Teaching Revising Teaching Revising Teaching Revising

Theory Blog

While reading Teaching Writing by Donald Murray, I happened to notice the date on which the paper was delivered.  I, like only a scant few in this class was able to read the paper when it was brand new and most recently published.  Back in 1972, when Murray presented his ideas to the New England Association of Teachers of English, as a toddler I would have read this piece and branded it rubbish and hogwash, making mention that it did not have near an impact as The Three Little Pigs, which in my mind, was a tour de force for the time period.

Now some forty-eight years later, I can better understand the ideas that Murray is encouraging, even though his ideas are older than I was when first able to pontificate the theories and moralities of writing. (My first picture book – sold out – only copy gone to my mom.) This relic really piqued my interest when the mention of Writing as a Product was mentioned. 

Murray states that he’s “using language to reveal the truth.”  I couldn’t agree more.  The truth moves people toward products of all shapes and sizes.  This paper (or product) was published way back when the rules of teaching were different.  I love the idea of telling any teacher who is doing more harm than good that the best new way to proceed and achieve student success would be by, “First shutting up.  When you are talking he [students] isn’t writing.”  This language reveals so much truth.

Revision Strategies was published back in 1980.  Nancy Sommers, in her product, talks about students in her research meeting certain requirements because of scores from individual SATs.  When was the last time that was a major indicator?  Many community colleges no longer require any high stakes exams prior to admittance.  She also spoke about the linear patterns in which English is taught.  Students within Sommer’s research disliked revising so much that they created their own “metalanguage” to say anything else but REVISION.  I go over the concept of creating a “metalanguage” in my own presentation as a way of bridging the communication gap between students and teachers.  It makes it so that not one student can say, “It’s all Greek to me.” 

Both authors use the English language to reveal truths. One truth I can’t help but shake is perhaps the one truth I take away from this is that these methods are outdated and should only be used as a foundation for new teachers. Murray talks about Prewriting taking up 85% of a writer’s time.  I have to disagree.  In publishing – journalism especially – if Prewriting used up that amount of time, the news would be old by the time the story hits the press.  Sommers is no better when she talks about rules for revising a piece and then goes on to talk about the rules one must follow after revising.  I’m surprised any writing ever got done.  No wonder the Chicago Manual of Style is longer than the Bible. And to define Revision as Repetition is morally wrong in the context of the English language.  Vision is the root word of Revision. When one revises one sets a new vision or enhances the existing one.  But again, one must consider the time in which both pieces were written.

Murray doesn’t even have steps to his methodology.  He calls them “implications.”  In 1972 we have the end of the Vietnam War.  We have Richard Nixon and a thing called Watergate going on.  No wonder “implications” was his chosen word.  Sommers fairs no better.  Her piece published in the 1980s had some Orwellian tones to it with Revision, Reword, Revision, Redo, Revision, Rework. 

I think we can do much better in the 21st century.  We have technology, something neither article really touches on.  That’s because back when these papers were written, man didn’t have much faith in technology.  Big Brother and all. Dinosaurs like me are either retiring or learning new tricks.  Both of these articles offer teachers a great place to start.  I however, suggest forging one’s own path with the thoughts of Murray and Sommers on the back burner.    

Writing for Empathy, Writing-as-Making

Thank you to Amber and Hugo for another insightful evening exploring writing theory together.  Their selections to read together this week yielded some important reflections. Amber’s selections from “Bad Ideas about Writing” seemed at the onset to point to writing problems while Hugo’s selection pointed to a focus on multimodality.  But what emerged was defintely more than just that.  We took a closer look into the relationship between writing and empathy.  We also started to think about writing in more expansive terms – as a mode of composition that includes more than just words on a page or screen.

Our Slides:

Amber picked up on the connection between writing and rhetoric and the urgency of centering empathy in our public discourse.  In short, our rhetoric can be mobilised to increase fear and misunderstsanding, or it can work to bridge difference in ways that help us design better solutions to real challenges we share in society.  But how do we model and pratcice writing as an act of citizenship?  How do we learn to liste?  How do we foster more productive understanding(s) of difference in society through our shared words.  How do we empower students to feel like thougthful stakeholders in their own communities and in society at large?    Through Amber’s closer look at the omnipresent fear of failure in education, and thinking about the underlying goals for teaching writing, we can also start to see how the enterprise of educating students to read and write is at once at the core of both our biggest problems as well as possible solutions.

Make no mistake, writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship.  Writing is the currency of the new workplace and global economy. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and understand ourselves and our changing world.  Writing is a bridge to the future in part because it presents the possibility for opening up empathy among our ranks.

