In my last columns I discussed several ideas to help establish an overall supportive environment that will encourage revision behaviors to grow and flourish in your writing classroom. I also discussed methods of creating and growing an essential element in this learning process: reflective dialogue between you and your student writers, and between the students themselves. Reflective dialogue is essential when revising because often, when our students finish the initial drafts of a particular piece of writing, they may think what they have written is perfectly clear. However the only way to be certain is to have someone else read what they have written for meaning and provide detailed feedback about their understanding of that meaning. This is the essence of a reflective dialogue: two or more writers thinking about a writing piece with the aim of making it better.
One way to structure a reflective feedback experience in your classroom is through peer conferencing. As I explained in a previous column a peer conference between writers has many advantages, such as practicing error detection and correction (Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis, 1997), increased insight into the role of an audience and critic (Marchisan & Alber, 2001), and an improved ability to write from another’s perspective (Wong et al, 1997); however a peer conference is only one method of arranging this important dialogue. In this column I will move beyond peer conferences and discuss how to organize the read-respond-revise cycle via whole class revising sessions.
Whole class revising can be a great method to strengthen your students’ revising abilities provided that all of your students have been exposed to peer conferencing and have a solid understanding of the revising process to include the knowledge I articulated in prior columns. When your class is ready, begin guiding students in the steps they should take with their own pieces by working through sections of model papers you have created or sample student papers on the overhead, line-by-line and sometimes word-by-word. Ask for student input and model out loud the decisions you make as you consider changes to the work. Look not only for errors, but also for “dissonances” or areas that could be improved by restating the idea in a better way, or by adding or taking away information. Shoot for a gradual release of responsibility for making changes from yourself to the student. Remember, the more open and interactive the dialogue the better! You could also provide copies of revised stories as guides, or partially revised stories that could be completed as a class exercise.
Using actual student papers has a big advantage over models you have created. As classmates suggest revisions and point out sources of confusion, the author of the paper learns where their ideas are ambiguous, or their words unclear, or imprecise. In addition, the entire class benefits from the dialog as the writer is known to them and perhaps the topic is also very familiar, as they may be currently writing about the same idea. Think of these sessions as class-wide conferencing—as a writing laboratory where all of the scientists in your classroom have a voice in the authors’ experiment.
While working through these interactive revision dialogues through either peer conferencing or whole class revising, provide the students with a checklist to guide their review of their own and each other’s drafts. Revision guides offer students concrete tasks and clear-cut goals (Williams, 1998).
Checklists could be developed for each stage of the writing process including planning, content generation, first draft, second draft, third draft, final revision, editing, and proofing. Be aware that if you provide only a checklist, many students may simply check one or more items without actually reflecting on the value of this feedback to the author. One way to prompt the students to go beyond the checklist and provide meaningful feedback is by requiring comments to be written to elaborate each checkmark. The critic benefits from writing comments also, as they must be very precise and thoughtful to be understood. To monitor and improve the quality of the comments, you should collect and read the checklists, and then provide feedback on the provided comments as well as suggestions for other comments that could have been stated.
Marchisan, M. L. & Alber, S. R. (2001). The write way: Tips for teaching the writing process to resistant writers. Intervention in School and Clinic, 36, 154 – 162.
Williams, J. D. (1998). Preparing to teach writing: Research theory, and practice. Erlbaum: New Jersey.
Wong, B. Y. L., Butler, D. L, Ficzere, S. A., & Kuperis, S. (1997). Teaching adolescents with learning disabilities and low achievers to plan, write, and revise compare and contrast essays. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 12, 2 – 15.
Bruce Saddler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology Department, Division of Special Education at the University at Albany, State University of New York. His current research interests include writing disabilities, self-regulation, and inclusion.