Sunday, March 14, 2010

Revising and Editing Checklists

As I work with intermediate writers, I find that checklists are an amazing tool for helping them through the writing process.

Not that I'm much of a checklist person myself, of course. But most of my students like seeing a clear road map for what is to be done, a sequence of steps to follow. When we are working on a writing assignment together, I like to provide students with three different checklists: a master checklist with all of the steps that we will use, a revising checklist, and an editing checklist.

Here's an example of the three checklists from the latest piece of writing that we did together.

Writing about an important person

The Master Checklist: In my mind, each day leads naturally to the next. Students, on the other hand, often view each day that we spend together as a discrete event, totally unconnected to what happened before and what will happen after. The Master Checklist provides a continuity from one day to the next.

The checklist changes from one writing assignment to the next. When we worked on writing about an important person, for example, the checklist included different choices for how students could organize their piece--as a narrative, in spatial order, or in order of importance.

The Revising Checklist: Fourth graders have trouble with the revising stage! I keep the revising checklist short and simple, highlighting the key content or organizational topics that we've talked about. Usually students look for adequate details, an introduction, a conclusion, or so forth. Lately I've started adding a tangible revising strategy to the checklist. (I have modeled each one of the strategies with the students.)

The Editing Checklist: For some assignments, students and I create the editing checklist together. For others, I create the checklist based on patterns that I've observed with students. The editing checklist is a short tool to help students read their pieces with the audience in mind. Of all of the checklists, this is the one that is most likely to be checked off without thinking! It's vitally important to help students realize that they need to understand each part of the checklist and look for it before they check the box.

I often use a camping example to illustrate this. If you're packing for a camping trip, what would happen if you just check off that you have everything? How would that change your weekend? Then, we talk about what would happen for the reader if we didn't edit our pieces of writing. How would that change a reader's experience?

Checklist-o-Rama: Managing multiple checklists can be a little hectic. If you are trying this, make your master checklist a different color than the revising and editing checklist. We start each class by looking at the checklists and seeing where everyone is.

Avoid Checklist Overload: I usually do about one writing piece per quarter using the checklists. In between, we pick up the grammar, freewrite in our journals, share our writing, and just generally have a good time.

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