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The Reading Coach

Strategies for Understanding
And Teaching Revision

Revision is the second most important part of writing (after the idea). Alexa Sandmann, professor at Kent State University defines revision as refining meaning. "Trimming, tightening, hacking away," Laura Backes, a newsletter publisher, calls it. Revision takes whittling and gluing, a process through which the treasure, the image within a plain piece of writing, is revealed. Revising denotes stepping back and looking at content. It means removing a perfectly good sentence because it doesn't belong, adding details or clarification, tightening our language. Those all are powerful, accurate images of what revision looks like.

How do we help students understand the importance of revision?

First, by modeling. Writing should have depth, clear and sharp meaning, a strong personal message or voice. Show students plenty of examples. Revising might include moving paragraphs or sentences to make the writing more organized and clearer to the reader. Don't accept shallow work, but don't grade every paper on every process; restrict that red pen. Let your initial comments to young writers be positive, touching on the best part of their composition. Then let them build on that. "This is excellent -- I can see the image of what's happening. Can you give more attention to that? I think it would make a fabulous story."

Secondly, teach them to distinguish revision from editing. Editing is simply correcting the punctuation, grammar, and capitalization (more about that next month). When we revise, we pose such questions as:

  • Do I have a strong ending?
  • Do I need more detail? Where?
  • Does my writing flow and stay on topic?
  • Are there connectors for my reader from one paragraph to another?

There are thousands more. Create an evolving classroom list of revising questions with student input and post it for quick reference.

The wisdom of William Strunk, Jr, co-author of the famous book The Elements of Style, rings true: "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines." Revision is the time writers devote to polishing their precious stone.


Real Authors on Revision

Aliki tells us, "Sometimes it takes many weeks for me to find the right way to tell my story."

Stephen Krensky chuckles, then he says, "I always try to remember to fix the dumb parts later. It's OK to have dumb parts to start with. Everybody does."

Gregory McQuire calls revision "weeding, winnowing and word-whacking."

Jane Kurtz muses, "Even after I write a draft of a picture book, that's only the beginning. I read it over and over again to myself -- or out loud -- and listen to how the words sound. I think about how to pull the reader in, to make the reader feel what I've felt or see what I've seen."



About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With nearly twenty years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.

Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.


Article by Cathy Puett Miller
Education World
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