Writing with a Purpose

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I am a voracious reader. In fact, I’m most happy when I have anywhere between three to five books that I’m reading at the same time. I mean, doesn’t everyone leave a book in strategic places around their house?!?!

Having said that, I just finished rereading Vygotsky’s (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. I chose to read this book again because one of the theoretical frameworks that guided the development of my dissertation study is sociocultural learning theory.

It was a quick read, and one that reminded me of some key takeaways that I need to remember come fall when a new group of middle schoolers walk through my door.

“Teaching should be organized in such a way that reading and writing are necessary for something”

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 117)

In this case, I’m reminded to make sure that the tasks and activities that I design for my students should be authentic and meaningful. Sure, students need to know proper writing conventions; but why not make the practice of writing more meaningful to what interests middle schoolers?

I teach medieval world history (500 – 1500 C.E.), and most students come to my class hating history. I mean hating it. I think that may be due in large part to the fact that in previous grades they were forced to memorize people, places, and dates which were far removed from any context that connects to them personally. As someone who suffered through that as a student, I empathize with their plight, which is why I go out of my way to make sure that they know that memorizing people, places, and dates are not a high priority in my class. Yes, they need to know people and the general time frame but that’s a topic for another blog post.

“Writing should be incorporated into a task that is necessary and relevant for life”

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 118)

Many of my students are on social media. Not all of them, but most of them. But even if they aren’t, being able to effectively communicate through the written word is necessary. Working with a large population of English language learners dictates that I must pay particular attention to helping them navigate the speaking and writing conventions of another language.

What this means is that the writing tasks that I give to my students need to help them practice the English language while also evoking a sense of purpose. One idea is to incorporate blogging or journaling for my students. I’ve been wanting to introduce blogging to my students for years, but I’ve yet to wrap my head around how to introduce that concept so that it’s part of the learning process instead of an add-on.

“Writing should be cultivated rather than imposed”

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 118)

For this takeaway, I see that writing should be something that naturally occurs during the learning process. My students should want to use writing if that medium is the best form for communicating their ideas. This is where differentiation comes into play. For some students, the written word is preferable, whether it’s because it’s easier, faster, or more convenient. But the same could be said for students who choose to use visuals to convey their thoughts. So when it comes to students sharing or reflecting on their learning, I believe that this year will be the one in which I finally incorporate blogging. But I’m going to give students a choice in how they share their learning: public vs. private and blog vs. journal.

I don’t want to think too much on the logistics because I might overlook what would make this learning process meaningful for students. For now, I’m going to give them the task–reflect on their learning–but I’m going to leave the how up to them.

Reference

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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