In the memoir unit I ask kids to choose a memorable event from their lives and think about how it shaped them, and that can be a challenging task for a sixth grader (or anyone, really). Of course, I don't expect perfection, and in the end I read several under-developed anecdotes about bike crashes, roller coasters, pranks, and beach mishaps. There are poignant tales as well, and usually one or two that I pass along to the counselor. Overall, this writing assignment gives me a lot of insight into my students, and for that it is priceless.
I thought about that tonight as I worked on a presentation I have been asked to make for my colleagues on our staff development day on Friday. The topic is writing across the curriculum, but the subtext is so much more. Middle school is where discipline-based departments begin, and so writing sometimes becomes a "language arts" thing. Part of my job on Friday will be to convince the other subject teachers otherwise.