The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Quantity Versus Quality

I had a fun conversation with my students this morning about writing. I have been emphasising the idea that fourth graders should be writing responses to literature that have three key components: An introductory sentence that restates the original question, an explanation of the answer, and supporting statements from the text. This is based on two core ideas: the first is the ThinkCERCA model of response, which that students should make a Claim, provide Evidence, give Reasons, come up with a Counterargument, and think about their Audience. (Being at the fourth grade level, though, we tend to focus on just the first three parts); the second is close reading, which is the idea that an evidence needs to come from the text itself and not external connections and independent ideas.

In the process of doing this, I have also reminded my students that they should be writing big, juicy, thick paragraphs with lots of details; maybe even multiple paragraphs. I am trying to guide them away from writing single-sentence responses, especially to questions that ask “what do you think?” or “why did this happen?”

I realised the other day, though, that in trying to encourage greater quantity in writing, I forgot to emphasise that quality comes first. I discovered this when I was reviewing some writing the students did and saw that some had written two page responses to a question without actually answering the question. Instead, they wrote long narratives that were related to the topic, but not in response to it.

So we had to have a conversation about quantity versus quality. After defining the two, I asked them what they thought was more important. Not surprisingly, every student responded that quality was more important. I suggested that, ideally, their writing has both aspects, but if they must pick, I will always prefer that they focus on quality responses.

After the discussion, the students partnered up with friends and read a story out of our basal reader, called Tanya’s Reunion. The response question wanted to know how the main character’s opinion had changed over time and how the students knew. Initial results of their responses indicate that they are already doing a much better job of producing better quality writing rather than worrying about quantity. Of course, writing is a life-long skill that I hope they will continue to hone, but I am happy with the progress that we have seen during just these first few weeks of school!

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