Student Writers Must Be Afforded TIME

My earliest recollections of writing are wrapped around the weekly writing topics I was given in primary school. We wrote every Thursday afternoon, immediately after the lunch break. It wasn't even called writing. Our teacher referred to it as 'composition time.' We wrote for about twenty minutes in absolute silence in our 'composition' books. At the end of the allotted time, we handed in our written responses, then waited  a whole week to receive feedback for our labored efforts. It consisted of a mark out of ten and a page of red ink comments and slashes across the page. Then we sat and waited for the next teacher topic to be thrown our way. 

We wrote one day a week for twenty minutes. It wasn't much of a writing program by today's standards. It wasn't much of a way to learn writing back then either. I'm surprised we learned to write at all on such a starvation diet. I was just lucky enough to be the kind of kid who was driven to write in places other than the classroom. This is clearly what sustained me. My engagement with words was varied and rich. I compensated for the lack of writing time we had in school. There was an inner drive. i was lucky.

Fast forward, and today teachers generally provide student writers with a lot more time for writing. Sadly though, there are still classrooms where writing time is rationed.

Time is an essential element of an effective writing program. The developing writer must be afforded time in order to develop confidence and proficiency.

Donald Graves in his extensive research into writing discovered that when children write every day, they begin to compose even when they are not actually writing. They enter what he called, 'a constant state of composition.' When the young writer reaches this important stage of writing development, they begin to spend time on task beyond the immediate classroom. 

If the developing writer is not afforded daily writing opportunities, their writing will fail to thrive. They will not learn to think through their personal writing. They not grow to see writing as something  purposeful and useful to their learning.

If a writing program is limited to a few days per week, or a few hours per weeks  (as occurs in many secondary settings)  only students of exceptional ability, or students who are driven to attending to writing outside of school hours will survive such a pitiful writing diet. For EAL (English as an additional language) students, or students with confidence issues around writing, providing limited or irregular writing time amounts to a subtle form of abuse. It foster poor habits around writing. Students fail to develop any trust in writing to fulfill their needs. They are being sold short as learners.

Over many years I have learned that teaching writing requires me to show students how to write, and how to develop the craft strategies necessary to improve as a writer. From experience I know full well, that this is a quest that takes time to accomplish. In order to narrow the gap between intention and action, students need regular time on task as writers.

I have heard teachers lament that their students can't think of topics/ideas to write about. Often the answer lies in the fact their students do not write on a regular basis, or they do not have the opportunity to practice making decisions that involve topic and genre decisions. When young writers have predictable writing times and they know they will receive opportunities to write every day, their energies are more likely to go towards rehearsing and thinking about their writing options. When teachers direct topics, the young writer is caught 
unawares. Their is no time for rehearsal to inform the thinking necessary to make an informed choice.

Unless teachers provide time for students to write, their is little chance they will discover what writing can actually do for them. To use a cliche -time will tell.


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