George Lucas Educational Foundation

Anybody using a Sustained Silent Writing Approach?

Anybody using a Sustained Silent Writing Approach?

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In our school district, they do a lot of Sustained silent reading in english classes, but I hear very little about efforts to improve writing through SSW- sustained silent writing. Like journaling, kids are given a notebook or wiki, or anything, really, and asked to write for ten or fifteen minutes continuously. What I like about this is it helps teachers diagnose where children are having problems with the writing process- is it in the ideation stage? Is it in the organization of ideas? Is in in the transcription process itself? Any one of these areas can cause problems and slow down a student's progress in writing, and there are easy work arounds for each of the common problems as well, but it seems as if we ask kids, in general, to write, but we're forgetting to teach them more about how to do it well or properly. (I know grammar drills don't have much carry over effect, but most kids don't learn grammar through osmosis alone, either.) I'm interested to what you think about SSW and who has had any experience with it.

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Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Hi Whitney,

I have had students write silently. For it to be successful, in my experience, students need plenty of topics handy (self-generated, or a lists of topics/questions/prompts.) Silent writing is a wonderful, focused activity for the brainstorming and drafting stages of the writing process. I also think it's important that the teacher write during this time as well (model, model, model!)

However, when it comes to revising and editing, I think peer interaction is necessary. Students need to "rehearse" words, phrases, introductions, thesis statements, etc. with each other during the revision stage.

For editing, I like to use an anonymous student paper on the document camera with the whole class, one that has similar mistakes being made by many of the students (i.e. improper use of commas, repetition, lacking descriptive, supportive sentences, lacking any complex sentence structures). We edit it together. This is powerful stuff, and always confirms for me that writing is a social act.

Rebecca Alber

Amber Henrey's picture
Amber Henrey
4th grade techie teacher by day, mom of 3 and Masters student by night.

I do SSW every other day. In the beginning content doesn't matter just words on a page. I put on the timer for 10 minutes and give the kids a suggested topic to write about, but they can write about anything they want. Then when the time is up the kids count their words and track their process. I find that this loosens up their writers block and teaches them to work through it. Eventually I have them become accountable for what they write but the goal is for my students to write. They are 4th graders and for the first time being entirely accountable for their own writing process. I provide the process and structure but I do not step by step, word by word, guide them through it like in 3rd grade. I personally loved my "journal" time in midle school so I've brought it to my 4th graders.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I know as an adult, I went through the Artist's Way, and having to write daily was incredibly important to free up thoughts and "degunk" the written expression tools. I wonder if a SSW approach in schools would be helpful for this as well- letting kids just write about what they cared about, in a journal, or even on a blog or wiki. By helping them gain some editorial-free time to write might help build these muscles-

What do you think?

Val's picture
6th grade language arts teacher, Wheaton, Illinois

Not to be too pedantic, but the literature on writing does recommend that students write every day for 30 minutes!!! Yikes, I find this really hard to fit in to a 90 minute block, in addition to the recommendation to read aloud to the students, as well as have them read silently for 30 minutes!

So, I've combined the read-aloud with writing. After reading a picture book or a chapter from the class novel, I ask the students to "JOT" (just one thought---bullets, not complete sentences) the ideas that came to their minds as they listened. They JOT for one minute, talk to their partner for 2 minutes (1 minute each), then write about one or more of the topics for 5-10 minutes (depending upon how much time there is). Being a former speech/language pathologist I am aware of the need for students to talk before they write. If they cannot put their thoughts into oral language, they sure will not be able to put them into written language. Also, the talking part gives them the "connecting to peers" experience they crave as middle schoolers.

Rather than me selecting a prompt to which students must respond in writing, I prefer the "JOT" method...having them react to a piece of literature by making their own connections, and selecting one to expand upon in writing.

After several "jotting" sessions, the students have a plethora of ideas to expand into an essay.

Hope this was somewhat helpful.

Val's picture
6th grade language arts teacher, Wheaton, Illinois

Regarding, teaching grammar, I've found Jeff Anderson's "Mechanically Inclined" and "Everyday Editing" to be most helpful. Both are available from Stenhouse Publishers. You can go on-line to preview sections of the book.

I had to read both books 2X before it sunk in, but once it did, it was terrific! I would suggest reading "Mechanically Inclined" first to get a pervasive overview. In the scond book, "Everyday Editing," there are 10 grammar lessons based on his unique approach.

Good luck!

Shelley Geisreiter's picture
Shelley Geisreiter
Sixth Grade Classroom Teacher

Thanks for the great idea! I am already thinking of ways to incorporate this idea into my program next year. It is becoming increasingly difficult to squeeze everything into a day and this sounds like a wonderful way to give them writing time, "talking" time, and "food for thought".

rosericci's picture
Student teacher

I'm a student teacher in a Title 1 high school with a huge population of ELL students. I'm always looking for ways to encourage students to think about what we read and to interact with language. I love the "Jot" idea! I've been looking for comprehensive strategies to use next fall, because I think writing and reading need to go hand in hand. I've also found that when getting the students to write they have to learn to trust their own minds instead of being passive learners.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Hi rosericci!

I'm with you! Connecting students with their writing in an active, passionate way is important. I have found freewrite activities really get the creative juices flowing for students. I also write with students every chance I can get. Modeling that feverish, brainstorming energy with my own writing really hooks them! I always tell kids that freewriting will give you a bigger ball of clay to sculpt with when they move on to the next draft.

If you have a chance to attend writing workshops and training hosted by the National Writing Project, you won't be sorry.

Good luck- and happy writing (with your students)!


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