What are we asking students to do when we ask them to revise and reflect on their writing?
I am of the philosophy that in order to become a better writer, one needs to write daily and look to examples of great writers as models and mentors. When it comes to writing essays in my English class, I have my students writing one essay each quarter. It is not enough if you ask me, but in this current climate of high stakes tests I continue to find a balance between teaching reading and writing.
I have my students write their essays in class and after I read through them, I allow students to revise and improve their essay for a better grade. After reading through the recent compare and contrast essays students wrote in response to Melba Patillo Beal’s memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, and Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” I planned a revision workshop to help students reflect on their writing and pinpoint areas where I found many students needed additional support. Reading through ninety five essays I found three places to “teach back” and help improve student writing: Writing a solid thesis or claim; Choosing the strongest evidence to support one’s claim; and Using better transition words.
I created a Revision Passport to guide students throughout the revision workshop and allow students to move around the classroom visiting different stations to help revise and reflect on their writing with the objective to nudge students to revise their writing and produce a stronger essay. After completing the work at a station I checked their work and gave them a stamp on the passport. Students had to complete four different stations.
Station 1 – The Exemplars
I pulled out two student essays that I felt were exemplars for the entire grade. I retyped the essays and removed the student’s names from the essay for the rest of the class to read through. Students had to write down two things the writer did well in the essay and then record a “writing move” they wanted to steal or borrow from the exemplar.
Station 2 – The Thesis/Claim
Although I have created interactive foldables and taught lessons on writing a clear and solid thesis, this is still a struggle for many writers. The thesis or claim is the heart of the essay. English teacher Ray Salazar has a great blog post on writing a thesis in three steps which showed my students. I made a graphic organizer for students plug their thesis into the 3 steps Ray describes and then figure out what is missing or what needs to be added to help write a revised thesis that is specific, debatable, and significant to the essay prompt.
Station 3 – Textual Evidence
Not all evidence weighs the same. Students need help finding the strongest evidence to support their claim. At this station I had students look at the evidence they provided in their essay and rank the evidence from strongest to weakest on a graphic organizer. In addition, students had to explain why the evidence is weak or strong. What makes the strongest evidence and why?
Station 4 – Writing Reflection
Looking back at their essay and the work they did during the revision workshop students completed two reflection tasks. Students had to rewrite, in their own words, the comments I made throughout their essays and what I wanted them to improve on. Then, students were to give an example how they were going to make their writing better based on teacher’s comments and the work they did in the revision workshop.
Below is a copy of the revision passport I created and used with my students.