Revision needs to have a sense that a window of possibility is still open to allow another draft in (17).
–Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean
Last month, I conferred with a fifth grade writer who drafted a “personal narrative” that read more like an informational piece. He was supposed to be crafting a personal narrative, but it was clear didn’t know what made something story-like. Once he realized he hadn’t written in the genre his teacher assigned, we talked about what makes something a narrative. I used a mentor text that showed clear story parts and talked about it having a problem and a solution. Then, I asked him to use some of what he had already written when to revise his writing in the genre his teacher assigned (using a storytelling voice). He looked at me as if I was giving him the choice to choose between cutting off his arm or cutting off his leg. He was so wedded to what he had written that he couldn’t imagine it being revised. I touched-base with his teacher after our conference and discovered revision wasn’t something that was really being taught in the classroom. As a result, I encouraged her to do some revision work with the entire class so revision, which most writers find challenging, wouldn’t feel so scary.
Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean have a new book that deals with revision in grades 4 – 10. Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond is a professional book that will help students realize that reseeing, reformulating, redesigning, rethinking, recasting, reshaping, and retweaking isn’t so scary. In fact it can be fun! (Yes, I wrote FUN!)
Writing is messy. As teachers we need to provide our students with opportunities to see our struggles as writers. When students see us revise (i.e., rewriting, throwing out chunks of text, adding new parts), they’ll come to understand that revision is a natural part of the writing process.
Great writing usually doesn’t pour out in first drafts. All writers need time and space to revise sentences, paragraphs, or whole pieces of writing multiple times to get it right.
As teachers, we orchestrate situations that cause talk and problem solving. We create an environment where tussling and playing with words is routine rather than rare. Through interaction and conversation, we create flexible writers who can easily teach with today’s changing writing landscape and can also be imprinted with unchangeable truths about writing and how we compose (4).
I had a bunch of questions for Jeff and Deborah. I hope their responses get you excited about their book, which is a must-have if you’d like to help your students become more adept revisers.
Q: Tell me a bit about how you got the idea for Revision Decisions.
A: We were both interested in the 2007 Writing Next report, particularly the findings on the importance and success of sentence combining. We both had interest in grammar, which made that section of particular interest. We ran into each other at different conferences and started talking about the idea of a book. It grew from talk and emails. The idea of play and risk and talk took shape. We had a lot of metaphors for play at first and had an initial title of Combining Conversations. The book—as books will do—evolved, but it started with common interest.
Q: What is the biggest thing you want teachers to take away from your new book?
We hope teachers will take away the big idea that writing and revision require an abundance of talk and lots of trying out of/playing with ideas. The skills associated with writing take time to develop, but giving students lots of practice where it’s okay to take risks and make mistakes and find success is essential to that growth through time.
A: Some teachers are hesitant to provide as much student-talk and discussion time as you call for in Revision Decisions. What would you say to convince them of the importance of ample time for children & young adults to work together and talk about the revision process?
We need to consider that students may not be aware of how the words they write actually sound. By talking out our revision attempts, we build the sense of sound that is essential to effective writing. In addition, we provide an intentional structure so that purposeful talk and the magic happen. Short spurts of talk start before longer ones do. Facilitating talk is an investment that pays off.
Q: On that same line of thinking, how can you help teachers create classrooms full of students who are capable of doing this high-level revision work in collaboration with each other?
A: The lessons in Revision Decisions progress in such a way that students experience revision moves thorough demonstration, guided practice in groups and pairs, and then finally they apply the skills to their own writing. We were intentional about structuring the lessons so that students have support and structures and language for successful classroom talk and application so that they will be ready to work independently. One issue we saw with earlier sentence combining books is that this gradual release wasn’t always addressed.
Q: Why is the DRAFT acronyms so powerful?
A: DRAFT is easy to remember and it applies at multiple levels—it’s about the concrete things revisers do. Each letter gives writers a discrete action or option they have to make writing better. And in both large and small situations they apply. Before a writer can delete paragraphs and move around larger sections of writing they have to know those acts, and DRAFT gives teachers manageable chunks to teach. In the end, they all the options start to blend together, but first we have to know our discrete options.
