Teaching Writing in the Content Areas
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2005
K. Tedrow, a Virginia teacher, says this book might be useful as a textbook in
a course, but that the instructions accompanying its 30 writing exercises are
McIver, M. & Urquhart, V. (2005). Teaching
writing in the content areas. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
By Vicki Urquhart and Monette McIver
2005 (169 pages/paperback)
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development &
$26.95 ($20.95 for members)
by Mary K. Tedrow
A RAFT paper is written after a student considers four aspects
of their potential finished product. RAFT stands for Role,
Audience, Format, Topic. Students must brainstorm about each
aspect prior to writing the paper. Though this is one of the
strategies included in this book, the authors have not followed
their own advice.
Much of my reading time was spent asking myself this question:
Who is the intended audience for this book? I had a
hard time imagining who would pick up the book and learn from
it independently. The unfortunate title, Teaching Writing
in the Content Areas, would be the first stumbling block.
Don't get me wrong. I appreciate many aspects of the book, but I'm
an English teacher, and I am not the one who needs to read
it. I am already sold on the idea that using writing in the
content area will broaden student learning and cement concepts
in a student's memory, a central premise of the book. But
this book needs to be read by those who are not using writing
as a teaching tool, and I don't think content area teachers
will reach for it. In fact, the title itself may turn off
potential readers. I can already hear math, science, art,
music, and history teachers decrying, "Now what? As if I don't
have enough curriculum to cover, now they want me to teach
writing too? Isn't that the English teacher's job?"
So who is it written for? Here is what I came up with:
The book is intended as a text for a specific professional development
course. The book is intended as a primer for instructional supervisors.
(I already passed the title on to my instructional supervisor
who was happy to have it for her library.)
There are two reasons I think the book is useful only as a text
in a course.
First, the early chapters are tough reading, unlike many teacher-friendly
books that are currently on the market. (I'm thinking of breezy
books like Mosaic of Thought where classroom narratives
keep the reading light while introducing innovative theory.)
Each of the early chapters is dense with studies and followed
by long lists of cited works. They read like the first chapter
of a thesis, covering all the available research. Personally,
I like having the research condensed and in one place but
it's not easy reading.
Secondly, more than half of the book outlines 30 strategies for using
writing in the classroom. I had no difficulty following instructions
for the strategies I was already familiar with, but strategies
that were new to me— like the one on Protocols—was
so complicated that I knew I would never be able to use it
without having seen or experienced it first. If this were
my reaction, I imagine the 30 strategies, all of which may
be new to content area teachers, would be equally hard to
follow and incorporate into a teacher's style. Content area
teachers might learn how to use writing if they used the book
in conjunction with a course where they had many opportunities
to experience them and apply the theory.
After taking a course where theory and application are thoroughly
studied and experimented with, I would want this book on my
shelf as a quick reference when I couldn't quite remember
how to set up and plan for a writing experience in my content
As a transformative text for the uninitiated, solitary teacher
who wants to make the leap to a new teaching style and use
writing in the classroom to enhance learning (my preferred
title) this book would be of little help.