Getting Students Beyond Superficial Revision

My # 1 Problem: How Students Talk about Their Writing

You’re about to get into today’s lesson: revising a first draft. Before you say the words, you can feel the collective groan gathering strength. When you finally come out with it, they are ready to revolt: “Today we’re going to revise your writing assignment!” And there it is.

They complain. They grunt violently. They look for pitchforks and other pointy objects to take up against you. And one student in the corner quietly Snapchats a selfie of an ice bag on her head. It’s clear. They don’t want to do this.

As I see it, a big problem is students think they are done with their writing. In the eyes of each student writer, what they put on paper looks “good enough.” They are done. If they understand it, then there’s nothing to revise. But even when I get them to see that their writing needs further work, all I get from them are superficial changes. They may change a punctuation mark or two and a grammar mistake, but they almost never revise for content and purpose.

Sound familiar?  Continue reading “Getting Students Beyond Superficial Revision”

Revise at a Deeper Level

Earlier this week, like the picture above, I posed a similar question (biggest challenge teaching students to revise their writing). The comments didn’t make it to that post, and then I decided to put the picture on my Facebook timeline, where I received some really insightful answers there!

Here are some of the stand-out phrases from the responses there:

  • It’s hard to be strategic
  • Providing feedback on another’s writing is daunting
  • Superficial changes
  • They need to actually reread their work
  • If they understand it, they think there is nothing to revise

As a teacher of writing, I am no stranger to any of those thoughts. Forget teaching for a second. Revising one’s writing is a complex process with many different levels. Sometimes a surface-level revision (i.e. replacing a mediocre word with an apt one) can lead to significant change. While at other times, making a deep-level revision (i.e. changing the order of paragraphs or adding an illustrative anecdote) might not make a significant impact on the piece. Bringing it back to the classroom, when teaching revision, it seems most of the time that it is more art than science.

At this point, it is going to appear that I am moving away from the topic, but walk with me a little. In my first couple of years teaching English, I heard Kelly Gallagher speak at a conference and I was hooked. What I took away from the keynote address he gave that day were two things: (1) I need to have my students write a lot more (like a lot more) & (2) the best place to host all that extra writing was in the Writer’s Notebook. When I got back to the classroom, I made my students go out and buy a composition book, we set it all up, and we were off and running . . . for about a month. Then it started to fade to the background. Then it passed out of use. I hadn’t even realized it was missing for another month! 

Continue reading “Revise at a Deeper Level”

Does Anybody Know How to Get Students to Revise Their Writing?

This is so frustrating! I teach them. It looks like they don’t get it. Or maybe they just don’t care? I give up.

That’s what I used to think. I now have a different take. It all changed when I decided to take the pressure off of teaching editing and revision. When I stopped tying the instruction exclusively to academic essay writing.

Continue reading “Does Anybody Know How to Get Students to Revise Their Writing?”

2 Reasons Students Hate Writing For You

I’m going to be a little vulnerable. Early in my career, the most common result produced from the flow of my writing instruction was students developing an aversion to writing. Students weren’t rewarded unless they conformed to the high-stakes scoring guide and assignment parameters. At the same time, students were engaging in all kinds of low-stakes writing that was rewarding, to them at least: social media and text messaging.

Talking with other teachers over the years showed me that this was a common experience. Most of us struggle to get students motivated to write. And most of us aren’t even asking for students to like the academic writing we assign. We want them to maybe appreciate it or see some small value in how it develops them into better students on their way to college. But that rarely develops in students. Why?

Let’s take a closer look at two reasons students hate writing for you.  Continue reading “2 Reasons Students Hate Writing For You”

Get Your Students to Write Over 20,000 Words This Year

This year, I’m going to get my students to write over 20,000 words. And I’m not even counting the essays they are going to type.

At the start of the year, my students will begin building a Writer’s Notebook. This is a place the will house low-stakes, pressure-free writing, lessons on sentence craft, and a place where they will practice thinking through revision.

Here’s the English teacher math that came up with 20,000+ words:

  • 150 words per page
  • 5 pages of writing a week
  • 15 weeks of writing per semester

Continue reading “Get Your Students to Write Over 20,000 Words This Year”

What’s the 1 Thing I Can Do To Make My Students Better Writers?

For the first ten years of my career, this was a question I wrestled with constantly. I purchased my fair share of books and attended more than a few workshops in search of the answer. I did find it, but I did realize it. So I kept looking.

It turns out the answer came in year three of my teaching. I gave it a try then. Several times actually. But because I couldn’t make it work on those trials, I decided that it wasn’t for me and moved on. But now I’m back, and more convinced than ever.

What makes students better writers? The answer is simple: More writing.

That’s it. Make them write more. Make them write everyday. Make them write at the start of a lesson. Make them write at the end of a lesson. Make them write for homework. Write. Write. Write.

Stop! We need to get something cleared up first. When you think of student writing, you think of an assignment that is long and complicated, like an essay, right? Sure, that’s a type of student writing. And if that’s the only kind of writing assignment you give, then you are probably thinking that more of that will just drive you and your students nuts. And you would be correct. Nobody wants students to write more and more essays, especially because someone (you) would have to grade those essays! Continue reading “What’s the 1 Thing I Can Do To Make My Students Better Writers?”