Rigorous Writing Instruction Across Content Areas

In 2018, The Fordham Institute published a report, Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools, that used online survey data from language arts teachers throughout the US to gain insights into the implementation of college and career-ready language arts standards. Of the four key findings listed by the report, one dealt with writing. The authors of the report stated that teachers need to provide students with more opportunities to develop their ability to construct arguments and use evidence in their writing. The study continued by providing suggestions for language arts teachers to increase the amount of instructional time focused on evidence-based writing. While I agree that language arts teachers can increase the time they spend on evidence-based writing, I also believe that language arts is are not the only subject area where students can improve their evidence-based writing skills.

As a former middle school language arts teacher turned science teacher, I am well aware of our state’s standards known as the Illinois Learning Standards for English Language Arts, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards, both of which require that I teach my students how to generate evidence-based writing in the science classroom. When I taught language arts, I spent countless hours in professional development workshops with other language arts teachers, tasked with examining and shaping our curriculum through the lens of the standards. Teachers from other content areas were never part of the discussions. As a science teacher, I have spent countless hours in professional development workshops focusing on the content of my curriculum. Again, teachers from other content areas have not been part of the discussion. The Illinois Learning Standards for ELA include specific standards focused on comprehending and responding to the types of texts students encounter in science and social studies, so why are language arts teachers alone expected to carry the burden of writing instruction? 

In order to effectively teach students to master the genres of writing that they will need to be college and career ready, teachers of all content areas need to be provided with the time and resources to collaborate. Science and social studies provide students with great opportunities to read challenging texts from which to gain evidence to draw written conclusions. Writing is a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding of information. For instance, the students in my middle school science classroom are expected to write regularly, so much so that they frequently try to remind me that I teach science, not language arts. They are expected to write research papers and lab reports, both of which require them to engage in evidence-based writing. I spend class time teaching them about claims, evidence, and reasoning or CER, which are skills that can be used across all subject areas.

The Fordham Institute only surveyed ELA teachers. I can only wonder if the results would have been different if they had surveyed teachers in other content areas about the types of writing being taught in the classroom and the types of writing experiences their students are engaged in during the school day.

The standards clearly state that students should be writing evidence-based texts across content areas. Teachers need to be given the time to communicate with other teachers to ensure that writing instruction is coherent and effective. Then, maybe we will begin to see students composing evidence based texts that prepare them for their future real-world writing.

Jennifer Smith is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches 8th grade science at Monticello Middle School where she sponsors the science club and oversees the STEM lab. Jennifer also teaches middle school language arts and geography online for Illinois Virtual School. She was a 2014-2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year Finalist, the 2016 Illinois Middle School STEM Teacher of the Year, and the 2019 AACT Middle School Chemistry Teacher of the Year. Jennifer holds a BA in elementary education and an MS in education from Eastern Illinois University and an MS in English from Illinois State University.