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Curriculum of Time

I just finished reading the January 2009 Issue of School Talk, which is focused on nurturing young writers.

Katie Wood Ray’s Article “Understanding the Curriculum of Time in the Teaching of Writing” may have focused on early elementary school classrooms, but it certainly resonated with me as an upper elementary school teacher. These are the excerpts, from her wonderful narrative in a kindergarten classroom, that spoke to me regarding the way we teach our students to persevere and stick with a piece of writing over the course of time:

It really doesn’t matter how many craft lessons or genre studies we plan for students if they don’t first learn how to sit down in a chair, stay there for a period of time, and make some work for themselves that leads to writing. And they have to come back the next day and do it again (Ray, 2009, 2).

This is really at the core of what we try to teach our students during the first six weeks of school. By the time the kids get to the fourth grade, I notice that nearly all of them understand the idea of sticking with a topic for a period of time rather than abandoning it for something more attractive or exciting.

Being able to work your way through time with no work set clearly out before you, is a fundamental to becoming competent as a writer. Writers work with a vision of some product they want to have when they’re finished… but then they have to figure out how to get from nothing to something, from that vision of a picture book to a real, tangible product (Ray, 2009, 2).

This is hard work for a child to do, isn’t it. It’s hard for us, as adults, to work our way through writing tasks… through blank pages. Perhaps, as teacher-writers, we can show our students how to do this hard work… how to negotiate a blank page… how to have a vision and run with it until it’s our best work. This makes me think that keeping and showing our students process logs, in the upper grades, might be a good way to show them how we negotiate the blank page and the decisions we make to fill it up. (Click here for an example of a process log.)

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

2 thoughts on “Curriculum of Time Leave a comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I teach in a school where the younger students don’t do writing workshop, the just write about specifically assigned topics, never something they choose. When I first got them this year, they really didn’t know what to do with themselves for 30 minutes of writing. We really had to work to build up our stamina. They kept coming to me after 5 sentences (the 2nd grade requirement!) telling me they were “done”. They really didn’t know what to do next. I find this in their reading as well. One book, they were done, and they needed to be told what to do next. It has taken us 4 months, but most of them are now able to read/write until I stay stop. Building stamina is as much a part of the program as the other lessons.

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  2. This issue of time on task is critical to writing success. It is about the young writer developing writing stamina. The secret ingredient is ‘butt glue.’ As teachers we need to provide adequate time and space for great writing to take place. Stacey, you have hit on such an important aspect of writing success. An athlete doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon.It requires time and training to build the stamina and strength required for such a demanding challenge. ‘Writing muscles’ take time to develop as well. Katy Wood Ray’s message here needs to be heeded by all teacher-writers.

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