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Show, Don’t Tell: Revealing Revision Through Modeled Instruction

By Justin Stygles
 | Mar 29, 2017

2017_03_29-TT-w300What is the most difficult component of the writing workshop for young writers?

Take a second. Consider your response.

In my experience, the revision stage is the toughest part.

Maturing writers need a tremendous amount of time to brainstorm, develop, and draft ideas. Under the time constraints of pacing schedules and scripted programs, even 40 minutes per writing session seems insufficient. Revision is then relegated to a single lesson, implicitly reinforcing what students have already habitualized: write a draft, add some ideas, consider it final.

Let's face it—revision is tedious, even defeating. To say “Take your writing to the next level” can be very ambiguous for young writers. Ultimately, I find myself wondering where the line is between writers' dependency and self-efficacy within the revision process.

When I ask my students what they think about the revision process, here's what they tell me:

  • I've already done my best work—why do I have to change it?
  • My drafts are so bad I have to revise everything, which feels like I have to do it over again.
  • Just tell me what I need to fix.
  • Revision makes me feel bad for the things I didn't do the first time.

Then, of course, there is always the instance when I realize that writers haven't made a single revision despite all the work I put into telling them what (and how) to revise.

To turn the responsibility of revision over to maturing writers, I consider the writing process and how revision is a process itself, one with its own distinct and individualized functions.

First, I show students examples of my own revisions and model how to revise a paragraph in a 10-minute session. They watch as I evaluate the sentence fluency, word choice, and often the organization of “live” pieces. (“Live” pieces are writings I am currently working on.) I model reorganization of sentences and paragraphs to show how to eliminate redundancy. I demonstrate that revision is “done in parts, leading to the whole” by showing drafts in multiple points of revision.

The intent behind this practice is to model and establish personal experimentation within the revision process.

The act of revision is like grouping loose puzzle pieces. Many first drafts represent a chaos of ideas. When we revise, we are trying to define the vision that those ideas become. The chaos of ideas can be cumbersome, especially if a student is new to revision or inexperienced.

The true art of revision is fostered within the writing conference where the teacher and the student collaborate on the next draft. By breaking apart paragraphs and reorganizing sentences, the student has turned a rough draft into a piece of art that demonstrates an investment in writing. At the end of a conference, reflect on the editing changes and how they enhance the writing.

Time must be invested in modeling and experimenting with revision because students’ writing in general and revision improve with time and deliberation. Revision, then, becomes more than a procedural step on a checklist; it is about fulfillment of a vision and a personal investment in writing and becoming a writer.

Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher at Guy E. Rowe Elementary school in Norway, ME. He has taught for 13 years at the intermediate level and in various summer program settings.

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