How to Cultivate Confident Writers Through Daily Practice

A consistent writing activity gives students the opportunity to practice a skill that will benefit them throughout their lives.

February 1, 2024
Drazen Zigic / iStock

“I am not a writer.” These are powerful words that I’ve heard in every class that I’ve ever taught in my almost 15-year career. How can teachers battle years of insecurity and the lack of self-confidence that students have in regard to their writing identity? Writing is a crucial skill for learners in a classroom, but students often lack confidence in themselves as writers to produce content.

Teachers also struggle with getting students to write “enough,” if they even write at all, because students often misuse the time they’re given to write by finding excuses to leave the classroom or talk with their classmates, which in turn disturbs the whole class. In my experience teaching, students misuse time when content isn’t relevant or when they don’t have confidence in the task at hand. It is emotionally easier to just not do the assignment than to attempt it and fail. 

I was inspired to tackle this issue with the students in my classroom by Kelly Gallagher’s work with his students. Gallagher is an influential teacher who shares strategies to revolutionize the teaching of reading and writing in the classroom. He encourages daily writing to increase students’ volume of writing, for the opportunity to practice the skill, and to build confidence in their abilities as writers.

Construct the Writing Time

I implemented a daily writing prompt in my two college-prep English classes (one for 11th grade and one for 12th grade). This 10-minute writing time was implemented at the beginning of the school year and is now a normal activity that students expect every day. After a short bell-ringer activity upon entry into the room, the students get out their writing notebooks, I read the prompt and then start a digital 10-minute timer on the screen, and students begin writing.

Students are given a different writing prompt each day; some writing prompts are connected to our topics of study, and some are random. I also give my students the opportunity to free-write; if they can’t find a connection to the given writing prompt, they can write about anything of interest. 

Getting Comfortable to Write

Students can sit wherever they want in class, but especially during writing time. I’m a believer in flexible seating, as I feel that comfort is most important in engaging students to learn. Students can listen to their music or watch a show on their phones as they write. Part of the rationale behind this thinking is that students need to discover what helps them best to write—is it silence, do they need background noise, etc.? I do have a stipulation that “writing time is quiet time.” I should get a tattoo of this phrase because I say it so often. 

I emphasize that students should respect other people’s time to write by being quiet. Another requirement of writing time is that students use pencil or pen and paper only. Students may not type their responses. Gallagher expressed that this was crucial in his daily writing practice with students. It’s important for students to physically connect with what they’re writing. There are also studies that note that students retain information better when they handwrite rather than typing.  

Students may choose not to write, which my classes termed “taking the L.” If they have homework for another class, have an upcoming assignment, are watching a game film for sports, or just need a break, students can make that choice. In my own research study for my dissertation, I found that when students are given the choice in their learning, they are intrinsically motivated to learn; they were more invested in the writing when they were given the choice not to write if they weren’t inspired. 

Students Guide the Assessment Process 

I allow students to choose which writing pieces I assess. I grade them three times for a “check-in” (every five to six weeks) and assess them with a cumulative look at the end of the semester. Assessment feedback is like a conversation with the check-ins—a conversation between me and the student. The semester assessment has more formal feedback. If the students improve in their writing, I go back and change their previous grades to acknowledge the growth. I don’t focus on grammar and spelling, only content (per Gallagher). 

So, what did I notice in my assessment and observations of student writing? Learning and productivity look different for each individual student. What did writing physically look like? Students were physically seated comfortably, and most students were using earbuds. There were slow writers and fast writers. What did “taking the L” look like? Students who chose not to write were usually sleeping on their phone or working on other work. This is a layered practice. Learning can’t be forced. If someone needs the rest, they can take it. I always monitor, and if it’s a habit, I have a conversation with the student and I let their parents know.

Students were the most productive in their writing that I’ve ever seen in my career. The writing took on different forms. One student drew a lot; he created artwork in his notebook followed by interesting stories. Students whom I’ve taught in previous years that I would not have considered gifted writers were filling their pages with content. It was the quickest I had seen improvement in my students.

Data Tells a Story 

Throughout the daily writing practice, I keep formal and informal data. I want to see the “story” of the data—how did my students feel about writing every day? I formally collect data through the use of reflective Google Forms after students write. The informal data is collected through my own writing (sometimes following the prompt or free-writing), reflection, and notes. When reviewing the data, I look for commonalities and connections in the student responses—the story that the data tells me about students’ experiences in writing. 

Three stories from my students became clear: improvement, confidence, and connection. Many students noted significant improvement in their writing: “I have improved my writing” and “I can write for longer and I always have something to say.” They also had more confidence in their writing: “I have improved on my content and confidence in writing,” and “I try to explain myself more instead of using short sentences.” 

To me, the most meaningful story is connection—students are engaged in class and the writing process. Statements like “I leave a little of myself in my writing,” “It gives me time to think,” and “We practice writing in the best possible way, through our own experience” highlight the fact that students are connecting with writing, which increases the relevance of their learning.

Daily Writing Practice Improves Perspective

Reading and writing are the pillars of an English class—why wouldn’t we be practicing these skills daily? Through this activity, students experience a stress-free opportunity to practice a skill that benefits them throughout their future lives. Students shift from an insecure perspective of “I’m not a writer” to a confident one: “What am I going to write next?”

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  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • 9-12 High School

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