I decided early in my teaching career that I would not use length requirements in writing assignments. I decided this in my math class, actually, for one of the papers I assigned in my Algebra II course. But it remains true in my English classes. If a student has all the requisite pieces, I’d rather they just finish their writing instead of filling it with BS. “Write until you’re done, and then stop,” I often tell them.
Of course, students still need some guidance as they’re figuring out how to put their pieces together. Should it be a page? Three? Seven? So I give them some rough estimates. “This should be about a page and a half when you’re finished.” “This will take at least three-quarters of a page to have a complete response.” The last assignment I gave my freshman was for them to write the ending of The Odyssey before we actually read it (starting with Odysseus’ return to Ithaca and completing the epic hero cycle). The length direction I gave them was to shoot for a thousand words. I know some of them would not hit this, but I wanted them to keep pressing if they only wrote a couple paragraphs and thought that was enough.
Really, though, the reason I give length directions and suggestions instead of requirements are for moments like these:
A conversation with a student in class:
“I wrote two and a half times what you suggested. My beginning ended up being a thousand words on its own, and then I just kept going.”
A conversation between two students:
“I’m at 800 words, but I think I’m done. Do I have to keep going?”
“The thousand-word mark was a suggestion, not a requirement. If you’re done, you’re done!”
But this one takes the cake. This is an e-mail from a student who is learning English:
“Hi Mr. Wyzlic this is [student name]. I finally finished this Odyssey ending. I am so glad to I did this. [Classmate] helped me little bit when I was writing outline. But I did this my own. It is super short but I used 325 words. I tried my best and I am proud of my self. This is my first time I wrote long writing with no help. Thank you Mr. Wyzlic!!”
If that last quote doesn’t describe why we do this, I think you might be in this for the wrong reasons. There is no way that student would have had the same level of pride in herself and her abilities if I had made the thousand-word mark a requirement. That’s why I don’t have length requirements.