The Common Core Standards for writing require that students learn the concept of revision from a very young age. When we are working with K-2 students we want them to understand and practice the concept of revision –- to see again and lift the quality of writing -– in a way that allows them to construct their understanding of this process. For many young writers, we find it helpful to first explore this concept through talk, classroom routines, and drawing. Once they understand the process of revision, they can then transfer this knowledge to their writing.
Talk is an engine for intellectual development. Before our students can revise their writing, they need to revise their talk. When students verbally share their stories with partners, they can rehearse what they are trying to convey to their audience. When we are writing, the idea of audience is abstract and removed for a young writer. When they orally tell their story to a partner, the concept of writing for an audience becomes clearer. A partner can let you know if you need to clarify, add, or change any part of your story. When a writer tells their story to a partner they have an opportunity to “re-see” their piece and lift the quality by telling it again. We have found that it is easier for students to understand why they need to revise when they are orally telling a story. They get a chance to be the audience and respond to a story, as well as be the writer and receive feedback. Both roles are essential to constructing an understanding of the purpose of revision and the importance of an audience.
Our young writers learn best when they can construct their knowledge in a concrete way. There are many opportunities throughout a day when we can teach our students the concept of revision — “to re-see and lift the quality” and the importance of audience through our classroom routines.
How often do we look around the room after centers and see a disaster? Scissors on the floor, books on the rug, manipulatives left spilled on the table, and student folders not in their bin. If we clean up the mess, we are not teaching our students the routines of our classroom, and holding them accountable. We are not giving students a unique opportunity to construct their understanding of revision.
When it’s time to clean up, we say, “Writers, I think we have some revision to do. Look around our classroom. What do you notice?” Students quickly glance around and avoid eye contact. Once students begin to talk through what they notice, we then ask, “How could we revise this? What could we do to lift the quality of our centers? Why do we need to do this? Talk to your partner.” As our students confer with each other, we listen in and take notes on their ideas. We chart the ways we can revise our centers today, why it is important, and strategies we can use every day in centers to make them more organize, coherent and purposeful. “Okay, writers, let’s try it.” After the students “revise” the centers, we reflect on the process and the strategies we learned that we can use every day during our center time. Each person needs to take care of the materials and the areas in our classroom so that other member of our classroom community can be productive when they are working.
We lose a lot of instructional time during classroom transitions. With a workshop model of instruction, we want our students to quickly transition between whole class lessons and guided practice groups. At times students linger, get off-task, or forget to clean up their materials during transitions.
We now view these moments as wonderful opportunities to revise! “Writers, I think we have some revision to do. I have been sitting here ready for our focus lesson for the last four minutes. What do you notice?” After the students have had some time to look around and reflect, we ask, “How could we revise that transition?” Our students turn and talk and are ready to “re-see” and “lift the quality” of our transition. We chart the ideas and strategies they share with the group, and then say, “Okay, let’s try it.” We send our students off to try the transition again, and then we reflect on the process. We add new ideas to our anchor chart so we can use what we learned during our future transitions. When we revise, we don’t just focus on fixing one time, or piece of writing, we focus learning strategies that we can use every day.
In both reading and writing workshops, our younger students express their thinking through pictures and words. After they orally tell their story to a partner and revise it, they write their stories in pictures. Once they draw their stories, they then use their picture to “reread,” “re-see,” and lift the quality of their pictures. Writers often notice a detail left out, a character is missing, an emotion incorrectly represented, or an inaccurate setting. When they notice this, we can offer this as an opportunity to revise. When we care about our stories, we want to tell them as clearly, accurately, and vividly as we can. We revise to make it the best we can for our audience because we care about our piece.
We find that young writers construct their understanding of both the purpose and craft of revision through drawing because it is developmentally the first way children represent and understand meaning. The strategies our young writers use to revise their pictures: adding details, including character’s feelings and actions, describing setting, and including key moments are the same strategies they will learn to revise their writing. The importance of audience is also clear when they use their picture to tell their story and decide how to revise their drawing to make it clearer, more accurate and vivid.
Once our writers understand the concept of revision and the importance of audience in their talk, routines, and drawings, we then can transfer these ideas to their writing. We take what they know about revision from these experiences and show them how these same ideas apply to their writing. They know how to use anchor charts, strategies, and a partner to help them with the process of revision. Most important, we think our writers begin to understand that revision isn’t about fixing something we don’t like or care about. Revision is about making something be the best it can be because it is important to us. As Lucy Calkins notes, “When your writing is lousy, you throw it out. When your writing is alive and beautiful and full of potential, you revise it. Revision is a compliment to good writing!” When we take the time to reflect on the moments in our classroom and work together to help each other make our work be the best it can be, we create a community of writers who will embrace the process of revision.