Looking Back and Moving Forward Blog Series · revision · risk-taking · writing workshop

More Than Tinkering: Looking Back and Moving Forward

As a teacher at the beginning of the year, one of my favorite things to plan and execute is the arrangement of the room. I love sketching it out, changing it around, experimenting and re-working all the areas until they feel just right. However, once the students arrive, obvious changes and improvements reveal themselves, and by week three I’m re-arranging. It might be the position of the writing tools, the mailboxes, or even a shelf of books. Sometimes the first way we see something feels like the best. However, when we re-see it, we can begin to revise and change until we find the new best version of our idea.

It wasn’t until I had been teaching in my own classroom that I realized room arrangement was never going to be a start to finish task. With this awareness, making bigger changes suddenly became easier. This same idea equates within the writing process. However, sharing this way of thinking with young writers can pose challenges. There are many different ways to re-see a piece of writing. The act of revision itself intends for the writer to benefit from these different lenses as techniques within their own unique writing process.

When you unpack your own beliefs about revision do they include a variety of techniques or do you find yourself repeating some of the same things to many of your students? I know I used to chronically say things like, “Go add more?” or “Go write more details.” When I think about how these sound now, it’s as though I was shooing them away instead of inviting them to think a little longer and see a little clearer what they really wanted to say.

  • Do you find yourself nearing the end of the year, and yet students still shy away from revision strategies? 
  • Are big moves non-existent?
  • When looking for evidence of revision does the work feel more like tinkering with the purpose of compliance?  
  • Is crossing out too risky for your writers?
  • When asking your students to define revision what does their answer reveal about their beliefs within the revision process?
  • What are your beliefs?

Embarking on conversations that surround revision, resisting the temptation to make decisions for the writer is paramount. A statement to keep on repeat in our minds at every small group and conferring session are the words of Lucy Calkins, “Teach the writer and not the writing.” Feedback can nudge students toward next steps while maintaining student ownership, one of the most vital conditions of our workshop environment.

One of the most valuable resources I have used over the years to help students lean in closer to the revision process is The Revision Toolbox, Teaching Techniques that Work, (Second Edition) by Georgia Heard. Within her book, she explains and elaborates on the idea that when we re-see our words with different purposes in mind, we are more likely to make intentional revisions that strengthen us as writers.

The lenses she describes are named in chapter three and called:

The lens of…

  • Focus and Clarity (Opinion, Information, Narrative)
  • A Stranger
  • Language
  • Feeling
  • Sound
  • Finding Your Best Writing
  • So What?
  • Sentence Variation

To make better use of these ideas, I created cards to use in multiple ways within my classroom. I have a set with each of the lenses on a ring to carry within my conferring toolkit. When I introduce a lens within a minilesson, the card then gets posted on one of my cupboard doors which are divided into different qualities of work we do as writers (i.e., structure, development, conventions). I keep single-use cards on hand as well to give to students to keep within their personal toolkits. Each card has questions the writer can ask when rereading with the lens offered.


For example:

These cards can offer a closer look into one area of their writing for students who may:

  • Continue to see revision as the last step
  • Think revision means rewriting
  • Claim revision when they have crossed out three words
  • Over-commit to first drafts

I find the lenses help students feel less overwhelmed. When a writer revises with a purpose, it helps a writer learn to revise as they go. Below is an image with an attached link to a printable set of the lens cards I use within my classroom. I also created a quick guide with all questions and lens topics listed. The quick guide can be printed on a standard size piece of cardstock or paper and is intended for a teacher to use or add to his/her toolkit. 

Individual Lens Cards


Quick Guide

Revision carries little meaning when it is not modeled, practiced, and shared with purpose. Below is an image of a student’s writing in both October and May. When this student first began in my classroom first drafts were carefully crafted. The revision process was avoided. Mistakes were not noticed because the assumption was everything was done. As the student evolved and learned several revision strategies, she began to break out of her learned behaviors and developed habits of both big and small revision strategies. She learned to practice the habit of draft-stop-read-repeat. It took many months, but this writer, who came with many proficient writing strategies, opened herself up to evolve and embraced the mess of writing.  

As your students begin to round the corner toward the end of the year, encourage them to re-see themselves as writers. Look back across their pieces and find the places they stretched themselves and grew. Help them see where they can go next as their voices continue to move, change, and evolve.

For more information on how to help your students master their revision process, check out these resources! Also, be sure to read the giveaway information below this post for your chance to win a copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice.

Revision Resources:

Reviser’s Toolbox by Barry Lane

The Revision Toolbox, Second Edition, Teaching Techniques That Work by Georgia Heard

Revision Decisions, Talking Through Sentences and Beyond by Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean

Revision Focused Posts by Two Writing Teachers Co-Authors:

I wrote a post titled, Three Tips to Avoid Overcommitting to First Words and a post titled Sticky Notes, Arrows, and Margins Oh My!

Stacey wrote about the resource above titled Revision Decisions.

Beth wrote a post enticing students to revise and this one has an amazing graphic!

Kathleen wrote about some of her own experiences with revision here


  • Day by Day Cover ImageThis giveaway is for a copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book. If you have an international address, then Stenhouse will send you an eBook of Day by Day.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 7th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)

10 thoughts on “More Than Tinkering: Looking Back and Moving Forward

  1. I love the focus on “lenses” to look through in regards to revision. I’ve used that term, but I never created a concrete model of the thinking process. So thank you! I’m an instructional coach and one of our school goals is to develop tools to support students in their revision work. This is perfect!


  2. Ahhh Lucy Calkins…..thank you for reminding me that I teach writers. In my case, I redefine my revising vocab to meet my ESL students where they are. What works for native English speakers doesn’t work for my students. It is indeed an exercise in flexibility. Writers…..they ARE writers, not pieces of writing. 💟


  3. Thank you, Betsy, for your insights, but also for including TWT former posts on revision for us to reread. They are always terrific resources!


  4. Even though we are not anywhere near the end of the year over here in Australia, I love the revision lense cards. I also often use the Lucy Calkins quote when working with my teachers, “Teach the writer and not the writing.” So smart!


  5. Thank you so much for sharing these ideas on revision. I have long told my students about REVISION meaning Seeing Again, and that is the task of revising our work. These visuals take my words and make them so much stronger and easier for young writers to apply to their task. Thanks for sharing!


  6. I model every bit of the writing process, in all its fluidity; revision is where all the magic happens. That’s when the writing begins to pop with energy, and when students say Ooooohhhhhhh… this is such an important post!


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