Teaching Young Writers The Value of Rereading Their Writing

I revisited an old writing friend recently. I once again picked up Nancie Atwell’s ‘Lessons That Change Writers’ and began rereading. I like to revisit authors I trust. Atwell’s messages about writing are laden with timeless value. I possess a number of books I regularly revisit and reread. Pearls of wisdom frequently reveal themselves to me when I do this.

Nancie writes, ‘Writing is as much an act of reading over what we have written as it is drafting new writing.’

These words set me to thinking. A great many of our student writers are not consciously skilled where the act of rereading is concerned. For this reason, its value needs to be drawn to their attention. We need to demonstrate how, and why, rereading is an important skill. A skill to consciously add to their writing armoury. They need to see it explicitly modelled. They need to see it valued by a proficient writer. That way it is more likely to be adopted.

A lack of consistent and conscious rereading is frequently the thing preventing the words young writers produce, rising above the ordinary. Learning the habit of rereading and applying it in a conscious way could make the world of difference to the quality of the writing eventually produced for their readers.

The notion of self-reflection is a life skill. It develops over many years and its development requires intentional practice. If young learners are to develop in this way, they need to see adult models of self-reflection. The late Donald Murray reminded us, 'We need to teach students how to read their emerging drafts.’ To achieve this goal, we must begin with our own writing…

Rereading To Reflect
Here are some questions concerning our own writing, we can model for students:

How do I feel about my writing piece?
Which parts am I happy with? Where does it work?
Which parts require more attention from me?
Did I wander off my chosen topic/idea/story?
What do I want this writing to do? Have I succeeded in my aim?
Have I met the needs of my readers?
Where might my readers get confused?
Where do I need more specifics?

Ralph Fletcher says one of one of our main goals must be to help kids become better at reading their writing.

Rereading Notebook Entries
We need to model the way we reread our own notebook entries and alert students to the possibilities that this rereading presents. –All those long lost entries that bubble back to the conscious level of our thinking. This is rereading to ‘excavate’ lost gems and potential new writing ideas. We are showing how we mine old words for new ideas.

However, after all this rereading we have a further opportunity to encourage self-reflection. Before any new writing takes place, in that critical pre-writing time, we can ask questions that help clarify the writer’s intent:

Why does this topic, issue, idea matter to you as a writer?
Why should other people care about this topic?
What will you be trying to show your reader?

Rereading As We Write
Another type of rereading is the reading undertaken as we write. This rereading is equally important as it keeps the writing on track and headed in the right direction.

Rereading as we write has many benefits. It allows the writer to pick up many things including:

  • Unintended repetitions
  • Contradictions
  • Weak, junky verbs
  • Words omitted, or words in the wrong place
  • Anything overlooked
  • The voice of the writer
  • The point of view of the writer
  • The tone of the writing
  • Grammatical omissions
  • Spelling errors

Let’s Hear It for Rereading
Rereading aloud is as important as reading ‘in your head.’ It allows the writer to hear the text as a reader would hear it and serves to illuminate ‘the bumps’ in the text that may be inhibiting the flow of words. I often tell students to imagine they are hearing the text for the very first time. ‘Can you hear your voice?’  ‘Do your words flow easily from your tongue as you read?’ I ask them to take themselves to a quiet part of the room (along with their writing and pen/pencil) and read aloud to the walls and windows. No one else should be expected to read their writing until this important task has been completed. It is a way of showing respect for your readers.

‘If we want our students to be thinkers, researchers, collaborators, readers, writers, and evaluators, then they need to see us thinking, researching, collaborating, reading, writing and evaluating. We need literally, to live the life we’re asking them to lead.’
Regie Routman
Source: Literacy At The Crossroads

Rereading is a boon to any writer. Developing writers need to be aware of its benefits and learn from the example set by their teachers and mentors. If you’re still not convinced, might I suggest rereading this article?


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