Although Donald Murray (1982) argues that writing is rewriting, students often see revision not as an opportunity to develop and improve a piece of writing but as an indication that they have failed to do it right the first time. To them, revision means correction. Revision, however, is the heart of the writing process – the means by which ideas emerge and evolve and meanings are clarified. Here’s some information that can help in changing students from “correctors” to “revisers.”
What is revision?
Revision is often defined as the last stage in the writing process (prewriting, writing, and revision). Sommers (1982), on the other hand, sees revision as “a process of making changes throughout the writing of a draft, changes that work to make the draft congruent with a writer’s changing intentions.”
How much do students revise?
For the novice writer, however, revision appears to be synonymous with editing or proofreading. An NAEP (1977) study found that students’ efforts at revision in grades 4, 8, and 11 were devoted to changing spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Students seldom made more global changes, such as starting over, rewriting most of a paper, adding or deleting parts of the paper, or adding or deleting ideas (Applebee, et al., 1986).
How can teachers help students to revise?
Merely requiring students to revise or just to spend more time revising will not necessarily produce improved writing (Adams, 1991). Direct teacher intervention, however, seems to produce positive results. Robinson (1985) found that children in grades 2-6 produced better stories when they revised in response to teacher questions directed at specific content. In another study, Sommers (1982) found that teacher comments often took students’ attention away from their own purposes and focused it on those of the teacher. Sommers suggests that teachers provide more specific comments and design writing activities that allow students to establish purpose in their writing.
Calkins (1986) recommends that students discuss positive rather than negative aspects of their writings. “Why not,” she asks, “ask them to find bits of their writing—words, lines, passages—which seem essential, and then ask them to explore why these sections are so very significant?”
Publishing student writings can be a powerful means of motivating revision. Publication instills pride and provides an incentive to produce good work. Giving students the opportunity to share their writing through hardback books, newspapers, or newsletters, or through oral presentations to other students shows them that quality matters, “and that quality is achieved through revision” (Balajthy, 1986). Providing students with in-class time for revision and allowing flexibility in due dates are ways to encourage students to engage in more extensive revision.
Can computers improve revision skills?
The ease with which students can manipulate text with word processing programs has prompted increased computer use in the writing classroom as a means of promoting student revision. However, the research on whether computers lead students to revise more frequently or more effectively is somewhat inconclusive.
It appears, however, that revision, whether done with computers or with pen and paper, will go beyond correction only if teachers emphasize the whole text over its parts. When this happens, students discover the power of writing as a means of shaping ideas and clarifying meanings rather than as a way of correcting errors or fulfilling a class requirement.