"I actually read my story to somebody and they actually asked questions like they were curious about it and I was like, 'Why didn’t I put that in there? Why didn’t we think of this before?'” – fourth-grade student
Let the revising begin!
At the end of the year I interviewed a fourth grader who said, “I used to just write my stories and say, ‘Okay I’m finished with that,' and go to the next one.
"And then one time you came in and said, 'Today we’re going to study revision circles.' I actually read my story to somebody and they actually asked questions like they were curious about it. When we were in revision circles, they would ask questions where I had blank spots. I was like, 'Why didn’t I put that in there? Why didn’t we think of this before?'”
You see, students will revise and like it. They will need lessons how, effective feedback, and authentic audiences like my 4th-grader’s student.
Writing for an audience matters
The best pieces I’ve seen resulted from crafting for audiences besides me – the teacher. Writers want to write clearly for someone they care about. Knowing the reader affects how writers focus and structure their pieces as well. So, start by discussing audience. Ask students to reach consensus about a publishing idea each time you start a new unit. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just one that the class is excited about.
Collaborating with others matters
Secondly, arrange your writing workshop schedule so that children share in writing circles and/or confer with you. In the beginning of the unit, students use their writing time mainly for drafting. But towards the end of the unit, you will need about 3-4 days to run writing circles. Your kids will look forward to getting feedback when they see that others are genuinely interested in their writing. If you can arrange it, invite other adults to stop by and help in the circles. By getting advice from others frequently, writers begin to read their own papers with a reviser’s eye. They anticipate questions and try to avoid them by filling in the gaps before they share. They learn to step away from the piece for a time, come back to it, and make changes so that the paper makes sense to others.
Students also need lessons that support the revision circles. In one session, we helped a student notice that his story was out of order. He jumped up and headed back to his desk eager to make the changes. Then in midstride, he stopped in his tracks and turned back toward the group. “How do I do that?” he asked.
I just laughed. Here was a nine year old just learning to write. How would he know how to reorganize his writing if I didn’t show him how…several times? (With his permission, I used his writing as a minilesson the next day.)
From the Chicago teachers who wrote Stack The Deck, I learned to teach students four main areas for revision: add, subtract, rearrange and combine. The simplicity of their thinking on such a complex issue has helped me select what to teach. I model how to add details, reorganize the writing, combine information scattered throughout the writing, and hardest of all, take out words, phrase and whole parts. I recommend collecting writing - with student permission - and save the pieces in folders for minilessons.
Let the revising begin! Read on for tips and lesson ideas.
NEXT: Booklets help kids organize