In my last column I discussed how less skilled writers approach revising. I suggested that they will likely spend little time revising and may submit a first draft as a finished piece. I also said that they may attempt very few revisions, even when prompted, and that those revisions are usually ineffective. I suggested that the ineffectiveness of these revisions may be caused by lack of a understanding of the revising process or lack of ability to correct problems (Graham, Harris, Macarthur, & Schwartz, 1991). In this column I will begin to discuss how to improve the revising abilities of your struggling writers. Specifically, I will provide several effective ideas to help establish an overall supportive environment to help revision behaviors grow and flourish.
The first step in creating such an environment is to teach your students why they need to revise (Saddler, 2003). Often, students resist revising because they do not see why they need to change what they have written. So, to help them understand the rationale for revision, you may first need to clarify the higher purposes of writing. One way to do this is to hold, at the beginning of the year, several class discussions about writing and revising.
During these discussions explain that writers have the job of sharing what they know about a topic with readers. Writers send their messages to readers through the words and ideas they write, in ways that readers will understand and appreciate. To receive, understand, and appreciate this message, readers must combine the parts the writers have conveyed with their knowledge of the topics.
Say that for this process to work, writers need to send clear messages to readers, and that all writers have to revise their messages to make them clear enough for readers to understand. Your students also need to appreciate that this process is rarely quick or easy—there will be times when they may need to revise what they have written again and again. You can most certainly tell them that you revise your own writing to make it clear. You might also tell them that professional writers typically spend much more time revising their work than writing the first draft.
Your students will need to understand that because the process of sending a clear message to readers is challenging, they should not expect or even try to write something from start to finish without making changes. To reinforce this idea, teach them the “mantra’ that “writing begins with revision in mind.” Put this on a bulletin board and chant it three times before beginning to write! That will grab their attention.
Once you have their attention, explain that the first draft is only a first try at a message that will only become clear through revision. Explain that they should look at the first draft as getting enough ideas down to work with. Tell them not to worry about spelling, punctuation, or capitalization—during the drafting stage, they have only one job: write, write, write! Tell them that this is what professional writers do and that such writers will often rewrite their first drafts many times before it clearly says what they wanted it to say.
For many of students, this information may not be a revelation. But some may absolutely need to hear this or they will not appreciate why you are asking them to revise what they consider a completely finished and totally adequate first draft!
Although revealing this truth about revising is only the first step, it’s a critical one! After this step, many other supportive activities can be used to keep the revision ball rolling. To this end, several of my future columns will discuss how to create and encourage reflective dialog between your student writers. Such dialog is critical to a writer when revising. In addition, I will offer suggestions for specific revising activities you can practice with your students.
Graham, S., Harris, K. R., MacArthur, C., & Schwartz, S. (1991). Writing and writing instruction with students with learning disabilities: A review of a program of research. Learning Disability Quarterly, 14, 89–114.
Saddler, B. (2003). But teacher I added a period! Improving the revising ability of middle school students. Voices from the Middle, 11, 20 – 26.
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.