Well, this week saw the start of April and we all know what that means…April Fools Day. Possibly the least favorite holiday of teachers everywhere. When I was in elementary school, my most vivid memory of April Fools is standing in line waiting to enter the classroom after recess. My classmates told me there was a bumblebee in my hair! Yeah, right. Only, it was no joke – there really was a bee in my hair! I suppose that’s better than having a “bee in my bonnet,” but not by much! That experience kinda killed my enthusiasm for April Fools.
A Springboard to Better Writing
Some teachers may have the same sentiment about revising and editing that I reserve for April Fools Day. For me too, this use to be my least favorite part of the writing process. Not because I don’t enjoy revising – as the name of my blog implies, I love reflecting and improving on what I do. I simply lacked the tools and strategies to teach students how to do it effectively and, perhaps more importantly, with a growing sense of independence. Gradually I’ve been learning how to make the most of my scoring guide as a sort of springboard to better writing.
The Mystery of Revising
So, how to begin? Well, if you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you already know what does NOT work – telling students, “Now it’s time to revise your writing.” Okay. What does that look like exactly? What specific actions, or writing moves, do we expect students to do? When they pick up their pencil, what comes next? It can be a real mystery to our students. I think that’s where you need to teach students how to use the rubric as their guide.
Scoring Guide Hazards
You need a strong scoring guide. That’s essential. It’s what explains to students what “good” writing looks like. It sets the standard, literally. The problem, however, is two-fold. First, you have to share the rubric with your students. Too many times, we don’t share enough information and keep kids guessing about what they are striving to achieve. Let’s not make what qualifies as success a secret from students. Next, so if you share your rubric with your kiddos…do they understand it or is it written in teacher jargon? Students need to both know and understand the criteria for success.
I displayed our scoring guide on the white board, zooming in on the “meets expectations” section. The kids sat with their rough drafts (in their Writing Notebooks) on their laps, pencils in hand. Line by line, sometimes word by word, we analyzed the descriptions. Here’s a little of our conversation…
Me: “To meet the expectations, your writing needs to have transitional words and phrases.”
Students: “What are those?”
Me: “Connecting words such as first, also and in conclusion.” Students re-read their drafts, searching for transitional phrases/words.
Robert: “I don’t see any of those in my rough draft. I’d better put some in!” (I’m not making this up – that’s what he said, and a light bulb went on for both of us.) I pointed out the anchor chart on our wall listing these words/phrases. Students got up, consulted the chart, and if necessary, added those words into their drafts.
Zoom In – Zoom Out
It does require a deliberate slowing down. Like a photographer getting ready to take a picture, writing and revising is both a zooming in to look at the details (“Where are those transitional words?”), but also a zooming out to measure the impact on the whole piece (“Let’s re-read our paragraph now that we’ve added our transitional words.”). The time spent zooming in/zooming out is worth it, though, because it helps kids understand the process of revising. With a good scoring guide and the investment of time, revising doesn’t have to be a mystery. No foolin’!