Writing Across the Curriculum

The Writing Committee at my school developed a task for this school year to help encourage writing across the curriculum in hopes of improving our students' writing abilities. (Students who are deaf, on average, are significantly below grade level in reading and writing. Some suggest it stems from lack of access to the phonology and patterns of spoken English, upon which the written form of English is based. Others suggest it is a symptom of language delay stemming from lack of access to a full language during the critical period for language development. Many oralists have cited ASL as the cause for low literacy rates among deaf people, but other research has shown that a strong foundation of ASL can actually support English reading and writing ability. It's all about language).**

Anyway, each class is required to submit 4 writing assignments for each student (one per quarter). Not too demanding, but there is an additional requirement that the writing assignments be of specific genre. I have, thus far, asked some students to provide a narrative "math autobiography", explain/describe the steps they took to solve a problem/how they would approach an unfamiliar problem, and (for my calculus student) compare and contrast optimization and related rates problems.

I see the benefit of writing in math class. I see how it can become an informal assessment of conceptual understanding. Some of my best math students, however, can explain to me the steps taken to solve a problem in a way that shows conceptual understanding, but cannot translate that into an English paragraph because they get so stuck on spelling and grammar. Their strength becomes a weakness because they cannot express themselves through writing. They get frustrated, write the absolute minimum required and/or refuse to do it.

I don't think the Writing Committee believes that this writing across the curriculum will be a "silver bullet" to solve the problems with our students' writing. I don't think that the way it's being implemented is helping at all, though. I don't know how to make it better in my classroom. I don't know how to have the students use writing to learn math when they aren't comfortable writing. Normally, teaching through writing is recommended for students who struggle with math and achieve in writing...letting them use their strength to support their weakness. I have students that are the exact opposite...They need so much assistance/instruction in their writing, that it no longer becomes about math, but about the writing.

Question for readers: Do you use writing in your math classroom? How? What strategies do you use to support your students with low literacy?

** Disclaimer: I am not trying to say that all deaf individuals have low literacy levels. Nor am I saying that all of my students are in this category. I am just seeking to provide some background information to give context for this conversation.


  1. When I was student teaching in a high school last year I tried to do a little bit of writing, even if it was just writing out what an equation meant or what you were using it for. I did this mostly because the school was implementing a reading/writing across the curriculum plan, much like your school is now.
    Since I currently teach 5th-8th math, I don't bring in writing as much, mostly because I haven't thought about it recently. Every now and again I assign problems from the textbook that require a brief answer, but that's about it. I'd like to do more, but I just haven't. Sometimes there are too many things to think about... being a first year teacher is probably a good portion of the problem too! :)

  2. Angela,
    Thanks for the comment! I agree that there are too many things to think about. I'm in my second year and it does get a bit easier, but there is still tons to think about. I think it does have merit...if you want to do it, start small. You can do it!