Monday, November 14, 2016

The Power of Paper: Helping Students Make Informed Decisions About Their Writing Process

When we wrote our Crappy First Drafts, I made the decision to have every student start this draft on looseleaf paper.

This was not an easy decision to make. One thing I know about writers is that no two processes are the same. Some writers draft entirely on paper, while others shudder at the suggestion of using anything but a digital device. I even know some writers who type out entire papers on their phone (which makes me feel incredibly old, as I don't think my eyes could handle that).

Much of my philosophy about teaching writing centers around the idea that my job is to help writers discover what works for them, rather than dictating how they approach writing. The former approach is teacher-centered, while the latter is student-centered. Mandating that every student use paper for their Crappy First Draft seemed to go against everything I stood for in the classroom...wasn't I making a teacher-centered choice by deciding what was best for my writers instead of empowering them to discover their own process?

However, as I explained to my students as I stood in front of them while holding a sheaf of looseleaf paper, part of my job is to help them make informed decisions. I'm not going to lie. I had a few audible groans when I told them what was going down. As a 1:1 school where every student has a Chromebook, the gut reaction of many is to type their first draft, simply because the technology is available and accessible. To be certain, there are many, many advantages to drafting on a computer, and I told my students up front that the final decision about how to continue drafting their stories next week would be theirs. They seemed to like that!

But for now, we would all be drafting on paper. I told them my reasoning behind this decision:

  • There is no "red squiggly line" when drafting on paper. Many writers (myself included!) cannot move forward with writing when there's an error glaring at them. Since the idea behind this first draft was to just get it written, I explained that the computer can sometimes distract writers from that goal. 
  • Writing by hand forces you to slow down a little, which can be a good thing--your words might come out more intentionally. 
  • Revision looks totally different on paper, and it's often more visible in a lot of ways. 
Basically, drafting on paper is a unique experience, and it's one worth trying to see whether it works for you.

At this point, I asked my students if they were in: were they willing to give it a shot in order to become more knowledgeable about their process? They agreed. 

Tomorrow, I plan to break down the advantages of drafting on paper and on the Chromebook before inviting students to make an informed decision. I want them to think about these choices as a writer, and having them try out approaches before committing to the process that works for them is so important for young writers. Heck, even I don't know my process completely yet! Writing is discovery, and experimenting with process will help each of my students find the way that works for them and their writing. 

1 comment:

  1. well-said! This approach does a lot to demystify writing so that students are less intimidated!