Just over a month ago I was asked to write a chapter for a book dealing with Technology and writing. Another colleague and I had originally submitted a proposal for the book and our piece was accepted for a different project that spawned from the original proposal. We declined to use our submitted proposal due to some personal preferences on both our parts as writers. I was relieved because I am co-authoring a book and I could see my life becoming more busy and with school, I knew it would be a challenge.
Just over a month ago I received an email to consider submitting the proposal that was originally submitted. I knew that I would be on my own with writing it and because I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity or back down from any challenge, I said yes! Insert big GULP! I had a week to type a 9-15 page chapter, single space. Needless to say, I flipped out! I spent a few nights staying up until midnight getting it done. Once submitted, I knew I was going to have to make some changes and I knew there were plenty of errors in it, but with the timeline given to me I did my best and submitted it for review.
About 3 weeks ago I received the reviews back and I knew it was time to get to work! On the other hand, I was not expecting to reduce my 15 single paged chapter to be reduced to 8 pages double spaced as requested by the publisher. I was starting to feel more pressure and the need to scream at the top of my lungs. To make a long story short, I was able to effectively revise my original submission after some collaboration with great mentor and friend. I was even a day early and only 4 lines over 8 pages. WOOO HOOO!
After giving my brain a rest, I decided to discuss with my 8th graders what I had to do. Their jaws dropped down to the ground. I actually had them do a quick write on it. I asked them what would they do if they were in my shoes. Many of their responses were entertaining, from giving up hope to reducing the font down to 8, I laughed with sincerity at all of their silly responses.
Though I might have received some off the wall answers, when it came down to it, I was pleased with some of the serious replies they gave me. Below are a list of suggestions my students had.
- Go back and look at the requirements and decide what is most important.
- Get rid of fluff or filler
- Find what is more important and focus on making that better.
- Record yourself reading the chapter and listen to it. Decide where to cut based on recording.
There were other responses, but I continued to challenge my student’s thinking. I posed three questions to them.
- How do writers, such as yourselves, determine what details are more important?
- What is classified as “filler” in a piece of writing?
- How do I determine that I need to reorganize or move things in my writing?
These were questions that my students struggled to answer. I feel they are higher order thinking questions. Often, at this time of year, 8th graders aren’t in the mood to think. Nonetheless, I had a job to do and I wanted them to think. Many students talked about going back to requirements/guidelines/rubrics to help determine what was more important. In terms of moving sentences or chunks around, they struggled a bit with the question.
What this solidifies for me is that revision is not an easy process. Students in general have the misconception that revision is nothing more than fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc. This is not the case! Those items I mentioned are part of editing, not revising.
Revision is a difficult task to master and it takes time to understand what quality revision actually looks like. For middle school students, they want nothing more than to complete the assignment and get it handed in. The one strategy I found to be effective is to walk through my writing and talk through my thought process with my students so they can see what my thinking is and why I choose to move parts or eliminate them all together. In order for our students to feel comfortable and motivated to revise their writing, we as teacher need to be comfortable with our own writing and be willing to show our students how we struggle with our own writing from day to day. I feel it is then we start to get our students to understand the power of revision.