Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague that has prompted me to blog about writing in the classroom. I happened to notice that my tutoring students were having significant struggles with composing a written response to a prompt I gave them and shared it with the teacher. My friend and I are both veteran teachers who are passionate about writing, and interestingly, we have both noticed a shift in the time spent on writing. We concluded that since writing is not tested at the elementary level, that the time devoted to it has taken a "back seat" to the skills that are currently being tested. Does this sound like the situation in your school? Sadly, this discussion sort of confirmed what I've been thinking and observing for a little while, so today, I'd like to share why writing will NEVER take a back seat for me. Writing should NEVER be ignored.
Writing Reinforces Reading
As I teach writing, I *always* tie it to literature. If you choose mentor texts to model writing skills, you provide your students with the opportunity to learn new vocabulary, hear examples of great writing by proven authors, witness story structure or nonfiction text structures (depending on writing type), and learn creative ways of expression. By using rich nonfiction texts for modeling, students learn how a paragraph includes a main idea and details. They can also see how pieces of the text come together to provide an overall theme. When writing narrative texts, students learn story structure including character development, setting, and plot. Writing reinforces reading skills.
Writing Can Be Done Quickly
Time is a huge issue in education especially if you are in a testing grade. I completely understand the pressures of "getting kids where they need to be". I really do. I would propose though that rather than sacrificing time for writing, that you "double down" on your standards and weave writing in across the curriculum with writing prompts or quick writes where you might be able to build skills with your kids informally. Your students who are skilled writers and who crave opportunities for creativity will LOVE the chance to do more of what they love, but those who struggle in this department may gain from the one-on-one discussions you can have as they work. If this is still not an option, consider paired writing or cooperative group projects that involve writing. Even graphic organizers can include written responses.
Not All Writing Needs to Go through the Writing Process
Many teachers think of writing instruction as process writing only, but I disagree with this thinking. Yes, having a piece going through the writing process at all times is a great idea, but please remember that writing skills develop from frequent opportunities with informal pieces. Beginning each day with a journal prompt is a really enjoyable thing for students because our kids get to see visually how they've improved from the beginning of the year to the end. Plus, those journals are wonderful keepsakes (mom talking here). You might also try RAFT papers or quick writes about the topic of study. Exit tickets can also give you a chance to see how your kids are doing with their writing skills.
Writing Skills are Life Skills
Pause for a moment and think of jobs that DO NOT require writing. I think initially, you might come up with a few, but if you think more deeply, even those you come up with, will eventually require writing in some way. Writing is a life skill, and even if you aren't writing for the New York Times, you do need to be able to write well enough to communicate. If you are a strong writer, you have far more opportunity than if you are not. Isn't this what we want for our students? The three skills tested for college admission are verbal skills, quantitative skills, and writing.
Writing Skills are Widely Used
In today's tech age, writing instruction is easier. Our school division did a one-to-one initiative, and because of that, I was able to work on writing with my students as I do. Manual writing does take time, but with computers, our students are able to generate their drafts, revise, edit, and publish all from one file. There's less time spent recopying for perfection now since we can just make modification right within the file.
Struggle with Ideas?
No problem. Most of my book companion units include writing options throughout them, and I even have a few freebies you could try. Recently, I added this freebie in my store for research. Tie it to a few favorite nonfiction texts by Gail Gibbons or Seymour Simon, and you're set.
Have I convinced you? Please, please, please...weave it in whenever you are able. Make your students' writing visible by showcasing great examples. Celebrate informal writing when you see able. Encourage letter writing, journaling, story writing (have a basket for classroom books), or even comic strips. No matter what you choose, Just Do It! Your kids need you to be a teacher of writing. Writing should NEVER be ignored.