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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Today, July 4th, I Am Celebrating Many Things!

July 4, 2015

TODAY I am celebrating… the 4th of July, the day of our nation’s independence.  As for many Americans ,  for me and my family this day has become a reason for a three-day weekend, an opportunity for a  hot dog and hamburger barbecue with friends and/or family, and a chance to see an evening fireworks display.  After reading the morning paper about how members of ISIS are destroying even more ancient artifacts in Palmyra, Syria, I am celebrating the fact that I do not live in a country overtaken by religious zealots.  I am celebrating our constitution which was written to maintain a balance in our government and our daily lives. I am celebrating our relative peace and prosperity.

TODAY I am celebrating…the fact that I am still alive.  At about this time last year I had just retired from teaching and was looking forward to enjoying the “golden years” when I was suddenly overtaken by a 4th stage cancer with the odds definitely not in my favor.  Seven months later I was declared cancer free, and I now consider myself a cancer survivor…one of the very lucky ones.

TODAY I am celebrating the beginning of summer;  I have so much I hope to accomplish.  On Monday I will begin to participate in a two-week  workshop for teachers of writing with one of my favorite groups…the Long IslandWriting Project.  I have been affiliated with them for over thirty years and still think they serve a very important function in this mostly technological world.  I celebrate their wisdom, their perseverance and their mission to create a safe haven for all writers.

TODAY I am celebrating that, thanks to this website, I have become an avid blogger.  Participating for the first time this year in the March Slice of Life challenge, I overcame my depression from having cancer and could not wait to get up each day and read what everyone had to say.  Becoming a weekly blogger has introduced a very welcome discipline in my life which…dare I say it…is therapeutic and good practice for a would-be writer.

TODAY I am celebrating that I have taken some baby steps toward beginning to write a book I have been thinking about for a while.  I have joined an online writing community which will require me to post new writing once a week, and like Slice of Life, will provide me with some feedback on a weekly basis.  My long-term goal for now is to produce a first draft  this year.  My immediate goal is to produce new writing each week.   Without the encouragement of the community of writers at TWT, I don’t think I would ever have taken this first step.

TODAY I am celebrating the flowers in my garden, the clear blue sky overhead, the zero-gravity chair I am sitting on while writing this in my backyard, the time I’ve been given to pursue one of my passions, and the communities I’ve become part of that will be my support in the months to come.