Free Write Fridays

In my high school writing classes, I like to use a certain activity I’ve called “Free Write Fridays”. Essentially, it allows students to write about whatever they want to for at least one period of their week. Granted, we pride ourselves on offering our students a lot of choice in our instructional design at Indy Met, I have a rationale that is tethered to a different motivation than the typical research backing ways to improve student engagement.

Even though Google cracked down on their “20% Time” in 2013, it is ingrained in their corporate culture. If you’re late to this story, the essence of 20% Time is that Google employees had free rein to work on projects of their own curiosity one day a week. Allegedly, some of Google’s most innovative and popular projects were developed by employees during these weekly work session. Gmail is likely the most notorious 20% Time project.

Celebrated author, Dan Pink has written about this in his book DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsMany a business leader and educator who religiously study Pink have tried to incorporate this element of autonomy into their workplaces as well.

But if Google is feeling like the philosophy is getting away from their productivity, what will they do to replace that “crunch” on autonomy? How will they continue to fuel innovation if Pink’s right and taking away a person’s autonomy deflates motivation? I don’t know with any certainty, but my hunch is they won’t. At least privately they won’t. And I won’t either.

Here’s my vision for my students: that their 20% time (which is only 10% time considering it’s every OTHER Friday) becomes a platform for showcasing their works in progress during the other 80% (90%) of time working in my class. The difference is entirely about one’s ownership of the work. A public blog over the course of a semester raises the stakes for my kids. It makes them care about how they will be perceived and—I’d like to think—makes them care more about learning the grammar and sentence structure skills necessary to craft a particular message for an even more particular audience.

For example, have a look at one of my student’s blog. Darshane is writing about basketball and enjoying figuring out how to plan future writing projects expressing his passion and opinion on the sport. Let him know what you think, even offering some constructive criticism. He’s the type of student who wants to build a platform for himself and contribute something meaningful to the world.

To me, that’s a bargain at 20%.

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