Hugo chose an article that at first left a few bewildered, but it also opened up a new expansive understanding of what writing actually is.  I think this article made it  more clear to all of us that writing is a pathway to thinking (meta-cognition).  How do we think?  And how does writing effectively facilitate our thinking?  If we expand our notion of writing beyond the traditional forms of literacy (reading and writing text), how do we apprehend how we learn through composition of thoughts and ideas?  Ultimately, “writing-as-making” broadens the traditional understanding of writing.  Composition in this broader multimodal sense leads to new depths of discovery by highlighting a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning and b) one’s understanding of oneself as a thinker and learner.  Thanks to Hugo for walking us through some of the more salient points in this article, and also asking some very thoughtful kinds of questions which lead to our rich closing discussion last night.

Reading in a Social Context

(i.e. multimodal social reading as empathetic experience….)

The first thing I hope you might do on the heels of our last discussion is participate in this week’s Equity Unbound activity – a social reading experience.  When we read on our own, sometimes we take notes in the margins (we annotate).  But with a new digital tool /application called “hypothes.is” we can read and annotate together.  We can  share insight into how we are reading and what compels us, with any page or website that exists on the open web.   Equity Unbound invites everyone to join us in annotating Lina Mounzer’s haunting and beautiful piece, War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria.  Here is the invitation and the instructions for how to join in this exercise:

We will do this using a private Hypothes.is group because the article has so many public annotations already (you can take a peak, but the sheer number of annotations is making it heavy).

Everyone is welcome to join, and Hypothes.is is a really easy platform to use.

Steps to join:

  1. If you do not have a Hypothes.is account, please go to their website and join. It’s a really quick process. Here are some guidelines on how to use it.
  2. Once you have a Hypothes.is account, join the Unboundeq group via this link: https://hypothes.is/groups/drd7q2JL/unboundeq
  3. To start annotating the article, go to this link and start adding your annotations to the UnboundEq group and NOT public/private. Only annotations that are comments will appear to others. Your highlights are private.

I look forward to hearing about your thoughts on this work and how it realtes to our discussion this week.

Your to-do list:

Read & annotate:  ‘War in Translation’ by Lina Mounzer via @hypothes_is annotation

Read: Teaching Writing as Process Not Product by Donald Murray (Kate’s selection)

Read:  Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers by Nancy Sommers (Alyssa’s selection)

Please post Blog #5 which should be a reflection on the social annotation of “War in Translation” as well as the Murray & Sommers articles. **Please remember to tweet your blog post after publishing it!  Next week in class we will  hear from Kate & Alyssa, and wrap our time together with a creative activity in order to participate in the National Day on Writing!

Enjoy the rest of the week,  and the weekend.  Remember to pace yourself and to take care of yourself too.

xo  -Dr. Zamora

I got a bad idea!

Bad Ideas About Writing, which is a collection of articles by different authors, brought me back to my days as a student teacher as it spoke over concepts that I had trouble figuring out. In the chapter “First-Year Composition Prepares Students For Academic Writing ” by Tyler Branson, the most memorable line from these readings is as followed: “My dentist understands first-year writing as remedial instruction in language, but this is an outdated description for this universal course in U.S. higher education.“ This is the sad reality of the perception of English and writing. In schools, writing is still seen as only a tool for communication rather than a tool for creativity, power, politics, and etc.; yet, we have proof that it’s more than just a form of communication. Sure, back in the 1800s it was probably best to simplify and teach new professionals on a macro level to prepare them for writing required by professions, but we are beyond only writing to communicate concise and structured thoughts. As a student teacher, I remember feeling conflicted about how I could address my student’s issues with writing. With the knowledge I had about writing, I wanted to show them that what they wrote about was more important than who structured and “perfect” it was; on the other hand, schools in general were more focus on teaching students how to correctly identify and write a sentence. 

Another quote that I thought to be interesting was the following: “First year writing isn’t about just preparing students for academic writing, but it about modeling writing as an act of citizenship.” I found this particular quote interesting as I had never thought of writing in this light before; however, it makes sense. Writing IS an act of citizenship. In society, almost all tests of our knowledge and capabilities are tested in writing, from learning how to write in kindergarten to taking an exit exam or writing for a major company. It’s also how we move people. We move people with words. We would not have ever questioned what it meant to know everything and nothing if it were not for Plato’s record of Socrates’s trials.

In another chapter of this book, titled Reading is Not Essential to Writing”, Julie Barger explains how the idea of “good readers = good writers” can be detrimental to writers and students, especially those coming from underserved populations. How can students become good writers if teachers aren’t teaching them to read like writers? She breaks down four key issues about writing in schools today:

  1. there exists an educational culture that privileges testing over sustained and meaningful encounters with texts 
  2. here have been longstanding debates in the field of composition studies about the purpose of first-year composition 
  3. there is a lack of recent research on reading in the field of composition studies and a gap in teacher training, particularly at the university level 
  4. there have been unrealistic demands placed on FYC instructors charged with preparing students to conduct research and write in all disciplines 

With these four key issues I mind, she concludes students need explicit reading instructions as well as explicit writing instructions to produce more scholarly results. Composition scholars agree that simply showing students how to read won’t immediately show them lead them to becoming good writers. Teachers must show them both. 

