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Constantly Rewriting

posted: 2.21.14 by Traci Gardner

Last semester, I blocked out four writing projects for the courses I was teaching. Students did extensive writing in class. They shared rough drafts with peers for feedback, and eventually their work was turned in with a reflective statement on the decisions that they had made as they worked. The assignments built on one another, so the strategies for one were folded into the expectations for the next.

As I envisioned the course, it allowed repeated opportunities to try different strategies, make mistakes, and start over. Students didn’t see what I saw however, what Kathi Yancey calls the difference between the delivered curriculum and the experienced curriculum. Shortly after I began returning student work, I heard students asking for a chance to revise and resubmit.

The answer was no. I would have loved to give them multiple chances to revise their work further after I had graded it, but logistically, it just wasn’t possible. The unfortunate reality was that I had 88 students, and I simply didn’t have the time to regrade their work in addition to preparing classes for a new unit and grading the daily work they did as they worked on their next project. Sadly, what is pedagogically best isn’t always what is realistically possible.

I tried to weave the strategies of previous assignments more explicitly into the newer projects students worked on. I drew direct comparisons among projects. For instance, we worked on improving introductions on the third project, and I reminded students to use those same strategies as they worked on their fourth project to make sure that their first words hooked readers and forecast the rest of the project.

I believe that students began to understand the idea of constantly revising before they submitted their work. I heard them applying the language of previous lessons to newer ones as they talked about plans to finish their projects. One student who brought her draft to me during office hours explained, for instance, “I know I need to redo my opening. This isn’t a very good hook.” It was exactly the kind of thinking I wanted to see them all do. Still, I never felt sure that they all accepted the idea of deeply revising their work before it was graded.

As I prepared for this term, I knew that I wanted to build better comprehension of the idea. I began with a clear statement of my policy on the first day of classes. I added the following passage to my syllabus:

For each major project, you will be asked to submit preliminary drafts to be discussed in small groups, by the whole class, and/or by me. You should plan to revise these assignments extensively before the due date. There are no rewrites or revisions after work is graded.

In addition to this policy, I have added increased explicit references to revision in the class. During the class after peer review, for example, I asked students to revise a passage from their drafts for their in-class writing activity, applying an idea from the day’s reading. The “do overs,” I have been telling them, all happen before the due date.

Will the strategy work? Will I hear fewer requests for rewrites this term? Papers are due on Friday. I guess I’ll find out by the end of next week.

[Photo: Reworking, rewriting, removing by mpclemens, on Flickr]

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