The Writing Process: Teaching students the habit of revision - Room 213

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The Writing Process: Teaching students the habit of revision

The writing process is all important for learning, as is the thinking process. Make both a priority in your middle and high school English classes.

Despite what many of our students believe, writing is not all about that end product, the one we take in and grade. "Good Copies" are often whipped up the night before they are due, and passed in full of errors and lacking thought. Sometimes, though, this is the result of our own practice. Rushed to complete our checklist of must-do's, we don't always devote enough time to the process of writing.

However, if we want our students to be better writers who are critical thinkers and life-long learners, we can't ignore that all important process. We need to teach it to them, show them the benefits of a thoughtful look at their work, and build in time for them to revise. I can guarantee, it's time very well spent.

But how do we find the time when there are so many other things we need to complete?

The writing process is all important for learning, as is the thinking process. Make both a priority in your middle and high school English classes.
There are multiple ways we can make process part of the daily routine. Let's look at prompts and bell ringers, for example. We use these techniques to settle kids at the first of class and to get them to think critically and/or creatively. Once these activities are finished, ask kids to re-read what they have written, and look for one or two ways they could improve their response. You might ask them to strengthen weak verbs, add transitions or more detail. The key is to ask them to complete one or two tasks that they can do relatively quickly, so the process doesn't take too long. 

For example, after I ask students to reflect on point of view in their independent novels, I have them take a moment to re-read and then add more detail. On days when I'm tight for time, I ask them to just highlight areas that need revision. Regardless of whether they actually make the changes, or just look for places that need them, they are build-ing the habit of giving their work a once-over, and looking for areas that could be stronger. You can get some of these activities ready made in my Writing Prompts for Independent Reading, and Writing Prompts for Building Stamina and Skill.

Early in my career, I did a lot of assuming. I believed that my twelfth grade students came to me having been taught the skills they needed to be successful in my class. However, after a lot of trial and error and research, I've come to know that no matter how skilled students are, they need to be shown what to do. We need to practice what we preach about showing, not telling,  and model our own process. 

When you want them to close read and annotate, project a short passage on your screen, and model the thinking process you go through as you read it critically. Show them the actual annotations you would make. This works really well with poetry especially, because students see that we don't automatically get it on the first read. It's a process that takes time and effort, even for us.

This can be a very effective lesson when you want your students to revise their writing. Again, project a draft of something you have written, and show them what you would do to make it even stronger.

If process and revision is important, then we have to show students that. Build it into your daily activities as I suggested above, but also provided students with time to do the process for longer assignments in class. It would be lovely if our teenagers would all go home and spend hours pre-writing, revising and editing, but we all know that's a bit of a pipe dream for most of them. When we build the process into our lessons and activities, then they are much more likely to do it. However, even more importantly, they will see that process is something we value. 

Writing and reading workshop allows for a lot of time spent on process, but even if you don't use that approach, you can still emphasize it. For example, before I switched to workshop, I would spend two weeks, in class, on the writing of the first essay. We broke the process down and focused on it one step at a time. Yes, it took time, but the end result was exponentially better.

If you haven't figured it out already, I am a huge believer in the power of process. When we make it a priority and allow students time to build the habit of focusing on the process, rather than just the end product, their work will improve. And, we are teaching them a life-long skill that they can take with them when they leave our classrooms.

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