Student: I like how you added that detail about the setting. I can see you there in the kitchen.
Me: Should I start with the phone call?
Student: No, the way you started with the setting all calm and then the phone call breaks in—makes me feel the contrast.
If you think I mixed up speakers in the above interchange, I didn’t. This is the power of writing to the same prompt along with all the rest of the learners in my classroom. I don’t always do it, and last year I really got out of the habit, but I did it for the first writing assignment this year, and the results were just so fun, I'm motivated to keep doing it.
I mustered all my discipline to just write the initial journal quick write—and surprised myself by discovering I had a story I wanted to tell so much that I stretched the 15-minute investment to 20 because I was that committed to capturing my thoughts. The next day in class, when students were turning their prewrite into a rough draft, I typed up that journal—revising just a bit, but I had to get it done in the period. Twenty minutes, tops?
The next day I projected my typed draft—mostly the opening paragraph, though I attached the whole document to the Google Classroom assignment as a model, in case students wanted to take the time to see the whole thing. I said, “This is really rough. I’ve got a few places I just dropped in phrases to remind me what I want to add but didn’t have enough time to flesh out. I know this sentence here never gets to a main verb, so it’s just a big fragment. But I’m not worried about that right now. Right now I want to ask your opinion about my opening.” And we had a conversation that included the dialogue at the top.
Here are some of the great things that happened, both then and in the next couple of days:
- I got truly helpful feedback from the students.
- I modeled applying the writing strategies we’d examined when reading two mentor texts.
- I modeled the writing process--how rough a rough draft can be, and what it looks like to revise rather than edit.
- I modeled how to have a peer-revising conversation.
- When the students moved into peer revision time, and I
- Finally, when I quickly glanced over revised drafts the next day, I saw some of the most thoroughly revised drafts I’ve ever seen from 10th graders.
If you’ve never tried writing assignments with your students, I highly recommend it. Set yourself a timer. Teach them the tricks you have to learn yourself in order to not sit and stare at a blank page for three hours. Model bad first drafts, big revisions, and writerly questions, moves, risks, failures, and successes. If you’ve tried before and run out of steam, like I did, I encourage you to try again. See what you learn, and what your students learn. We don’t have to do it all the time, but there are things that happen in my own understanding, in my students’ understanding, and in the classroom we share, that don’t happen as quickly and as deeply any other way.
After all, the team captain doesn’t lead from the bench.