Down drafts, messy drafts, flash drafts — no matter what you call them, these quick, jot-all-your-ideas-down-without-censoring-yourself, pre-draft drafts are incredibly helpful to students.
When Rebekah wrote on the topic of flash drafts two years ago, I started adding a flash drafting day to our regular writing study routines. We usually flash draft about four days into a study — after two days of mentor text study and a day or two of information gathering.
I don’t require that my students flash draft just like I don’t prescribe topics. In fact, I share copious prewriting strategies with them — writing off the page, outlining, talking out ideas with Google’s voice typing feature. But time and time again, the majority of my students choose flash drafting to get started. Why is this?
- It’s the antithesis of outlining. Webs and outlines can be daunting. They require organization in addition to ideas. Many students have had bad experiences with outlines in the past — students who were required to use Roman numerals and letters and pay more attention to the format of the outline than the ideas themselves have most likely been turned off to outlining. And even though these students can be reintroduced to outlining and shown different, more laid-back ways of organizing their thinking on the page, flash drafting presents itself as a more student-friendly option.
- It gets them closer to a draft sooner. Many students, when asked about their prewriting plans, will say, “I just want to begin writing.” As a teacher, sometimes I’d like to see a bit of planning first, but I have to remind myself that if a student’s inclination is to begin drafting, I should let them run with it. If they spend a lot of time drafting an unsuccessful paper, this is a valuable teaching moment with multiple angles: Sometimes an idea just isn’t ready to come to life. Sometimes a little bit of planning can prevent us from going down a road that we’ll eventually see isn’t going to take us anywhere. Sometimes this happens! We write and write and write, and then we realize we should be writing something else. Regardless, many students see prewriting techniques as barriers to the actual writing — flash drafting lets them get started sooner and gives them something closer to the final product.
- It feels productive. When we flash draft in class, I give students a few pointers, and then let them go for 30-45 minutes. Most of my students can produce a page or more of writing during this time period, and when they look back over what they’ve done at the end of class, they feel great! No matter how messy, unorganized, and disjointed their flash drafts are, just having a page of writing in their hands can give them the confidence they need to push forward in the study.
But just like there are many ways to get to a final draft, there are multiple ways of flash drafting as well. When I make time for flash drafting in class, I know that not all of my students are at the same point in their writing process. Some have a general topic, but that’s about it. They’ve gathered information but aren’t ready to begin writing. Others are still refining their ideas and need to think them through some more. And some have already taken it upon themselves to outline individual paragraphs, capturing the details and examples they want to include. No matter where students are in their writing, flash drafting can be a useful exercise if students are invited to flash draft on their own terms.
Flash Drafting: Three Different Approaches
Helping our students find an appropriate path to flash drafting is paramount. Otherwise, time spent flash drafting can easily be wasted.
The chart below offers three different approaches to flash drafting. It asks students to determine how developed their current idea is, and then offers a way of flash drafting that meets them where they are. The first idea, looping, comes to us from Kelly Gallagher’s Teaching Adolescent Writers (2006, p. 38).
In the old days, my students used to draft their pieces while I simultaneously taught lessons — it was too much. The lessons sometimes fell on deaf ears because students were not ready for them yet.
Flash drafting gets writers ready for almost any writing lesson or writing dilemma. When students have a basic draft to work with, all of the minilessons we teach become that much more applicable. They can take any lesson, bring it to their draft, and start working the new skill in. When we confer at the beginning of a study, students actually have a piece of writing we can look at — not just a bunch of ideas jumbled up in their heads. Trouble-shooting is much easier with a concrete draft in hand.
A flash draft is the writer’s security blanket — it reminds writers they have ideas and they are capable of articulating them. And the best part? The writing can only get better from there.
Do you use flash drafting with students? What are some other approaches to flash drafting? How is flash drafting a game-changer for some of your writers?
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