Sentence Structure

But I wrote FOUR pages!

Excited school girlFrom my teaching career, there is one defining moment that continues to guide the mission of Writing with Design. Early in the school year, Cheyenne, a third grade student eagerly brought me her writing one morning. “Look what I wrote, Mrs. Parks!” she exclaimed. “I wrote FOUR pages!” I matched her enthusiasm as I told her I would read her story during lunch. 

Her story began: One day I walked up to my friend and I said, “Hi.” She said, “Hey.” I said “What do you want to play at recess today?” She said, “I don’t know.” So I said, “Do you want to meet at the swings?” She said, “Sure.”

The dialogue continued on to page two, three, and four. The entire piece was nothing but questions and answers, exchanged between third grade BFF’s.

As Cheyenne and I conferenced about her writing, it became clear to me that she knew the quality wasn’t great. She knew her piece wasn’t very exciting or interesting. What she was proud of was that she had written FOUR pages. She thought that would impress me “But, Mrs. Parks, I wrote FOUR pages!” she said with a confused brow.

It was in that moment that I realized how important it is for students to understand quality and length of writing are not synonymous. There is no status gained from being able to write a certain length, if quality is not present.

Fast-forward seven years, I continually observe many Cheyenne’s in classrooms across this country. Length is still very much the focal point for many students as they either proudly showcase their extra long pieces of writing, or as I hear them begrudgingly ask, “How long does it have to be?” Whether it’s with Cheyenne’s enthusiasm that they show off the length they were able to write, or want to know the length requirement so they can meet the bare minimum, the focus is on the wrong component of writing.

Writing with Design focuses on strength before length, on quality before quantity. Otherwise, writing is a waste of time for students to produce and teachers, fellow students, (you, me!) to read.

There is a process to great writing. There are steps and structures that allow for students to truly find their voice and tell a story worth telling.

Indeed, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the Cheyenne’s of America’s classrooms grasp the notion that writing is not about filling up a sheet of paper; that the process, not just the product, is to be revered.

A 2nd Grader Wrote THAT?

Just last week, I shared with middle school teachers writings created by a 2nd grade class. The middle school teachers were floored, “2nd graders wrote that?!? It’s better than most of what my 8th graders could do!”

It wasn’t the length that was impressive about the 2nd graders’ work. In fact, their writings were only 2-3 sentences long. What made the writng so impressive?
Two things: sophisticated word choice and sentence structure.
The 2nd grade teacher focuses solely on the quality of writing, not length. Without question, making length the integral foundation of writing sets students up to write more fluff than substance. Length will come naturally when students are ready, when they are confident, when they understand how language works and how to structure incredible sentences.
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