Posted in Education, Teaching

Fun with Revision

I wonder if early man ever looked at their cave drawings and thought, “Wow, I could have really done a lot better.  That elephant’s left leg is disproportional to the right.  And that tree is actually on the other side of the field.”  While our cave dwelling ancestors probably didn’t take the time to reflect on their work because they were fighting for their lives against wild creatures, in retrospect, I’m sure they wish they had.

While creating something like a story or poem is super fun and enjoyable, the act of revising, polishing, editing, and rewriting can sometimes be so much more meaningful.  My fifth or sixth drafts are always way cooler than my sloppy copies, as they should be.  For me, it’s like looking for a diamond in a minefield.  Although I try not to be married to my ideas and writing, I find it challenging to separate me from the words.  So, any change I make is a bit heartbreaking.  But when I find the right changes to make, wow!  The story starts to really come together.

Although I’m sure my students aren’t quite at that stage of abstract thought and reflection yet, they sure did seem to enjoy the revision process yesterday in Humanities class.  In years past, the students seem to finish the revision and editing phases in about 10 minutes.  “I’m done.  I changed a period to a comma and added two adjectives.”  Oh, yah for you, I would always think to myself.  They were too tied to their work and couldn’t really see the forest through the trees, or is it the trees through the forest.  I suppose either one would work for my analogy.  Anyway, they really stunk at the drafting process.  This year is different.  This group of students spent at least 40 minutes reviewing, rereading, revising, peer revising, editing, and peer editing their work.  They color coded all of their changes so that we can see their revision process when we grade a future draft.  Their vignettes looked like Jackson Pollack paintings.  They were so pretty and colorful.  To see how deep in the revision process they were, I did ask a few about their changes.  Why did you change that word or how does that change positively impact your piece.  “It helps the reader better picture what is going on and when I first wrote it I didn’t think about that.”  They were in deep.  It was awesome.  I’m so proud.  Not only were they making their pieces better, they themselves were growing as writers.  It’s like watching a newly formed rock become polished and eroded at the bottom of a river.  While that takes years to watch happen, and this only took a few weeks, it’s basically the same thing.

The power of the revision process can be overwhelming for our students, but it is so important in helping them reach their true potential as writers.  We need to model, explain, and provide plenty of time for the students to dig deep into their writing in order for meaningful revision to take place.  The end result though, is so worth it.  Take the time to allow your students to really work on their writing so that they can improve as writers and appreciate the process of revision.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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