On Modeling Revision

Chapter 8 : Polishing the Paper
WriteLikeThis_

And here’s where Kelly Gallagher, in Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentoring , moves into the heart of writing.   Because “real” writers revise … a lot !

He writes on page 203, “As teachers we must recognize that getting students to dabble in these discourses [express / reflect, etc.] is only half the battle.  Getting them to take that lousy writing and showing them how to turn it into better writing is the hard part.”

After all, “one and done” is an effective life-coping strategy.   How do we get them to care enough to put in the hard and messy work of revision?

His answer : “model, model, model – and that includes the revision and editing stages.”

He uses an approach he calls RADaR,  taken from Writing Coach, a Prentice Hall writing program he co-wrote with Jeff Anderson (2012).

REPLACE … words that are not specific, words that are overused, sentences that are unclear

ADD … new information, descriptive adjectives and adverbs, rhetorical or literary devices

DELETE … unrelated ideas, sentences that sound good by create unity problems, unwanted repetition, unnecessary details

and

REORDER … to make better sense or to flow better, so details support main ideas, to avoid “bed-to-bed” writing (writing that’s too general, lacks focus)

So – how does this approach work in the classroom?    He uses revisions of his own work to show students how it’s done.

writelikethis003So – this is his draft.  He writes along with his students, and then he models revising his own paper.   I wanted to show the image because it shows his notation.  RP = replace. A – add. D = delete.  RO = reorder.   I don’t think in categories as I revise, so this would take a shift of attention for me.  It could work though, as a strategy / framework for student revision.

Getting my students to care, of course, would take a shift in classroom climate for a few of my classes.  Possible?  Maybe.  I’m only one teacher, and they’ve had 8-9 years of schooling to feed their current attitudes about writing.  Writing along with them might do it.

Gallagher is fond of writing “you’re the best writer in the room” – which is probably true for most teachers in most classrooms.  But here’s the thing – I am a writer.   I get lost in writing, the same way I get lost in reading.  That’s one reason I don’t read a book during my students’ independent reading time – I lose track of time, and an hour could pass without any direction or leadership from me.   If I REALLY write with them in the classroom, the same is likely to happen – more so, perhaps.  I do get lost in writing, and I get annoyed when I’m working on something and get interrupted.

I do think, however, that writing along with my students … and letting them in on my process … might move them past the “business-as-usual” attitude many have when they walk into my high school classroom.   My attitude toward writing, and my willingness to be vulnerable with the process, could make the difference in classroom climate.

Student choice is assumed in this approach.   That’s the other way to get around the “business-as-usual” attitude that keeps students from deciding to do more than the “one and done” attitude that keeps students writing poorly.

In some ways this approach is easier – more in the moment – less time outside of class preparing to control for every eventuality.   It reminds me of the simplicity of Reading Workshop … where I simply emphasize reading and create the space and time for students to read a book of their choice during class time.

What’s necessary is a shift in my ideas for how best to teach writing.   It is definitely worth a try.

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