Thursday, April 26, 2007

Visions and revisions

It's easy to gripe about the futility of writing comments on student drafts: we spend hours on end working through wretched papers and writing helpful suggestions for improvement, but students ignore our careful comments and just turn in the same old mediocre mess. What's the point of all that work if students are just going to toss the paper in the trash? It's time to transform this monologue into a conversation.

I took the first step this morning in my composition class when I returned their mostly horrible drafts accompanied by a handout headed "My Revision Plan." The handout listed the most common problems on these drafts organized from most serious (inadequate evidence, no clear thesis) to least serious (spelling, format errors). Each student had to read the comments on the draft, put a check mark next to all the relevant problems on the Revision Plan handout, and then write a brief but specific plan for addressing each of those problems.

Here's the key: students were not allowed to leave class until they showed me their completed Revision Plans. Some students had few check-marks and came up with plans fairly quickly; they were allowed to leave early and get to work on revising their papers. Others had many check-marks and had to think of many ways to address the issues, and then they had to show me their plans so I could offer additional information or encouragement.

Whether they left class early or late, all my students had to pay attention to my comments on the draft, come up with specific methods to address those comments, and convince me that they knew what was needed to improve the paper. Will they act on their Revision Plans? Perhaps; the revised papers will tell the tale. But even if they don't take the next step, at least I've done my part to turn this monologue into a conversation.

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