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”

Teaching Revision: The One Change You Need to Make Right Away

My students used to scoff, sneer, or ignore my efforts to make them revise their writing. And almost every one of my attempts at getting students to take a second look at their own writing usually ended in discouragement.

For me, not too long ago, lightening struck. I made a change. I started to get my students to approach revision in a fresh way, and their attitudes completely changed. They spent real, invested time making their writing better. They stopped complaining about revision. And, wouldn’t you know it, their drafts got better. Many students even started inquiring, on their own, how to adjust their first draft writing to avoid making their usual first draft mistakes.

What did I do? The answer was surprisingly simple. Actually, anyone can do it. And it only requires a little extra energy to make it happen in your classroom. All you have to do is change one little thing and prepare for dramatic results. Continue reading “Teaching Revision: The One Change You Need to Make Right Away”

3 Rules and Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook

The centerpiece of writing instruction in my classroom is the Writer’s Notebook. And that begins with the students getting a composition book at the store at the start of the school year.

More specifically, I make them get a 100 page composition book. Not 70, not 80. 100. Since I have the students do a lot of writing, and a fairly decent amount of writing about writing, they need quite a bit of space for their words. I also want them to feel comfortable with all of the composing they will be doing, so I make sure to tell them to get wide-ruled–college-ruled is too tight, and doesn’t allow room for students to take notes in planning their revisions.

I also make sure that the Writer’s Notebook stays simple. One of the key features of the the notebook is that the writing is low-stakes. I will never put pressure on my students to write according to a rubric or scoring guide. They just need to write. Thus, I only give them 3 rules and guidelines. Continue reading “3 Rules and Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook”

3 Reasons to Get the FREE Preview of My Book, Right Now

I couldn’t wait. Make Them Process It isn’t done yet. I still have to send it to an editor, but I just couldn’t hold back any longer. I want you to see what’s in there. There is some really good, practical stuff I want to get into your hands before the full release of the book. Consider it a back to school gift!

All summer long I have been putting my energy into writing a book that solves many challenges inevitably come with writing instruction:

  • Getting students to generate their own writing topics
  • Teaching grammar using a method that really sticks
  • Taking students beyond surface-level revision
  • Assessing multiple student drafts lightning quick
  • Developing a mature voice in young writers and
  • Celebrating the quality work students are completing in your classroom

I know many teachers who are looking for ways to streamline their writing instruction into a unified whole. They want to take all those discrete skills and put them all together in one place. I’m not going to say that Make Them Process It is the final answer, but it is at least several steps in that direction.

Here are 3 reasons why you should download this free preview, right now.

1. It is flexible and accommodatingMake Them Process It is not curriculum or a list of assignments. Instead, it is a how-to guide for getting maximum power out of a student composition book. Rather than disrupt your carefully planned instruction, I want to use this book as a way to come alongside you and offer support ongoing.

As you are thinking through how to deliver highly effective writing lessons, Make Them Process It can help you consider your academic year as whole, get your students to generate a lot more writing, teach your students how to revise their work at a deeper level, and help them integrate those grammar and craft lessons into their writing.

Please, keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t want you to change your lesson plans. But let Make Them Process It help you figure out how to organize everything that’s good about your teaching to uncover value in ways you have yet to consider.

2. You get ongoing support. I don’t like the idea of creating a product, convincing people to buy it, thanking the customers for their purchase, and then walking away. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Instead, I want to hear from you. I want to help you figure out how to make the teaching of writing effective and engaging for you and your students. I don’t want you to buy my book and then disappear into your classroom. I want to hear about your struggles and offer help where I can.

In 2007, I first heard about the Writer’s Notebook in a keynote address from Kelly Gallagher. I was convinced! I got started with the notebook right away, but shortly after launch, it fell out of use. I did this a few more times, eventually walking away. It took another keynote address from Kelly Gallagher several years later, with him still holding up that notebook, for me to give it another try. But this time, I was determined–I was going to get students to fill up that notebook!

And I did it too. I got through that year; it was hard. I wanted to quit more than once. I got confused, discouraged, and stuck. Several times I wanted to cry out for help, but I didn’t know who, if anyone, was listening. So, I soldiered on, made it through, and it turned out to be a rewarding experience. But if I had support at the time I needed it, I am convinced I could have taken all my efforts even further.

That’s what I want to give you. Even if you’re a pro writing teacher, I am convinced I have new value to offer you in Make Them Process It. And if your taking the plunge for the first time and need to call out for help at key moments, you should have someone there to walk with you. I’m here.

3. It won’t be free for long. In a few short weeks, the full version of Make Them Process It will be ready for release and this offer might be off the table. I don’t want you to miss out.

Pick up your free preview of the book after taking a brief survey. This is the only thing I am going ask from you in taking me up on this offer: five minutes of your time. When you click “submit” at the end of the survey, you will get access to the preview copy of the book. Take the survey and claim your free preview copy of Make Them Master It, right now!

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Share this offer with others who are looking for these solutions. Click on the social media buttons below to tell your friends.

Stick around for a discussion too: What is your #1 single biggest challenge in getting your students to integrate your lessons into their writing assignments? Answer in the comment section below.

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?”