Learning Center


Generate more first drafts than final drafts

october 12, 2023

While executing the writing process is a facet of the ELA standards, it’s not a necessity for every writing assignment. In fact, most state standards include verbiage that students are to also engage in a range of writing experiences; some long and some short. These “short” writing experiences are usually started and finished in one class period or within a single writing time.

In fact, these one-sitting writings are a more accurate representation of the authentic writing executed within the real world.

  • Most careers generate correspondence among colleagues, clients, and customers that is written, edited, and published in short time frames. Employers expect strong first-draft written communication.
  • Likewise, most state and national assessments provide a prompt and a one-sitting writing task. They expect strong first-draft writing responses and do not honor the traditional and complete writing process.
  • Additionally, content-area teachers do not typically provide time for students to revise. They expect strong first-draft math explanations, chapter summaries, and argumentative responses.

Compare a first-and-only-draft to one that a student created over the course of multiple days with peer input and teacher support. It’s hard to discern what of this final product the student did on his own—and thus the skills he demonstrated mastery of. In these instances, a first draft that a student created with no help is a more accurate assessment of his independent writing ability.

For all of these reasons, look to “finish” only a handful of writings this year, while assigning and assessing dozens of solid first-drafts. [NOTE: These are always referred to as “first drafts” and never “rough drafts” or “sloppy copies.” When only executing one draft, we don’t want it to be rough or sloppy.]


Thoughts on grading

Obviously, final drafts will be graded. However, these aren’t the only writing scores a teacher takes throughout the year.

You could collect multiple grades in a week, if you consider assessing partial pieces. For example, if you had spent time teaching students about writing stronger beginnings, then maybe 2-3 days into the mini-lesson series you collect three beginnings from each student and grade them (e.g., 10 points each).

Although bigger and longer pieces may be worth more total points, these partial pieces and framed writings honor that it’s not just about writing a couple “good” ones throughout the year—but in learning skills to apply when composing all future writings. Students gain lots of knowledge and know-how by applying newly-learned skills in 2-3 new first drafts—versus the same amount of time spent writing, revising, editing, and publishing one.

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