When I was setting up my classroom for the 2018-2019 school year, I tweeted a picture of the only decoration I had up at the moment (see the featured image above). Moments later, Melissa-Ann Pero (@bshsmspero) thanks me for posting it, and says she’s going to make herself one.
A bit later on, she tweeted her creation, giving credit to Kelly Gallagher (@KellyGToGo) for RADaR and mentioning me in the process. And in my small Twitter world, the tweet caught fire. At the time of this writing, the post has been liked 305 times and retweeted 118 times!
— Melissa-Ann Pero (@bshsmspero) August 8, 2018
Years back, I learned that students develop much better as writers if they write a lot. So I adjusted my instruction to have students writing all the time. And guess what, the impact of my writing instruction increased, simply because students were writing more.
About three years ago, I thought, “What if I applied the same thinking to revision? What if I make them revise their writing all the time, in many low-stakes assignments?” Now it is the very first lesson I teach to open the year, and they will practice it twice a week until late May.
Getting students to write is a challenge in itself. Getting students to go back to something they have already written and make it better can be a drag. But if students make it a regular practice, something predictable, and you give them some choice in the matter, it becomes a regular part of their writing experience.
And this is the challenge, to get students to see writing as a process. Students don’t want writing to be a process. They want writing to be something that is one and done. They want writing to be “First draft, best draft.” Me too! But I have learned the hard way that it is better to check your email three times before sending it than it is to just hit “send.”
If we want to be good and responsible teachers of writing, then we need to make our students write a lot. They need to write far more than we can grade or provide feedback on. Let me say that again. Students need to write far more than we are capable of grading, even reading.
If you have the time, I highly recommend heading over to Dave Stuart Jr.’s website and listening to the interview he did with Kelly Gallagher about this topic (find it HERE). When discussing how much time should be spent grading a particular weekly writing assignment, Gallagher admits that he spends a total of four seconds grading each student’s response.
Mr. Gallagher goes on to say that it’s four things that students need to grow as writers:
- Volume–they must write a lot
- Choice–they must have a say in what they get to write about
- Modeling–the teacher needs to demonstrate the process in front of the students
- Conferencing–the teacher talks with the student about how to move the writing forward
Volume and choice are the main staples of writing in my class, but listening to the interview, I definitely spend too much time assessing student writing. I plan to move to more modeling and to beef up what I already do with conferencing.
When it comes to conferencing, I train the students to conference with one another through a Revision Read Aloud (more specifics and pictures on this in a future post). Here’s the process I use for this activity:
- Students write a low-stakes, first draft.
- They plan their revision with RADaR (what I am starting to call pre-re-writing).
- They write the second draft.
- They bring the first draft (with RADaR) and the clean copy of their second draft.
- Comparing the revised draft with the first draft, students highlight the second draft where they made revisions (there is a color code they use for this).
- Students then partner with someone else who has reached this point and swap second drafts.
- They take turns reading to one another, pausing briefly at each highlight to share their thoughts aloud about what they are reading.
There’s a little more to it than that, but you get the gist. Students are hearing their second drafts read aloud to them, and they are directly hearing a readers thoughts about those changes. Were their suspicions true? Did the change help make the writing better? Did it remove confusion for the reader, or add to it?
Over time my students begin to grasp that their writing is never done, they just have deadlines. They begin to see the value in going back over their work. And they begin to value the harder, less obvious work of revision (vs. editing). But this is a process, and it must be done again and again and again through the whole year.
How do you feel about teaching your students revision? What sustainable practice can you recommend?
Leave a comment below.
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