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Working Through the Writing Process: Details of Drafting

student working on the draft of their writing piece


There is so much more to drafting than I ever realized as a "beginner" teacher of writing. The drafting portion of the writing process requires motivation, vulnerability and flexibility from the writer. It also provides an opportunity for us as teachers to learn from our writers in order to support them in their writing development. Just as important is the idea of keeping the focus on the writer!

What Happens When We Draft?

We know that each part of the writing process in connected in some way, so it is almost impossible for me to speak about the drafting portion without also referring back to planning. Whether you are a thorough planner when you write, or a writer who barely plans at all, consider what happens when you draft a piece of writing.

Many of us will note that our draft may not include everything that was on our planner or is not organized in the exact same way. When we draft, we are still thinking through what we want to write or how we want to write it. There are others who do little in the way of a written plan who will know prior to drafting that they will begin to see what will be written as they draft. In an article titled "Drafting" by Tracy Gray and Judy Zorfass they state, "drafting helps students expand upon, clarify, and modify their initial plans and ideas, and it helps them organize their content into a meaningful sequence or flow." This further illustrates the idea that we should not hold our students to their plan, nor should we attempt to ensure their plan is "perfect" prior to writing their draft.

When we have students who are not doing much planning prior to their writing (or at least not written planning) it is important to still allow them to begin to draft. First, we know that not every writer is a planner (Me!) and that much of their "planning" happens in their head and is then fleshed out when drafting. Second, we know that writers may LEARN as they draft that a bit more of a plan may be of value to them! If a student is using planning, the drafting process will help them to see how effective their plan is, or even just learn that the plan is just that... a plan, and that the draft is where things really begin to come to light!

Not only will our young writers learn from drafting, but we learn about our writers by observing their process as well as analyzing their drafts. We have already mentioned the understanding their use of a plan prior to drafting. Observing them as they write will also provide insight to how much they write at one time, whether or not they revise or edit as they write, and how willing they are to make mistakes or write something that is not quite their "best" after this initial attempt. All of these things help us to choose next steps for our writers.

When we have the opportunity to read their first draft, prior to revisions (don't worry, you do not need to read each writer's each time!) we are able to see their baseline mastery of technique, craft, conventions and more. This will not only guide our instruction in these areas but will also help us to better identify the revision strategies they use in the next step of the process.

"Drafting helps students expand upon, clarify and modify their initial plans and ideas."

The Needs of Drafting

As the facilitators of the writing development of our young writers, it is important that we

keep in mind the personal meaning and vulnerability involved in writing. Choosing topics that are important to them greatly increases the motivation for students to write. They have a connection to the writing piece and want to share their ideas in the best way they are able. Without that motivation, students will struggle when it comes to drafting their piece. We want them to have as much passion for their writing as possible!

If you have ever written anything to share with others, or even written in your own personal journal that you knew no one would read, you have most likely experienced the feeling of fear or concern for actually putting your words down on paper. Now multiply that by 100 because that is probably how your students are feeling when they write...or are about to write. Not only might their topic be personal, but they are dealing with the concerns of spelling something incorrectly or not writing as well as their peers.

In order to combat the challenge of fear our writers face, we must be sure to provide an environment for where they feel safe enough to be vulnerable. A variety of steps can be taken to build this safe place. First, our writing community should begin to be built from day one. We want our students to understand themselves as writers and get to know their fellow writers as well. They can reflect on their interests, styles of writing, when and where they like to write and more. It is also helpful for them to be collaborators and encouragers of each other. Another important step to take is to be sure our words and actions show what we truly value in writing. If we want our writers to be willing to take risks, we must 1-allow for them and 2-celebrate them. If we value the process of writing and want our students to know that drafts are a place to make mistakes, we need to hold true to that and not "focus on the writing", making corrections every step of the way. A final practice to implement is to include yourself in the writing community. When you share your true writing work, showing your own vulnerability, it builds trust, helps your students feel they can do the same.

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” -Aristotle

When we remember that our job is to facilitate our writers' development, and NOT to help them write a perfect piece, we can take a look at drafting in yet another way. We want our writers to be able to use the drafting portion of the writing process to get words on paper, cultivate and enhance their ideas, and have a baseline for the continued work they will do in the remaining portions of the process. In order for someone to learn any skill, they must practice that skill over and over again. The same is true for helping students learn how to draft effectively (a well as for learning the other parts of the writing process). For writers to feel comfortable with getting words on the page in a somewhat quick and "imperfect" way, not only do they need the comfort spoken of above, but also repeated opportunities for doing so.

For this to occur, it is good practice to allow students to determine when and how often they draft a new piece. Instead of having the entire class keeping the same pace--filling in their planner, writing the first paragraph or page, revising all together--students should be writing as much as they can, going from planning to drafting to revising and back again often, and on their own time. In Kindergarten for example, writers can come up with an idea, make a quick oral plan, draft and even make revisions in one session, and then start over! In third grade, students may go through the steps of the writing process (not always editing and publishing) several times within one unit, and then choose their strongest piece to publish. When students write multiple drafts (in a day, week or unit) they are able to practice a applying a variety of skills each time. When students are stuck with one writing piece/topic for an entire unit, or even just a week for our youngest writers, not only will they be BORED but they will be inhibited from writing about something new that is on their mind. They may also be struggling due to a poor choice in topic and would benefit from starting a new piece.

When we examine the details of drafting, we realize there is much to be considered as we teach our writers. When we truly focus on the writer however, we will discover ways to keep drafting authentic and motivating, as well as create opportunities for our young writers to grow and learn.

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