Putting Instructions Back in Instructions-al Planning

What a horrible title for a blog.

In any case, I met some difficulty today when I assigned my students a quickwrite on a simple topic: Who’s to blame for the growing problem of American obesity?

“I need one page on this paper.”

If only they heard that the first time.

One page is reasonable enough. This quickwrite idea has nothing to do with quality of their essay — it’s quantity I’m after. In the long run, it’s easier to fine-tune a nine-page paper into something readable than it is to bolster a two-page paper with seven pages of filler.

The students haven’t written enough to appreciate the simpler, better edict: write until complete. So, for now, we’re stuck with quickwrite.

The secondary goal of a quickwrite is that students write for a sustained period of time, and get used to the feeling. Consider it a sort of resistance training.

In any case, when I reminded them of my one-page requirement, the more vocal students raised the most vocal protest. They hadn’t been paying attention, scribbling at most two half-hearted paragraphs in 15 minutes.

They told me that their usual teacher — my master teacher — lets them off with half a page of chicken-scratch, which for her usually suffices for a quickwrite.

I held my ground — “I did say I wanted one page.” — and a few students towards the front of the class confirmed this, but my credibility was up a creek. Until the end of the period, I had students whining their woes for some time.

I got it right with the next class, emphasizing my one-page dictum before we started. They groaned, but the bulk of them still finished their response in the same 15 minutes.

Moral of the story? Even if you repeat yourself thousand times, let them repeat you once.


  1. Student Teacher also in the Trenches

    Just a little tidbit I picked up from my first semester of two of student teaching.

    No matter how many times your say it, write it, have them repeat it – at least a quarter of the students will forget it right when the bell rings.

    You’re going to have kids fail, that’s life. Some you can help, some (cynically sounding) are just going to fail because either they don’t care or are not willing to put the big E for Effort in.

    Good luck

  2. Love the Quickwrite idea — I do something similar with younger students to train them to keep their pencil moving and thoughts flowing. It really is a different skill than typical essay writing, and I agree with you pushing the students further in that area.

  3. Thanks, all, for the comments. I’m always looking for feedback.

    My philosophy is to always err on the side of “too difficult.” Students will always rise to the level of the challenge, once they are motivated.

    The hardest part is always to get them motivated.

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