Holistic Approach to Writing in a Chicano Studies Class

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Writing
Holistic Writing often begins outside the margins of the page with bigger picture experiences and projects. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bigger Picture on Holistic Writing

What is Holistic Writing?

So what is holistic writing and how can we apply it to our classrooms?  Holistic writing is about mastering the art of looking at the big picture in its entirety before even putting pen to paper.  It’s starting with the sum rather than the individual parts.  Plot, characterization, grammar, cadence, all of these things are extremely important to learn individually; what’s more important is learning to use them in tandem.  Even if every part is working fine on its own, if they don’t fit into the larger whole, the machine doesn’t work and the writing suffers for it.

By changing how we approach teaching writing, we can impact how students comprehend material.

How do you do it?

So what can educators do to integrate holistic writing in the classroom?

  1. Learn and foster a new writing process:  This can include cross-genre analysis of texts, incorporating new media into their writing assignments, and fostering a collaborative writing process.
  2. Require all students to write extensively:  By writing frequently and for many purposes, learners can be comfortable writing extended prose in elementary school and onward, setting them up for success in college.  Schools can aid this process by making sure they hire excellent writing teachers as well as creating a curricula that fosters writing across all content areas at every grade level.

How can Holistic Writing be integrated in a Chicano Studies class?

Teachers at Valley High School a public school, with a predominately Latino population, were awarded a McCarthey Dressman grant to develop a Holistic Approach to Writing. This school is in a high poverty area where most students are English Language Learners and close to 90% of them receive free lunches. Valley High School Educators decided to address student gaps in literacy by taking the holistic writing approach and integrating it into their Chicano studies class.

The course is about the Chicano experience in relation to the following themes: history, identity, labor, gender and culture. While this course focuses on research and writing it takes a holistic method to teaching and learning. Students create murals, linoleum prints, and spoken word along with other forms of art. Each art piece is supported by research, a works cited page and thesis. Research skills are strengthened along with the student’s writing.  In addition, students are required to construct a thesis surrounding their artwork, backed up with cited research.  Instead of teaching writing and research separately, research lessons were taught throughout the year.  Students were evaluated both on the artwork itself and the research that went into it.

What is the impact of Holistic Writing integration?

While initially it served eighty students, portions of the lessons bled over into history courses as the program moved forward. Over the three year project, they will reach 600 students and over 3,000 students will view their murals. Collaboration and teacher training has been a key factor in creating curriculum for this project. In the beginning of the project, it was necessary for the teachers to research the quality of papers at the college freshman level. Using what they learned, they developed a common rubric for the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).

Their program has proved very effective.  The Chicano studies instructor accomplished this by collaborating with the English instructor.  He brought a sense of structure and form, while the English teacher helped the students understand style. According to the report, the students participating in this method have a 79% CASHEE passing rate, as opposed to the school’s average of 59%. The students have used a multi-disiplinary approach to Chicano studies including creating pieces of art (sugar skulls, day of the dead altars, murals painted with both acrylic and aerosol paints).  When this method was later applied to the World History class in the second year of implementation they found the same thing happened, 79% vs 59%.  The results speak for themselves.

If students are given the proper tools to excel, they will.  The great thing about the holistic writing approach is that its reach far exceeds that of simple literary skills.  It helps create a broader lens in which the student can view the world, their work, and ultimately themselves.

Learn more about Holistic Writing

Holistic Approach to Writing, Pt.1 

Writing Now – pg. 4

THE WRITING PROCESS: – An Overview of Research on Teaching Writing 

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