With a new year comes that familiar and distinct habit for many: profound reflection on the last 12 months. We swap out our calendars for new ones, we declare sentiments like new year, new me (partially in jest, partially in earnestness), and we commit ourselves to learning from our mistakes in pursuit of self-improvement.
Another 365 days pass, and our calendar-sanctioned timer goes off. A reminder that it’s time to reflect. Although, regardless of which annual routines we prefer, we often forget that we can do this at any time we choose.
Fittingly, as writers, when we do remember to reflect, it allows us to think deeply and gives us a chance to take time to step back and truly look at our writing. Just as the calendar reminds us to stop and do this, it’s worth considering how often and in what ways we are asking our students to reflect on their writing, especially when we approach revision.
In this post, we dive into four activities that allow students to intentionally reflect on their writing as a way to segue into a revision mindset.
In my classroom, I approach teaching writing with style (conventions, punctuation, syntax, and tone) by directing students to look at mentor texts, practice in mini-lessons, and apply skills learned in our processed pieces – all in effort to gradually work towards making writing with flair habitual. My constant reminder to students? That your style – through practice, repetition, and experimentation – becomes habit and eventually a part of your identity as a writer. But an important step in forging that is self-awareness.
To encourage students to be more mindful of their style (and take ownership over tracking it), I will ask them to do a “style check,” an active annotating exercise to see what kind of style they are using, in what ways, and how often.
Beyond just identification, I’ll ask students to write about the choices they made and why…for what purpose? This practice of annotating their own writing for style encourages students to really consider trends and progress in their writing.
I encourage students to consider questions like these: Are you trying the tips learned in class? Are you using them in a place that makes sense for your purpose? Sparingly and appropriately? Overdoing it? What do you like? What do you wish you did more of?
In this instance, it surely accomplishes our goal: to get students to think about their style. But truly, in any writing classroom, the idea of a “check” can be for anything – a specific skill students are working on, sentence types, word choice…the list goes on. All that matters is that we remind and reinforce to students how simple metacognition about their writing can get the gears turning towards a place to start (heading towards thoughtful revision).
Set of Reflective Questions
Simple, but it’s always good to remember how powerful and rewarding it can be to ask students to stop and answer reflective questions.
I enjoy reading stream-of-consciousness student responses to questions like “what are you doing differently in this piece?” and “what are you happy with so far?” It helps me understand their genuine thoughts on their writing; it helps them vocalize what they’re feeling about their writing in a candid manner. At the same time, I find it helpful to ask questions that prompt students to make active notes on their writing and to make Revision To-Do Lists. These types of questions inspire writers to methodically put themselves in good positions and “set up” for revision work.
Consider the most meaningful reflective questions that will urge students to view their writing openly and prepare them for revision. Compile them into a set and provide them to students to get ready for their next move.
A staple in my classroom: the Golden Line. Ask students to highlight their “Golden Lines” – the sentences of which they are most proud. This activity, like some of the reflective questions, signals students to think about their strengths and what is working well for them in their drafted writing. This activity encourages students to identify the best parts of their work, know which moments are “must-keeps,” and recognize something they need to continue doing more of.
At first, students are sometimes (and understandably) hesitant with this activity. It can be intimidating to be asked what you think is the best part of your writing. What if it’s not good? What if I think it’s better than it actually is? What if I can’t find one? To halt these doubts early on, I will model by identifying students’ Golden Lines in their writing myself. At times, I will compile all the sentences in a document or slideshow to share with the class. After this happens once or twice, students get used to the idea of finding their Golden Lines and reading their own words in a way that sparks that type of reflective thinking.
Not only does this activity make students deliberately point out stellar moments of writing, but it also serves as another important reminder: there is value in positive self-affirmations, not just in the final product, but all throughout the writing process. Students begin to remember that they do not always need to wait until the end to see the gold. It builds confidence and agency in them, and over time, they can look at their own writing confidently and astutely.
Focus Area Peer Review
At times, it can be challenging to reflect when it feels like there are so many things to consider. I often remind students that to combat this overwhelming feeling preceding revision, we must compartmentalize and reflect in bite-sized ways – in essence, a magnifying glass mindset. We also know that students can benefit from peer reviewing and getting another writer’s perspective.
Let’s combine the two.
Ask students to think of one focus area. For example, a student might ask her partner to pay special attention to her use of cumulative sentences to illustrate urgency. Or another student might be focused on their word choice to build and develop a specific tone. Meanwhile, someone else wants to know his peer’s thoughts about his sequencing of ideas.
With the focus area in mind, a peer reader can then look at the writing and provide specific and genuine feedback. These conversations can be some of the most meaningful moments of reflection to consider if and which kind of revision lies ahead. Besides, who said reflection was solely an independent practice?
These four activities can be simple ways to give students the opportunities to reflect meaningfully before embarking on revision.
Yes, they are opportunities we provide for students, but the more we remember to make these normal routines for students, the more they see the value in continual and intentional reflection on their own. Soon, reflective thinking becomes an even deeper part of our students’ identities as writers.
In what ways do you encourage students to reflect on their writing before revision? Which activities are your favorite? You can connect with me on Twitter @kenbuiCBSD.
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