Coaching Revision: My Five Biggest Mistakes

What does revision look like beyond your writing workshop? Have you thought you about this? I don’t think that I ever did when I still had a classroom of my very own, but I’ve been wondering about it often, lately.

Who expects writers to revise other than their writing teachers? And what does that experience entail? How do other teachers expect writers to approach revision, and how do their practices influence the way writers treat revision when they’re with us?

I’ve learned that prototyping using loose parts like sticky notes invites a kind of experimentation, play, and revision that outlining and drafting do not.

I think this matters. I was an ELA teacher, but I wasn’t the only writing teacher that my students had, and the expectations that others set for them certainly influenced how they approached revision in my class. I was one of many teachers struggling to support many young writers in my school. I’m betting that our collective expertise was pretty limited, and the messages that I sent and the guidance that I provided likely stood in stark contrast to my colleagues’. I often wonder how that complicated things for our students.

Writing is tough stuff, and so is teaching it well.

I say this all of the time: This is the work of a career, not the work of a single year or unit or lesson. Struggle is as much a part of the teaching process as it is the writing process. Sharing my struggles helps me grow, and growing keeps me going.

How might we find more time to tell our own teaching stories and then, reflect on them in order to learn? I’m discovering that this fuels me when the well is dry.

So often, professional learning facilitators like me are expected to drop knowledge on those we support. We’re supposed to be experts who deliver solutions. Short cuts. Advice. Best practices. And I get that, but the expectation feels so false sometimes. I don’t want to be valued for the answers I provide, and I don’t ever want to “know it all.”

I want to model what it means to truly teach. I want to make my own struggles transparent, and I want to share what I’ve learned with anyone else who might be interested, too.

Maybe that’s you.

Last week, I asked teachers on the ground and in my social networks what I should be blogging about this morning, and the majority of them mentioned revision.

So, here are the five biggest mistakes that I once made on the regular whenever I coached writers to revise.

And here’s what I’ve started doing differently, in light of it all. Feel free to dig into the resources below, and share your own as well. I’d love to know what your biggest mistakes have been, too. What have they taught you? What do you do differently now?

  1. Early on, I valued the quantity of writing my students were producing over the quality of that writing. I remember how excited I was as a first year teacher trying workshop for the very first time. My students came through a very traditional system, and the culture we created around writing was truly special. Kids were producing high volumes of print, and they were loving the process. They didn’t get better, though. Now, I try to remember that print is a commitment. When kids produce a lot of it at once, they’re less likely to revise. The three step process that I describe in this post helps writers build their drafts, better them, and then, bridge them to print. It’s an uncommon process, but those that use it are sharing solid results.
  2. I tried to offer as much feedback as I could, but it wasn’t very good. I don’t know about you, but my undergraduate and graduate school experiences did not empower me to give great feedback to writers. Sure, I had incredible professors who knew how to give me solid feedback, but I don’t recall anyone ever teaching me how to provide it. So, when I found myself starting down my first bit of student work as a brand new writing teacher, I didn’t quite know what to say. Or how. If this is your struggle, you might appreciate this document.
  3. I struggled to provide writers diverse strategies. Among other things, my early experiences as a writing teacher taught me that it’s one thing to let a writer know that his dialogue is a bit heavy-handed but quite another to coach the kind of revision that remedies that issue. Today, I glean some of my best ideas from the books, websites, and magazines that professional writers use. What are your favorites?
  4. I offered my students way too much information, too. Now, rather than drowning drafts in feedback, I offer it in micro-doses, over every writer’s shoulder, as they’re in process. I know that when my feedback is aligned to my mini-lesson teaching point and the drafting efforts my students are making, the likelihood for growth is far greater. Feedback is best provided on my feet, not in the margins of a completed draft.
  5. Finally, I spent a lot of time grading pieces rather than assessing progress toward learning goals. I’ve spent a good amount of time helping teachers and entire systems make the shift to standards based grading and reporting in the years since I’ve left the classroom. Had I known then what I know now, I might have been able to support my own student writers better, too. Grades do little to foster learning, but I find that when students know their target, aim for it with clear intention, and self-assess, they are far more likely to hit and even exceed it. And when I spend more time assessing progress toward learning goals, I learn much more about students’ strengths and needs. If you’re interested in learning more about standards based grading, hop over to Matt Townsley’s blog. He’s contributed much to my learning over the years, and his space is packed with great resources and tools. I’m beginning a new standards based grading initiative in a new-to-me district this week as well, and I plan to share my resources and learning as I go, too. Follow me here, on Twitter, or in the Building Better Writers Facebook group if you’d like. I’d love to talk shop with you.

In the mean time, I’m wondering what your biggest teaching mistakes have been, relative to coaching revision. I’m wondering how your colleagues might answer this question, too. And I’m wondering how we might create spaces–on and offline–where writing teachers can feel comfortable owning and admitting their struggles. If you’re willing to do this, I’d love to learn from you. Reach out.

 

 

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