Process Writing Approach

Rube Goldberg and the writing process »
As writing teachers, is our sole concern the product or the journey? Are we allowing students to discover their own writing processes or are we getting in the way by teaching writing as a linear, step by step, one-size-fits-all formula?
  • “We must help students see that elements of the writing process, and the ways we use them, are determined largely by the specific tasks we are performing” (144).

  • The confines of the classroom are often limited by time, flexibility, and an environment conducive to sharing, making the writers workshop seem like a daunting impossibility.

  • Providing flexibility and encouraging discovery and reflection in our students is much different from an “anything goes” mentality when considering the process of writing.

  • Keeping a fixed schedule and suggesting that there is only ONE way to move through the process of writing will most likely be counterproductive in the classroom.

Further Reading:

Urges educators to “come out from behind their own big desks” to turn classrooms into workshops where students and teachers create curriculums together
A principle-based resource for demonstrating effective writing instruction to any grade level. The DVD accompanying the book provides a rewarding look at Donald Graves’ process-approach teaching

Supplemental Materials:

Lane’s Reflection on the Process of Rube Goldberg

Jenny Dunn uses prewriting »
Jenny Dunn uses prewriting in her classroom


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My son Lane was assigned a Rube Goldberg project by his eighth grade science teacher. He was given the following criteria:  The continuous chain reaction project had to be 30 seconds, include two different types of energy, use a pulley of some sort, and end with the popping of a balloon.  It also needed to be  captured digitally, and posted on Youtube.  It seemed simple enough, and I am sure many students completed the project easily.  My son, however, struggled for days to problem solve and rework his project.  After many tears, tweakings, and late-night experiments, my husband and I started offering suggestions that were flatly rejected by our headstrong teen. So, we butted out and watched  him struggle with the scientific method into the wee hours of the morning.  Finally, when the stress level in our home had reached epic proportions, we witnessed our son’s success. Never before had the popping of a balloon sounded so sweet.   

As I reflect upon that experience, I can’t help but wonder what I am doing to foster the same kind of discovery and experimentation within my writing instruction.  How can I get students to see that writing is a process–something they need time to wrestle and play with in order to determine what works best for them?  Are my students allowed to struggle with their own messy processes of producing a piece of writing in my classroom, or do I take over by providing a series of linear steps that will (supposedly) guide them to that “A” paper?  After considering my inquiries, please reflect on the following:

  • When you hear the phrase “writing process” what comes to mind?
  • What does the process of writing look like in your classroom? Does it vary? Is it fluid or rigid?
  • When you hear the term “writers workshop” do you feel a sense of adventure or do you want to run the other way…screaming?

Good writers don’t take less time; they take more […]We need to acknowledge, once and for all, that writers and writing need time”  (92-92).

  • How can you balance the need for student choice and flexibility with the inevitable time constraints of classrooms? What overall principles (not rules) should be considered when setting up a writing workshop?

“Because the writing process is not the same for all writers, nor even for the same writer at different times, flexibility in its practice is important for helping students use the process strategically to meet their varying writing needs” (141).  

  • How can the use of writing levels as described by Maxwell and Meiser offer flexibility to both teacher and student in your classroom?
  • When attempting a new type of writing (product), how can trying to anticipate individual student stumbling blocks in the writing process and then designing instructions around those predictions–keeping everyone on the same “schedule” in the writing (process)–be LESS beneficial than allowing students to encounter the problems themselves and address each issue as it occurs in the writing process? Is this even possible in a classroom setting of thirty-plus students?

Fleishcer and Andrew-Vaughan state that “an emphasis on genre students can help students begin to understand that while the notion of process writing is absolutely central to the world of writers, different genres may elicit different processes.”  

  • How can an emphasis on process (ie: the ability to delineate the characteristics/principles of a particular genre) help students discover  new strategies in  the their own processes of writing?

“Twenty-first century writing instruction can and should take student writers toward independence—toward greater control over their writing and the process by which they create it.  Such independence can occur only when process is personalized, shaped to fit the writer—because process at its best, at its most functional, is different for every person”  (Spandel).

  • What strategies will you use in the classroom to acknowledge individuality and ownership as students navigate the process of writing?
  • What can you do as an educator to help students see themselves as writers opposed to students who are placed in a classroom and expected to write?


“If we believe that the writing process is not simply a series of steps a writer takes, but is instead a way of solving writing problems; and if we believe that the aspects of process employed are specific responses to differing problems in different writing tasks, then students—and teachers–! Might approach the whole process differently” (140).

Compile a list of ways you can encourage time, flexibility, and ownership.