         At the same time, however, the job gets trickier for teachers. A major part of the writing process is revision, which means one must admit that they failed to do it the “right way” the first time. In Alison Carr’s chapter, “Failure is Not An Option”, Carr begins with a few of the beliefs we have about failure, leading with “Failure, so goes the dominant cultural narrative, is a sign of weakness.”  To many times do we hear writers express that they are stopped by the imperfections of their products. Who’s to say students don’t experience the same issue as well? Also, with this in mind, the modern day beliefs about failure probably do not assist with the writing process. Carr entertains the idea that one can become the best writer when their mindsets are trained on failure….which makes a lot of sense. I think of it like this: if you are trained in all of the possible ways that something can go wrong, you now have been equipped with the knowledge of how things can will go right while also having gone down several avenues, building my experience and capacity to imagine other perspectives. Over and over again, we fail to see the connection between failure and creativity, risk taking and innovation. Many of the world’s greatest inventions were made by accident or were made based on the fact that something/someone was failing to fulfil a duty. Popular products today like Post-It Notes and potato chips were made when the inventor was trying to make something else. Writers and students alike do this, too, but we don’t call it failure. When we start a draft and we get stuck, we either make changes to the draft or start an entire new draft. In that moment, we have failed to complete that idea…but that is okay. As Carr explains, this kind of failure is what the entire process of writing is. We need to start using the word failure and being unafraid of saying that we failed as failure gives grounds for creativity. 

Now, “Envisioning possibilities: visualizing as enquiry in literacy studies” by Anna Smith, Matthew Hall and Nick Sousanis, was an interesting read. At first, I found myself lost as I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading about…or if I were really even reading…but from what I could grasp, and what I think is very exemplary in my lack of understanding of this article, was that multimodality is needed across multiple disciplines. There is simply no one way of understanding something, and students should be taught to recognize and be open to learning on that standpoint.

It’s Not Where You End Up…It’s How You Get There

In life, everything is about the process, not the product. It’s about how you get there, not where you end up. Just like real-life experiences shape a person in the way they do, the writing process and revision practice shapes a writer to become what they are. Donald M. Murray describes in his article Teaching Writing As Process, Not Product is a four page explanation that conveys to the reader why teachers should break the norm of teaching writing as a product rather than a process. Murray describes teachers as “fully trained in the autopsy” of finished writing. He makes it seem as if the way it has been taught has been lifeless, dead in that teachers should know better. Their education and training in writing is without a soul, without movement. But if that’s changed, there would only be positive outcomes. Through language, he believes that students should learn, evaluate and communicate about their knowledge of the world. It’s not about what the teachers know, it’s about what the students know. And this usually occurs within the three stages of writing: prewriting, which consists of 85% of the time spend, writing = 1% and finally, rewriting = 14%. These three levels of the journey of writing allow the students to really believe that writing is more than producing a final draft; it’s about looking at your own work and seeing it differently every time. But in order for this to happen, it’s the teacher’s duty to be quiet, listen and respond. The student needs to experience autonomy when it comes to writing, because otherwise the whole point of teaching good writing would have gone down the drain. Teachers are not just teachers; they wear many hats, play many roles in the world of the classroom. They are coaches, mentors, encouragers, developers, creators and the list can go on. Teachers must understand this (and although their burn-out level can come very quickly trying to uphold all these responsibilities), the educator needs to guide the students in writing instead of directing.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Similarly, Nancy Sommers highlighted in her article titled Revision Strategies of Students Writers and Experienced Adults Writers the varied perspectives when it comes to approaching an underrepresented aspect of the writing process: revision. It has been boiled down to be considered a mere afterthought, not a stage of producing a wonderful writing piece. However, Sommers describes the four revision operations in her article: deletion, substitution, addition and reordering in addition to word, phrase, sentence and finally, theme. These steps are necessary in revision to view one’s work via a different lens. However, interestingly student writers do not use the term “revision.” They believe in “scratch out and do over again”, “redoing” or even “slashing and throwing out” as if they are participating in a massacre and killing their paper left and right. They want to clean by making a mess and ensuing bloodshed; a clear contradiction. Revising is not meant to make writers murderers, but rather to discover what else their mind holds to improve their paper. Student writers mistake this as meaning “use intellectual or fancy words” even thought they are simply reinstating their idea multiple times with a new set of vocabulary words. The point is, student writers must learn to see revision, not just hear it. As a result of teachers who have been trained like the above paragraph, students have also come out of schools with a one-track mind. Their revision strategies are overflowing with predictability. They only define the need to revise if they broken the rules of writing or sentence structure; if not, they let themselves sit back or they continue to revise on a microlevel, instead of on a macrolevel.

