The Magic of Flash Revision

I never speak at a conference or work with a district where I don’t talk about the magic of flash drafting. Probably second only to mentor texts, flash drafts have utterly changed the way I teach writing.

A flash draft is a super-fast, down-and-dirty draft that moves ideas from your brain to paper. It is Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” in school-appropriate language. Here’s how a typical writing workshop flows in my classroom:

After studying mentor texts to get a vision of the kind of writing we will be making, we jump almost immediately into a flash draft. I make a big deal out of a flash draft being bad writing. We need to have bad writing in a doc or on a piece of paper so that we are able to use the mini-lessons to revise and make that bad writing good.

For more on flash drafting, check out this post and this one!

Why are flash drafts magical? Because students begin the writing unit with something to revise. And thus all mini-lessons are really revision lessons that can be immediately applied.

So, What’s Flash Revision?

My students spend 20-30 minutes flash-drafting before I begin teaching mini-lessons. But leaving the “bad writing” where it is — even for the rest of the week — causes some students anxiety. So, recently, I experimented with Flash Revision. Here’s how it works:

  • Students re-read their flash draft. (Groans abound.)
  • Students refer to the big list of mentor text noticings created previously created as a class in the mentor text immersion phase of the study.
  • Give students the same amount of time they had for flash drafting to use the list of noticings to make their writing “just a little bit better”. (So, since my students had 20 minutes to flash draft, I gave them 20 minutes the next day for flash revision. If they had flash-drafted for 45 minutes, I would give them 45 minutes for flash revision.)

I like this phrase “make your writing just a little bit better” to describe revision to students. It’s so much friendlier, so much less intimidating than, “Okay. Revise your whole piece.” If students have multiple opportunities and strategies for dipping into revision, then each revision session can simply be making a piece of writing just a little bit better than it was when they began.

What Did the Students Think?

After flash revision, I asked my students to reflect on the experience. I didn’t know if they’d find this super helpful or super annoying. I wasn’t sure it would have any impact at all. Here’s what they had to say.

“I liked it. It made [revision] less stressful.”

– Maggie, 7th

“I like flash revisioning, and only having to revise for 20 minutes did make the experience less stressful.”

– Camryn, 7th

“I thought that it was super helpful and that 20 min was definetly enough time.I got a ton done.”

-Cruz, 7th

“I liked revising my flash draft. I think I got a good amount done, but it wasn’t overwhelming because I knew I would have more time to do it another day.”

– Emma, 7th

To be honest, I don’t know why this hit so well. I didn’t have a single student report that it wasn’t helpful, and most said that it was significantly less stressful than other revision tasks. Maybe it’s because I just trusted them for 20 minutes. They didn’t have to revise anything specific (they could choose anything, really) … they just had to do better. And ANY doing better was a success.

Regardless of why it worked, I will never flash draft without flash revision again. Something about it made revision feel approachable for students and cleared their brains of writing anxiety. Drafts were better from the get-go, and students were able to apply mini-lessons more effortlessly.

Do you have other tricks that make revision less scary for students? When could you see yourself using flash revision in some way in your classroom? Leave a comment below or find me over on Twitter @RebekahODell1.

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