Collaborative Professional Development: A Workshop on Teaching Revision

This past week routine things were canceled again due to another significant snowfall, but there was an event looming on the horizon offered by the Long Island Writing Project that I was able to attend.  It was a workshop on how to teach revision in writing to one’s students. Recently retired, I nonetheless like to keep up with new developments and trends. Revision is by no means a new topic, but I was curious to see how other teachers handle it with their students in the new era of the Common Core.

The workshop was led by a very wise and experienced teacher who works with college-age students and female prisoners.  However, her older students exhibit many of the same issues that students in high-school and even lower grades do when it comes to writing coherently and with depth. Her approach to starting the discussion was to throw out a question and ask the group to write a short response that would then be shared with the group.  This made me appreciate the Writing Project all over again, since their model of shared inquiry is so refreshing compared with the usual stuff that is passed off to teachers as Professional Development.
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In the interest of full disclosure here is where my own revision begins. When I first wrote this post several days ago, I gave a summary of the conversations that transpired through the two-hour workshop as we arrived at an understanding of the purpose of revision and how we could best communicate to our students the joy of revising as a piece gets ever closer to what we really meant to say.

This evening, however, I had an epiphany as I was taking a shower; one that caused me to change the focus of this piece. I realized that although covering the details of the discussion was important, what was more important to me was the feeling of overall satisfaction and happiness I experienced while collaborating with a dozen other teachers.

I am always fascinated by what teachers have to say; after all, aren’t they the ones walking the walk, not just talking the talk, every day? And since these are all teachers who are passionate about writing (since they are attending a LIWP workshop on a Saturday morning), they did have a lot of good ideas to share.

The first hour was devoted to how we present revision in our teaching lives compared with how we deal with it in our personal writing. The second part of the morning was spent talking about how we would handle reading a set of widely diverse papers on the weekend in need of revision and getting back to the class on Monday with a strategy for teaching revision. Almost everyone agreed that the revision challenges within a paper and moreover a set of papers could not be tackled at once; that the students needed time to reflect on their writing before they could improve it. As one of the participants stated, they needed to “ache with the desire” to revise their own words.
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Everyone was on board with the ideas being shared, but then the workshop leader said (I paraphrase here): “I do this with the students until the final couple of weeks in the semester and then I switch gears to teach them how to pass the writing test they will take for their final.” The air went out of the room.

Several teachers had already referred to how the Common Core demands had made it impossible to have Writing Workshop in their K-12 classrooms. How creative writing had gone out the window and been replaced by more formulaic writing such as: How would you take this document and compare it with the ideas in another given document? This kind of writing may be necessary in the adult world, but we all agreed it is not the kind of writing that elicits passion and commitment from young or developing writers. Nor does it help them to find their voice or tell their stories, all of which are essential steps in becoming a reflective, passionate writers.
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At the conclusion of the workshop, we were asked to write one sentence, a takeaway, about what we had learned in the workshop. The consensus was that the student writing must drive the lesson on revision. The teacher reading the set of papers must assess where the students are as writers and teach the next class based on their needs, not his/her agenda or the specific demands of the Common Core.

Though I was proud of our hard work at grasping the significance of revision and how to convey this to our students, I was even more proud of our collaboration. My takeaway was that this was a workshop which allowed participants to really listen to each other’s ideas, respond to the ideas presented and eventually reach a consensus that allowed for individual differences. This was real professional development; the kind teachers are rarely offered but the kind we really need to improve our own writing as well as that of our students.

“Houston, we’ve got a problem!”

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14 thoughts on “Collaborative Professional Development: A Workshop on Teaching Revision”

  1. Wow! What an experience. I am wrestling with this situation: teaching the passion that is writing and teaching the curriculum that is writing. Ack! Writing and revision are difficult. You must have a tremendous desire and drive to revise. It is too hard to do just because that is how you will do well on an assignment, a test. Interestingly, my students revise their blog posts all the time. I don’t have to ask. They see something and fix it. The writing for an assessment, they are just glad to be done with. Hmmm. Thank you for your wonderful reflection on the LIWP.

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  2. Barbara, I am so glad that you gave me a bird’s eye view of the workshop that I missed. One of these days, I will get over to LIWP. Kathleen Sokolowski is always reminding me of the great workshops being offered.

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  3. revision
    reminds us to rewind,
    to reconsider the architecture
    of ideas,
    of perceptions that arise
    from reconsideration —
    we swoop around the page
    in recursion,
    seeking a temporary resting spot
    for an idea, knowing
    further shifts are likely to happen.

    –Kevin

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  4. So much food for thought in this. Revision is so important and only be having our students work on authentic pieces that are important to them and will be seen by others, whose opinion is important to them will revision be important, unless they are mark-driven.

    A comment made to two of my students by a teacher is bubbling in my head when I read your article. The feedback on their essays was they should learn to write. It hurt me when they told me. They were hurt. We need time and thought to work with students on revision. Writing is so innately personal. We have to remember how to motivate revision and not shut down writers.

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    1. I was similarly shut down in my first year of grad school. It was a deep wound that kept me from attempting to write for many years afterward. Another attempt at grad school and a very caring mentor helped me to overcome the hurt.

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  5. Revision gets a bad rap from kids because they see it as “I did it wrong, now I have to do it again.” The power of revision is rereading the piece after a little time has passed. You can see where ideas are not so clear because your mind isn’t filled with the thoughts you just put down on the paper. What a great experience you shared!

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    1. I love your sentence “You can see where ideas are not so clear because your mind isn’t filled with the thoughts you just put down on the paper.” I think students of all ages would really “get” what you said.

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  6. Sounds like wonderful experience. I have had teachers write several times now in my PD sessions, and it always is exhilarating, bonding, and memorable. I don’t think I’d lead PD a different way anymore.

    Also, good for you for still keeping on your PD, even in retirement!

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