71: Writing to Learn (1 of 2)





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4 Writing to Learn (WTL) Strategies (for more WTL’s go here or here or here)

  1. Written Conversations
    • students process material by passing notes to each other about the material
      • wonder if technology like TwitterTodaysmeet, etc can be used to support this strategy
    • quiet, energetic way to process content
    • Play by play:
      • set times for writing and exchanging notes
      • introduce norms – stay on topic, write the whole time, silent writing
      • work the room to make sure students are on task and to note interesting ideas
      • don’t feel pressured to read every note, believe in the power of unguided writing-to-learn exercises
      • Types of exchanges
        • live – quick, occurs in real time
        • take-away – slower, students have more time to compose notes
      •  Variations:
        • attach reading to large poster
        • have team of 2 or 3 read reading silently and write notes to each other about the reading in the poster margins (use a unique color per student so you can see individual contributions)
  2. Write-arounds
    • using passing and writing protocols to facilitate written conversations about content within small and large groups
    • can enable students to expand each other’s knowledge and correct each other’s misconceptions
    • Play by play:
      • arrange students into groups of 3 to 5 (4 is ideal)
      • hand out large pieces of paper
      • introduce norms: silent writing, write the whole time
      • each student start the paper by writing their name or initials at the top of the page
      • instruct students to write all their thoughts related to a topic for a set period of time (1 – 5 min)
      • observe students and instruct them to pass their paper to their right (within their team) after most of the class has written about a quarter of the page
      • students write name or initials on next line of new paper and write a reaction to previous student’s work
      • rotate until original papers return back to their initial writers
      • can do another cycle with a more specific prompt
      • then have spokesperson from each team share highlights in the silent conversation in a whole group conversation
      • Variation (Silent group discussion):
        • students write 2 questions on a paper
        • then instruct students to pass papers in directions that result in all students getting a new paper
        • students then answer 1 of the 2 questions and add a new question
        • pass papers again
        • students then answer 1 of the questions and add a new question
        • repeat for 5 rotations
        • discuss interesting exchanges in whole group or small group discussion
  3. Carousel brainstorming:
    • students rotate in teams to discuss, brainstorm and write about several topics (1 per rotation)
    • purposes:
      • introduce new topics (could be a good K/NTK activity)
      • active review activity
    • Play by play:
      • design 3 – 4 questions, headers, or statements and post on posters on walls spread out around the room
      • group students into teams of 3 or 4, each team has it’s own color
      • disperse teams among the poster
      • give a set time for students to discuss the header and write as many related ideas as possible
      • teams rotate to a new poster
      • instruct teams to read over poster first, discuss its contents, and brainstorm only NEW related ideas (no repeat ideas), team members assign a new recorder per rotation
      • students follow instructions and rotate when instructed by teacher
      • teams continue to read, discuss and brainstorm NEW ideas, team members assign a new recorder per rotation
      • teacher can make time durations shorter and shorter as it becomes harder to produce NEW ideas as posters fill up
      • Analyzing brainstorming:
        • when teams return to original poster, they digest entire poster and discuss it – notice what’s new, new connections, new questions, etc  Teams assign a speaker to present key findings on each poster
        • can go on a gallery walk of completed posters and take note of the top 3 ideas in each poster
        • can facilitate a silent gallery walk – after viewing all posters students can complete a WTL that describes their findings
        • after rotations, have teams decide on what topic they’d like to become experts on – have them research the topic and report it to the class at a later time
  4. Double – entry journal
    • 2-column way of recording and processing learning
    • left column = notes to summarize information. right column = reaction to notes
    • Examples of column headings for double-entry journals: column 1, column 2
      • computation, explanation for each step
      • problem, solution
      • reasons for, reasons against
      • opinion, proof
      • quote, explanation of importance
      • quote, personal connections
      • quote, discussion questions
      • observations, inferences
      • pros, cons
      • words, images
      • facts, feelings
      • information, values
      • interesting visual, associated thought or feeling
    • Play-by-play
      • decide on headings that enhance learning targets
      • model the process to get students started
      • explain purpose of assignment (ex: evidence of completing reading, basis for an upcoming discussion, etc)
      • work the room – see if students are using the strategy to make deep connections
      • if the connections are superficial, pause activity and model how to make deeper connections
      • uses of notes:
        • basis for discussions
        • collection can be used to review material
      • variation:
        • if double-entry notes occur several times – let them write them on left-side pages and leave partner right-side pages blank; for review, they can fill up the right-side pages with summaries of their notes
        • can be used to help students actively process videos and readings
Teachers can use a variety of Write-to-Learns (WTLs) to get students to actively process information in a variety of ways.  The written dialogue, write-around, and carousel brainstorming activities can be used to get peers to expand each other’s knowledge and correct misconceptions.  The double-entry journal technique can get students to make powerful associations between new material and their thoughts and feelings.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards and generate learning targets
  • Use knowledge of content and students to identify which WTL’s can be used to process information in ways that highlight useful connections
  • Develop prompts and tools related to selected WTL’s
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement WTL’s.  See ideas above.
  • Facilitate follow-up discussions and activities that make use of the WTL’s.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Have students reflect on WTL’s and try to identify which strategies are the most helpful.  Use their suggestions to build WTL routines that match their preferences.
  • For individual WTL’s – give students choice among several strategies that match their preferred modes of communication.

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