In the third episode of Master of None, Netflix show with which I am currently obsessed, the main character, Dev, is having a conversation with his friend, Arnold:
Dev: “You know what I was thinking about the other day? If I played pool all the time for three months, I think I could be a pool shark.”
Arnold: “Dude, same with bowling. If I bowled every night for a month, I’d be on that nonstop strike status.”
Dev: “Yeah. Pro-bowlers are just people that practice bowling all the time.”
Arnold: “I guess what we’re saying is, if you do something long enough, you’re gonna be good at it.”
This is as true for pool, as it is for bowling, as it is for anything…including writing.
When I talk about writing, I talk about it under the heavy influence of Donald Graves and Lucy Calkins, who talk about writing as being idiosyncratic, and process-based. When I talk about writing, I talk about it as the orchestration of strategies that students approximate on their way to greater levels of sophistication. When I talk about writing, I talk about real, authentic writing that serves a variety of purposes, not the least of which is to put one’s voice out into the world.
If we abide by this definition, we understand that one discrete period of writing instruction per day is not enough to teach students how to write well, nor is it the way to teach them to write with high levels of engagement. One way to help get students writing more is to get students writing across content areas. This requires that content teachers also become content literacy teachers.
My colleague, founder of The Educator Collaborative, Christopher Lehman, describes the work twofold, and split across days: days in which the goal is teaching content, instruction is delivered via methods (lecture, inquiry, lab) that match students’ content acquisition. These days are called “content days.” Days in which the goal is writing, instruction is delivered via methods (independent writing time, one-on-one conferences, small group work) that match students’ independent practice of the writing process. These days are called “content literacy days.”
You may be thinking, “When I commit to this structure, it seems like I run the risk of students experiencing content confusion since I am teaching writing on content literacy days.” This is correct, and I suggest that you (gasp!) allow for this to happen. First, confusion often leads to deeper understandings because of the need to problem-solve. Second, any—and all—content-based confusions will be cleared up on content days. Leave your writing days as days in which you help clarify misunderstandings about what it means to write. The balance, then, comes to how any given unit of study is planned.
Some of the teachers with whom I work in this way, plan any given month of instruction in bi-weekly chunks, based on whether their students need more support with content, or with writing, based on what is showing up in their work. One suggestion is a 3:2 balance that might look something like this:
|Week One||Content||Content Literacy||Content||Content Literacy||Literacy|
|Week Two||Content Literacy||Content||Content Literacy||Content||Content Literacy|
|Week Three||Content||Content Literacy||Content||Content Literacy||Content|
|Week Four||Content Literacy||Content||Content Literacy||Content||Content Literacy|
We give students multiple opportunities to write, so that they can self-identify as writers. We give students multiple opportunities to write so that they understand writing is a way to independently clear up confusion, no matter the content. We give students multiple opportunities to write, so that they can place a stake in their world. And, like Dev and Arnold with billiards and bowling, we give students multiple opportunities to write, so that, simply, they can become good at it.