This is the last part of a three part blog post on how I worked to give the writing process back to my students throughout the course of our fiction writing unit. You can read about our fiction writing unit in PART 1. And you can write about how my students selected their own mentor text, analyzed that text for new writing strategies, applied those strategies to their own writing and taught each other about what they learned in PART 2. All of that work, brought us to our final phase of our writing unit. Revision, editing and self-assessing.
Our fiction writing unit had to end. Truthfully, the students were ready for it to end. It had run its course and I wanted to come back from winter break and start fresh with our persuasive writing unit. Now this does not mean that everyone was finished with their fiction stories. Some of my students had bit off quite lofty writing projects and I did not want them to rush through the ending of these stories. So I told my students that whether they had finished three fiction stories or had not yet finished one, they would select ONE piece that they believed in and work to revise, edit, self-assess and turn in that piece of writing for me to assess. It did not have to be finished, but it had to have show evidence of all phases of the writing process.
Because of the structure of our literacy studio, the students always have time to work on writing projects of their own choosing. So even though we will begin to study the craft of persuasive writing when we return from winter break, they will still have time to return to their fiction writing during our independent work time.
Now I know that many of my students revise as they write. We talk about this often. I see evidence of it often. My writing conferences focus on it often. But I still find value in spending some set aside time to discuss revision and editing.
As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog post, one of my biggest goals during this writing unit is to put some of the ownership of the writing process back onto my students. No where does this feel more important than in the phases of revising and editing. At the start of our year together, many of my students have no idea how to make their writing better until they find comments that were left for them by teachers suggesting or requiring them to make changes. They see revision as a process where the teacher tells them what they need to do and then they go off and do it.
The problem with this process is that I did not see it transferring. The things that I used to ask my students to change in one piece of writing would remain unchanged in their next piece of writing. The places where I suggested that the reader might need more information would return again in their next piece of writing. So I wanted to find a way to have my students complete some revision on their own BEFORE I collected the best draft of their writing.
So a few years ago, I decided that I would have my students use a revision checklist to help them revise their writing BEFORE they turned it into me. One of the reasons for this is that I realized that my most important work in helping my students grow as writers, took place DURING the writing process, not when it was over. When I had students turn in their writing, in their minds, they were often done with that writing. When I turned that writing back with comments and suggestions on that writing, they would fix what I told them to fix, and that piece of writing would get better, but they were not growing as writers. If, however, I was able to catch them DURING the writing, through daily conferring, then I was able to help them to grow as writers AS they made that piece of writing better.
So then, what became more important than a final round of comments written on my students’ papers telling them what to fix, was instead teaching them a PROCESS through which they could take another look at their own writing and find ways to use what they already knew to improve that piece of writing. So that is what I have tried to do.
I have explained our revision checklist before, and the process remains much the same. However, this time, I made sure to add space to our revision checklist for students to honor the writing lessons they learned from their own mentor texts and from the lessons taught by their classmates.
In the past, our revision checklists are co-constructed by simply listing together all of the writing lessons that I have taught throughout a writing unit. The students then use this list of writing strategies to look at their own writing. I often set a minimum number of changes that they need to make in their writing, but then give them the freedom to find the places in their writing that need more work and then select a writing strategy to use in that specific place in their writing that will make their writing better. In this way, I am forcing them to re-look at their writing, but they have control over the changes that they believe need to be made.
For this unit, we did go through the process of listing all of the writing lessons that I had taught. That list became the second page of our revision checklist. The first page was pretty much empty. It included space for the students to list the writing strategies they discovered in their own mentor texts, that they might use to revise their writing, and it also included space for them to write down each of the writing strategies that they learned from their classmates.
And here are two revision checklists from two different students:
I also discussed with each of my two classes, what number of changes they felt was reasonable to make to a single piece of writing at this point in their writing process. My morning class suggested 4 and my afternoon class suggested 3. While I HATE setting minimums, I know that for some students it is still necessary. So I also made sure to talk about AND MODEL the process that I use for revision.
I showed the students how I read through my own writing and listened for the writer’s voice that said, “There is something more you could do here,” or “You could make this better!” Once I heard that voice, then I went to my checklist and ran down the entire list of strategies that I had available to me in order to find one that might work there. I continued to do that all the way through my writing. In this way, I was not worrying about a specific number of changes, but rather, I was looking at my writing as a whole and trying to do as much as I could to make it better.
As with everything, different kids went to different lengths with this process. Some kids found three places to make changes and then stopped. Other kids went all the way through their writing. Either way, the kids were practicing a process that I knew would benefit them for far more pieces of writing than just this one.
One of the things that I loved the most about working with my students on this process, was hearing the conversations that students were having with each other. Many times, I overheard students go back to the kids who had taught them about different writing strategies and ask them their opinion and advice about how they would apply that strategy. I heard kids excitedly sharing with the kids who had been their teachers, how their writing lesson helped them to make their writing better. I saw as many students checking off writing strategies from the first page of their checklist as they did on the second page.
It was powerful.
After teaching them this process, I also shared with them an editing checklist. The editing checklist contains all of the spelling, grammar and punctuation mini-lessons that we have had so far this year through our writing work. These are things I have taught them to do, that we have looked to mentor texts to learn how to do and so now I expect them to have these things in their writing. Here is our EDITING CHECKLIST FOR FICTION WRITING.
As students began to finish up with their revising and editing, I showed them the final step in our writing process. Self-assessment.
Assessment is one more area that I find my students are completely dependent on me. They have a hard time knowing if their writing is showing progress or not. They often bring pieces of writing to me and ask me, “Can you check this?” or “Is this good?” I find that they lack the skills to look at a piece of their own writing and determine, without an adult, if they have done good work or not. This is another thing that I believe we can change. I want them to know how to look at a piece of their own writing and see the evidence of how they have grown as writers. Of what they have learned how to do.
So after each writing unit, I use the list of writing strategies that they created for our revision checklist and again type it up, but this time on a chart. This time, I also left spaces for writing strategies students learned on their own from their mentor texts or from their classmates. Here is our SELF-ASSESSMENT FOR OUR FICTION WRITING UNIT. SELF-ASSESSMENT FOR OUR FICTION WRITING UNIT.
When the students are ready to turn in their best draft to me, I ask them to first take time to self-assess their writing. To do this, they assign a color to each of the writing strategies that they have used in their writing. They then go back to their writing and underline specific words and sentences and paragraphs that show evidence that they have used this writing strategy in their writing. in this way, the kids are able to see a colorful representation of all the writing strategies they have learned to use.
Here are two pieces of writing that students color-coded to show their use of writing strategies:
When they finally turn their writing in to me, I also ask them for a blank copy so that I can then assess their writing on my own. Because the truth is, my assessment is important. I need to know what they have learned to do, but, in my opinion, it will never be as important of their own assessment of themselves as writers. The ability to look at their own writing and see what they have learned how to do, that is going to motivate them in ways my assessment never will.
By the time my students turned their fiction stories in, I believe that they felt incredible pride and complete ownership over their writing. Finding as many places as I could to give the writing process back over to my students was an incredibly worthwhile effort. Because I want my students to be able to write without me. I want to teach them what they need to know in order not to need me anymore. And with this unit, I truly feel like I took big steps towards that goal.
And in the end, these fiction stories, they belong so completely to my students. And to me, that is a sign that I have helped to create writers who will write far beyond the walls of my classroom.