Sunday, May 2, 2010

Re-visioning Writing

It’s no secret that kids hate to revise their writing. I’ve had many students who enjoyed writing, especially once they realized our workshop was a safe community in which to be creative, but once a piece was written, it was done – notebook closed, pencil down, on to the next thing.

Katie Wood Ray, in her book “Study Driven”, says that revision should be the act of “re-visioning” your writing, a time to re-look at the piece with new eyes, often after you’ve taken a break from it for a day or so. But she also argues that in order for students to be able to re-vision their writing, they must have a vision for what it might look like in the first place. In her book, she describes various units of study possibilities (memoir, biography, editorials, etc.) by saying that each unit should start by immersing students in examples of the genre (what Ralph Fletcher calls “marinating” students in writing). That way, students have a “vision” for what their own writing might look like.

I had to do this exact process when I considered beginning a blog. Just 6 months ago I’d never visited a blog in my life. I’d heard of them but had no real working understanding of what they looked like, why people would want to “follow” them, or whether they covered any topics that would be of interest to me at all. It was an article in the Sept., 2009 issue of Educational Leadership that hooked me by describing various Edublogs and including links to the more popular choices. Once I’d “marinated” in the Edublogosphere for a few days, I had a vision for what blogging could be, and a tiny voice in the back of my head began to consider creating a blog myself.

Without that time spent exploring the genre, I never would have had a clear understanding of what this type of writing entailed. Recently I began to worry that my posts were getting too long, so I revisited my favorite blogs and looked them with new eyes – specifically looking at length. I was able to revise some of my longer drafts because I had a vision of what blogs looked like in the first place, and I used these blogs as mentor texts to help me “re-vision” what my own could look like.

This is why the concept of mentor texts is such a powerful one for students. Oftentimes as adults we make the assumption that kids understand what poetry means, or what an essay looks like, and we forget to provide them with the vision of what it is we’re attempting to get them to create. But if we allow ourselves to spend a few days at the beginning of a new unit of study really immersing our students in stellar examples of the genre, and then have those examples easily accessible during every writing workshop for students to peruse, I think we’ll find that they’re much more willing to revise. Because now they have an understanding of what they’re aiming for, and the drive to revise comes from within, rather than from the teacher.

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