Monday, March 18, 2013

Revision Strategies

Reluctant revisers are my single most intransigent problem as a community college comp teacher.  If I can't teach students how to revise and/or persuade them that it is necessary to do so, then how can I possibly teach them to become better writers? 

The most important principles we discuss throughout the semester:
Butt In Chair
Show, Don't Tell (which approach is just as important in expository writing as it is in fiction)
Reading is writing
Writing is a recursive process

My chief tool for providing motivation is, of course, the grade book.  It seems to me that grades (and particularly the threat of failing) should be a fairly powerful motivator when one is paying for one's own tuition; however, but by the end of the semester I still have at least half of my students consistently failing on all 4 accounts.  [Often students tell me that I give them too much work, and they are taking 'other hard classes.'  Apparently it is their expectation that because they already know how to speak and write in English, they will not have to devote similar effort to my class.  This mindset is a difficult obstacle to overcome!]

Typically my students have a 3-page paper due every 2 weeks until the research essay, which they have a month to write. Through several years of trial and error, I have arrived at the following process:

After assigning readings that model the pattern of development that I'm teaching, I introduce the assignment.  I model effective and ineffective student writing.  I discuss and admonish against common errors.  Finally, I give time and room to prewrite and write.  When the rough draft is due, we have a peer review workshop with specific feedback prompts. I do not grade rough drafts, but I deduct points from the final grade for failure to submit one.  Unlike many of my colleagues, I do not allow rewrites of final papers.  However, I give global feedback on each student's draft in order to encourage appropriate attention to the revision part of the process.  I frequently encourage visits to the wonderful campus Writing Center and give extra credit for visiting.  [Very few students take me up on this offer.] 

Commonly, at least 25% of students fail to submit a rough draft at all.  Another 25% make very little effort at revision from draft to final.  While lack of will is an apparent issue (as in the student this week who printed two identical drafts and labeled one 'rough' and one 'final'), I am fairly certain that another impediment is the lack of understanding as to what constitutes real revision.  While I try to discuss and model revision in class, it seems clear to me that I'm failing to give students the tools they need to apply my words to their own work.

Thus I was delighted to see a review in this month's SCBWI Bulletin of Kate Messner's Real Revision: Authors' Strategies to Share with Student Writers.  I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle and am pleased to say that I see many practical applications for my own teaching and writing.  Messner uses examples from a number of working children's book authors to show how her techniques can be applied, very specifically, in a classroom setting.  While I work with older writers who are writing nonfiction, I still find her suggestions applicable.  I highly recommend this book to writing and English teachers, particularly those of students in grades 4-8. --Jeanne Marie
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Anonymous said...

I've followed your blog for several years and continue to enjoy and learn from everyone.
I would use the book in conjunction with library programs about the mills and child workers.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for highlighting Kate Messner's book, JM. I'm curious--do you have a textbook for your class? You may also want to take a look at WRITING IT WRITE: HOW SUCCESSFUL CHILDREN'S AUTHORS REVISE AND SELL THEIR STORIES by Sandy Asher

Carmela Martino said...

Oops! That should have been WRITING IT RIGHT! I guess I should have taken time to revise. :-)

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Welcome, getroundtoit (love your name)!

Thanks for the recommendation, Carmela. I will definitely check out WRITING IT RIGHT. And yes, we do use a textbook in English 101. Alas, students rarely crack it open, despite (again) my best efforts. We are in the process of finding a replacement, and I am hopeful that we might have better luck with a more user-friendly and appealing text.