But I guess with age, comes wisdom; at least in the context of writing (not for everything). Sommers concluded that experienced adult writers made revision changes on all levels, since they had much more knowledge and expertise in that field. It was all about “discovering meaning” together, as a group of writers who needed to look for the concise meaning in their paper. Sommers and Murray both focused on how writing is not a limited, time-bound process (although in reality, it is for the most part.) It’s a world that keeps turning at the fingers of the writer, it’s all in the process, less in the product; because in the end, it’s not about where you end up, it’s about how you get there.

The Art of Revision: Seeing Beyond Restricting Guidelines

Having read Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers and Teach Writing as a Process Not Product have once again made me take a step back and look at how academic writing is structured, and realize there is still much to be done to help evolve the general practice of writing and to enhance writing capabilities of students.

What I mean is the curriculum is still dependent on grades and following a few pre-approved guidelines which doesn’t foster creative ideas or allow diverse methods of writing to come to fruition. Not only that, but because writing is graded on a strict it creates a sense of fear in students so they don’t accept mistakes of any sorts, which can be seen as a negative because people often learn from their mistakes. As the two articles point out, it is important to see revision as an important component rather than an afterthought, and to push past the boundaries of what academic writing says is ‘correct’.

What I found interesting in Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers is the inclusion of a controlled experiment involving younger and older writers to create several essays and document what they think are important components to revision. It is here where it is shown that students are not taught about what meaningful revision is. As the the article states “The aim of revision according to the students’ own description is therefore to clean up speech; the redundancy of speech is unnecessary in writing, their logic suggests, because writing, unlike speech, can be reread.” What is important in that line is that students believe that cleaning up errors in their writing to ‘spruce’ it up takes more precedence over the idea of reconsidering a argument to fit the writing better. In my opinion, the cleaning component should come last because it is more important to understand the overall core of the paper and understand its’ flow, and once it goes through that grotesque stage of reconfiguration can the writer then think about tidying it up.

What the former does is diminish the overall meaning of the paper because revisions cannot fix every mistake that occurs. Nancy Sommers paraphrases this by saying “Because students do not see revision as an activity in which they modify and develop perspectives and ideas, they feel that if they know what they want to say, then there is little reason for making revisions.” It appears as just remedying an issue with a band-aid for a quick fix rather than actually addressing it.

I want to take a moment to relate this to (once again) my experience in art school and how it relates to this topic. The process of art-making is understanding what it is you want to say in your piece, and making sure every element compliments that. We would pick a topic – or thesis – and use our tools to shape it into a finalized piece. Unlike the way literacy academics are structured, redoing the entire project is common practice and even often encouraged. It is one thing to think of the visualization, but it is another to make form it. By allowing the art piece to evolve during every stage of its production, we can see what parts need proper addressing, tweaks or complete overhauling. It is also very common to have the finished piece be completely different that what how it was drafted at the beginning. One quote from the article compliments this way of thinking, one of the older writers reflects his experience of writing as “I rewrite as I write. It is hard to tell what is a first draft because it is not determined by time.” There is a good argument to be made about allowing drafts to be seen as stepping stones to writing over tweaking them to become the final product.

Donald Murray in Teach Writing as a Process Not Product compliments the first article by proposing that the way writing is taught now appears detrimental to the growth of what is possible. I remember in middle/high school that all we were taught were the 5-paragraph structure, and for that all my recollections of writing in those years feel like a blur. It makes me reevaluate if I learned anything proper about writing, I had a lot of students/teachers tell me I wrote excellent but I think it more has to do with me understanding what it is they want to satisfy their rubric. There is an interesting passage that reaffirms my feelings, it says “The product doesn’t improve, and so, blaming the student – who else? – we pass him along to the next teacher, who is trained, too often, the same way we were”.

The general point Murray is trying to say is that we need to examine closer what is being taught at school and consider if it is beneficial to developing writers in the long run. He argues that writing is a process of self-discovery and intrigue, that more emphasis should be placed on allowing students to find ways to create a stronger argument and not worry about what a grading system will say. Teachers have gone through the necessary hurdles to teach their students meaningful writing, so it seems like a disservice to their time and knowledge to make the process of writing redundant.

In the end, I walked away from these readings with a more enlightened feeling, it made me put the idea of writing in a more critical lens and realize that it is okay to make the necessary mistakes to grow. Revision shouldn’t be a word reserved only for educators, and writing should strive to be more than a number in a record book.