TRT Podcast#27: What to do when your writers WON’T REVISE
Have you ever asked your students to revise their writing and heard something like this, “But I like it the way it is! I like what I wrote the first time!”
We need to help our students see that revision isn’t about fixing bad writing; it’s about making good writing even better!
In this episode you will:
- Learn how to help your students revise as they write (not just when they’re “finished”)
- Discover the four types of revision that even our youngest writers can do
- Learn age-appropriate revision strategies
Listen to the episode here
Full episode transcript
Have you ever tried to get your learners to revise their writing and heard something like this? "But I like it the way it is! Why do I have to change it? I like what I wrote the first time!"
Our students often think of revision as punishment. They assume we ask them to revise because their writing isn't good enough. Let's help our students see revision isn't about fixing mistakes, it's about seeing what's possible. Stay tuned for Episode 27: What to do when your students won't revise.
Before we get into the meat of this episode, let's talk about the difference between revising and editing, because I find that a lot of teachers and students mix these up. Revising is about making changes to the content of a piece, while editing brings attention to grammar, spelling, word usage, punctuation, and other conventions of writing. So revising improves the QUALITY of the writing by improving the content, organization, and word choice.
These acronyms may be helpful. You've probably heard these before, ARMS and CUPS. Revising is about "A-R-M-S". "A" - add words, "R" - remove words, "M" - move words, and "S" - substitute words. Whereas editing is about "C-U-P-S". "C" - capital letters, "U" - use of words, "P" - punctuation, and "S" - spelling.
Now that we've talked about the difference between revising and editing, let's talk about WHY our students often don't want to revise. They think that our asking them to revise their piece means they failed. They think revising is all about fixing mistakes instead of taking something good and making it better! Here's a quote from Georgia Heard, in her book, "The Revision Toolbox". I recommend taking this quote and posting it for your students. "Writers revise because they feel committed to making a piece of writing the best they can because it means something to them. It matters enough to try to make it their best."
I would say the single most important thing you can do to help your students be willing to revise is to show them that revision doesn't just happen at the end. We're revising all the time! Think about the last time you composed an important email to someone. You probably didn't write it straight through from beginning to end and then go back and change things. As you were writing you might've thought, "Oh, I don't like that sentence. I'm going to change it." Or, "Oh, I know I need to go back to this paragraph and add something." That is completely normal. That's what revising is all about! It's going back to our piece as we're writing it and changing it whenever we see something that we'd like to improve.
I think so often, especially back when I was in grade school eons ago, the teachers would have this linear chart that showed the stages of the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. We need to remember that writing is not linear. The writing process is not linear, it's recursive. That's actually from a book by Ralph Fletcher. I can't remember the title. I think it's "Writing Workshop Essentials", but I'll link to that in the show notes. His point is that, when you think about the writing process, you're moving in a circle and you're going back and forth on the circle, you're not just going in a straight line.
You can show your students that revising happens all the time by the writing that you do in front of them. Show them that you often stop, backtrack, change something, and so on as you're writing. You don't wait until the last second right before you're going to check all the spelling.
Another tip for you is to make sure you save revision for the writing your students care about. Oftentimes in a really good Writing Workshop, kids are producing lots of different content. Some of it is good, and some of it is not good. The same is true for us, right? If you do any kind of writing, some of it is probably great and some of it isn't. Any professional writer will tell you the same thing! We don't want them to take a piece they don't care about that has one or two sentences and then they abandoned it because they didn't like the topic. We don't want them to go back to THAT piece and say, "Let's make this really good."
We want to help them see what piece they're already proud of, and then talk about how you can make it better. When your students are revising, remember your goal. Your goal is NOT to make this one piece of writing perfect, it's to help them learn a strategy they can use on writing in the future. So, be sure to teach revision strategies that students can apply to other projects. That may be as simple as helping them understand that revision takes different forms. We talked about "A-R-M-S". Revision can be adding words, removing words, moving words, and substituting or changing words.
You'll need to be very patient because, especially if you're teaching K-2, they're never going to revise as much as you'd like. They just won't. For very young kids, honestly, revising might just be adding detail to a picture. So we may have to rethink how we see revision, but just remember it's having them change something to make their writing better.
