Writers, Revising, and Then, More Revising

                Nancy Sommers 1981 essay, “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers”, though somewhat dated, is a very thorough descriptor of revision for all writers. The principles are the same as current thinking as are the student responses. I especially liked her references to writing as being modeled on speech (the art of rhetoric?) and I agree wholeheartedly that revision is often viewed as a separate part of the writing process—almost an afterthought. However, because writing was originally an art prepared for oratorical use, where one could not reverse their words once uttered, revision needed to occur before the words were spoken---within the composition. As Sommers states: “What is impossible in speech is revision…” (379). Writers, can enjoy the luxury of this process until their project sounds as they imagined and expresses what their intent demands.

            The reduction of revision as a major part of the writing process is, evidently, a common mistake made by many students. To me, the idea is ludicrous as I revise almost anythingI write—including emails and greeting cards—until I get the writing to honestly reflect what I hoped to say. Most pieces are always in revision until they must be handed in or submitted.  Sadly, even supposedly finished pieces are victims of my harsh revision (or at least some minor “tweaking”). I am just eternally grateful for Microsoft Word and computers…
From a case study done at Boston University, Sommers’ provides samples of student definitions of revising. Though many of my fellow students share those opinions, an equal amount know the importance of working through their entire piece to improve clarity, organization, and argumentation. Sommers believes that only through revision can one find the true argument. I personally agree as this has proven true on several occasions when, after hours of research and conflicting thoughts, I have grown away from my main point. But, as one revises and cleans up the ball of confusion (Temptations) they have created, the original argument—in all its conviction--is rediscovered and hopefully, proven. If not entirely, more revision usually solves the problem. Sommers’ experienced writers echo this philosophy, and some other ones far more advanced then I employ, but her student writers are not using this process in the way it is needed. Of course, her student writers are probably my age, considering when this study took place, so perhaps they have learned to utilize the benefits of revision by now…

Donald Murray's "Teach the Motivating Force of Revision" follows the same theme. He suggests that teachers write along with students which seems to make sense and serves as a model for the students to follow. I like his mentality for students to find new meanings and make discoveries in their writing. I am uncertain, that all students are willing to find those meanings but I applaud his ideas. The concept of "internal revision" I especially like--I think I do a lot of that myself and it is a benefit for students to utilize in much the same way as Sommers' advice! His main point that struck home with me was that teachers should be teaching revision as part of the writing process. If students believe something is a minor afterthought they will treat it that way. Now, because I had read the other essay before I checked the revised reading list, I will post some thoughts I had on that one too.
 The voices behind “Teacher-Writers: Then, Now, and Next” focus on the teacher as writer and how this practice enhances the teacher-student relationship. This current essay reviews the development of the teacher-writer from the early phases, through the research period, and today with teachers as writers advocating intellectualism and high pressure issues. At its inception in the 1970’s and 80’s, the idea was to promote teachers as writers to promote pedagogy and both encourage and pioneer the writing workshop. Teachers were expected to ‘walk the talk’ (178) and be on the same page (no pun intended) as their students. As time moved on, teachers became researchers during the 1990’s and 2000’s. Today—advocacy, as teachers fight and write for a specific cause and create a strong voice for activism and resistance.
Teacher-writers situate themselves among other same-minded individuals where all study and engage in similar groups where the emphasis is on inquiry, agency and advocacy of this, and other, processes. This involvement supports the life of teacher as writer, and research does show a change in perspectives that form teaching practices. This makes sense as teachers are essentially becoming the “student” as writer-researcher’s, taking them back to their earlier days of writing. As teacher-writers, they too seek approval, face deadlines, and are rewarded by the success of a finished product. But where is it all going?

In today’s society, teachers are often being put down, which makes this action all the more purposeful. Teachers as spokespersons pose an important step towards recognition of the benefits of writing. The need for a strong voice is answered with teacher-advocates and the “power of the pen” has been proven superior to that of the sword repeatedly. Teacher-writers can promote writing as a valuable skill, a necessary tool, and a catharsis using theirinformed voice.
The final project! I have been throwing my idea around all week as it seems to be changing before my eyes. But at least I know what I want to use! I love Martha's Voki; I already played with that and she will introduce (at the very least) my piece. I also want to use Animoto for the body. My hope is to use Voki to begin AND then shift into Animoto  to keep it moving.Also, I love Laura's idea of Writing Matters--it is perfect!

