When I look back on how I've changed as an English teacher over the years, there are few things that haven't changed in my teaching beliefs and practices. I feel a sense of pride in that, since one of my personal mottos for life and happiness has always been Learn, Grow, Change. One of the things that's changed the most in my teaching has been how much class time I devote to writing. Not teaching writing. The act of writing.
I started my teaching career doing the same thing that was often done to me as a student:
1. teacher assigns paper by telling every single detail and requirement in one class period
2. teacher gives due date
3. teacher gives (maybe) (some) time on a couple random days while plugging on with whatever else they're doing
4. students panic and leave paper until the night before it's due
5. repeat for a variety of writing assignments and purposes
This would invariably lead to a few things:
1. students procrastinate
2. strong writers write somewhat decent papers
3. struggling writers fail miserably or don't write at all
4. students plagiarize
5. overly helpful and involved parents and older siblings help too much (another form of plagiarism, in my book)
It was all such a mess, and probably still is in many classrooms. And I didn't question it. I thought that was just part of the writing process because it was always part of my writing process.
Somewhere along the way (no doubt inspired by a variety of teachers, colleagues, and books), I snapped out of it. If writing is something I care about, and I want my students to care about it, then I have to show them it is worthy of class time. I have to give them time to write in my room, with me there as an expert helper.
This sounds obvious, but it was nothing short of revolution, and still earns me side eye from some people (one memorable UNI student observer complained that kids didn't do enough in my classroom for the two days of rough draft writing she was there to witness).
Writing in class gives my students the opportunity to ask for help from me, so I know exactly how much they are receiving and how much they are thinking for themselves. It ensures that the work they turn in is theirs, and theirs alone. It shows that I care enough about writing that I don't dump it off as something to do outside of school.
My students now get confused when I confront them about doing too much of their writing outside of class. They're not used to it being a problem. I'm sure some parents get frustrated too, since I don't want them to be able to help their kids as much as they are used to.
I know this won't cause a revolution any time soon, but as I read more and more articles and blogs about how students are being assigned more homework at even younger ages, it makes my stomach turn. (Exception: free reading. Kids should read as much as possible outside of school to improve their brains in every possible way.) Why are we cramming in so much work that it can't be done during school, with trained experts to supervise? If something is truly important, why isn't it important enough to be done in the classroom? I know the common teacher excuse is time, and while I am just as guilty of thinking there is never enough time, I don't think more homework is the answer. Quality over quantity, right? If we give students more class time, then they will produce more quality work, which will lead to better learning in the long run, even if we don't check of all the required boxes of our never-ending to-do lists.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.