During undergraduate studies (with Shana!), Dr. Alan Frager, a favorite professor of literacy at Miami University, assigning a repeated readings fluency experiment to my fellow pre-service teachers in which we had to have a peer read a poem multiple times and track their fluency improvements. While During student teaching, I worked with a reading intervention group and later relied on the practice when teaching in my own classroom to improve student fluency and comprehension. If repeated readings work to improve student reading–what about repeated writings?
I had a theory that if we ask students to write the same type of piece or over the same topic a few times, perhaps they would gain fluency in the mode or achieve more depth of thought with more opportunities to practice and process. I noticed this to be proven true with my AP Literature and Language courses, as we practice the same style responses throughout the year, working to deepen analysis and improve craft but wondered what impact repeated writings would have on creative, analytical, and reflective pieces. We do repeated readings or re-readings of texts to glean and gain more information. We ask students to practice their speeches, presentations, and pre-writings. We practice writing high quality, thoughtful questions for Socratic Seminars. Why not challenge students to “lap,” as Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher would say, around the same pieces?
Throughout the past school year, juniors practiced quick writes, many from Linda Rief’s The Quickwrite Handbook and creative responses inspired by mentor texts. We journaled in topic notebooks about our independent reading books. I also assigned multiple iterations of the same writing assignment in the hopes that, like repeated readings, style and content would improve as students gained confidence.
The repeated assignments, usually chunked into 3 to 5 practices, created a series of thought and writing improvement that could be tracked throughout my informal study. During the year, students practiced writing responses about editorials in the news three times over three weeks to hone our argumentative skills. We worked on literary analysis chunks that paired with choice novels which culminated in a mini-literary analysis when strung together. This spring, students wrote four reflective one-pagers that synthesized The Bluest Eye, the documentary “13th,” and their understandings of the world each week. We reflected on growth with quarterly Reading Ladders, too.
Repeated writings provided opportunities for improvement and depth. Once students understood the type or style or writing, they were able to shift their cognitive focus to their ideas and voice versus the parameters, requirements, or purpose of the assignment with repeated practice. I noticed students moving away from the five-paragraph essay and templates to infusing voice into their argument. I saw a synthesis of ideas across texts. I noticed more different syntax and academic vocabulary, as well as moments of writer’s craft rule breaking. Most importantly, I saw students become more confident in their writing–there was much less “Is this right?” and more “I can’t wait for you to read my paper!” or “Can we share these in groups?”
While one must strike a balance between assigning the same task over and over again to the point of monotony, repeated writings worked like repeated readings with the most gains being in confidence and identity as a writer.
Maggie Lopez is enjoying the slow mornings of summer break, sunshine, and endless reading time on the back porch. You can find her on Twitter at @meg_lopez0.