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Title:                                                       North Dakota Biographies of Eminence
Primary Subject Area/Grade Level:    Social Studies/Language Arts (Grade 4)
Author:                                                   Ann Duchscher



Within the last 4 years, the Fargo Public School district has embraced writing as a district-wide initiative. Each school within the district has taken writing as a NCA target goal for the process of school improvement. The impetus for this decision came from looking at both students within our district and research across the nation. The results showed that our students, like students across the nation, were not gaining in their writing proficiency to a degree necessary to demonstrate much-needed competency in writing for a variety of purposes.

Dr. Lana Danielson, an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, summarizes the research as follow:

According to a recent issue of Education Week, "More American students have mastered basic skills in writing than in reading. . . but few can write precise, engaging, and coherent prose appropriate to their grade levels" (Manzo, 1999, p. 1). The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rated student writing using three achievement levels: basic, proficient, and advanced. Results of the 1998 administration of the NAEP writing assessment indicate that "16% of fourth and eighth graders, and 22% of twelfth graders, have not mastered even basic writing skills" (Manzo, 1999, p. 1).

Danielson goes on to further condense what the research tells us about the critical connection between writing and learning.

Why is writing important to the learning process?

The connection between writing and learning has been well documented. Research indicates that learning and writing are meaning-making processes that facilitate the learner’s ability to discover connections, describe processes, express emerging understanding, raise questions, and find answers (Mayher, Lester, & Pradl, 1983; Langer & Applebee, 1987).

How do students learn through the writing process?

Learning involves making distinctions between different types of information. Schema theory provides an understanding of how prior knowledge is used to comprehend new information. Sometimes their prior knowledge helps learners to assimilate information; that is, it assists them in remembering certain facts. At other times, learners accommodate a new conceptualization. This occurs when learners reconstruct their understanding by interpreting the new information in relation to their prior knowledge (Rumelhart & Norman, 1977). While writing can facilitate assimilation of information through the process of recording new facts (transactional writing), it is especially useful in promoting accommodation in which the shaping and sharpening of this information occurs and new meaning can be constructed (expressive and/or transactional writing).

How can writing be best implemented to support student learning?

Research (Applebee, 1977; Fulwiler & Young, 1982; Gere, 1985; Martin, 1984) supports writing-across-the-curriculum as an approach to learning. Findings suggest that activities in writing should not be isolated from the subject matter itself. To fully understand any discipline or subject, students must learn to write in the subject, to understand the conventions used and the unique kinds of vocabulary, which characterize it. Thus the time invested in writing can and should enhance the desired understandings in all content areas.

Research in the use of personal journals (Mayher et al., 1983; Fulwiler, 1987) indicates that expressive writing accommodates such learning across disciplines well because it employs a variety of functions and audiences. The journal might serve as a reporting tool or as a safe place for examining personal reactions. It might be used to foster self-understanding or to communicate with others. It can be used to record one’s thinking in progress, to process new ideas in relation to what is already known or experienced, to ask questions, synthesize ideas, and evaluate current thoughts about new concepts and their applications. As Britton (1975) observed, when students become more adept in their understanding and expression in the discipline, the successful movement towards more transactional forms of writing can occur.

The above research on writing serves as a backdrop for this unit. In including it here, I hopefully have provided you with a foundation for this unit’s purpose. Biographies of Eminent North Dakotans, has been designed with the above research in mind. The intent is not only to teach students the skills and processes of good research, but also is to also have them learn how to think critically about the contributions of prominent North Dakotans.

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Updated: June 24, 2004 9:44 AM
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