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Over the past five years of teaching, I have come to believe that (long) writing assignments do not advance student learning unless drafting and revision are part of the required process.

In my first years, I started out offering the chance to revise (and to raise the grade) for any student who chose to, within a week of getting a paper back. The problem was, however, that my highest achieving students would revise to try and push a B+ paper to an A-, but the students who really needed work writing would ignore it.

Thus: required revision. Is it more work for me? Sure. But handing out grades for first drafts—and what students hand me are often first drafts, as were many of my own papers in college—started to seem like there was no educational purpose.

Which brings me to now.

I am a *very* thorough editor of student work. I read long essays carefully and include line-edits in track changes. Because of a good mentor at the writing center at Hunter College, I learned to pose questions in the margins in order to advance student thinking (rather than just point out what is wrong.) But still, often enough, I get the majority of the second drafts of these papers back with only the smallest changes to wording or sentence structure, or sometimes a paragraph rearranged.

I understand that knowing how to edit is a skill acquired over a long period, and that deep revisions to writing are time-consuming. Students who haven’t been through this process don’t necessarily know how to engage with it. But I still wonder what kinds of techniques might move students to really dig in to the work of writing, and respond to the suggestions I make.

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1 comment to Drafting

  • I have never taught a writing class. I had web design classes and I encounted the same problem – some students designed the page not exactly as I asked, leaving out some required elements. And I did what you designed for the class, if they revise the webpage anytime during the semester and let me know, they will earn half the grade back. And I have the same problem, those who needed to improve more would not make the corrections.

    I tried two strategies: As I was grading the work, I left specific comments on the Blackboard and asked the student to get back to me. In my next class, I talked to the student in person, asking if he/she had checked the Blackboard and if he/she needed help on this assignment. And I personally requested to see the revision during the week via email.

    After the midterm, I asked those who had lost 15 points(out of 100 points) to see me after class and I talked to them one by one.

    I am not sure how many students are in your class. Maybe it is not possible for a big class. I would like to know each student by his/her names and establish a personal acknowledgement before and after class.