I'm reading a very interesting book called Life Is a Verb, by Patti Digh. It's the kind of book you read a bit at a time, savoring it.
A few days ago I read the chapter "Polish Your Mud Balls," and I can't get it out of my mind. Digh retells a story from the book Art and Fear about a pottery teacher who tells half his class they will be graded on only one thing: the quantity of the work they produce. He tells the other half of the class that they will also be graded on only one thing: the quality of their work.
The first group needs only to produce 50 pounds of pottery to receive an "A". The second group needs only to produce one perfect pot to receive an "A".
The results? The authors report that "The works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity…while they were busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."
I love this story, probably because it supports a belief I hold about the teaching of writing—that the act of writing in and of itself helps people become better writers. The more students write, the more they loosen up. Their writing becomes more fluid, less tortured. When teachers assign a paper once in a blue moon and then expect students to do everything perfectly according to the latest rubric, they are doing their students no favors, in my opinion. How much more effective it is to challenge students' creativity, giving them quirky, challenging, thoughtful, or even silly writing tasks, daily, and not grading all of them. (Yes, sometimes it's okay to give students credit for just writing a certain amount. You don't have to read everything in order for students to learn.)
Focusing on quantity doesn't mean forgetting about quality. A teacher might focus on one writing skill at a time, or select papers to grade on a random basis, or sandwich in mini-lessons here and there. Paying less attention to each paper—but requiring more writing overall—can be so much more effective than stifling students with 17 or 18 requirements for one paper.
Quantity is often way more important, in the long run, than quality. Windston Churchill put it perfectly when he said, "The maxim 'Nothing but perfection' may be spelled 'Paralysis.'"