I’ve had a daily word count for awhile. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I think it was while writing Day by Day. However, it was while becoming serious about writing fiction that my word count became as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth. I think this is true for many other writers too. We are often driven by a word count.
While listening to Lucy Calkins and Mary Ernworth speak last week, one thing they mentioned was the need for students to learn to write long and strong. I’ve been spinning this idea around in my head. At first I wasn’t sure this push for more, more, more was really something I agreed with, however, the more I thought about the term — long and strong — the more I began to agree with the idea. It is something I do as a writer. I try to write both long and strong — I want 1000 words each day, and I prefer for them to be meaningful words.
I shared this idea with some third graders last week. They are in the drafting-collecting-planning phase of a unit, so it makes sense to want to write long and strong. I asked students to see how much they could write in a single period. At the end of workshop, one boy said, “Woah! I wrote, like, 63 words!” As you can imagine, this started a mad dash of word counting. The energy was high at the end of workshop, and I realized concrete goals, such as word count are important to a writer’s life. It is important to mine, so it makes sense that it could be a motivator for students.
The next day I brought in a chart titled: Writers set goals. Below the title was space for a bar graph. The x-axis indicated the date and the y-axis listed word tallies — 200, 400, 600, all the way up to 2000. At the end of writing workshop, we tallied the word count for the class. In one third grade room in was just over 1200 words. In the other room it was 1187. Again the energy was high for writing. They couldn’t wait to get back to it the next day and see if they could match (or beat) their tally.
Now this isn’t something I would do every single day in writing workshop. However, it is a concrete way to build stamina. I’m realizing kids can write a lot more than what I’ve expected of them. Something I’ve learned from my word count goal is some days it’s better to write a lot of crummy words than no words at all. If all we ever expect of students is they write strong, but we never encourage them to write long, then there will be many days that they write little or no words. As with all things it’s about balance…I’m falling in love with the term long and strong because I think it poises kids to develop fluency in writing, while at the same time still expecting meaningful words.