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A Revision Plan Assignment

posted: 5.20.14 by Traci Gardner

I haven’t had the best of luck with giving students the chance to rewrite their assignments. Usually what I get back shows students fixing the errors I have marked. Rarely do they do any deep reimagining of their pieces. While I want to encourage critical thinking and engagement, what I get feels more like tedious busywork.

My response was to stop doing rewrites altogether. I even have an FAQ that explains, “No. I don’t do rewrites. I set up assignments to allow plenty of time or multiple drafts before the due date.” Even if rewrites did result in the kind of rethinking I want students to do, I don’t have time in the schedule to grade another set of papers. Teaching four writing-intensive classes keeps me pretty busy already.

This term I asked students to compose revision plans, rather than actually rewriting their work. It’s an activity I first found on Kristin Arola’s website and that is also discussed in Writer/Designer, the textbook I used for my Writing and Digital Media course. In the textbook, revision plans are discussed after the information on peer feedback. Revision plans worked well in the context of peer feedback. I found that the students taking Writing and Digital Media used the questions and their feedback to make some good plans for improving their work.

I decided to see if the assignment would work as Arola describes it on her website, as an activity students complete instead of rewriting. I set up a final exam for both classes I was teaching: Technical Writing, andWriting and Digital Media. In addition to pointing them to some guiding questions, I explain in the assignment that their response should go beyond cosmetic corrections to rethinking and improving the texts.

I finished grading the finals last week, and I have to admit that the responses surprised me. First, most students did a great job of going beyond responding to the things I had noted in end comments on their papers. Some students even wrote demonstration passages to show what they wanted to rewrite things.

Second, I found that it was simple to read through their responses and see how well their plans fit the expectations for the assignment. It was immediately obvious whether students were applying rhetorical strategies we had used in class to their documents. Likewise, it was obvious when they were just rephrasing the end comments I gave them.

I’m sold on this revision plans assignment. Most of the revision plans showed better engagement and thinking about writing than any of the rewrites I received in the past. This activity gave me the chance to encourage critical thinking about revision while avoiding everything that has gone wrong with the rewrites I’ve accepted in the past. I’ll definitely be using this activity again next term.

[Photo: revisions by chris riebschlager, on Flickr]

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