Murray and Sommers: Revision

English teachers “do not appreciate the importance or the excitement of revision”, argues Donald M. Murray in “Teach the Motivating Force of Revision”. Murray points out that rewriting is frequently used as a punishment and sends the message: you didn’t get it right the first time. But do writers ever get it right the first time? Murray doesn’t think so. Meaning is discovered through revision, through rewriting and rewriting.

            Murray goes on to say that process-centered writing curriculum provides the opportunity for students to experience that discovery. Rewriting becomes exciting when students discover that revision is not about conforming to rules or exercises.  However, he stresses that teachers must also experience discovery along with their students. “The single most dramatic change that can be made,” Murray notes, “is for the teacher to write with the students”.  Writing is a challenge that should be shared by teacher and student.   

            In Nancy Sommers’s “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers”, the author begins by critiquing a theory of writing that “makes revision both superfluous and redundant”, in which revision is no more than an afterthought.  Sommers details a three year study that she conducted to examine the revision process of the two writing groups mentioned in the title. Through the study, Sommers redefines revision as “a sequence of changes in a composition—changes which are initiated by cues and occur continually throughout the writing of a work”.

            Sommers begins by noting that student writers did not seem comfortable with the word revision. Instead, they used terms like “reviewing” or “redoing” to define the process. When revising, these writers asked themselves if they could find better words to use or simply look for repetition in their work. They did not use revision as a way to modify or develop their ideas—they simply polished.

            The revision strategies for the experienced writers were very different. They defined revision as “rewriting”. Actual reconstruction was taking place during the process, and they felt the need to deconstruct their work and put it back together in a way that strengthened the meaning. They also examined their work for readability. They used revision as a process to discover meaning. Sommers concludes by noting that the student writers failed to share this sense of writing as discovery. The experienced writers had this sense “that writing is a repeated process of beginning over again, starting out new” and should “create dissonance”.


            As far as the title for the writing process, my only concern is that we find a title or theme that works for everyone because I think that most of us have either already started something or have a concrete idea of what we would like to contribute. I don’t have anything new to add, but I liked Tobey’s  “The writing Connection” or “That Moment in Writing”, and I liked Laura’s “Writing Matters”.


The Wonderful D. Murray

The Motivating Force of Revision, Murray

“Writers find their writing alive under the pen.” - Donald Murray

I loved, loved, loved this article!  It put to rest the old saying “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t teach.”   The new saying could be “Those who teach, must do! ”

The composition community’s ideas and views about revision have come a long way since the publication of Murray’s 1978 article.  We’re in a place, now, where educators do emphasize the importance of meaningful revision rather than revision as a re-write or exercise in editing/surface-level changes.  Yea :)

However, Murray provides some interesting views on the revision process that come not only from his experience as a teacher, but as a writer, himself.  How refreshing!  Murray calls out teachers for not having experience the writing process for  themselves.  I have been preaching this to my colleagues for the past few years!!!!  I write (almost every night) as though I am a student in my own class.  After planning a mini-lesson, I try the process I intend to teach my students out on myself.  I even write on the document camera in front of them...yikes!!  

So, some advice from Donald Murray (and myself) to all the writing teachers in the world:

Teachers: Be a writer! Use language in a search for meaning. Experience the terror and joy of putting words. Write for yourself and your students and the world…..

Revision Strategies (Sommers) &Teach the Motivating Force of Revision (Murray)

