Time Spent Writing

Like many of you, our teachers began the school year with several professional development opportunities. Some teachers were trained in cooperative learning strategies; while others attended professional development for the new literacy programs we are adopting this year. As a teacher new to the district, I was fortunate to have an entire week of orientation and professional development – including a guided bus tour of the district and surrounding community.  (Isn’t that the most fabulous idea to welcome new teachers?)

One of the professional development sessions I attended was a presentation for our new reading program. The presenter was top-notch and really understood the nuts and bolts of reading workshop. Our new program has a reading notebook component and as she explained how that component looks in the classroom she said, “Time spent writing in the reading notebook should never replace time spent actually reading. Make sure the notebook extends independent reading and doesn’t interfere with it.” Sound advice, isn’t it?

I started thinking teachers could fall into the same trap during writing workshop, getting caught up in components that were meant to extend the work of writing. We want our students to read and annotate mentor texts. We want them to be valuable members of a writing partnership. We want them to know where to find paper, how to sharpen a pencil, or how to log on to their blogging platform. We want them to personalize their writers’ notebooks. We teach our students what it looks like and feels like to do the work of real writers…and rightfully so. These are important skills and behaviors indeed.   However, let’s make sure this work extends our writing time and doesn’t interfere with it.

As you begin your school year, I urge you to make room for a large chunk of writing time for every student every day. And I do mean actually writing. Not reading mentor texts, not talking to a writing partner, not uploading accompanying pictures to a blog. Yes, those are all important parts of the writing process, and yes, students need time to do those things also. Most importantly, though, students need time to write. Every single day.

As an instructional coach, I will be cognizant of ‘actual time spent writing’ in our classrooms.  I suggest collecting data on this throughout the year. Choose a student at random and spend an entire writing workshop just observing that student. Have a timer handy and record how much time that student spent actually writing on any given day. Or, if you have an instructional coach in your building, ask your coach to collect the data for you. Keep in mind that writers do often stop to think, to reread, to envision. Writing doesn’t always look like pencils scratching across paper or fingers clicking on keys.  It does, however, look very different from sharpening a pencil or talking to a writing partner.

It is so easy to get excited and swept away with the many innovative ideas we learn about through professional development, blogs, or Twitter. We want to try it all. Let’s remember that the real work of writing workshop is writing. In my own hustle and bustle of life, I often forget to give myself the gift of time to write each and every day. I want to be sure I am giving that gift to my students…to every student, every day.

There is never enough time to do everything,