I’ve been told I’m odd because I find revision enjoyable. Getting words on paper/screen is hard for me, but once something is written, I’ll tear into it. I can tweak endlessly, rewrite entire paragraphs, reorganize at the last minute. My co-authors valiantly put up with me and I’m quite grateful for their patience.
But convincing my students that revision is not just essential, but can be fun, is really tough. And given the groan that rumbles across a room of teachers when you mention supporting kids doing revision, my students and I aren’t alone. Two things have helped. First, the concept of fusion. Second, The Most Magnificent Thing (h/t to Michelle!).
Fusion, and its effect on revision, according to Newkirk (PDF, 1981):
There was a fusion of word and referent…If the word carries the essence of the referent, anyone who asks for a revision is challenging the essence of the experience depicted. (p. 58)
In other words, when a student has written a story about their trip to the zoo, the text is “not simply one possible fictional account, not one alternative among many:” (p. 58) but the experience itself. Or an article summary and evaluation becomes the only possible way to summarize and evaluate that article. Because I love to mess with words, sentences, paragraphs, and the like I don’t carry fusion into my revision work. But I can totally understand how a student who has labored over a paper can believe that those words in that order are the only way to write that thing.
So, to break the fusion, I get students talking to one another about their writing because an actual audience who may not see things the way you do helps. I’ve tried radical revision
while working with teachers on their writing. I also as writers to break the physical text: cut it into pieces (Beth taught me this) or pull ideas out onto post-its and rearrange those (I did this
with some brilliant fourth graders).
The second thing I do is read The Most Magnificent Thing. If you’re unfamiliar, the premise is a girl and her pug want to create the most magnificent thing. She makes plans, gathers materials, and digs in. She tries many times, none of them look just right, there’s a trail of failures on the sidewalk, she gets hurt, angry, takes a walk, and figures it out. The pug sidekick and details make this book just perfect to talk to writers about how to manage revision. This girl uses all of the tricks that real writers use for revision–trying a lot, knowing that most of it won’t work, pick up some of the bits that do, take a break, and have a friend. Obviously, I’ve added this to the list of picturebooks
I use for teaching writing. And it always gets a great response. So, fusion and a good picturebook and we revise again and forever.