I have always struggled with whether or not to assign the writing topic to my fourth graders. It seems fairly obvious that to get students motivated you have to let them write about what interests them. Dohrer, in his article “Do teachers’ comments on students’ papers help?”, agrees saying “assigned papers seemed to provide a way for students to demonstrate command of class content rather than to communicate their own ideas”. Dohrer also explains that the motivation to revise a paper is “rooted in the child’s voice, the urge to express”. To have this urge, this motivation students need to care about what they are writing.
This makes sense and is why I have offered students time during “free writing” to write about what they choose. I have however also assigned the writing topic. I have done this so I am able to tailor my mini lessons to be more useful to the entire class. I also create/use mini lessons once I see what the students are writing and where they need help.
My problem is, I find it easier to help more students when they are writing similar genres. When the genres are spread out it seems hard to find common themes for mini lessons and I find myself trying to teach each individual student a different lesson. While this works great with “individualized learning” (which the district urges us to do) it is hard to find the time to teach 26 different writing lessons each week!
I would love to hear how others find common mini lessons while still offering choice to their students.