Last week, Ms. Hamilton, our Title I Writing teacher, and Ms. Ward, our Healthcare Sciences teacher, teamed up to integrate writing into Ms. Ward’s 8th grade courses. Students first completed a scavenger hunt related to the ideas and vocabulary of the Hippocratic oath as part of their study of ethics in medicine. Wanting to find a way to infuse additional inquiry into the unit of study and give students an opportunity to think more deeply about the ethics of the oath, Ms. Ward did some brainstorming with Ms. Hamilton, who introduced her to the Harvey Daniels written conversation strategies. The variation Ms. Ward decided to try with her students was the write-around, an activity in which students respond to questions, quotes, and/or images on large sheets of butcher paper.
In the first pass, students walk around silently from one write-around station to another and respond to the writing prompt. In a second pass, students then read each other’s written responses and engage in a silent conversation by responding to something a fellow student has written. Ms. Ward developed a variety of eight prompts for students to contemplate and to nudge their thinking about critical issues related to medical ethics. After reviewing the instructions for the activity, students began walking about quietly and responding to the prompts; students included their initials by their responses.
The activity was a major success as students took ownership for the class conversation with these “silent” conversations that then lead to a larger group discussion the next day. Ms. Ward noted that the level of student engagement was higher than usual and was elated that students responded so positively to the activity.
Written conversation strategies not only give students an opportunity to use writing in any content area, but they also give every student voice; these silent conversations allow everyone to share and are especially helpful for students who might be reluctant to speak out in class. This activity stimulated critical thinking, invited active participation, and served as a springboard for new learning conversations in Ms. Ward’s class.