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Doing it Write

Authored By: 
Michelle Koza, English Teacher

Most students I’ve encountered in my teaching career have profound anxieties about writing. As a teacher of English, I have wondered about how to crack this problem. Over the summer, I had a transformative experience with the New York City Writing Project, a for-teachers, by-teachers organization that has writing at its center. Working with the Project caused me to question many things about my own teaching and beliefs about writing.

One of the biggest takeaways from my experience was the realization that most of the writing we ask our students to do is for performance. If every time they write something they can expect to be assessed, no wonder writing is fraught with so much anxiety. I decided to decouple writing from performance. I decreased the number of formal writing assignments I collected and graded, but I increased the overall amount of writing my students did.

Students spend a lot of time in my classroom writing, but this writing is often the prelude to discussions or part of our collective knowledge construction in the classroom. For example, I often use timed writing in my class where students are given a set of prompts, and the only requirement is to write for the full time, without regard for grammar or mechanics, organization, or tone. This helps students put their thoughts on paper. So many students have trouble with participation because there are usually some kids who are quicker than they are on their feet; pre-writing before discussion is a great way to level the playing field. It gives all students an opportunity to share their voice.

Writing-for-thinking has become the core of how I use writing in my teaching practice, and it has also helped me to understand what “writing across the curriculum” actually means. Helping students externalize their thoughts is part of what all teachers do, and informal writing is a great way to help them do that.