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Protecting Student Writing Time

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We would never expect a professional athlete to become better without time for practice with a coach.  We would never expect a violinist to become a virtuoso without practice and instruction.  Yet for many of us, the most precious commodity in our classrooms is time.  We never have enough.

M. Colleen Cruz , Unstoppable Writing Teacher 

The Most Precious Commodity:

The responsibilities of an elementary classroom teacher are numerous. Creating a schedule that allows time to teach and time for the students to explore is a continuous loop of imperfect balances.  I fight to keep the demands and frustrations from consuming me.

A few years ago I wrote my belief statements.  These statements hold what I believe to be best practice in education.  They help me determine how to structure the classroom, organize our schedule, and how to build a community of learners.  These statements keep me grounded in my core beliefs as an educator.  I revisit my statements often, and occasionally I make adjustments as I grow in my thinking.  This one statement has remained unchanged:

 Children need choice in their learning and time to practice new learning. 

My  students won’t become writers just because I want them to be writers.  Writers need to wallow in new teaching and they need time to let all the words, ideas and questions wash over them. With time, writers can connect new learning with their schema, and let the new information become their own.  When I listen to teachers make decisions about schedules; I hear teachers defend time to read, time for math and time for content. Other teachers listen, nodding their heads in agreement.  What I don’t hear anyone standing up for is time to write to become writers.

When I listen to teachers make decisions about schedules; I hear them defend time for reading, time for math content. Other teachers listen, nodding their heads in agreement. What I don’t hear anyone standing up for is time to write.

 Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 5.50.53 PM.pngWhy Do We Need to Protect Writing Time?

Writers who write over time become writers who write daily and for a variety of purposes. Daily writers come to know writing isn’t easy and best work doesn’t happen every day.  Through writing, students gain experience with words, spelling, conventions, generating topics and genres.  Students who write daily become writers.

Just as my students need time to read, explore new topics, and to work as mathematicians they need time and space to do the work of writers.  Our students need time and freedom to realize all writing can’t be their best writing.  Writers experience bad writing and know subpar days in their writing is part of being a writer and our students need to know this.

Our schedule provides time for writers to write every day. Writers make these discoveries and learn to settle in with tools, ideas, and the process of writing.  Sitting down to write isn’t an on-demand job for many students.  Writing requires students to decide on topics, message, words, space, and to calm the doubts that halt their words.  Sitting beside all these demands is a student.  Students who need time to process, practice and try again tomorrow.

Daily writers develop a sense of what writing is and why it’s important.  Writers see the purpose and the message in writing.  Writing is an ongoing process and writers who write for a purpose and write regularly understand what it means to be a writer.

How Can I Protect Writing Time?  

  • Establish and stick to routines
  • Teach possibilities in minilessons
  • Offer writing opportunities in all parts of your day
  • Look for lost minutes in transitions
  • Invite support staff to provide services in the classroom
  • Post your schedule
  • Set timers to monitor time
  • Signal transition times with music
  • Ask a colleague into your room to look for lost minutes in the schedule
  • Keep materials organized
  • Teach kids to how to access tools independently
  • Hold writing time sacred and your kids will too.

More Resources:

The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, M. Colleen Cruz

About the Authors, Katie Wood Ray

Writing Workshop the Essential Guide, Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Partalupi


2 thoughts on “Protecting Student Writing Time Leave a comment

  1. This is such an important post, Deb. Too often writing time is given short shrift. The only people who suffer are the kids.

    This is the kind of thing I talk about all of the time as a consultant. Would you mind if I used the image you created in my consulting work? (Giving you credit for creating it, of course.)


  2. I wish I’d had a teacher like you when I was in grade school or in high school. I often struggled with papers for class, all the way through college.
    Except for journalism classes. And one Legal Studies class, where we had to write a 3-page paper on our reading assignments for each class, twice a week. There were no tests or exams in that course. The professor graded us on our writing, and on in-class discussions.
    After being a journalist for 30 years — the last 18 as a daily newspaper reporter, where I met you, Kevin — I has so many stories in my head I wanted to write for pleasure. I thought that, after I retired from a job where I had to write every day, I would have plenty of time and inspiration to write all those stories in my head.
    Alas, it did not happen. I read a lot but don’t take the time to write for myself. I hope your students develop an interest and the good habits needed to become lifelong writers, journal writers or record keepers — anything that helps them develop the valuable ideas in their heads or comment on the world around them.
    Keep up the good work Kevin. You’re a good teacher. Glad to have known you.
    Dave Reid


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