Students Need to See Writing as a Process

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?

Continue reading “Students Need to See Writing as a Process”

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”