Sommers begin the article “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experience Adult writers” by stating that, “although various aspect of the writing process have been studied extensively of late, research on revision has been notable absent.”   Sommers suspect the reason for this is that “current models of writing process have directed attention away from revision.” Then she went on to name two type of writing models, first, “Gordon Rohman’s model which suggested that composing process is move from prewriting to writing and rewriting. Then James Britton’s model, which described the writing process as a “series of stages described in metaphors of linear growth, conception, incubation, and production.”Sommers also describes the linear model, which she states is base on speech in two specific ways, “traditional rhetorical model” and “stages of composition.” She further add that the “linear model produce a parody of writing.” after her introduction to the writing models she continued the conversation by including her research study in which she examine the revision process of students writers and experienced writers. In the beginning of the study Sommers defined the termed  “experienced” then she introduced the students’ side of the study by saying that the students did not seem comfortable using the word revision and explained that revision was not a word they used, but a word their teachers used. She concluded that the student writers predominate concerns were vocabulary. She stated that, “students understand the revision process as a wording activity.” She also states that the students placed a symbolic importance on their selection and rejection of words as the determiners of success or failure for their composition. For the adult experience writers Sommers concluded that they defined revision as the primary objective when revising as finding the form or shape of their argument. When Sommers questioned them about this emphasis the experienced writers responded, “that since their first draft are usually scattered attempts to define their territory, their objective in second draft is to begin observing general patterns of development and deciding what should be included and what excluded.” According to Sommers the adult experienced writer seek to discover meaning in their engagement with writing through revision. At the end of the article she summarizes her thought by saying that, “students do not see the incongruities. They need to rely on their own internalized sense of good writing and to see their writing with their “own” eyes. Seeing in revision—seeing beyond hearing ---is at the root of the word revision and the process itself.”
After the reading I thought it was very interesting how the student writers and the adult experience writers differ from their point of view of revision strategies. As stated before the experience writers tried to find meaning in their engagement with writing while the student writers mostly focused on rewording, but then again shouldn’t that be expected? After all the adult writers are experienced which mean they had years and probably good reasons to have developed and perfect their skills regarding writing revision, while the student writers are still developing their writing skills, a skill as described by Sommers they see passively through the eye of their former teachers. 

Reading Murray’s article was awesome. In the beginning I thought wow! what such strong opening statement. This may have nothing to do with the reading, but I have to say Murray is by far one of my favorite writers amongst the writers we covered in this class thus far. He is such an idealist and there’s an ease to his writing that you don’t have to try to decipher his point. He pretty much lay it out there and say what many like myself would like to say, but only he can do it so eloquently. Anyways moving on to the article.  In it Murray states in the beginning that his major goal as an English teacher is to encourage students to change their sense of what it means to write so it reflects more of their intuitions and less of their trained belief.  Knowing he might encounter opposition for this statement he quickly added that he does not want to fight any more opposing forces than he already has in his hand.  Murray further described his goal by saying this: “ I want them to understand that the movement from personal writing to formal and abstract modes of writing does not involve the death and burial of the self, but rather a reconceiving of the self that writes.” A beautiful statement that pushes teachers and students to tap into creativity and become better writers, however he realized that this idea of his is a mere dream especially in the of time of standardize test. Murray continues his disapproval of the state of writing by saying that language teachers do not appreciate the importance or the excitement of revision, he said instead they teach rewriting –if they teach it at all as punishment the price you have to pay if you don’t get it right the first time.  He advise instead of teaching rewriting as punishment teachers should use revision as the opportunity to enable students to experience the adventure of writing. Murray affirms his point by providing personal examples and anecdotal experiences of how teachers can help students discover their thoughts through writing. Although he did not provide details on how the process of revision should be done or looks like he offers thoughtful and even inspirational suggestions.
Again, I can’t help to admire Murray’s effort in trying to encourage the writer to focus on their inner realties rather than outside realities or influences. Like I mentioned before he is definitely an idealist and his ideas on writing is necessary for anyone who is interested in the writing process.

Regarding the final project for some reason I had it in my head that this week’s assignment was asking us to share our titles for our individual pieces. Since it’s for the overall project I would say Laura’s suggestion stands out. I thought both titles are great, however I prefer “Writing from the Heart” vs. “Writing Matters.” I simply say this because when I hear “Writing from the Heart” I think of unique, powerful, and creative writing that naturally flows to whomever is writing and when I think of “writing Matters” I’m sorry to say, but I think of structure almost like developing writing skills. Anyways, that’s just my two cents. Again, both titles are very strong and I am excited to hear what we come up with as a group.   

Ideas for our Project

I recently saw a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that said, “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you’ve got something to say.” We all have our own writing stories to share and that mean something to us. We all have something that we feel is important to say. But how are they connected? Some may be about the moment you found your voice. Others may be about a writing moment that was significant in some way to your life. We need an umbrella large enough so as not to limit anyone, but concise enough to have a point of view. I also, as others posted, like Laura's idea of Writing Matters. However, I've been trying to think of some other possible titles myself. I have to admit that it's not easy. Just a few thoughts, not necessarily titles. Ughhh:

The Power of Writing???
A Moment in Writing???
The Writing Connection??? 
How Writing Feeds Us???