Assisting Young Writers to Embrace Revision

All too frequently a teacher will inform me that their students passively resist revision as a tool for improving their writing. Their students are yet to understand that ‘revision is the magic behind great writing.’  If we, as teachers of writing want students to embrace the idea of revision we must remove some very obvious obstacles that may be getting in the way of real revision.

Let’s begin with topic selection!  
When students are able to choose what they really want to write about, then they usually display increased commitment to producing their best writing. As a consequence, they indulge in their best revision efforts. If the teacher owns the topic, the idea, the response, the student experiences a disconnection from the piece. Allowing students to choose topics is central to the philosophy of  an authentic writing program. If students feel a sense of passion about what they’re writing, revision is more likely to be viewed as integral to the process of producing something worth reading.     

The Principle of Purpose
The writing our students are doing must have a real and obvious purpose. It is critical that the writing has an authentic purpose. It must be linked to the idea of ‘audience.’ Who are you writing this for? Who are your readers? Where will this be read?  Where is the writing going next? Without a reason to write there is little point being invested in the effort required to write it. It saddens me to hear students respond, ‘It’s for my teacher’ when I ask them who the writing is for. As teachers we need to invest a lot of time in establishing an awareness of audience in writers. This implies publishing and a range of audiences. This is where purpose resides… 

As teachers we need to be more creative than merely pinning the writing up on the walls of the classroom. Taking writing beyond the school is critical. When writing goes public, it leads to feedback. This leads the writer back to the purpose and value of revision. 

Is this Editing or Revision?
If we as teachers are confused about these processes then it will hamper the level of revision that occurs. If students just ‘fix up’ the surface features of the writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) they are not revising the piece, they are editing. Revision requires the writer to re-vision the writing. This means revisiting the content and working to improve the way it is written. The writing is re-crafted not just fixed up. Sometimes this may involve surgery, cutting and pasting chunks of text. Young writers need to be shown how to do this.

Did I Mention Mentors?   
All young writers need regular contact with someone willing to share their writing at all stages of the writing process. Students need to see how another writer uses revision to improve the content of their writing. This is the action that most effectively breaks down the resistance to revision. It is up to the most proficient writer in the class to demonstrate how revision works for them as writers.


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