Final Project: Theme/Title

Browsing over what Colin and Laura wrote, I agree that Writing Matters is a great title. It is broad enough to encompass each of our individual projects, but focused enough to explain what we are doing. I'll test it against the other choices.

Writing Matters vs. Finding Your Voice: The two titles are similar in that they both imply that we are all looking for what matters individually to each of us and how to use writing to express it. However, using the word "voice" seems to imply "voice" or "style" in writing, which isn't really what we were shooting for. It also seems to imply we were silent until we "found" something, which I don't really agree with.
My verdict: Writing Matters wins.

Writing Matters vs. That Writing Moment: Writing Matters can refer to why writing is important, or it can refer to different matters, subjects, situations, in which writing is used and valued. The double entendre is cool. That Writing Moment is too narrow (just one moment!), and doesn't include the various angles and situations that Writing Matters allows.
My verdict: Writing Matters wins.

Writing Matters vs. Why I Write: I'm not sure any of us actually included Why I Write as an option. I think it made the list because Dr. Zamora asked the group a question about our theme and we were not clear enough with our answer. (A misunderstanding?) I think our vignettes are pretty diverse and don't necessarily respond to the question "why I write." If we are not all focusing on the answer to that question in our vignettes, then we shouldn't use Why I Write as our title/theme. If we are, then Why I Write should stay on the table. Personally, I am not trying to answer that question, but I could change direction if that's what the group decides.
My verdict: I prefer Writing Matters but would defer to the group's decision if Why I Write explains everyone else's intentions.

"Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers" by Nancy Sommers and "Teach the Motivating Force of Revision" by Donald Murray

      I picture a bumbling husband trying to pay his wife a compliment but it comes out sounding all wrong. Every attempt he makes to clarify what he meant only makes it worse. Sitcoms have used this for years to get a cheap laugh, and it works because what Sommers says is true- you can't revise speech. All you can do is add to what someone has already heard you say.

     The idea of your new statement erasing the old is humorous and used in comedic situations. But it's also used in more serious situations as well. Have you ever heard an attorney make ask a question or make a point when questioning a witness on Law and Order (I know you have, everybody loves that show)? If it's something inappropriate or outside of the rules, the judge will instruct the jury to forget what they just heard. But we, like the offending lawyer, know that this is impossible to do.

     I can really appreciate the fact that the experienced writers have a completely different view of revision than the student writers. The younger group refused to even use the word revision, and it seems like they didn't want to do more than change words instead of ideas that don't work.

     They are extremely comparable to my students who can't believe that what they scribbled down in a few minutes isn't actually that great. The experienced writers knew that sometimes you have to throw things out and start fresh. I especially like the writer who said that he/she never fell in love with something he/she wrote because it cornered him/her.

     I also agree with Murray that the instructor should write along with the students. It's something I try to do whenever possible. I sit at a student desk among them and work. I don't know if I'm concentrating on my work too much, but they seem to be doing just the same. Unless, of course, I'm so engrossed in writing that I don't hear them goofing off. But I have noticed a difference between those times compared to times I don't also write. It's as if it motivates the students. The general is fighting on the front lines.

     I do feel that since starting the program, my instruction of student writing has become much better. I can't say it's received as well as I hope it is, but I know it's being delivered much clearer than in the past.

     For the final project, I'm excited to hear other ideas that people have in regard to the vignettes. This is due mainly to me not having the slightest notion if my idea is any good or not. I sense it will be changing because it's too problematic. I fell in love with something, but it has me cornered. I really like Laura's idea of "Writing Matters". If we each relate our vignette to how writing matters to us, that would fit thematically.

