Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Revising as Part of the Process

This is a post that I have started and changed several times. Ironically, this post is about revising and editing. As a writer, I revise constantly as I write. I hardly ever draft on paper anymore--most of my composing is through my fingertips-- and I would probably be stunned at how many times I hit the backspace key. (Full disclosure: I changed two words after I typed them in the last sentence so that the sentence would be clearer and not so repetitive. You can try to figure out the words. Maybe I'll share what they were at the end of this post...)

Melanie Swider and I have been talking about revision in the classroom and she shared an interesting conversation that she had with her students about their essay writing. "When did you revise your essays?" she asked her students. We were both happy that her students responded that they revised their essays throughout the whole process of drafting them. They made changes as they incorporated teaching points into their work and they fixed parts that were unclear when they re-read their drafts. Through their turn and talk, they realized that they also revise as they work in their notebooks, even when they are writing lists, plans, and entries. "Doesn't that count as revising?" one girl asked. Of course it does!

I worry when we teach students that revising and editing are separate steps in the writing process because I don't think that they are. When we write, we revise as we go. Sometimes, our revisions require asterisks, numbers, or arrows, but sometimes, they just involve a quick line through what we wrote first or a few clicks of the backspace button--okay, sometimes even a lot of clicks of the backspace button.The real message for students then becomes that writers re-read throughout their work and change as they go. Sometimes, they start with a plan and they veer; they make decisions to return to the plan or forge a new path that makes more sense. Sometimes, through re-reading, writers realize that they have been unclear, or that they have been redundant, or that they have missed an opportunity for parallel structure. Younger writers may realize that they could have included some punctuation, extra letters in some of their words, a capital letter, or spaces between some words. Are these separate steps if our writers continue their story or piece, having just made their corrections along the way?

I attended the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project workshop this week about their rethinking about their writing units for grades K-2. Natalie Louis, a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, shared that students will be expected to work through the process faster with increased expectations for productivity. "Revision," she said, "becomes no big deal. It's just a matter of course." To her point, writing more gives students more and more opportunities for revision--for trying out new learning and experimenting with different ways of self-expression. If we are asking students to produce quick writing and then return to those pieces to think about how they can try out new skills within them, then I can see how revision is a separate step. But, what if, on another go at a story, one of those young students tries out a strategy along the way and changes course to try out another strategy within the same piece? I'd celebrate because that student is demonstrating internalization of new strategies and has incorporated them into his/her own repertoire!

Sometimes when I am speaking, I announce that I am drafting. I'm not sure that you can really draft speech, but my thinking is that it lets people know that I'm not positive that I agree with the words that are coming out of my mouth; I might want to change them. One of the reasons that I love writing is because I have the power to change what I am writing ( I just did, as a matter of fact, make a change!). I have the power to re-read and make sure that I've made sense. I can add or subtract words and I can read my work to my husband or ask a friend to read my writing. And yes, I can do many of these steps as I'm drafting. I think that emphasizing to children the power that revision offers writers is so important to teach. That way, revision becomes not only a matter of course, but an avenue for constant reflection and improvement.

This post has taken a long time and a lot of revisions and I can't remember the two words I changed in the first paragraph, although I know that one of them was composing. ;)

Happy planning, drafting, revising, and reflecting!

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