Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 10

Writing For Comprehension
While there are certainly many ways to show understanding, writing is perhaps the most comprehensive. Oftentimes, when one hears "writing," the mind can jump immediately to research papers and essays. Essays are, without a doubt, valuable tools but not the only form of writing that can offer students benefits. There are three styles of writing, each with their own merit: formal, informal, and creative.

Formal writing is writing that has a predetermined structure and purpose. Oftentimes formal writing will be revised and edited. Examples of formal writing include articles for publication, novels, business proposals, technical manuals, essays, research papers and dissertations. Even this blog could be considered formal writing. Naturally, not all essays nor blogs are designed the same, but most will consider at least some formal elements.

Informal writing is writing that is loosely structured, not intended for a large audience and does not require the use of traditional grammar rules. Informal writing may be condensed or summarized but is rarely edited. Examples of informal writing include personal journals, notes, outlines, brainstorming, lists, tweets, some emails, and text messages. Informal writing exercises are excellent to use prior to a formal writing exercise. Since a writer is unrestrained by rules of grammar and structure in an informal writing exercise they would be free to get all of their thoughts on paper and organize them afterward. The organization of informal writing into a structure is the transition from informal to formal.

Creative writing is exactly what it sounds like. Creative writing can take on characteristics of both formal and informal writing but is far less concerned with facts and more concerned with imagination. Examples of creative writing include stories, poetry, skits, stream-of-consciousness and imaginative exercises. Creative writing assignments are good for letting a writer discover their own voice without the constraints of being 'right' or 'wrong.' As a writer develops their creativity they will find informal exercises and formal structures useful for strengthening their writing. Creative writing encourages the heart and mind to act as one. 


Each style-formal, informal, and creative- do not exist independently of each other but are complemented by one another. By encouraging students to utilize all three writing styles we, as teachers, offer them opportunities to express themselves more clearly. This expression is just as much to an outside audience as it is to themselves. Through writing we determine how and what we want to say and why we want to say it. Writing gives students a voice. In a world that can oftentimes seem overbearing and confining, giving a student a means by which to develop their identity and express themselves, we are empowering them. Lowering the affective filter between students and writing is a key to their mastery of all subjects. 

Relevance to History

History lends itself to formal writing, ultimately, but leading up to a formal paper it is important to experience all writing styles. Creative writing allows a student to put themselves in the shoes of a character in history. Informal writing is used constantly with note taking, journal entries and all of the tools that help develop a formal paper-such as outlines. In addition to the writing process, the student comes into contact, especially with primary source material, with all of these writing styles in the research process. For instance, Anne Frank's diary was an informal writing by Anne Frank, but is a useful tool for understanding the conditions of Jews in Germany during the second World War. Also, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is a piece of creative writing but provides keen insight into the types of problems facing the nation during the Progressive Era. History is dependent upon writing and the field only progresses because of the due diligence of good historical writers.

Example of use in a History classroom

Creative writing

Student's would be asked to write a page about an average day in their life. Then, the student would write a version, with the same basic structure, from the point of view of a person their age in the unit that was being studied. The whole unit could be set up so that the role of teenagers was discussed during every time period covered. For instance, during the Progressive Era, child labor could be discussed.

Informal writing

Student's would write a journal that had topics covered during class and their impressions. Additionally, the student's could practice designing outlines for topics. For instance, an outline for benefits of the Railroad would look something like this:

Topic: Railroad
Bias: Benefits

Paragraph I: Introduction
Thesis: The development of the railroads positively influenced the US by...
                  a. speeding up travel
                  b. speeding up communication
                  c. connecting consumers with goods and services
Paragraph II: Travel
                 a. before (average trip time)
                     1. problems
                 b. after    (average trip time)
                     1. benefits
Paragraph III: Coomunication
                 a. what was used  before
                     1. problems with that system
                 b. how railroads were used to facilitate communication
                    1. how the problems from a.1. were solved
Paragraph IV: Enlarged Market
                 a. limitations of markets before railroad
                 b. benefits of railroad in delivering goods and expanding markets
Paragraph V: Conclusion
                 a. place railroads in context of world history
                 b. restate travel, communication, market expansion
                 c. It is clear that railroads were epic wonderful for the furtherment of mankind blah blah blah...
Formal writing

In formal writing the student will use the outlines they have been creating during the semester to begin writing well structured essays. As the semester progresses, essays can become more personal incorporating the creative aspect of role-playing into a historical essay. For instance, the student would answer the prompt "I would most like to live in the time of _____  rather than ____because..." The student would use the formal essays they had written to support their argument as to why the time period they chose would be better than the time period they are arguing against. The student would have the experience of analyzing key characteristics of a time period while simultaneously empathizing with the role of the youth in that particular culture. By identifying with a group, such as youth, the student would be better equipped to relate the experiences of their own life to the lessons they explored in the History classroom.

1 comment:

  1. "In a world that can oftentimes seem overbearing and confining, giving a student a means by which to develop their identity and express themselves, we are empowering them."

    When I read this, I gained insight into why I'm so fond of writing but realized that I really don't teach this aspect to my colleagues... Thank you for teaching me the "why" of writing that goes way beyond the the usual rationale.