The Art of Revision

(75 minutes)

Soon, I will start teaching creative writing to fourth and fifth graders, and so I am starting to think about what that will look like. The students will participate in the nanowrimo writing challenge to write a novel in a month. http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/ Most of November will be spent brainstorming and writing, and writing and writing. But most of the year will be spent on revising and revising and revising, and while most of the students that choose to do this project love writing, they don’t always love revising.

I love revising. Maybe it’s because I’m so happy that I’ve written something worth revising.  I love reading over my drafts and turning things upside down. Here’s where I really start to get into the story, so maybe I should just start here and cut the rest of the intro. I love playing with sentences. Sometimes you just need to say the siblings were swinging on the tire swing gazing out on the lake, but sometimes, Swinging on the tire swing, the siblings gazed upon the lake together is what you need. I love thinking of the precise word, phrase or comparison I want to use to convey my ideas. Did my dog leap, or lunge or bound out the door? Did the wind moan like a cat hoping to get inside or did it shout silent obscenities demanding the attention of all?  I love alliteration, so when I revise, I am reminded to rephrase. Yes, revision, like a pumpkin pancake, particularly pleases my palate.

See revising is fun, not tedious, and that’s what I want to share with my students. It can also be hard and messy and require us to make difficult choices. I wrote a children’s book a few years back which I am still working on trying to get published. 5,000 words I committed to the page only to learn that most children’s book for kids under the age of 8 are about 1,000 words. Taking out the first 2,000 or so words was not so hard, but after that, it was a bit painful. We need to show our students that revising is a process that all writers, even the very best, go through. We need to help them understand why writers go through this process. I think I found a way to do this.

This year, I am trying to be more diligent about working with my students on growth mindset. If you are not familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, you may want to check out this interview with her, which specifically focuses on how teachers can help students learn by addressing mindset. http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/chat/chat010.shtml I showed my 1st, 2nd and third graders a video https://vimeo.com/38247060 (If the video does not come up, just type Austin’s video into the search engine on this site) called Austin’s Butterfly to help them better understand what a good critique looks like. A good critique can help us grow if we have the right mindset and can make changes in response to the critique.

Their eyes and mouths were wide with each of Austin’s revisions. They got it. Austin, a first grader, made five drafts of his butterfly. He didn’t give up after the first one because it wasn’t perfect. He listened to the specific and helpful critique provided to him, and he continued through many more drafts to create something spectacular. I can’t wait for my students to do the same. The only problem is now they all want to draw butterflies.

 

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