A revised first draft showing cross outs, arrows, circles and erasures means the student has truly improved the essay

Every professional writer knows that the real work of writing happens during revision. But this is an idea that students—and parents—need to learn. If a student says she has finished revising and her copy seems little altered, then she has probably not done a good job at revision.

On the other hand, if a student looks at her copy, noticing cross outs, arrows to side margins or to the back of the paper, words squeezed in, circles to identify verbs and first words of sentences and perhaps even sections cut apart and taped together in a different order, the student has truly revised.

Below is an example of the first page of a fourth grader’s messy but revised essay.

draft showing revisions 001

Revising is not editing. Revising means making substantial changes in the writing in order to improve it. Editing means looking for finer details such as correct spelling, apostrophes in the right spaces, and hyphens used appropriately. Unfortunately, in many school classrooms, students don’t learn to revise; they learn to edit.

Parents can be dismayed if they see the writing of my students while revising is in progress. Parents expect me to make the student edit too early on in the writing process. “Shouldn’t he change the spelling now?” a parent might ask, looking over his child’s shoulder.

When I work with children of parents like this, I show them examples of other students’ work, including the final draft. I let them see that the tiny errors will be corrected eventually. Usually this suffices until they see their own child’s finished work. Then they are sold on this writing process.

Perfectionist students might never reach the stage of good revising unless they learn to tolerate a degree of mess. I worked with one student who needed to start over so many times that she never completed a single essay. I have worked with other perfectionists who learned that the mess increases their chances of a higher grade, and so they set their sights on the perfect grade and begrudgingly accepted the interim mess.

Next we will talk about flow and how to make it happen.

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