Student writing volume is an under-invested component in establishing students as writers. I have several theories for this, but all lead to the same conclusion–it’s hard. It’s hard for kids to write more and well because collectively I don’t think we are as intentional about building student writing stamina as we are about building their reading stamina. It’s also hard for teachers because the more they write the more we have to read. That takes time and it feels overwhelming.
While these are all very real and valid reasons, I’m still left with an itch I can’t ignore called hypocrisy. If I believe readers need to read more to become better readers, the same has to be true for writing. So why do my expectations differ? Why do I encourage my kids to read more to get better at reading, but not write more to get better at writing?
Oh, yeah. It’s hard. But then I remember the wise words of Mary Ehrenworth and know I have to do the hard things more. The hard things don’t get easier, and I don’t become more proficient at them, if I avoid them.
I had to scratch this itch. To do so I began reflecting on where to start this work knowing everyone would feel its weight. The purpose of getting kids to write more was not about giving a grade. The purpose was about building stamina in a way that resulted in increased volume. So, where does writing exist that I don’t grade? I didn’t want to create something new (enter overwhelming feelings) and I don’t want kids to feel the additional weight of it being assigned a score (doing this makes me a hypocrite again. It doesn’t match my purpose. I don’t need any new itches.)
Answer: QUICK WRITES!
We typically start each unit of writing with a series of quick writes over the span of several days. This serves as the immersion phase into our new unit, allowing students to explore and experiment with the style and genre of writing they are about to embark upon. Additionally, it gives our students the opportunity for “joyful, ungraded practice” as advised by the incredibly brilliant Penny Kittle. If I can center students in an environment where they feel liberated as writers, and engaged in the act of it, that’s where I can find our real potential for volume and stamina. My quick write environment typically provides just that.
To track this goal, I have set up a graph to show progress. It looks similar to our reading stamina graph, only we track words, sentences, paragraphs or pages, not minutes.
Our set-up for quick writes is this:
- Look at and examine the picture, infographic, writing, etc.
Students get five minutes to write for steps 3 and 5. After our very first quick write we average how much we were able to write as a class for a collective ten minutes. This is our baseline data. As the unit and year progresses, we work to increase this amount by words and sentences (primary level) and paragraphs and pages (intermediate level).
Just as we monitor volume for reading, I am working to do this same thing for students as writers. When it is higher? When is it lower? Perhaps our volume goals will even differ by genre. As I navigate this for the first time, I’m not exactly sure where it will go or what I will find. I have assumptions, and I’m looking forward to seeing how, or if, students will fulfill those. Regardless, I know the information this provides will make my instruction more intentional.
And scratch that dang itch.