The Power of a Deadline

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the students’ progress on their all-about books was moving along much more slowly than I expected. I took a day or two to closely observe their progress and thought about strategies that might encourage them to try to get more down on the page during independent writing time. I remembered that, near the end of our how-to writing unit, the students were highly motivated when they learned that they would be sharing their writing with families in an upcoming celebration. So I picked a date two weeks out and wrote “Writing Celebration” on the calendar. I didn’t even mention it.

The next day, one student came in and saw the event on the calendar. He started spreading the news to his classmates. “We have 10 more days of school until the Writing Celebration!” I started hearing some urgency from the students: “I don’t know if I can finish in time!” “I only have one chapter done.” “I’m going to have to work on this at choice!” The deadline had the exact effect I intended.

Over the past two weeks, students have worked so diligently on their writing pieces. Many chose to work on them first thing when they arrived in the morning, any time they finished an assignment, and even at choice. Looking at the calendar, they embarked on some time management strategies, and some even learned about the importance of prioritizing (e.g., finishing the writing on the last chapter was more important than making a colorful cover).

Yesterday, we had our writing celebration and invited the 3–5 class to attend. The older students were so gracious and supportive. The students felt proud of all the compliments they received from their older peers. In the end, it was clear to me that the students’ ability to get more on the page had been there all along, but the promise of a day ahead when they would be sharing their work with others was the motivation they needed to buckle down and get it done.

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Melanie Berlin

is a classroom teacher on the K-2 team. Before moving to Chicago, Melanie lived in Philadelphia and worked for five years as lead kindergarten teacher at Mastery Charter Mann Elementary School. Previous to that, Melanie lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and taught at an independent school in Oakland, California. Melanie has her B.A. in psychology with a minor in urban education from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her teaching degree from San Francisco State University with a focus on social justice in education.

In her free time, Melanie loves playing ultimate Frisbee, drinking coffee, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and baby daughter.

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