lingering in drafts.

In our hurry-up-and-get-it-done-society, sometimes it’s tough to get our students to slow down and realize their unique writing processes.  Sometimes it’s tough for us, as their teachers, to slow things down and give them time to truly live as writers. 

However, after notebooks have been launched, our writing prompt genre studies completed, and the (Indiana) state test behind us, it’s time to give students time to write like a real writer.

This means they will write more than we can ever read (or want to).  When we slow workshop down a bit and give kids time to gather several drafts in their folders before choosing one to publish, they learn the sweat and hard work needed to revise, edit, and publish are well worth the effort.  This also makes revision and editing meaningful.  I believe when kids are selecting drafts to publish, revision and editing become purposeful and important.  They no longer are simply another step in the process the teacher is insisting upon; rather they are important to get to the final outcome the student needs and envisions.

I used to run into the problem in my units of study of having some students ready to “move on” into revision, while others weren’t finished drafting.  Although I advocate kids moving on when they’re ready, the reality of the problem snowballed as some were then finished with their final product and there were still 8 days left to the unit.  Sure, I could say “Write for fun,” but the reality of it all is my middle schoolers could find other things to do “for fun.”

Somewhere through my frustration it occurred to me — when kids say “I’m Done” — what they really mean is they’re done drafting.  My response early on in my workshop teaching was “You’re never done as a writer — you’re ready to revise.”  I was usually met with some eye-rolling and perhaps a huff and a little stomp as they turned away. 

Today my response is “Good job, start another draft.  Write another one using a new idea.”  The students usually give me a little smile and head off to begin a new draft.   It feels good to know you’ve written a complete draft and it feels good for someone to acknowledge the work you’ve done. 

In my units I have a day set aside for draft selection — on this day, students read through all of the drafts in their folders and make two piles — one for potentially worth publishing and the other for I’m DONE with these!  Once they’ve selected the one they want to publish, they read it to another writer in the class and together they jot down some ideas for revision on a stickie note.  After this day, we’re ready to roll up our sleeves (together) and move into the hard work of revision and editing.  The drafts they’re done with go home and the others stay in their folders for another publishing day. 

At the middle school level I used to expect a certain number of draft pages by draft selection day.  This is based on Tom Ramano’s research.