When Designing Writing Instruction
I plan my units of instruction in three-week chunks, alternating between a reading-focused unit and a writing-focused unit. In every unit, and in every class period, I keep some routines the same, much like Amy describes here. While I do most of the big thinking about a unit up front, I do leave some holes in the plans to make space for mini-lessons that are responsive to what I discover students need during our conferences. And every year, I design brand new units.
While each unit is unique, I was reminded while at the NCTE Annual Convention of five non-negotiables to keep in mind when designing writing instruction.
Writing should be low-stakes. Students need to write a lot, and a lot of that writing should be ungraded, unread, or worth very few points. I have felt liberated in terms of grading writing since I read Kelly Gallagher’s research-based statement that students should be reading and writing four times as much as a teacher could ever grade.
I think, since I embraced that philosophy, that my students also feel liberated. Their notebooks are a“safe place for regular, ungraded practice,” as Penny Kittle described in her Ignite session. While we write in our notebooks every day, and outside of class in one-pagers, I only collect notebooks every two weeks, and only carefully read and respond to one or two pieces my students have marked. Indeed, 80% of the writing we do stays in our notebooks and never makes it to ‘published’ form. This takes the pressure off writers to produce something perfect or error-free, because “our classrooms need to be a safe place to fail,” in the words of Taylor Mali.