Writing Mileage

As teachers we know that most things get better with practice. In fact, we talk about this all the time in teaching. Reading mileage, basic facts practice, but what about writing?

In junior school students are writing all the time, constantly exploring and processing their experiences through writing, admittedly in only a couple of sentences often. But the expectation of teachers and students is that writing is a daily occurrence. By the time they get to intermediate and year 7 and 8, students have spent hundreds of hours writing (or at least we hope they have).

By the time students go to college, they are expected to use reading and writing as tools, but when they arrive in year 7 many of our students still view reading and writing as subjects. The challenge for us, as both teacher and students, is to move from learning to read and write, to reading and writing to learn.

At our school we are lucky to have reading and writing support lessons for all our students who need them, as well as WordQ (an awesome piece of software that helps struggling writers by supporting them with vocab and spelling suggestions). This means that the students who need extra help get it, and the focus in class can be on integrated learning.

In focusing on integrated learning in English, we usually have a big topic and our English work is based around an inquiry in this area. I love that this provides an authentic context for reading and writing and research skills, and the students always love getting into a big project too. One thing I have noticed though is that by taking this approach, we don’t always spend a lot of time practicing writing, and creative writing or reflective writing doesn’t usually end up being much of a focus. So this year, one of my goals is to create more opportunities for writing in class.

Everyday we make time for independent reading, so this year I have decided to make time for independent writing too. Every morning we begin our English time with 10 minutes of journal writing. Journal time is an opportunity for students to write whatever they want, they only criteria is that they must date every entry and they must use language in some way. Some students draw comics, some write poetry, lots write stories, and others just write about their lives. I also put a topic or a sentence starter on the board for those who need a bit of help with what to write, but it’s entirely up to the students to decide whether they use it or not. I always make sure I take part in journal writing too – in fact the first draft of this post began as a journal entry.

I check the journals every week or two. The agreement we have as a class is that I just flick through and see that they are writing. If a student doesn’t want me to read a page they fold it in half, and if a student wants me to read and comment on something they hand their book in open at the page.

So far the students seem to be enjoying it, and everyone is engaged. It’s definitely challenging some of my boys to be quiet for 10mins to focus on their own writing, but they still seem to enjoy it. It’ll be interesting to see what comes about in the students’ writing as a result of this, and it’s definitely something I want to track over the year.

Later in the year I want to get my students blogging (not a possibility yet, unfortunately), and I’d like to use more of the techniques and activities from Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing by Karen Benke to promote creativity.

What are some of the things you are doing to promote writing in your own classes this year?