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The Value of Regular Writing Practice
by Brad
March 1, 2009


The students are writing, lips pursed in concentration, in a quiet so complete you can hear the clock’s tick on the wall. The English 11 and 12 classes are taking part in an in-class writing session at the Pearson ALC.

Essays I marked this week recounted student experiences with learning English, and many of them mentioned a need for regular practice. The stakes have to be high, however, so I make in class writing count (though not for as many marks early in the term as in the final weeks). Thus, the pin-droppingly quiet concentration among my students that leads, I believe, to far better results in the long run.

A time limit concentrates the mind. Dawdling procrastination is costly when it leads to a loss of course marks. My students know this and respond accordingly.

But what of the argument that writing is “recursive,” implying a lengthy process of revision and fine tuning that leads to a student’s finest work? My answer is to do both; I allowed two weeks to write their first essay but also, regularly, test students with an in-class writing assignment.

It could be boring, but I choose materials carefully to ensure it is not. Topical essays written by fellow Canadians on topics as diverse as a favourite but imperfect teacher or the impact of the present recession serve to motivate students. They see themselves reflected, so everyone finds something to say.

This week, students responded to their first short story. Recently, I reversed my usual course practice and taught poetry first, while, at the same time, I introduced students to the integrated quote and, most importantly, to finding something worth saying. Working with a poem of only 150 words, the task of selecting specific words to quote is easier to handle and, as a result, most students picked up the basics.

I’ll keep on asking my classes to write as much as possible every week and intend to make sure of that by assigning in-class writing, requiring regular contributions to our blog and giving frequent out-of-class assignments. By writing more, each student will build on and practice skills regularly, making their practice perfect with time.