Though I agree with Nancie Atwell that students need to be provided time and that they must be expected to write daily I struggle with the concept in my own classroom where students are years behind in their writing abilities from what the standards demand of them.
There are undoubtedly lengthy lists that I could generate for why my students are completely behind in basic skill sets, but I feel I could make a generalization why many struggle: they are expert manipulators. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are great kids, but they know how to get away with doing less than the minimum. There is no reason why several eighth graders pout about needing to write two to three complete sentences in response to a question yet they fight tooth and nail about having to do such.
For example, I had my students select their favorite songs and respond to questions such as: What does this song mean to you? What do you think the song is about? Etc.… Over half of my eighth grade answered each question with a sentence or a sentence fragment. When I demanded more, they gave less. One student said, “That’s what it is about, I didn’t write the song. Don’t blame me!” in defense of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” being a song, “about a crazy person.”
Long story short I discovered many students were not able to demonstrate higher level thinking because they haven’t been forced to access their own brains. Don’t get me wrong, some students excel, but those that struggle have survived on the coattails of others and been spoon-fed the correct answers by frustrated teachers and aids attempting to cover the curriculum that demands more of students each year.
Because of the giant gap I find in my students’ ability levels, I cannot sacrifice instruction time to commit to a writer’s workshop. Many of my students need to be taught years of missed language skills that will not develop simply because I tell them to write. I have no doubt that they will also struggle even if I do my best to force-feed neglected education from the fundamentally necessary knowledge from topics ranging from parts of speech to grade level skills that they need to succeed at the high school level.
It is likely that Atwell, and other advocates of the Writer’s Workshop, would argue that the Writer’s Workshop is the perfect vehicle for developing these students because it forces them to set goals and provides them with the freedom of choice.