Tracking Writing = Empowerment and Intrinsic Motivation

This year I changed schools from a suburban, upper-middle class, majority white, charter school, to an economically and racially diverse urban school in the middle of Denver. It has challenged me and made me grow in a lot of ways.

That said, I struggled this year to give students the scaffolding, support and motivation they need.

One thing I was going to give up was my writing portfolio system. I just didn’t think it would work. But I decided to try it 2nd semester and the results have been notable.

Here is the system:

  • Students keep their notebooks in class, thanks to my sweet Craigslist find! (I would require only composition books next time.) I recommend this to everyone, junior high, high school, anyone.
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  • Students taped TWO items in the back of their notebooks: a blank graph and a writing rubric.
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  • Every time they write, they track their words per minute in the graph.
  • I walk around the room and ask students if they increased or decreased word count. I celebrate their successes. If their word count decreased, I ask them to analyze that data. What made today different than last time? Perhaps, they are just showing growth in a different way. Maybe they are writing in past test or using new vocabulary.


WHY is this great?

  1. Students are seeing their personal growth. They are becoming intrinsically motivated to improve.
  2. Due to #1, students are more engaged and less resistant to the writing process.
  3. It gives me something to recognize and celebrate. I try to find the student who needs some praise. I help them discover HOW they are growing in their writing.
    • Whenever I see a student feeling proud of their writing, I recognize them for their achievements.
    • When I see a student feeling down, I try to show them that growth is not always linear or can’t be counted.

How did we get there?

I added some steps to the Free-Write process for my beginner students. Instead of “write for 5 minutes, retelling the story, GO!” the process looks like this:

  • First 1-2 times: I write under the doc cam. Students copy what I write.
  • Next: I write under the doc cam, I underline the details (Mad Libs-Style). Students change the details, if they want to.
  • When ready, I write under the doc cam, students write on their own. If they are stuck, they can copy what I am writing.
  • Al final, they write on their own, no training wheels.

I am so lucky to have such brilliant coaches and teachers, like Diana Noonan, Connie Navarro, Sarah Rasay, Mary Overton and so many more in DPS who have helped me become a more effective teacher. It’s a lifelong learning process!

3 thoughts on “Tracking Writing = Empowerment and Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Love, love your blog. It is soo helpful, and you have great ideas that I will be implementing in my classroom next year. I too have middle schoolers, and have had trouble with them losing their precious notebooks. So, I like your idea of storing them in the classroom; however, do you allow them to take them home for upcoming assessments or are the notebooks you are storing in your classroom separate writing portfolios only apart from their daily notebooks? In past, my little 5th and 6th graders transport them from their lockers to my classroom to their homes, and only 3 of them lost it at some point in the year. I really want to teach them responsibility to take care of their notebooks; however, I am kind of with you with just storing them in the classroom. Any advice and input from your experience would be awesome! Thanks so much for your awesome ideas!


    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! This is a question I am constantly wrestling with. If students are responsible, then let them keep them! (Only 3 got lost? That is a miracle!) I have decided to go without notebooks for next year. I will require one folder for any readings. I will keep their writing and other evidence of proficiency in a hanging folder in the classroom. It really depends on the students and your personal preference! I hope you find a system that works for you!


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