Second Draft (Revision)
In the first part of the writers' workshop, we saw how each student wrote a story, shared it with their classmates and teachers, and then took questions from students and teachers for the purpose or revision.
Research shows that beginning writers do not revise very much. We also know that many students do not revise without peer or teacher support. Many simply make surface revision, such as spelling and punctuation changes. This indicates that the students think of revision as proofreading. Although we encourage them to correct spelling and punctuation errors, we first want them to edit for content.
When students don't revise their writing it's most likely because they don't know how. They don't have ways to physically manipulate their work—to add information, delete it, or move it around. At KDES and MSSD we have conducted mini-lessons—short teacher-directed techniques—for revising. Armed with these techniques, our students are better prepared to revise their writing. Let's look at the work of the two students below as examples.
Mahalia wrote a first draft about "Goosebumps." Then she shared the story with the class. Her classmates asked questions such as "How many dogs are there?" and "Did the dogs escape?" Mahalia answered their questions during the "share" step of the process. Then she wrote down her answers on paper the next day. Later, she added her answers to the story using spider legs (cutting each answer out and taping it to the story.) Below is just a part of her revision.
Rachel wrote a story about going to the park with her mom. Students in the class asked questions like "Who are the children who went to the the park?" and "Did the children eat anything while you were at the park?" Rachel responded to their questions, and added them to her story the next day.
After adding to their stories, Mahalia and Rachel, as well as other students in the class, will then have a content conference with the teacher.
Below is an example of a guide, Devices for Revision, provided to students to assist them in their revision work.
After the First Draft
Does the following sound familiar? Your students have just finished their first drafts of a story. You know that revision is important, so you ask your students to revise what they have written. After a bit of grumbling, they return to their desks and begin to copy their stories on fresh sheets of paper, neatly this time. To your students, this is revision.
Sometimes, we never ask our students to go beyond this. We simply correct their mistakes for them, and in the next composition the same errors come back to haunt us. Authors Steven Zemelman and Harvey Daniels observe, "In school, revision time usually means you did it wrong at first, and your punishment is to correct lots of errors marked In red. When teachers force revision in the customary way, the results are predictably disappointing: kids grudgingly re-skim their text, fixing up a couple of minor surface errors, often leaving the gravest proofreading problems untouched, and, much worse, completely neglecting the real issues of rewriting: order, logic, detail, support, word choice, metaphor, point of view, and all the rest."
As teachers, we can assist our students in learning that good writing is rewriting. Teacher Tom Romano notes that this doesn't simply mean recopying language. Rather, it means re-evaluating, re-thinking, re-valuing, re-generating, re-creating.
Three Steps to Teaching "the How To"
- Provide opportunities for students to receive feedback on what they have written, both through peer response and individual conferences with the teacher. Often students need input on what they have written before they can make significant changes in their drafts.
Peer Feedback. Writing is a highly social act: when students partake in group activities, or receive group support for their compositions, everyone benefits. Peer feedback can be implemented by having small groups of students read a draft of a story and provide written feedback, either through writing general comments or through providing a structured form to focus students on a few specific areas, such as the setting or developed characters, that the story should contain.
Peer feedback can also be accomplished by having students take turns sharing their drafts through-the-air, by speaking or signing the story for the class. After the story has been shared, students ask questions and the author answers them. After sharing, the student revises the draft based on the questions students asked.
One-on-one conferences with the teacher. When teachers take time to conduct regular, individual conferences with students about their writing, the writing improves. "Conferences may be very short (two or three minutes, in some studies) and may be fairly widely spaced (once every two or three weeks for example) and still have considerable impact. It seems clear that the direct, personal focusing that happens in a conference is what makes it one of the most powerful things a teacher can do to promote growth in writing." (Zemelman and Daniels, 1988.)
- Focus on content and organization in early drafts. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are important, but it is possible to have a grammatically perfect paper that has little content, or an organizational structure that makes it very difficult to follow.
Teacher Nancie Atwell states, "Teachers and students who focus on editorial issues in early drafts are deemphasizing information and disallowing the real possibility that revision will allow for changes of such magnitude that the final draft will be significantly different."
Further, Donald Murray warns us to ease the sharply critical eye in matters of student writing, especially during the delicate growing stages when the slightest feeling of self-doubt or imagined ridicule can stunt the student's potential to allow his or her writing to grow, indeed kill it.
- Model some strategies that students can use to revise their drafts. Sometimes students do not make significant changes in early drafts because they don't know how. As a teacher, you can demonstrate some techniques that can be used to manipulate the page—to add information, delete it, or move it around. Demonstrate how to revise with a piece of your own writing or by composing on the blackboard or overhead.
For more information about coaching writers with their second drafts, we recommend the books below. We have provided links to amazon.com for your convenience.
Lane, Barry (1993). After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books ISBN 0-435-08765-7.
Tully, Marianne (1996). Helping Students Revise Their Writing: Practical Strategies, Models, and Mini-Lessons that Motivate Students to Become Better Writers. NY: Scholastic ISBN 0-590-86565-X.