I have never been good at helping students understand how to revise better. It seems like every idea I have had has only made them more dependent on other people, rather than develop their own skills. Sometimes I feel like I have tried it all; from checklists, to peers, to specific directions from me. From strengths to goals to next steps, for some reason the art of revising and revising well has not truly blossomed in our classroom. Until now. Because if the last two days are any indication, we are finally on to something.
This unit came from my own realization as a writer. When I write, I edit as I go, but I also step away and give it time. I don’t jump right back in even when my editor emails me back. I marinate, I process, and I try to make it better when I finally do jump back in. I take my time, I make it a priority and I don’t try to squeeze it in. This is what I want my students to realize; that revising and editing creates more beautiful work. That it is not just something a teacher makes you do. That it is not just some thing on a check list.
So what have we done so differently these past few days? Here are few things:
We stepped away from our written work for a while. And by a while I mean over a month. The two pieces my students have been revising were handed in before winter break. One is a short story, another is either an opinion piece or a summary. Some of my students did very well, others did not do at all. Before break they were asked to hand in their best draft (thank you Kelly Gallagher for that term) and then I told them to not do anything with them until I asked. I told them that rather than they trying to figure out what to work on we would work on our revisions in class.
Why? Because when we do revision during our writing process we cannot look at our own work with fresh eyes. We get tired of it. We don’t see our own mistakes. We go through the process because the teacher told us to, not because we see anything wrong with what we have done.
We have one next step. Inspired through a conversation with my friend Lauren, she told me how she tells her students what their specific next step is when she reads their writing. I loved this idea; one next step, not ten things you still need to work on. So after my students had self-reflected on their work, I wrote what I saw as their strengths in their writing and then the very next thing they should work on next.
Why? This means that as a I handed my feedback to them, they knew where to start. Instead of “just” trying to read the rubric, which most of them admit that they don’t read or understand, they knew how to get started. Their process then developed from that next step.
We read our work aloud. And not to get through it quickly but as if we are narrating our very own audiobooks. My students do not believe me when I tell them that I read every thing I write aloud, but it’s true (I am reading this aloud as I type right now), however, this approach has helped me catch many mistakes.
Why? I have been sharing with my students how when they read things aloud their ears often catch things that their eyes did not. Once I got students to actually believe me, some moved into quiet spots and started to read. They were often amazed at how many things they caught.
We edit on paper. I asked every child to print their short story and hand it in. Not because I needed it, but because they did. On Wednesday, I handed it back to them as I asked them to read it aloud and then asked them to edit directly on it. Not because we did not have computers in the room, but because they needed to see the mark ups that happen when we edit by hand. As they read their story aloud, their papers filled in. I did not tell them how to mark up their paper; they need to figure out their own symbols, but I told them I expected to see change. And change I saw.
Why? Because when they only edit on a computer they mistakenly believe that they either have little to change because there are no squiggly red lines, or they think they have already changed a lot. When they sit with a paper version of their story they can see what they are changing, they can feel their story better, and they then get to type their changes into typed story. This also offers them another hidden chance of editing their work.
Everybody edits and revises. Often times we only tell our kids who may not have mastered something to edit/revise their stories deeper. We assume that the kids who show us strong written work already have edited/revised it a lot, but that is not always the case. In fact, I have seen how little editing/revising some of my more developed writers do.
Why? For this every child was expected to change their work, even the ones who clearly had exceeded expectations, because they need to realize that there is no such thing as perfect work. We can always make something better, we can always polish something more. And sure enough, some of my more developed writers made their stories even better.
We took our time. This was a unit in itself, not just one day’s worth of activity. This was an event, something important that I hope they carry with them. I explained how when I taught younger grades we used checklists and fabricated peer edits to show them what to focus on but that now they were ready for the next step; the idea editing rather than a checklist. This means that I offer them ideas of what they can work on and sometimes even where but that they must critically evaluate their own work to see what it needs.
Why? This is hard work and deserves to be treated as such. This is why it stood on its own and not just the two final days of our writing project unit.
I didn’t partner them. While I love a great writing trio (trio so that one child doesn’t do all of the work), I purposefully did not put them with a peer. I instead wanted them to shape their own process by choosing who they could work with. And they did, often trading computers and leaving each other comments. Were the pairings always the most powerful? No, but they were honest.
Why? The kids knew that they could help each other and were chosen to be a help and so they did their best to offer critical feedback. I also want them to make connections without me so that they can shape their own writing process. It was exciting to see how much students supported each other when I got out-of-the-way.
Once again, I am in awe of the small tweaks that we can implement to create a better writing process. I have seen incredible changes in the work that my students have revised. I have seen care taken to a new degree. I have seen a re-investment, rather than just a shrug off. By giving them the time and elevating this process to something that was treated with importance, my students now see a larger value in editing. Now the very next step is to help them hang on to that as they continue to shape their writing identities.
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 . Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.