While reading Pernille Ripp’s thought-provoking article, Some Rules We Need to Break in Our Reading Classroom, it got me thinking of applying this approach to the teaching of writing.

How much of our instructional practice is driven by rules from the past? How much of what we do is an upholding of traditional approaches?  There is a lot of merit in these traditional practices, yet this doesn’t mean these practices shouldn’t be questioned.  As teachers, we should continually question and examine what we’re doing.  We should be asking whether these long-held practices are still relevant, given contemporary insights into how students learn.  Could other approaches be more effective?   With these thoughts in mind, here are my, Rules We Need to Break in Our Writing Classroom:

Rule #1:  Every piece of writing should be marked or graded by the teacher.

I used to feel as if I was neglected my duties if I didn’t mark every single piece of writing my students completed.  Yet, young writers need the space and freedom to write without having the thought constantly in the back of their mind that the teacher will be marking every sentence they write.  Think of the basketball player practicing foul shots out on the playground away from the coach’s scrutiny.  It’s a time to experiment and fail and try again.    That’s how one improves.  So it is with writing.  The more one writes, the more comfortable one gets with using words to express ideas.  Let your students write mountains of words, but don’t feel you have to scrutinize every one.

Rule #2:  Students must create an outline before they write.

Picasso famously said, “to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”  Planning one’s writing can be a very valuable skill, particularly in expository writing.  However, there’s an element of spontaneity that a writer can bring to a piece of writing which blows beyond the boundaries of an outline.  Free writing provides a way for students to explore this spontaneous element of their creativity, often leading their writing into fascinating new directions.

Rule #3:  All writers follow the steps of the writing process.

Part of learning to be a writer is discovering what approach works best for you.  The writing process is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  There is great value in having young writers try out a variety of writing strategies, discovering what works best for their own uniqueness.

Rule #4:  Writing is serious business.

Contrary to what reluctant writers may think, writing can be a joyful, exhilarating, playful experience.  It need not be drudgery!  It can be largely pain-free!  In fact, if students are able to experience writing as a positive experience– something they actually like doing– that’s half the battle in transforming your students into writers.

Chris McMahen