But as I reflect on my years as a language arts teacher, and reflect on the nature of the Provincial Achievement Testing Program (which we currently use to generate data and understanding of our students' writing abilities), I can't help but feel that the best way to improve writing over time is through first draft writing. It was the way I had my students write, and its the way they write on the PATs; but when employed in the classroom, I think that it's the best way to improve student writing over time.
In essence, first draft writing is writing that does not espouse the typical writing process used by teachers - namely prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. First draft writing can include prewriting activities such as discussion and planning using graphic organizers; but once the draft is finished, it is handed in for assessment. There are two reasons for doing this: 1) the students become comfortable with first draft writing that they face during assessments such as the PATs, and 2) it gives you a chance to do more writing in your class.
First draft writing essentially allows teachers to have their kids focus on writing versus the editing and publishing phases. Personally, I find that students do not successfully engage in revising and editing anyway. That is not to say that you don't want to have your students go through that process at some point in the year; but when the focus is on first draft writing, you can just keep the kids writing, writing, and writing some more.
This makes for more assessment on your part as the teacher; however, it doesn't necessarily mean that you take everything in for marks. First draft writing tasks can be formative in nature, and teachers can use the drafts to make corrections and comments, and provide feedback to the students. So instead of making students go back and make corrections on the piece that they've already written, such as misusing commas or something, the focus becomes fixing it in the next piece that they write. Thus students improving their writing abilities with each piece that they write.
One teacher in our district that has employed a first draft writing program is Ms. Patriquin. She has her students engage in story writing every Friday. During this time, she takes her students through discussion and planning phases and then has them write stories. From there, the students' work is posted on the bulletin board outside her room in the hallway. The reason I know that she does first draft writing is because I always see new stories on the wall. In fact, there are currently two different stories posted right now (one of them is the image seen above).
So if you're a grade 3, 6, or 9 teacher, and you're a little concerned about whether your kids are ready for the upcoming PATs (which are approximately a month and a half away), I recommend that you simply get them writing first draft pieces. Get them writing, writing, and writing some more. The extra time it will take to read them and mark them in the evenings will be worth it in your students improvements in writing confidence and the quality of their work.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions or concerns about teaching first draft writing, or helping your students prepare for Part A of the ELA PATs.