Hang in there, new teacher, you’re almost to the finish line.
By this point in the school year, you’ve definitely had your students write a thing or two. So you now know that getting students to write perfectly polished drafts is a lot harder than meets the eye. I know when I first started teaching, I got so caught up in just getting students to get their writing on the page that revision often got pushed back and back and back until it just disappeared from my lesson plans entirely. If I was lucky, there would be one day of “peer review,” which really just consisted of pairs of students swapping papers and letting one another know how “awesome” the other was (see my past article for a better way to utilize peers during the revision process).
But I know better now. I’ve learned that if I want my students to value revision as a necessary, not optional, part of the writing process, I have to give the practice its due diligence within my instruction. I have to show students different ways to re-image existing writing rather than tell them. And I have to take the time to do it.
First Year Writing Tip #7: Reserve Time for Revision
Let me tell you about the last unit of writing I taught. My class is dual credit, so they were required to write a 2,000 word argumentative, researched essay. In the past, I would spit out all the “requirements” a writer must follow for the genre ahead of time, then turn them loose and hope everything stuck. It didn’t.
I’ve said this before in some of my previous articles, but it bears repeating here. There’s a lot going on in a piece of writing. Knowing how to be clear, form an argument, incorporate examples, quote and punctuate accurately— it’s a lot to remember, especially when it’s only your first or second time around the block. You don’t make the perfect scrambled eggs the first time from verbal instructions. You’re going to pick up a percentage of what the person said, give it your best shot, and then look back on what to do better the next time.
That’s not to say students don’t need some guidance going into the process. They do. That’s where mentor texts are great. Getting to see how professional writers fulfill the requirements of the genre and talking to students about how those writing skills work is an integral part of getting them to feel confident enough to start drafting. But bear in mind that once that first draft is complete, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
I used to give my students a lot more time (weeks) to get a draft down. This was a great way to give students time to really think about their writing, but it was also a procrastinator’s paradise. This year, however, I gave my students four days in class to get a complete draft, beginning to end. As they worked, however, I knew full well that my work was only beginning.
The rest of the unit (the next week) was set aside for revision workshops. Each day, we focused on a different aspect of the writing that caused my students to struggle. Many have a hard time getting started and wrapping things up at the end. So my first workshop was called “Alternative Introductions and Conclusions.” I created a Google slide presentation with examples of different ways to get started and end writing in the genre. Then, I had each of them re-write either their entire introduction or their entire conclusion, utilizing one of the techniques I had introduced in class that day. The “alternative” intro or conclusion went on a separate document. Students were then asked to read both and reflect on which they would rather use.
Here’s an excerpt from Brynn’s reflection:
“I decided to use the new Intro that I created in my final paper. I originally liked how my old Intro was worded and started but the more I thought about it the more I realized the old Intro sounded like a body paragraph. So I changed the order of my statistics in my Intro to draw in my readers before they decide not to read my paper.”
I found that most students, like Brynn, either used the whole new section or at least parts of their new section in their existing writing. I am confident this wouldn’t have happened with a simple “revision checklist” at the end of the unit. Taking the time to narrow in and spend the day on one set of specific skills was exactly what my students needed to elevate their introductions and conclusions.
I tried something similar the next day with students’ claims. Many were bland or cliche, so I pulled in a resource Rebekah O’Dell put together and sent out to her Inside the Blended Workshop group (seriously if you’re not already a part of this goldmine, I highly suggest it for next year). Anyway, this resource had examples of different claims written by professional writers in published articles that were unique and exciting.
I began my class by writing a bland claim on the board and having each group re-write it in the style of one of the “mentor claims.” This helped them get their feet wet with the new styles and the process of closely mimicking a single sentence from a mentor. Then, students were asked to try it on their own by reworking their own claim using one of the mentors. Once again, there were ultimately many modifications made on students’ drafts that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Transitions were another hot topic during revision. So many of my students had great ideas but really struggled with how to split their paragraphs in a way that was ideal for getting the reader to really pay attention. Once again, I showed them ways real writers use transitioning in their own pieces. We looked at mini-paragraphs, sentence starters, and ways to split larger paragraphs that got them thinking about “guiding” their reader through their argument. Students had plenty of time to tinker with their own structures once my instruction was complete.
We spent the last few days of revision on language. For this portion, the CNTRL+F (or “Find and Replace” on the iPad) feature was great for searching within the paper for specific places to revise. For example, we discussed how a writer’s argument is weakened when he/she says “I think” or “I believe,” so I had my students search for these phrases and replace them with something more confident or just delete them entirely. This helped students think of new possibilities for styles of sentences, too.
As students revised, I had them highlight and label areas where they modified their writing to show where their revisions take place. While it’s true this was an accountability tactic so that I could ensure they were doing the work, the annotation also allowed them to reflect on the changes they were making in their writing and why those changes were necessary. The fact that I was interested in looking over what happened during revision sent the message that this was an important part in the process that simply cannot be skipped.
Teaching is a huge world full of possibilities. It’s so easy to get distracted by something and lose sight of what’s important. Take the time during your planning to stop and remind yourself of what’s truly important in your instruction. For me, teaching my students to revise effectively is a need, not a want. My writing instruction has improved drastically since I’ve taken the time to prioritize it.
How do you set time aside in your own instruction for revision? What does the revision process look like for your students? Tell me about it on Twitter @TimmermanPaige!
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