Workshop Process Non-Negotiable (Part 2): Revision & Determining Importance

Last month I wrote Part 1 of this topic. It focused on the “messiness” of the writing process. Actually, it focused on the necessity of it. For it is within the messiness that student engagement and ownership over their writing increases.

This post is about what comes after that messiness…what to do with all of the content students create?

[This two-part series focuses around a current memoir unit I am doing with my grade 10 class – more context for this unit is given in Part 1]

The following comment comes from a student who I taught in grade 9 and now again in grade 10. He is awesome. And he understands the benefits of getting feedback throughout his process.

“Well, it is that time again, Ms. Bond. This will be the first of many comments and questions. I know you love this part the best and so I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

And he doesn’t disappoint. Aarnav is the epitome of what you want a student to be: he is creative, he builds his content early, he is purposeful, he engages with his own writing…he is actually getting to the point where I don’t think he even needs me (but I would never tell him that!). His ability to emulate mentor texts is so strong; he is continually pushing out the boundaries of his comfort zone and trying new ways of writing.

I could go on and on about Aarnav. But I won’t – because he is not the norm. He is an outlier. And this post is not for students like him…this post is for all of those other students. The ones who need more guidance on how to take all of their content and turn it into a final draft, the ones who put a bunch of words on a page in some sort of organized fashion and think they are done. 

A bit more context…here are the standards for this unit. The focus for their summative grade in on the writing and language standards. They use the language within the standards to give feedback to me, to each other, and when they ask me questions. Interaction with the rubric and their writing is critical – but that is a whole other skill that needs to be taught and practiced.

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Standards for current Gr.10 narrative unit.

After the messiness

So the quick writes and timed writes are done. Students have spent time brainstorming and planning and outlining. They should have a clear idea and path set for their memoir. But more importantly…they should have a bunch of content in their Google doc. It will most likely be in rough shape – perhaps a lot of stream of conscious writing as they are encouraged to just get their ideas out. It might be a mess. But a beautiful mess.

And it will feel like a daunting task…to turn all their words and ideas into a well-crafted memoir.

Many students may become paralyzed at this point – they don’t know where to even start. And I don’t blame them. Revision is difficult.

Daunting to Doable

I have found it useful to break the revision process up into different lenses (see slideshow below for graphics).

In this unit, in particular, the lenses included:

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It is critical that determining importance comes first. This is so that original content can be sifted through for what is relevant and, more critically, what isn’t. 

Now I know this isn’t an easy task and students have a lot of questions. But cutting out all the fat needs to be done before they can start to really manipulate their writing for style and voice…before they can play around with all those punctuation marks and stylistic devices (my favourite part!)

So, Me First

[Context: Their memoirs are focused around a “significant relationship”. This could be with a person, place, things, or concept – such as traveling.]

We work together on my memoir first. I want them to gain confidence in their ability to determine importance and they dive right in. They are confident in giving me feedback – especially when it comes to the constructive kind – haha:

  • “You aren’t showing us how your mom feels in this part, I think that is important.”
  • “I think you should move the last sentence of dialogue to the beginning so that the reader is curious about why your mom said that.”
  • “I think this is an important part for us to understand… why your mom made the decision to give up her baby. But the way you have it written doesn’t make it seem important.”
  • “In this section, the dialogue and description in the last two lines are saying the same thing. Why don’t you just keep one of them?”
  • “I like how you ended this section with a suspenseful tone. I want to keep reading.” (Finally something positive!)

Their observations never cease to surprise me and I implement many of their suggestions. And in order to get more voices into this part of the process, I give students a link to my Google doc so they can add comments without having to say them aloud in class. Here are a few examples:

student fb1
This comment made me laugh – the things they notice!
student fb2
We talk a lot about “redundancies” – this comment made me smile.
student fb3
Even if it is a well-written sentence, it doesn’t mean it should be there.

Then, Their Turn

It is then their turn to be just as critical of their own writing as they were with mine – I equate this part of the process with having mini-conversations with their memoir. Armed with 3 questions, they get down to business:

  1. HOW does this section connect to my significant relationship?
  2. What do I want the reader to FEEL in this section?
  3. What should the reader UNDERSTAND about my connection with the significant relationship after this section?

A few ways they can engage in this part of their revision are: (1) using the comment tool in their Google doc, (2) creation of a table in their notebook or Google doc, and (3) on note cards (I used this method recently. Afterwards, we did an activity where they played with the arrangement/order of their sections.)

The “Why”

Everything always comes back to the process. Building content early and then developing the skills to revise that content is where learning and engagement thrives. And once students learn how to manipulate their writing for style and effect, they see it in a new light and what was once just a Google doc filled with words becomes a canvas filled with possibility.

This process takes repetition, and it takes time. But it is time well worth spending.

How do you engage students in purposeful revision? What is a go-to revision activity? What do you struggle with when it comes to revision? Connect with me in the comments below or on Twitter @readwritemore 

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