Integrated Literacy > Modules > Write Small, Learn Big

Micro-Prose and Cons

Requiring kids to write many short pieces is more effective than assigning fewer long ones. Kids learn more from small work done well than they do from big work done poorly.

With maximum word counts of 400, 200, 100, or even 50, micro-prose assignments allow kids to complete more pieces in less time. Each piece is an opportunity for kids to work through the entire writing process easily and efficiently with more time and energy to put toward craft and quality.

At each stage of the process, kids learn new techniques, improve existing skills, and gain confidence. A fast-feedback approach gives kids more opportunities to discover how to improve their work. Short pieces make writing more accessible for kids and the teaching of writing more satisfying for teachers.

Kids work swiftly. Rapid iteration wraps new learning into each round of effort. The writing gets better faster. The pace of progress quickens as kids develop greater independence.

Long pieces are just sets of short pieces ordered in ways readers understand and appreciate. There’s nothing in a long piece that can’t be taught in a short one.

So what are the pros and cons?

The pros are numerous: short pieces are less intimidating to kids; faster to produce; more likely to encourage revision, easier to edit; far less time-consuming for us to work on as we conference with kids or assess their work.

The cons? Years ago I would have said that kids need to learn to write long pieces because, well, they just do. Then I studied all kinds of writing very closely, breaking chapters of novels into logical sections as I read, using breaks writer’s had inserted into informational pieces to create their own sections.

Finally, I thought about how I handle long-form writing. I just wrote a book with over 100,000 words init. But I wrote it about 400-500 words at a time, heading by heading.

That’s about two minutes of reading for most folks. As long as I didn’t jump illogically from one section to the next, chapter sections of 1500–2500 words, read clearly and easily.

Short pieces give teachers more time to cover required curriculum while giving kids more opportunities to hone their skills. This reduces pressure on everyone.

I’ve taken this approach for many years now. The results are outstanding for the kids. They often surprise themselves.

For me, teaching is much more satisfying because I see more learning and I truly look forward to reading kids’ work. I don’t spend time looking over long pieces with so many problems in them I don’t even know where to start.

The quality of the work we produce now is so much higher. And when we don’t produce good work, we start something else. Short pieces reduce the risk of wasting time—and learning opportunities.

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