As an English teacher, I calculate that I have assigned over 128,000 pages of student writing through the years. From free writes to personal essays to reading responses to research papers to literary analysis, my students wrote all the time. I realize that there is plenty of evidence that more writing doesn’t always make for better writing, but in my experience, the more practice students have the better.
It sounds like I would have to spend hours after school every day reading and grading. But here’s the thing: I still went home at the end of the day, and I spent at most a few hours on the weekend grading.
It’s not always about grading less or grading faster either. Sometimes it’s about seeing grading in new ways, and sometimes it’s about actually spending more time reading student work, but figuring out how to do that during class time rather than at home.
Here are three tips for getting students to write more without overloading yourself:
1. Write to learn every single day. When students see write-to-learn as something normal and common, they will be less likely to ask when I’ll be grading their free writes or reading logs. I start just about every class with a five-minute free write, and I end most classes that way as well.
This might seem paradoxical—how could assigning more writing actually make less work for a teacher? But it does. The less special that writing is, the more likely students will see it as part of the routine, and not something that they expect a gold star and a hand-written comment for each and every time.
2. You choose some, I choose some. I do eventually collect those write-to-learn pieces, and when I do I actually love to read what students have written. Since the pressure is off, and I have never uttered the dreaded word “essay,” their work tends to be more insightful and better written. But I can’t read it all. So when I collect their notebooks or reading logs, I have them choose two of their favorite pieces.
This way, I get to see which prompts they liked as well as read the work that they are most proud of. Just for good measure, I choose a third piece that they don’t choose. Often, I just pick the question that I liked the most so I can see what they had to say on it. And of course, reading what I want makes the grading much easier.
3. Teach writing in a writing workshop format. This might not be an obvious time saver as it seems like it just means more writing for me to grade. But when the writing happens in class rather than at home, that means the teacher conferences, peer conferences and revising all happen in class as well. Besides saving grading time, when students have class time to work on their writing, they see writing as something that is prioritized and valued. It’s not just a homework assignment that they’ll finish and have checked off.
And as they are working to draft or revise or edit their work, I can read it in real time and offer feedback and suggestions. When we talk in person, I can see if my feedback is helpful or if I need to pull out some examples of thesis statements or revisit my lesson on citation. And when students have the chance to ask their own questions, I learn where they are really struggling and we can address those issues together. But what’s great is that none of this happens after school hours.
Some of these changes might take some time. Kids who see writing as a herculean task that they are only required to complete every few months or so will likely balk at the idea of writing every day. Students who are used to being validated for every piece of writing they create might not be happy about not getting grades on all that paper. Those who see the task of creating an essay as consisting of writing a first draft the night before the deadline and being done with it will at first not understand the purpose of most of the writing workshop activities.
Yet, these changes are so worth the effort. They make writing more fun for everyone, and they mean that student writing improves…and I don’t burn out in the process.
For more, see:
- Choice But Also Rigor: Four Tips For Student Engagement
- How To Undo the Backfire Effect with Next-Gen Students
- 6 Tips for Effective ‘Student-Teacher’ Writing Conferences
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