I find it is EXTREMELY helpful to have students get in the practice of reading their writing out loud, even if it's pictures, right? So if it's a story in all pictures, they can talk out loud about what's in their story. This is one of the MOST important things I can think of.
Just the other night I was sitting down with my fifth grader and we were looking at the final draft of his story that he was about to turn in for English class. Actually, the story was quite well-written. It was a little bit of a bizarre plot line, which is often true with fifth grade boys. It was about a detective named Mr. Potato, who destroyed a villain by shooting french fries at him. So, it was pretty crazy, but it did have a problem and solution, a lot of great vocabulary, and a pretty good plot. However, as we read the story out loud, he often heard things that he would have noticed if he'd already done that.
Definitely make this a routine. Have your students start Writing Workshop every day by covering their ears. I call these magic headphones, because when you cover your ears you can hear what you're saying really loud, but you can't hear the people around you. And you can also read it softly because it's really loud in your head. So have them read their writing out loud before they continue, and show them how reading it out loud often means you catch something that you can change!
Another tip, when they revise, please teach your students NOT to erase. Have them cross things out with a pencil. The reason for this is that it gives you a record of the revising that they've done. If they erase it, when they want to change something you have no idea that they changed a blah word to a more exciting word. Or maybe you can tell, but you don't know what the blah word was. It's so good for our students to see for themselves the changes they've made!
When they are publishing it, they can recopy it. If you've got very young children, you may want to rethink how you have them publish. Maybe you type it for them. Perhaps by the time they publish, you have them erase and rewrite. But the point is, you want to see the changes they've made. You don't want them to erase all the evidence of the wonderful writing work that they've done.
Another tip for you in terms of helping your students be more willing to revise, is to make sure that the strategies you're teaching are appropriate for their grade level. It can be easy to get carried away with all the wonderful things they can do to revise and expect them to do something that's really not developmentally appropriate. So in kindergarten, our students aren't going to revise much at all. It may be as simple as adding a detail to a picture, or writing just one more sentence to give an additional detail. As they gain writing fluency, and it's not so much work to get out a single sentence, we're going to add more strategies to their toolbox.
In first grade, especially, we make sure that they are re-reading their writing with those magic headphones to make sure it says what they want it to. They might add a few words or details, they might add labels to pictures, they might add a title, or they might check to make sure the picture actually matches the story. You could also have them use arrows to move information that could be in different parts of the piece.
I want to give you an example of some revising that my first grader did just recently. She has a wonderful teacher who does Writing Workshop, which I absolutely love, and she was writing the steps of making dill pickles. As she wrote it, she remembered that she had missed a step and she didn't know where to put it. So her teacher showed her how to write it on a piece of paper, cut it out, and tape it above what came after it. She was revising as she wrote. She realized that she missed something, and she had to figure out how to put it back in. Her teacher taught her a strategy for doing that. That's a wonderful example of teaching revising as needed, whenever it comes up.
In second grade, students can do the things they learned in the other grades and more things like adding new ideas, changing the beginning or the ending, taking out details that really don't fit, changing weak verbs to make them into strong verbs, or adding conversation and specific details. But we're not going to be doing all of those at the beginning of second grade, so we'll gradually add more strategies. Then if you have a child like my daughter, who is ready for something a little more advanced, you can certainly teach them new strategies as needed in their individual writing conferences.
So, there you go. Those are some thoughts about revising. The big take-aways I'd love for you to have today are that you want your students to see that revising happens ALL the time not just when you think you're finished with a piece. That writers revise their best writing. So they take the writing they love the most, and they invest time into it to make it even better. We want them to know that there are typically four ways to revise, adding something, removing something, moving something, or substituting something. And we want to remember to teach them age appropriate revision strategies, keeping in mind that we can always teach more advanced strategies on an individual basis.
If you are looking for mini lessons that teach revising, you will find those plus many, many more inside my online course, "Teaching Every Writer". I'm going to link to that in the show notes. You can also learn more about it at teachingeverywriter.com. You'll find the show notes for this episode at themeasuredmom.com/episode 27. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you again next week.
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Links & resources
- The Revision Toolbox, by Georgia Heard
- How to teach revising and editing in K-2 (video blog post)
- Teaching Every Writer, my full online course