Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Slice of Life: How Many Pieces?

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

One of the most predictable and toughest questions teachers ask me when we work together unpacking units is:

"How many pieces should they write 

during the unit?"

I am fascinated to hear how others in this community respond to this question, because for me, the answer varies. Especially as students progress through the grades and are able to write more and more sophisticated pieces, they may only produce two or three completed pieces within the unit. Some students may take teaching points seriously, searching for ways to add details that truly strengthen the story, deepen the experience for the reader, add tension to the plot. When they hear about an emotional arc, they may buckle down and study mentor texts and craft moves to improve their emotional arc. In other genres, they might try out different text features or craft moves that relay information. 

But, I see a lot of students look through their writing, add one detail to their draft that has something to do with the teaching point, set their pencil down, and cash out for the rest of workshop. 

Maybe those students would benefit more from working through more pieces. If they are not ready to dig into their work with serious revision, they are much more likely to try out previously taught skills or today's teaching point in a new draft.

Today, when a group of teachers asked me that question, we worked through an answer that surprised them. There isn't a clear cut answer. Some of the students will learn a LOT with a couple of pieces, while others will benefit more by writing several pieces. My strong belief is that the most important thing that happens in writing workshop is writing. 

Happy slicing,


  1. So well said, and I believe you're right, Melanie. Since all through the years at my school I wrote, with students input, many units for each, and each was different, depending on the needs of the student, where they appeared to be in their writing. Our school consistent mantra is "It depends", no one answer, just as you answered today. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  2. I agree! Sometimes "It depends" is a frustrating answer, but it is also the best answer for the students.

  3. Flexibility is an integral part of writing workshop. It's inherently differentiated, so it depends is really the only answer. The point is to write. Some students revise over multiple drafts rather than with one.