Q: Would you explain how Revision Decisions helps teachers move students towards the grade level standards set forth by the Common Core?
A: The CC in elementary levels actually asks students to combine sentences, but in general we are working with creating effective sentences—and that’s a part of the CC for all levels. Depending on the grade level, teachers can use and model lessons that apply to standards appropriate for the grade level they teach. We have worked with elementary teachers, grades 2-6. The grade two teachers were using a simplified version from the book—combining only two sentences. But we talked about what their students needed—to use commas with intro elements. We found some sentences to combine that specifically allowed teachers to give students practice with that comma work in authentic ways. The same thing applies at other grade levels: teachers can adapt and select to meet their students’ needs and the CC standards for their grade level.
Q: Talk about the work of de-combining. How do you create examples for kids like the ones we see on the practice pages in the appendix (e.g., pgs 142, 145, 146)?
A: This is the most fun, almost like a puzzle. And upper elementary, middle school, and high school students also find it fun. The secret is to see how many basic ideas are really embedded in a single sentence and then give each one its own sentence. Students take a sentence apart to its most basic elements and ideas. And they took pride in finding and creating more kernel sentences than we could. The key is seeing what the sentence is saying—and that’s why it’s such good work for students to do, too. De-combining aids both comprehension and composition.
Q: You talked about the application of this work on pages 54-55. Can you say more about how long teachers can expect it to take upper elementary students, middle schoolers, & high schoolers to apply this work to their own reading and writing lives?
A: The thing we love about application is that this work applies to all levels—and can be adapted for the needs of students. We can choose more involved sentences or simpler ones. We can choose sentences that give general practice with sentence fluency or we can find sentences that have the potential to teach our students a specific construction, such as appositives. We have examples of that in the book. And the more adept students become with these practices, the more they will apply them to their writing.
This is a gradual process. It will take time. That’s one thing we have to remember about many effective instructional practices: they take time to work. I think of peer feedback—it takes time for the full effects to be seen. We don’t give up because the first time we ask students to give feedback they aren’t very good at it. Instead, we keep at it. That’s how we see this work. It is cumulative, and the kind of talk students need to develop takes time. Eventually, the kind of talk seems natural, and the structures we have practiced start to show up spontaneously or in first drafts.
Q: What one change can teachers make that will move their students towards more purposeful revision?
A: Encouraging students to make more than one try and then talking out the two (or more) versions to feel the effects. Like talk, revision can be and often should be generative. This teaches students from the inside out to consider more than their first attempt and to talk things out.
Q: What is next for you as both writers and educators?
A: We are looking forward to presenting about Revision Decisions together.
- Debbie: I have had an interest in nonfiction for a long time. I have a couple of projects I’m just beginning with that interest. One deals with helping teachers engage students in more varied and interesting (and authentic) nonfiction writing. The other is actually where I’m trying my hand at my own informational writing.
- Jeff: I am excited to be traveling around the US and even New Zealand this spring, talking about Revision Decisions. I am putting the finishing touches on my first middle grade novel, tentatively titled, Luke Veracruz and the Chocolate Emergency (Sterling, Fall 2015). I am also in the beginning stages of taking my invitational grammar work to grades 1-5 in a book with the working title of Patterns of Power.
Thanks for having us your show. 😉
This giveaway is for a copy of Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of Revision Decisions, please leave a comment about this post by Monday, November 17th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, November 18th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
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Thank you to everyone who left a comment about Revision Decisions. I used a random number generator and Susie’s commenter number was selected. Here’s what she wrote:
I love the DRAFT acronym. That, alone, makes me want to dig into this book. Last year, Main St. in the little town where I taught was in the process of a huge makeover. I spent a lunch period outside taking pictures of the construction. Then we were able to use it as an analogy all year. “Revision is like Main St. It was fine and functioning before, but people had a vision for how it could be better. So,right now it’s really messy. There’s dirt and cones and torn up sidewalks, and blocked lanes. But, we can start to see how it’s going to get better, with tree parks in the center, bigger sidewalks, etc. ” it was right outside our window….a “concrete” image of revision.
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.