Shandilynne Holley's Reflection

When I signed up to complete the Sam Houston Writing Project Online Summer Institute, I did not hesitate. I always did really well in English so I thought it would be simple. However, the first day I heard a few terms I have never heard before: “disciplinary literacy” and a “unit of study approach to writing instruction.” This has thrown me for a loop because I had no idea what either of these terms meant. I have since learned that disciplinary literacy means to teach students to use the knowledge they have gained and have them be able to apply the knowledge in reading purposefully, thinking critically, dialoguing productively, and engaging in meaningful writing. Having never heard of a unit of study approach to writing instruction before, my stance should probably just be called blissfully unaware. In my school, we were told we needed to be writing “across the curriculum” and I believed I was doing the best I could as a science teacher. My sad excuse was that I had too many units to cover in the allotted time in the school year, so if I was able to get my students to write even one or two sentences each day, I was in good shape. Now, after participating in the Sam Houston Writing Project, I know that I have been going about writing in an uneducated way.

I loved that we started with reading literature that discussed how to be a better reader, writer, and essentially, teacher. Katie Wood Ray’s book, Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom, had a chapter titled “Reading Like Writers.” Ray made several excellent points about teaching students the art of writing. She said, “It is our job to not only help students write, but to teach them to write well.” I feel that anyone can have a student write them something, but to get back a piece of work that was well thought out, that taught the student how to read and think like a writer, takes a lot more work, but is essentially helping the students more.

The basis for our unit of study approach seemed to be the article, “Exploring Inquiry as a Teaching Stance in the Writing Workshop.” I have come to understand that inquiry means to reposition curriculum as the outcome of instruction rather than as the starting point. This approach immerses students in reading and studying genres they are interested in, causing them to read and think like a writer. The instructional frame for this was to select a genre, gather real world texts, do a close study of the texts to see how they were written, and then to write under the influence of the anchor texts. I honestly did not see how this would help my students, but after choosing the genre of a featured article, selecting anchor texts and breaking them down into how they were written, I found that writing my own feature article was so much easier.

My feature article was about pollution, which is a topic very close to my heart. I see how the world is changing in a bad way and want to help find ways to improve it for my children to grow up into. Feature articles as a whole are a great way to grab someone’s attention to a possible problem and give them the facts and how they can help. The articles always started with a bold heading that catches the eye along with great pictures and facts. I think that using the feature articles as my anchor texts to have my students study to learn how to write better, or at all in some cases, will give them more confidence in their own writing. If I expose them to solid examples of the kind of writing I expect to see, and they examine the texts to see how they are written, I feel they will be open to the possibility that they can write something just as amazing. I believe that this approach to writing will impact my students in such a positive way because, as a science teacher, I am generally met with disinterest towards writing. If I can get them writing about things that they have heard in class or that interest them, they will be more invested in learning, which in turn, would lead to better understanding of the material as well.