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The Case for Independent Writing: Your Students are Writers RIGHT NOW!

Updated: Jan 2


Kindergarten Writers Making Books

Independent writing; a time when children write by themselves. There seems to be opposing view points in regards to how and when this time should be implemented. What are you thoughts on independent writing time for students?


I have heard some camps lean on the side of only having students write independently after they have had a sufficient amount of modeling and/or whole class writing. They feel that in order to set students up for success, they should have a certain amount of teaching prior to writing independently. I have also heard many teachers say they want students to have more practice with letters, sentence writing, grammar work or other skills before they allow them to write on their own. I suppose they feel students will not be able to produce an appropriate product without these prior practices.


Hmm...

This leaves me wondering: What is being considered as "appropriate" writing?


For many, the answer to this question will vary from grade level to grade level, and from teacher to teacher, as well as based on other factors. For me, however, the answer is the same regardless of the grade, time of year or board approved assessement being utilized:


Appropriate writing for every student is what they write on their paper.


In The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy Calkins discusses the power of honoring approximations when babies learn to speak. She reminds us that the way in which we respond to a child's early language helps develop it. It is not necessary to teach each graphemes or syllables prior to a child learning to speak. We speak to them with full words and sentences, fully aware that they will not yet do the same. We all understand that the child's "dadada" for "daddy" is the first step in saying it correctly, so we do not fear that they will learn it "wrong" or that we are allowing incorrect speech. We accept this as talking! We even celebrate it when we hear it for the first time!


Similarly, when a child is playing a sport, it is accepted that every player is on somewhat of a different level of ability. We do not expect that they all reach the same level by the end of the week, or season. We also know that regardless of how much we TALK to them about playing soccer, or show them moves and technique, they will not learn to play until they PLAY. We have them kick the ball and make shots on goal, all the while watching them make mistakes. Mistakes are expected because they are a part of the learning process, and we know we will be supporting them in the same.


This is accaptance and understanding of a process is what is needed for our young writers. We should remember that their writing, whether it be symbols or scribbles, fragmented sentences or wit incorrect spelling, is THEIR WRITING, just as "dadada" was their language. Writing develops along a progression, and each part of that progression should be valued and honored. Mistakes will and CAN be made, and each student's piece of writing will be different from the next.


When we acknowledge this, and realize that there is no reason to wait for students' writing to be "appropriate", we no longer need to worry that we teach a certain amount or number of skills before students are able to engage in independent writing. We want them to write at the level they are on and allow them to develop in their own way. We WANT to see their approximations and celebrate their marks on the page, whatever they may be.


They write, we learn!


There is one more significant argument for having students write independently from the start. If we as teachers are unaware of our writers' abilities, we will not know their strengths or needs, and therfore will be unaware of how best to support them.


Once a student has written a few pieces, that work can be used to assess the writer's level of skill. We are able to identify the strategies they have already mastered, or are close to mastering. We may notice things like variety of topics, basic structure, revision techniques, conventions or voice.


Not only does student writing help us to identify what has been successful, but it provides a window into our writers' areas of need. If they are not yet showing many signs of revision, we list revision strategies under their name on our data sheet for next steps. If we notice repetition of details, or a lack of elaboration, we know those skills will need to be addressed in the future.


So, what are you waiting for?


Instead of waiting for some arbitrary "right time" to have students enage in independent writing, we should be utlizing as much time as possible for this valuable practice for our writers, accepting and honoring ALL of their work and progress along the way.


Our job will not be to correct their pieces, but to use their work as a tool to guide them along the pathway of the progression of writing.


The next time you hesitate to let your students write on their own, or you begin to tell them one more thing before they get started, remember this post! Your writers will be so much more engaged in writing time, and you will be more prepared to assist them in their progress.



For more about independent writing, check out:








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