“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” –Ray Bradbury
To say that I have been obsessed with writing lately would be an understatement. The curriculum work I wrote about last week has me very excited about our school year. As I’ve prepared for school over the past week, though, I realized I left out at least one critical element of writing instruction: time.
In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at any given task. Recently, some have questioned this notion, and Gladwell responded with a clarification on The Atlantic Wire by pointing out that this rule applies to “cognitively demanding activities that need significant thought.” Writing is certainly a cognitively demanding endeavor.
As Ronald T. Kellogg points out, writing “poses significant challenges to our cognitive systems for memory and thinking.” Researchers Flower and Hayes developed a Cognitive Process Model of Composition which illustrates that “most of the composing process is complex, multi-layered and recursive, so that many of those processes can be operating at once, and information can flow back and forth among boxes in several directions at once.”
For students to become even proficient writers, they need time every day to write. Students need ample time to generate ideas. They need time to play with language so they develop a richer vocabulary and deeper understanding of language structures. They need time to develop confidence and their writing voice.
Time is a four letter word for most of us. We never have enough, are always running out of it. But time is exactly what our students need if they are to come anywhere close to mastery of writing. We will never make more time, but teachers are creative problem solvers. By closely examining long standing routines and our priorities, we can find more time in our schedule for this skill that is so critical to learning.
At our meeting to kick off the year yesterday, all of the speakers shared a personal story about their experience in education. Our students have their own stories that they want to share. They deserve the opportunity to tell them. After all, caring about each others’ stories is what makes us human.