Moving from peer editing to partnership revision

This week we have been working on revision, true revision.  And we’ve had to make 2015-08-20 14.35.19a  shift in the way many students view and participate in the revision process.

There is a difference between editing and revision, but often times revision just gets lumped in with editing. This causes confusion for students and many begin to think that revising writing is changing a few spelling or grammatical errors marked by a peer and then rewriting it in pen or typing it. The Berkley Student Learning Center does a great job at describing the difference between editing and revision. Look at some key phrases from the description of revision:2015-08-26 13.06.14

  •  deals with the paper as a whole
  • is dialogue-based
  • purpose of discussion is to expand and clarify ideas rather than “correct” them

This is something that I am continuing to develop in my classes—focusing a little more, using more effective tools, teaching in to the strategies better each year.

Here’s how it looked during our memoir unit this year:

We started revision almost as soon as we finished flash drafting our memoirs (see this post for more details). Students read numerous mentor texts, examining 2015-08-26 12.10.26writer’s craft. They reworked leads and conclusions and tried out craft moves based on those mentor pieces (see last week’s post). We celebrated their thoughtfulness, their work, and their willingness to take risks. Although they were seated in groups and encouraged to talk to one another and they did quite a bit of writing in the air, much of this reworking of their writing was individual. Now it was time for them to form writing partnerships.

First we talked about the importance of revision work. I was probably a little over dramatic, but I needed to make a point. This was serious work. This was hard work. This wasn’t a checklist that they would finish in five minutes. This wasn’t just telling someone they wrote a good story (what does that even mean?) or marking a few grammatical errors.  It required close reading of both their writing and the rubric, thoughtful and meaningful dialogue about their 2015-08-20 14.37.40writing, and a self-negotiation of changes to make (or not) in their memoirs after discussion.

I allowed students to choose their writing partner. We discussed that they needed to choose someone who would help them, be honest with them, and keep them focused. Most of the students made wise choices, often choosing not to work with their closest friends. You may want to choose their partners; you know your students and what is best for them.

I asked students to get prepared for their discussion with their writing partner by using the checklist they had completed earlier to help them find where they believed their writing best fell on the rubric. I used the checklist and rubric from Lucy Calkins and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions, Grades K-8. I teach 10th ELA and Gifted 10th ELA, and I have found this resource to be invaluable even with the focus on K-8. The writing progression/continuum gives detailed descriptions of the skills that should be evident at each grade level, including 9th grade. Also student examples are provided which help me and the students see what these skills look like in actual pieces. Students of all levels and abilities find the rubric useful in naming skills and setting goals for their writing. I did choose to remove grade levels on the rubric and use stars instead.

Students were instructed that they were the only ones to write on their papers. They would have discussion about their writing, but they were to write notes on their own rubrics and memoirs about what they wanted to do. They were to have discussion using the language of the rubric, looking to see if each skill was evidenced in the writing and noting possible strategies for lifting the level of writing2015-08-20 11.05.05 to the next step on the rubric, essentially goal setting for their writing. Then, they were sent off to work.

Students spread out in my classroom and even in the hallway, finding a place to work, really work. Equipped with the right tools, tools that helped them know what good writing looked like (mentor texts) and the language to talk about the skills and craft of good writing (checklist and rubric), students worked diligently.

Listening to their conversations might have been my proudest moment of the year so far.  Students finally had vocabulary and context to give meaningful feedback to their partners, to ask questions about the piece as a whole, and to name specific 2015-08-20 08.18.11places and ways to lift the level of writing.  Some of the conversations I heard:

  •  A lively discussion over resolution being open-ended but still providing a sense of closure for the reader
  • Using voice in the lead so it is consistent with the rest of the memoir
  • Sense of setting being used throughout the memoir
  • Using courage of a character to make a connection to a larger meaning
  • Dialogue about changing the pace in the narrative and how that would affect transitions
  • Condensing text to highlight the suspense more

After our in-class work on the memoirs (about 2 ½ weeks), I asked students to write a couple of sentence reflecting on our process. I don’t ask my students to put their names on this, because I want them to be honest. I need the feedback to improve my skill just as they do. By far the most suggested improvement was to spend more time with partnership editing. Most students felt they had grown as a writer and shared what helped the most (I’ve listed a few below); however, one student did tell me that he or she “only grew 2% as a writer.” I know my goal for the next writing unit. 🙂

What helped students the most in their words:

  • The [anchor] chart helped me to guide my writing.
  • Reading the different memoirs really helped, so I could see an example of what I am trying to do.
  • Analyzing other author’s writing has helped me understa2015-08-26 12.10.58nd how to make mine better.
  • What really helped me is the little individual checks that you did. [It] helped me establish what was needed.
  • Had time to try out, reject/accept many memoir ideas (wasn’t pressured into getting stuck with something I didn’t want to write about.
  • Working with a partner and getting feedback gave me new ideas and confidence with my piece
  • Actually getting feedback that could help me instead of “yeah, it’s fine”
  • Writing more often and reading has helped me
  • Having a partner to go over [my writing] and reflect on it
  • Actually cared about my work. Actually felt motivated to do it right.

Teaching students to be reflective on their writing and our processes in the classroom will be on-going. My hope is that all of them will eventually be able to say as one student put it, “I thought about how far I’ve come and am surprised as what I’ve accomplished.”

If you want to lift the level of revision in your classroom beyond this or just want to look at ways to expand this process,  wrote an amazing post, Moving from Partnerships to Peer Conferences, on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  This post includes resources and tips for making the transition.  I was inspired and challenged by this post and will most definitely work on sliding my students a little further in our next writing unit.

Bonus Read: I loved Elizabeth’s 7 Trends in My Fall Classes post on the dirigible plum blog. I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to have students respond to text or to reflect. Her seven creative ideas gave me a great jump start. Here’s just one that I’m going to try out soon:

Micro-response. Students in 4 classes are going to get a heavy dose of Twitter essays, 6-word stories, and 17-word summaries. There is something so powerful and affecting about the clarity and strength of a thought expressed under constraint.


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