Boosting Student Growth: Writing Volume & Choice

Think back to something that is pretty automatic for you now, but that you distinctly remember working hard learning to do.  Do you remember how, at first, and maybe even for quite a while, you had to try again and again and again?  Lord knows I have plenty of these times.  Learning to drive.  Or do virtual lessons.  Bake the perfect cake.  And using the $%*# tv remote my husband thought would be best (still working on that one).

Do you remember how you felt?  Perhaps nervous.  Feeling like giving up.  Like it would never get easier.  

Let’s put this in the context of student learning.  

We know that in math, kids need lots and lots of practice solving problems.  The more complicated the problem, the more practice is needed.  But we know that with a lot of feedback and practice, they’ll get there.  A math teacher would never just give a student one or two problems to solve and think that’s enough–any math teacher knows that automaticity takes practice.  Once that automaticity is in place, more complicated problems can be introduced.

In literacy, we know that kids need lots and lots of practice reading, too.  Kids have to be given time to read independently, choice in what they’re reading, and a lot of feedback in order to become stronger readers.  In reading, we start small, and, through teaching and guided support, add layers of complexity to their independent reading.  Then we step aside a bit, and give them time and space to read. 

Because, to state the obvious, the more they read, the better at it they become. Volume matters.  When they also get to make their own choices in what they read, they will want to read more…and volume increases.  

But writing is also literacy.  A very important part. 

It’s also the part that tends to get short-shrifted.  Kids often don’t get the opportunity to practice writing nearly as much.  

Often, teachers lead students through the entire writing process, holding them all to the same place, which then drags out lessons over weeks and weeks.  At the end of a writing unit, it’s not uncommon to find that students have only written one or two pieces. 

Meaning the writing volume they’ve produced is minimal.  And they’ve had little choice in the process. 

Writing volume and choice are key to growth!

But the thing is, writing volume matters a lot.  Just like reading, writing is highly complex, and takes time to build.  It takes a lot of skill development, not to mention stamina and focus.  Stamina and focus hinge on engagement, so offering the opportunity to make choices in what they’re writing is a key piece.  This also comes from lots of opportunity to practice

Writing volume and choice go hand in hand.  

“The volume of writing is the key ingredient. If I provide good modeling, but my kids do not write much, they will not grow. If I confer with them, but they do not write much, my students will not grow. If I provide a lot of choice, but they do not write much, my students will not grow. Modeling, conferring, and choice are critical to growth, but if my students are not writing a lot, these factors become irrelevant.”

Kelly Gallagher, Savaas Fresh Ideas for Teaching Blog

Just as the first time we all begin to learn something new takes time, so does writing for students.  If I had only made three cakes in my entire life, I’d never be able to make a perfectly-frosted, chocolate curled, 4 layer cake today.  The first, second, and third attempts were ok to eat,  but not much to look at.  

This is the same for writing.  I like to say that the first is the worst:  the first anything is the worst.  It’s from that first attempt that we learn about the process, feedback is given (whether from someone else or self-assessed) and we get better.  The next time around, it’s better. The next time, even better.  

Which is why students need the time and space to go through the writing process as many times as they can.  They need to go through it, try things out, learn more, revise, and try again.  This is how volume is built.  It’s how writing becomes more automatic.

And, as with math or any other learning, as skills become more automatic, more complex skills can be added, thereby increasing the level of student writing.

But if we hold them at just one or two pieces, directing them on what to do at every step, we stifle them.  We’ve got to be willing to let them have a go.  To trust that they’ll grow the more they do it.  Have faith that with repeated iterations, they will get better every time, just like my mad cake-making skills have.  My friend and colleague Melissa Morrison talks about this very thing on a recent podcast of hers–I encourage everyone to hear her valuable advice about this!

Everything we do gets better with practice.  Writing is no exception.  

So I challenge you, friend.  How can you help your students write with more volume?  Are there ways to provide them more choice?  More voice?  Are there places you can stand back and watch, while they take on more for themselves?

If this is something you could use a thinking partner to plan with, I’m here!  I know the idea of offering kids more choice so that they’ll write with more volume can be scary, because there are so many possibilities–and also so many curricular constraints.  But it’s absolutely doable, and it’s so worth it!  The boost in student growth that will result will amaze you!  

Through virtual coaching, I can help you figure out how to increase your students’ writing volume from the comfort of your living room!  Just reach out at any time to set up a coaching call!

Did you find this post helpful?  Share it with a teacher friend so they can benefit, too!

Related Posts:  What are the Best Methods for Teaching Grammar?, How to Revolutionize Your Writing Workshop, Making Modeling Writing Easier, Are You Teaching Strong Writers or Strong Direction Followers?

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