by Elizabeth Dobler
I have recently arrived home from the International Literacy Association annual conference, which was held in Boston earlier this month. I enjoyed delicious seafood, a tour of the Boston Public Library, and a great conference. I attended one session on writing instruction in which presenters Harvey Daniels and Sara Ahmed spoke about the power of the quick write as an instructional activity. The Common Core State Standards have brought about a renewed interest in writing instruction and practice in the classroom, but the standards appear to promote longer, more-research-focused types of writing. Ahmed and Daniels emphasized the need for shorter writing activities to build writing stamina and lead up to the longer, more involved pieces that integrate the revising, editing, and publishing phases of the writing process. Daniels’ words really stuck with me: “Students need to write two, three, . . . seven, eight times a day.”
Quick writes are short bursts of writing that can be a brief self-contained piece or one that leads to a longer piece of writing. The focus of a quick write is to get words on paper (or screen) quickly. While the author may reread and make minor changes when writing, perfecting the piece of writing is not the goal of the activity. A quick write may be a good opening activity during a writing workshop, to get students into the writing mindset; it can be used as a transition activity between lessons in two different content areas; or it may be a method for activating prior knowledge at the beginning of a lesson or reflecting on learning at the end of a lesson.
The great thing about quick writes is their unintimidating nature—asking students to write for three (or however many) minutes straight allows writers to feel successful with their writing. Letting them know that this piece of writing will not be graded and does not always lead to a longer piece of writing (which, for the student, may imply more work) frees up young writers and lets them experience the joy of investing a part of themselves into writing. These small successes can build confidence and yield long-term payoffs.
I have used quick writes with the teacher education students in my courses. At first, some find it difficult to just sit and write. They may feel that what we are doing isn’t important, so they don’t really need to participate and instead feel the pull of their cell phone or tablet to fill down time. However, when they see that I am writing, also, many will take up a pen or turn to their keyboard. I begin to see students “activate their writing selves.” They turn inward, become quiet, look down and write—sometimes two, three, . . . seven, eight times a day.