Do you remember when you had to write that paper in fourth grade (honestly, it doesn’t matter what grade, try to remember back to when you were younger, and you had to write a paper)? It was a report; it may have been on a country. You had to show the flag, give all of the information about the population and the products – imports and exports – of the country. You went to your school library, which was warm and cozy. There was at least one really nice librarian, and for some reason, there was the other one too. Everyone loved the first librarian, even the kid who she always made sit in the hall, or reenter the library with his quiet voice and not outside voice. Not so much the other one. You picked a book, looked in the Encyclopedia (I always liked World Book), copied down tons of information. Sometimes you even went to your public library, if there was a weekend between the teacher giving you the assignment, and when it was due. There was construction paper, and crayons. Fancy kids had glitter.
And there was the writing portion.
This is the part I want you to remember. The part when you were sitting down to do the writing. You had great ideas. It was all there. Then you would start writing. Inevitably, you would come to a word you weren’t sure how to spell – my killer was who. Yup, you read it right. It was who. Three simple letters. I would write them down: h-o-w. Then I would look at it. Part of my brain was high-fiving: “WE GOT THE LETTERS!!!!!” Another part of my brain was consternated: “I agree, we do in fact have the correct letters, but something just isn’t right.” A whole other part of my brain wanted to go outside and play – I ignored that part. Then I would go back and forth. Sounding it out, rewriting it. I finally, triumphantly, would arrive on W-H-O. Success.
Not really though.
I was now through two and a half sentences, and I had no idea what I was going to write for the rest of my paper. It was all gone. Erased. As I had pondered those three letters, my brain had slowly been repetitively pressing the delete key – erasing every idea that just moments ago were so clear.
Do you remember? It might have been elementary school. It was definitely high school (but hopefully not with how. . . I mean who).
How, though, do we get past that?
By teaching students what drafting actually means.
In a first draft, a student’s only concern should be to get the ideas onto the paper. People shouldn’t worry about flow. Voice shouldn’t be considered. Grammar and spelling must be left for later.
Get the ideas on the paper.
When I’m teaching kids to draft ideas, one of the first interventions I use is the cross through. Now, this is pretty complex. Make sure you’re ready.
I tell the students, when you make a mistake, cross through it.
Don’t use your eraser. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t try to make it right or look pretty or free of errors. That is what a draft is for. I even teach them how to make the fancy editor cross through.
Here’s what it will look like if you’re doing it all fancy-like:
Teaching students how to do this does many things. One thing is to teach kids the idea that your first draft isn’t your final draft. Drafts are messy. They are where you are allowed to make mistakes and where you should make mistakes. Another thing it does is save time and thought.
Try this activity – I do it with my students. You are going to write a short sentence: The car is in the yard. Now, the first time through, you are going to do it all Massachusetts (The ca’ is in the ya’d). Right after you write “ca'” use your eraser, and fix it to car. Do the same for yard. While you are writing the sentence, have a friend, or use a stop watch, and time yourself. As soon as you start writing, start the timer, or the friend. As soon as you reach the end of the sentence, say stop. Remember that time (if you need to, write it down – I have two young children; my short term memory isn’t worth anything – I have to write it down). Now, do the same activity again, but this time, when you misspell car, just cross through it and go on. Same for yard. See how much time you’ve saved. It’s only one sentence, but think about how those few saved seconds allowed you to keep your train of thought — allowed you to keep going.
When you’re drafting, that ‘s what you need to do – keep going. if you want to be able to keep writing, the easiest way is to keep writing. There’s no need to slow down. Cross through and keep on going.