students Read, Write, and Think in content areas.
“Learning to Write” involves explicit instruction, ranging from Kindergarten lessons in decoding, to understanding grammar or tone as Juniors. Learning to write focuses on a writing process to guide instruction. It can be used across the curriculum; having students construct a persuasive essay in social studies in support of democracy is an example. Through feedback, revision, and conferencing the social studies instructor is supporting the student through a writing process.
“Writing to Learn” provides opportunities for students to explain their current understanding of the learning and concepts being explored in the classroom. As a catalyst for future learning, writing to learn strategies have students recall, question, and clarify what they know and what they are still curious about. Writing to learn strategies often include a teacher developed prompt, but differ in that they are not typically writing pieces that students edit, revise, and take to the publishable state. Instead, students reflect, apply, and demonstrate their current understanding; teachers use this information to help guide future instruction as a type of formative assessment.
Students can learn perspective during writing to learn by using RAFTs Prompts. This acronym stands for:
- R – Role (who is the writer, what is the role of the writer?)
- A – Audience (to whom are you writing?)
- F – Format (what format should the writing be in?)
- T – Topic (what are you writing about?) and typically added
- S – Strong Verb (why are you writing this? or purpose:Inform, Argue, Persuade, Entertain)
Gradual Release of Responsibility will help set students up for writing RAFTs prompts. At first, students may answer the same prompt:
- R – A Jewish prisoner in a Concentration Camp
- A – Cousin who fled to America
- F – Letter
- T – Their living conditions
- S – Express
When students grasp the RAFTs strategy, student can play more of an active role in the design of the prompt by choosing to fill out the letters themselves . Allowing students to demonstrate understanding through a particular lens and chosen format increases engagement, relevance, and ownership. RAFTs Prompts can be used as formative assessment, to spark discussion, can be created from course content or readings, and can be completed individually or in a small group.
Through the addition of technology, teachers can use this strategy as an exit ticket, responded via Google Form. The responses are collected in one spot and the form can be reused. This snapshot of understanding is perfect for determining focus for the next day’s instruction.
Have students create a comic strip demonstrating understanding of a concept using Comix. Easy and free to use, comix allows any child to show their creative-side one thought bubble at a time.
Understanding informational text or a sequential process can easily be demonstrated through Canva. Students can choose from many different layouts and design options to create a professional and free infographic that can be downloaded and shared!
RAFTs Prompts, used as a writing to learn strategy, provides students time to read, think, and write across multiple disciplines and using multiple modes and genres. Allowing student choice in part or all of the selected components increases meaning and engagement, launching our students into the mindset of utilizing writing to work through their understanding of concepts!
Fisher, Frey. Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work. Columbus: Pearson, 2008.