Writing is Beautiful

How my students use writing to learn their second language

Much like writing, learning a second language involves a lot of risk-taking, a lot of trial-and-error, a lot of discovery, and a lot of courage. You have to be comfortable putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, occasionally being misunderstood, and problem-solving on the spot.

In the past, students in my class wrote. They wrote a lot. But they were missing the important trial-and-error step that is so crucial to language development. I used to read and evaluate nearly everything they wrote. Now , thanks to the GMWP, I know that I was going about this the wrong way. Among my many take-aways from the GMWP, I learned the importance of writing. And not just writing as a performance to show what students have learned. No, it has so much more potential. Through the help of Karla Rempe and Corina Rogers and their Teacher Workshops, I learned of the importance of writing to learn. Writing to document the journey of learning, to reinforce the acquisition of language and clarify thought.

Thanks to Karla and Corina, I have been inspired to incorporate written reflection into my lessons. Here are some of my favorites so far:

  • Online discussions: After watching a movie or reading a novel, I feel that online, written discussions are more profound and thought-provoking than spoken discussions. Students have the opportunity to craft a thoughtful response to their classmates’ questions, which provoke meaningful discussions.
  • Meta-cognition: Students reflect on what they have learned and what they still misunderstand. They can evaluate their own thinking to find gaps in their knowledge.
  • Making predictions: Have students guess the end of a story or movie. This requires them to tap into their creativity, problem-solving, and logical thinking.
  • Describe a picture: I will often use activities like this to reinforce vocabulary or grammatical concepts. This was one of my favorite go-to activities during our art unit.
  • Describe a grammar concept: Writing the formula for a subjunctive sentence or the steps to form the pluperfect verb tense increase students’ understandings of complex structures.
  • Exit slips: Having students reflect on the lesson objective is a great way to revisit a learning target at the end of the lesson so students leave the room knowing the purpose of what they have just learned.
  • Journaling to answer an Essential Question: This helps students connect concepts to a bigger picture to gain understanding of why it’s important to study a language and its cultures.
  • Reflection of a reading: Allowing students to digest, further comprehend, and interact with complex texts.
  • Preparation for a discussion: Writing helps students clarify their own stance on a topic and allows them to clearly justify their view points and find their voice.
  • Write-in/Write-out: Taking several minutes to let students write at the beginning or ending of a lesson can be a powerful tool for language acquisition and organization of thoughts. It can set the tone for the day or be a thoughtful way to close a lesson.
  • Access background knowledge: The classic think-pair-share can access prior knowledge to see what students already know as a foundation to move forward.
  • Summarize: This helps students comprehend texts by helping them pick out the most important ideas and clarifying their thoughts.

Modeling

Another important thing to note is that, as often as possible, I try to model writing with my students. Just as students take silent reading more seriously when the teacher is modeling, they focus more on writing if they see me writing. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not always writing something related to the prompt. And that’s okay. Sometimes I write a blog post instead (multitasking is a teacher’s best friend). Sometimes I do some journaling in Spanish. Sometimes I take the opportunity to reflect on how a lesson went, since it’s often so hard to find time to reflect on my teaching. The bottom line is that they see me writing and know I value it enough to take the time to do it myself.

Grading

Do I grade it all? Absolutely not. First of all, nobody has the time for that. Secondly, I certainly wouldn’t want someone reading and critiquing every word I ever put to paper. Writing can be sacred and personal, it can be messy and embarrassing, but that’s how we learn. I would be robbing my students of these critical moments of clarity if I were to constantly ask them to write for an audience.

Writing can (and should) serve many purposes in the classroom. Through these writing exercises, I hope my students learn one thing: that writing, in all of its intricacies and complexities, is truly beautiful.

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