When Writing Creates Change

One reason why writing is so important is because of the role it plays in shaping and changing society. The students in Ms. Broudy’s 12th grade class in McKinley Tech High School in DC Public Schools learned more about this role today.

As I entered the class to observe them using the OWEd Writing Program, students were responding to the prompt, “How would peoples’ lives be improved if your claim was proven true and action was taken to do something about it?  Explain your response using two pieces of evidence from your research.”

Questions like this connect the importance of research and writing to critically thinking about a topic in relation to real life. “It shows them they can make a make a difference with their writing,” Ms. Broudy told me when I asked her about the activity. For the students, the challenge of this activity is that they only had five minutes to answer!

The writing prompt embodies one of the unique features of the OWEd Writing Program: students are writing and generating evidence through research to make claims about topics that are important to them.  The activity embodies another feature that attracts many teachers to the program: the question was not part of the actual lesson plan.

The OWEd Writing Program encourages teachers to take the unit’s model and enhance it with their own features.  We count on teachers like Ms. Broudy, a veteran teacher of eight years who is the ELA Department Chair and sponsor for the poetry club, to then share these innovative tasks so they can be incorporated into the Unit for next year – and so the cycle of continuously improving our writing units continues.

After the prompt, students spent the rest of the class time working at their own pace, transitioning their outlines to their first draft.  Students had their heads down and were writing, as Ms. Broudy, myself, and Corie Colgan, the Deputy Chief of Literacy and Humanities at DCPS, walked around the class to ask students questions. I always wrestle with asking students questions like this when they’re deeply engaged with their work, but I was curious about their topics.

This year, 12th grade students are writing essays on the themes of college or career. In Ms. Broudy’s class, some of the students focusing on college issues said they chose topics like the cost of tuition, student debt, whether college athletes should be paid, and hazing prevention initiatives.  Students focusing on the workforce told me they chose topics like sexual harassment in the workforce, wage equality, time management, and federal loan programs for students pursuing workforce training, to name a few.  With important topics like these, Ms. Broudy’s belief that writing can create change in society may be the understatement of the day! 

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