Weekly Response: Murray’s "Teach the Motivating Force of Revision"

Donald Murray is at it again. He is asking professors to teach students the joy and adventure of revising. He wants students to find new ideas and interests through their writing. They should move through meaning to discover what they truly want to say.

I get the point of his article, but it seems like it would work so much better in a creative writing setting than in my FYW classes. Also, freshmen definitely think that any required revision means they did a poor job on the first draft. It's a punishment, or at best a request for editing "mistakes."

Murray talks about Larson and his research with invention and pre-writing. In class, our search for research topics was almost Larsonesque. We worked for over a week refining our research questions. I asked the students to write down what they wanted to research. I got a lot of one-word answers like "Nike" or "FIFA." We worked as a class, in groups, and in pairs, writing out what we wanted to research, drawing back curtains and peeking under rugs. Some students started with a one-word topic and wrote pages of brainstorming to determine a quality research question. I was very impressed with their focus and the process they used to arrive at their questions. One student, Alex, didn't know how to get further than a topic, and jumped from topic to topic. He accomplished little in class and emailed me later.

Alex: Good afternoon, would it be okay if for my essay I write about the gay right's movement? 

Me: Yes, that would be a great topic! Please go through the same process we used in class to determine keywords and research questions. You need to make an inquiry and answer a question, not simply explain the movement. Please email me your brainstorming, keywords, and research questions. If you need help or direction with that, email me back.

Alex: Keywords: -Gay Rights-Movement-History-Social Equality
I'm having trouble coming up with a research question though. For brainstorming, should I send what I had written down in class trying to figure out what topic to research?

Me: No, I want you to go further with it.  Remember, I don't want a book report about the gay rights movement. I want you to come up with a question regarding the movement that you will have to do research about to find out the answer. I could brainstorm some questions of mine:  Is the movement the only one of its kind or are there other similar ones in other countries? Has the gay rights movement in the US accomplished its original mission now that gay marriage is approved? Has the gay rights movement made more progress with mens gay rights? With womens? Anyway, do you see where I'm going with this? I want you to come up with a question that you don't know the answer to, and can't answer with a quick and simple Google search, so that you will have to investigate.

Alex: Ooooooh okay yea I got it now, thank you!

Alex: Question:Compared to other social equality movements, what are problems unique to the gay rights movement?

Following this exchange, his written brainstorming was rich and his research proposal was one of the best in class. I think this is what Murray means by revision. Reenvision your ideas and see where they take you. Murray talks about internal revision. That's revising the idea of what you want to say. That's what Alex did. Then Murray talks about external revision. That's looking at your writing and seeing if you said it they way you hoped. We will work on that once the first drafts are in.

He goes on to talk about writing teachers and says they should be writers. I like his analogy of art teachers who aren't artists and music teachers who don't play instruments. I thought all writing teachers were (at least amateur) writers, but I guess not if it has to be addressed here. Come to think of it, most of our FYW profs are lit people, Ph.D's in poetry and Victorian Lit. That's not very useful....Just because someone wrote lots of papers for lit classes over the years doesn't mean they are necessarily writers.  Murray warns against the scholars who bring rules and criticism. Oh, I think I know lots of those. 

Instructors should write along with the class (Laura Lopez) to participate and model for the students. Good idea. I have wanted to participate in all my assignments so far, but I haven't had the time to develop syllabi, Moodle pages, handle grading, juggle more than one campus, etc, and do the write-alongs. It's been a goal, and I will get to it. Shooting for fall 2016.  No, wait, I'll be writing my thesis if all goes well. Spring 2016, then. Sigh....see? 

We used to do write-alongs on the board at Essex, an entire 5 paragraph essay on all the boards in the room. Students would help with topic sentences and supporting details, and we'd write the whole essay as a class and then review and edit. The students loved to "catch" me in "mistakes" on the first draft. I'd say, "It's not a mistake because I'm not done yet!" 

While Murray has not been my favorite guy, and I still think his ideas are better geared towards creative writing, I see lots of value in them. Maybe I like him a little better after this article. I like the internal and external revision concept. Maybe I will discuss it in class. No reason not to share the concept with the students. We've worked on internal revision struggling with our research questions and proposal documents. Now we need to draft a paper and use external revision to see if we said what we wanted to say. I don't think Murray means it to be linear in the way I'm using it, but this is how I see its application in my class.

