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.
Why 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.
The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, M. Colleen Cruz
About the Authors, Katie Wood Ray
Writing Workshop the Essential Guide, Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Partalupi