Thursday, February 4, 2010

Adding Glamour to Revising

Revising! I always find this step of the writing process frustrating. So many of my students just want to rush headlong through the writing process, scribbling out a final draft so they can say that they're "done". When I ask them to revise, they might circle a word, find a punctuation mistake, or half-heartedly reread their piece.

Part of this is developmental. See, most of our writers are still at the "knowledge-telling" phase, in which they think that their purpose for writing is just to take what is in their head and copy it onto the page. (See The Psychology of Written Expression by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia for more on knowledge telling.) To a knowledge-teller, revising is boring and redundant. They already wrote what they know. Why should they read it again?

In the past, I've made the earnest appeal for revising. I modeled revising with sample drafts. I've shown them how revising leads to a stronger piece of writing. I took a thoughtful, reasoned approach to convince students that revising is more than just adding a word. I told them, honestly, that revising is hard.

Well, the earnest approach wasn't working with my students. Instead, I decided to try a different approach--the glamour approach. For fourth graders, nothing is more glamourous than new and different materials. After introducing the revising checklist, I gave students the choice of three revising strategies. None of these are earth-shattering or new. What made it work, though, is the use of the materials.

1. Add details with sticky notes: I've used this strategy for years, but I've only recently started to offer a wider variety of sticky notes. A choice of color and size makes this much more engaging and fun for students. I keep a few of the special shapes on hand to give out to students as I circulate around the room.

2. Add details with red or blue pencils: Last year, I think that I accidentally put my regular pencil order on the lines for the red and blue checking pencils. While this has led to an alarming shortage of pencils in my room (and serious pencil rationing!), I am liking the supply of red and blue pencils! Somehow just using the different colors--and even using them in combination--leads to better revising. And I make sure to keep these put away so that they are "special" for revising.

3. Surgery! This has been especially successful with the boys in my class who really resist revising. Of course, I make a big deal about it--"Don't worry. The patient's in good hands. We'll pull this through!" And then I cut apart the rough draft and tape it down on a new piece of paper.

Sometimes we need to leave big spaces between sections so that the student knows where to add more. In some drafts, details need to be rearranged and reorganized. "I'd just like you to know that the surgery has been successful," I'll say in a hushed voice. "I think your piece of writing just might live." The surgery banter has been flying thickly through the room this week, with some kids choosing to use it as a revision strategy probably for the sole purpose of being able to pretend to do an evil laugh as they cut their writing apart. I can live with this.

I haven't earnestly showed the students how they can improve their writing by revising. They are showing each other. I've overheard students talk about how they need to add more. One boy said to another, "Look, what you have doesn't match your graphic organizer. You need to do surgery."

How do you add glamour to revising?

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