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Using 'Quick Jots' to Write Across the Curriculum

St. Louis

Having students do one- to two-minute writing prompts throughout the day can help build writing fluency and confidence—and is also an easy way to differentiate instruction, a K-6 literacy coach told ILA conference attendees July 19. 

"Quick jots," as she calls them, are informal and can be as short as a word or as long as a page, depending on what students choose and are able to do. 

For instance, in a math lesson, a teacher might ask, "Is this a quadrilateral or not? I want you to jot," said Janiel Wagstaff, who works at a Title I school in Utah and has also penned a series of children's book about a 2nd grade writer. After the students have a chance to write—either in a notebook or on a sticky note—they should also take a minute or two to share what they've written with a partner or the class. Students shouldn't worry too much about conventions or spelling during this time, they should be more focused on expressing their thinking in whatever way they can. 

The idea behind quick jots is that a lot of the same concepts used for reading apply to writing, according to Wagstaff. "Think about how you use reading throughout the day," she said to the group of mostly elementary teachers. "Do you always read for long extended periods of time every time? Or do you sometimes read for longer periods and sometimes you read for shorter periods?" Writing can be done the same way—in short bursts (or long bursts) and across all the subjects, she emphasized. 

And again like writing, it doesn't have to be graded all the time. "One of the big things that holds people back is they say, 'I can't grade it all, I can't respond to it all," she said. "Well you don't have to. Free yourself!" 

Formative Assessment

Rather than an add-on, the technique is an alternative way to answer questions that are typically asked in classrooms. "This is stuff we do all the time, but we normally do it orally," she said. Asking students to do it on paper is also a method of formative assessment—the teacher can walk around and see who has misconceptions more easily than when students raise their hands and answer aloud.

A teacher in the 50-person audience expressed concern that students' writing mistakes—for example, incorrect spellings of high-frequency words—might become patterns if they aren't corrected. 

"Let's flip it," said Wagstaff. "Do you correct everything a reader reads? Do you sit next to them every time they read and correct every word they get wrong? ... If we did that, how much would we read?"

Having a word wall can prevent those kinds of mistakes, she said. Teachers will also have a chance to catch them during formal assignments that are graded.

Quick jots are just one in a set of tools that Wagstaff recommended for building students' writing skills. "They prepare kids for more in-depth writing," she said. "It all leads somewhere."

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