I just had 170 students revise a piece of writing, and none of them complained about it. Let me qualify that. None of them groaned aloud obnoxiously, as if the assignment was causing them physical pain. For the most part, they completed their second draft with ease and some even expressed a mild delight that they made their writing a little better. A few voluntarily asked me for suggestions about how to word certain phrases. A few students expressed grave concern that they had exceeded the word limit (the accidentally wrote more than they were required).

This is a dramatic contrast to how my former students used to behave when they were presented with the notion that their writing needed to be fixed. Typically, the mere suggestion that they were not yet done with a piece of writing was met with sneers of derision. I had to drag them a long through what they thought was an agonizing process of revisiting a piece of writing they believed they had completed.

Not this time. Actually, not in recent memory.

What, you may ask, has made the difference?


At the moment, I am introducing my students to the practice of regular revision. They do five pieces of low-stakes writing a week in their Writer’s Notebook. At key times, I have students choose an entry from their notebook they need revise into a better draft. I make every effort to do this three weeks in a row because it is important that my students, through low-stakes, low pressure writing (and revision), learn and experience that writing is a process.

Here’s How My Students Revise Their Writing

1. My students choose one of their Writer’s Notebook entries for revision.

2. They apply the RADaR strategy in deciding what they will revise in their low-stakes writing (RADaR was developed by Kelly Gallagher and Jeff Anderson).


3. After using RADaR to come up with a plan for taking their writing into a second draft, the students type it up in MLA format with a little tweak that I call The Meta-Margin. It looks like this:

Matis 2nd Draft Meta Margin crop

Note: This step can easily apply to a piece notebook paper as it can to a typed up printout.

Side Note . . .

Before I show you the final step, let me put up the image from the top of the post again:

Metacog Screenshot Red Arrows

This mental practice, right here, is what gets students to see writing as a process. When I ask them to revise their writing, to make it better, they really give it an earnest effort. They really try to make a bad first draft into a better piece of writing.

But when they are engaged in this mental practice, they are not paying attention to the process because they are inside of it. So, I have them pause and reflect on the process from the outside. I ask them to chase down their thinking in that moment when they were deciding to make small, or big, changes to their writing. Then I ask them to MAKE IT VISIBLE.

Here comes the final step where they put their thought-process in writing.

4. After they have written their second draft, the students engage in metacognition and make their revision thought-process visible right on their second drafts.


The elements of RADaR are color coded. In this metacognitive part of the assignment, the students highlight how they applied RADaR to their first draft, showing me what is new for the second draft. Then they explain their thought process, answering the question, “Why did you think this change would make your writing better?”

After the students get through three of these second drafts with metacognition, I will have them select one of these new drafts to move to publication. The published pieces are the ones that will go on the wall for prominent display, a testament for every student that writing is a process.

What about you? How do you get your students to understand that writing is a process? Leave a comment below. Share this post with others looking for a way to get past their frustration in teaching their students to revise.

8 thoughts on “Students Need to See Writing as a Process

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