Reading back over this post before I hit publish....Murray isn't as weird as he first seemed.

Reflection: Peer Response Assignment, Jaxon Style

We tried the peer review in class today based on Jaxon's article. Students brought in two copies of their research proposals. I had students write memos to peers on the back of their papers. That took about 25 minutes in the early class and only about 15 in the later class. Then, I made sure they exchanged papers with someone they don't sit near, because we have done some peer editing before, and I didn't want them going to the same folks each time.

I explained that the proposal isn't just a preliminary document to the research paper, but an important stand-alone genre. Then I offered lots of points for the peer feedback. I didn't, as Jaxon suggested, let them bring the assignment home. There was plenty of time in class.

  • Always love it when students help each other. It allows them to feel empowered and important. Their opinions matter, and they put them in writing for an audience (their peers). I read over some of the comments and memos, and they were insightful and helpful.
  • I noticed some students looking back critically over their own papers. Others were asking questions about the memos they received. Everyone I heard seemed to appreciate and value the honest feedback.
  • I was particularly pleased with Peter's use of this collaborative exercise. Peter came out as a member of the LGBTQ community in his research proposal. (I doubt most students would have classified him as belonging to that community had he not disclosed it.) He emailed me regarding his paper, and I reminded him that we would be peer reviewing the papers. He decided to stick to his topic. We were able to absorb the information while treating it as an academic issue, focusing on the proposal. Nicely done, Peter.
  • Some students were talking to each other for the first time, which was nice, because they are freshmen and don't always make social connections easily.
Cons (to tweak for next time):
  • Some students felt like they had to talk with the author to write the response. I wanted them to respond only to the writing without asking the author for clarification; I wanted the writing to stand silently on its own. Besides Jaxon's time constraints, this may be another reason why she wanted the assignment to go home.
  • In the morning class, it took the entire class period for the students to finish. In the later class, they all felt "done" with 15 minutes to spare. Hmmm.
  • Some students didn't understand exactly why they were writing the memo to the student instead of having a discussion. They may have felt this was an "exercise" or busy work. Also, many wanted to write in teen language, texting style, since the audience was a peer. Another reason to make it a take-home assignment?
  • The directions I took from Jaxon's paper were a bit wordy and possibly confusing to use as directions for students. (I don't think she intended them as such, anyway.) I will streamline for next time to clarify my expectations.
I'm interested to see the changes they make to their proposals when they upload the final drafts on Tuesday! In the meantime, I'm going to tweak the process and prepare for a peer review of their first drafts of the research paper.

Weekly Response: Sommers’s "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers"

Nancy Sommers, in her essay "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers" distinguishes between the linear nature of speech and the recursive nature of writing. She is uncomfortable with writing and revision strategies that are linear and stage-based, putting revision somewhere at the end of the process.  Revision must permeate the entire process.

She explains that speech cannot be revised, only added to as an afterthought.
The spoken word cannot be revised. The possibility of revision distinguishes the written text from speech.  In fact, according to Bathes, this is the essential difference between writing and speaking. (379)
Sommers conducted a case study to find out exactly what the students do to revise papers. It seems they focus on revision as wordsmithing at the end of a writing process, once they feel their writing is "finished." Concerns were finding the "right" word, avoiding repetition, and checking for mechanical errors. There was no reworking of theme, concepts, voice, or order. The students don't know how to revise; therefore, they try to follow the "rules" they've been taught.

The experienced adult writers, on the other hand, re-envisioned their argument and their form or framework, and considering their readers. Through this process they create meaning. Revision occurs throughout their writing and is not done only at the end. Their process is not linear but a series of different cycles, and they are not primarily wordsmithing. They are adding, deleting, and reordering sentences.

Sommers hopes that students will learn to revise by understanding the opportunities and possibilities that writing offers as opposed to speech: the advantage of revision.