Like independent reading, when it comes to writing Malaysian students typically cannot write anything they haven’t already seen first. Sentences are copies from texts, and students find it very difficult to write their own sentences. “Work on writing” forces them to try to write on their own.
Like “read to self,” “work on writing” had to be modified to meet our needs. As necessary we use MT to explain the concept. We need to make sure they know and understand the procedure. We also want them to have ownership of it (by brainstorming and displaying our anchor chart). When explaining “work on writing” I emphasize that they need to use their brains. We all touch our heads and turn on our brains. We need to think up our own words and sentences.
Depending on the ability of the class, this can mean they write down words that they know (and it might only be a few). That’s ok. They will get better with time. At the beginning we talk about types of writing. We brainstorm and put them on our anchor charts. It usually looks like this:
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Students without the ability to write in sentences usually try to make lists. We talk about different types of lists (grocery list, list of favorite animals, etc.). They gain confidence from the idea that they have the ability to write lists, and eventually will be able to do other kinds of writing. Learning those other types will come gradually with “mini-lessons” during work on writing time.
I have to say, I was amazed that the improvement in independent writing that I saw within only one class period. Being encouraged to write without the aid of textbooks forced them to put their thinking caps on and write from memory. In one class, we practiced for 2 minutes perhaps 5 or 6 times. The first time, some students could only write 1 or 2 words or none at all. But the 6th time, they had written a coherent list. It just takes practice!