The revision exercises I came up with during my WID semester might be the ones that I am most proud of. I’ve always told my students that they need to edit their work carefully before handing it in, that rough drafts are just another step in the process, and that their final drafts will often be very different from the first drafts that they came up with. But until this semester I have not included specific revision exercises as part my course curriculum. Now I couldn’t imagine designing a course without them.
I had students write two essays in my class. Each one included a rough draft and a final draft. For the first essay, I graded the rough draft and final draft with equal weight. In this way, after all the revisions had been done, most of them read like two different essays. For the second, I placed much less weight on the first draft. In retrospect, I think this is a better way to do things. I told my students that the rough draft can be really rough, messy, and experimental. But, by giving so much weight to the first draft of their first essay, I was sending mixed messages.
After their first drafts were completed, I had them complete a variety of in-class and at-home revision exercises. A lot of students told me that they appreciated this method, because they did not understand how much work went into producing a high-quality paper. By giving them a lot of time and space to work on their drafts, in addition to a few activities that were not worth many marks on their own, I think they felt more at ease with moving from draft to draft.
Here are a few techniques that I used for revision exercises:
I love working on writing in the computer lab. I find that students are usually very engaged, self-motivated, and stay on task for the entire class when they’re working on a computer. It’s no surprise given how much they love looking at screens (as we all do). But I think the computer lab exercises I gave are examples of problem-solving type activities that demand engagement. Essentially, what I’m doing is separating each part of the revision process into micro-problems to be worked out. This is what writing and rewriting is all about.
A very important aspect to these lab activities is that it gives me a lot of time to consult with students individually. While students are working, I walk around and spend a bit of time with each student, answer questions, reading parts of their essays and giving feedback. With so many students in a class, each with his or her own set of questions, concerns, and problems, this is a huge asset.
Here is the presentation I gave and worksheet the students completed after receiving the version of the rough drafts for their first essay, with my comments. On the worksheet, I first had them respond to my comments; state what they agreed with, and what they disagreed with. I think this worked because this ensures that my comments are not just static on the page, but information that the student is actively engaging in a dialogue with.
Lab 1 Presentation *****
For their second essay, I took into account the revision skills they had accumulated during the work they did on their first essays. There were less revision activities that they had to complete. For the lab session, I had them revise their theses, and make notes to themselves about how they could strengthen their arguments. Finally, I had them create an outline for their final drafts. On the disadvantages of having students compose outlines early on in the writing process, Bean writes, “asking for outlines early on distorts the composing process of many writers who discover and clarify their ideas in the act of writing…the “think first, then write” model implied by early outlines seriously undervalues drafting as a discovery process” (294). In having students write outlines after their first drafts, I wanted them to think about more effective ways to reorganize and rework what they had written.
From the first to final drafts of their first essays, I had students complete a few revision activities. Each was worth very little (1 or 2 percent), and focused on a specific revision activity. The goal was to teach them to look for specific things each time they reread their essays, as well as to work on particular essay writing skills.
This one works on contextualizing quotations properly. The first part is an in-class exercise. The bottom of the second page is a homework activity.
This one has the students work on strengthening the first and last sentences of each paragraph.
I’m never sure if peer reviews are helpful or not. I suspect that the only students who get anything out of them are the really strong students, who would probably have peers or someone read over their paper anyway. In the interest of attempting to create a community of writers that help each other, and to simulate real-world teamwork situations, I think I’ll continue to give them a shot.
Here’s a peer review evaluation sheet I have the students fill out: