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Searching online for “teach student writing” or any similar sentiment will produce countless headlines to the tune of “Improve Writing Skills Online” or “10 Tips to Help Your Students Become Better Writers” or “5 Clever Ways to Improve Student Writing.” But any teacher who’s been on the job for long knows the truth: you can’t actually teach students to write.

Despite all of the ways teachers can support students in their writing, students learn to write, first and foremost, by writing. Everything we do is ultimately to support them on their own journey to become better writers. This is especially, frustratingly true when it comes to revision in writing. And yet, revision is when so much of a student’s learning, growth, and critical thinking happens.

Revision often feels like the most difficult writing skill to teach and to learn. Students tend to misunderstand or resist revision, preferring to focus on proofreading and surface editing instead of true, deep revision. Here is where educators really can support students by clearly defining and reinforcing revision in the writing process.

Define Revision

    The first roadblock to revision is a misunderstanding of the task and goal of revision. Students often mistake revision for proofreading or editing. Therefore it’s helpful to walk through the writing process and define the three terms for students, setting forth the goals and differences of each. All are important components of writing, and as such, they are each separate steps in the process. 

    Explain to students that revision comes after drafting, but before editing and proofreading. Be sure to then clarify each terms’ meaning. One helpful definition of revision comes from Erika Lindemann’s A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, “True revision involves reseeing, rethinking, and reshaping the piece, resolving a tension between what we intended to say and what the discourse actually says.”

Practice Together

    Sometimes, students need to see revision in action to understand how to apply it to their own work. Find an opportunity for an in-class revision, using a past student paper or writing something collaboratively, comparing drafts at different stages. 

    If working on creative writing, use a known story, then change the point of view, to literally ask the students to “re-see” the story. For example, rewrite Little Red Riding Hood from the Wolf’s point of view.

    When working on critical writing, collaborate on a given prompt to create a short outline. Then, have the students ask the following questions:

    1. Does the outline respond to the prompt?

    2. Does the outline have a clear and persuasive argument?

    3. Does the outline have a logical and thoughtful organization?

    Have the students work together to revise the outline until the answers to all these questions are affirmative.

Peer Review

    Create opportunities for peer review. Sometimes it can be easier for students’ to see revision opportunities in their classmates’ work than in their own. Have students use the same methods that they used during the in-class revision practice to revise each other’s work. This can also help encourage revision individually as well, by creating multiple deadlines during the writing process.

Incentivize Revision

    When structuring a writing assignment, especially something higher-stakes, like a term paper, add steps to incentivize student revision. Take the emphasis off of the final product and place it on the process itself. Set multiple deadlines in which students submit different drafts, with activities like peer review and self evaluation associated with each draft. Have students submit all drafts along with their final work and assess the work based on the revision efforts, not just the end result.

Use Technology

    Students can practice revision with Turnitin Draft Coach™, which offers three Similarity Checks per document. This allows students to revise and review their draft based on feedback, particularly focused on citation, paraphrasing, and other revision activities, all in the same document when using Turnitin Draft Coach™.

    Once they’ve revised on their own, students can submit to Turnitin Feedback Studio, which allows for multiple submissions of the same assignment by recognizing them as the original author and automatically eliminating previous submissions for potential similarity matches. This functionality is designed to support the revision process within the Similarity Report and helps educators facilitate student learning within the process. 

By creating a clear definition of what revision is (and is not), practicing and incentivizing the act of revision in writing assignments, and utilizing technology that emphasizes and enhances these aspects of the writing process, teachers can encourage students to grow as writers and help shepherd them towards stronger writing skills that will serve them for years to come.

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