Gaming Revision“I tried to leave some things so that I would have something to revise.”

This is what I heard as I walked through a group of students congregating in the hall outside a classroom. They were waiting for the room to empty so their class could begin.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but it is the first time it resonated. Let me explain.

At a faculty retreat a couple of weeks ago, I got into a discussion with two colleagues about whether or not students should be required to write multiple drafts in our first-year writing program. They both firmly believed that some students didn’t need to create multiple drafts to produce quality writing.

“No one sits down and produces a final draft without revision,” I boldly paraphrased Ann Lamott.

“Sure they do. What about Tweets?” One of them responded.

“I proof all my Facebook posts and Tweets,” I said, which is true even though I still perform errors fairly regularly, much to my dismay.

“Well, you’re the only one,” she said.

We decided at this point to agree to disagree and move to a different topic, but three days later I heard the comment above from the student in the hall, and then two days after that a different colleague expressed frustration that her students go through two revisions before she sees their drafts yet they still turn in writing that isn’t where she’d expect it to be.

This is where I sit today — confused and rethinking how I’m approaching revision in my own writing class. We all see the drafts that seem to have been written the night before, even from students we know are diligent and detail-oriented. Why? It’s because revision has become one of many games students have become masterful at playing.

Think of it this way: when revision is part of assessment, students feel compelled to revise … a lot. But what about those students who can do effective self-assessment? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking that we turn the clocks back on first-year writing praxis and approach writing as product rather than process, but I do think we should entertain the idea that some students just might produce something very close to a final draft the first time, and we should relieve those students from the unnecessary stress of fabricating revisions just to satisfy our own misguided need to see distinct difference between drafts. I don’t claim to have the answers as I’m still working through this, but one thing I recommend is to simply read your students’ first drafts as if they’re final drafts and encourage peer responders to do the same. Just ask questions and offer reactions rather than actively seeking areas that need revision. Most of us are already doing some semblance of this, but if we shift one more notch and tweak just a bit more how we’re approaching feedback, we could see our students begin to offer us higher quality drafts, and that means we can genuinely push them ahead in their writing development.

Another interesting sidenote for anyone who cares: I’m in the beginning stages of conducting research into response methods. I’m curious to see how the movements through peer and teacher response impact student learning. Thank goodness I didn’t decide to repeat what has been done too much already in our field — measuring the quality of revisions.


1 Comment

Filed under first-year writing, FYC, grammar, Inquiry, teaching, Writing

One response to “Gaming Revision

  1. I was just re-reading Nancy Sommers’ “Intentions and Revisions” JBW, 1981 (, and so your post resonates. Sommers writes:

    In the writing classroom, however, revision is treated as a non-creative act, a polishing act concerned with taking the linguistic litter out of sentences. Revision in the writing class is as interesting as an autopsy. This is so, I suspect, because the pre-dominant model of writing — the pre-writing, writing, rewriting model — we have identified prewriting as the creative stage of the composing process.

    I don’t know if your colleagues see it this way, but I sense students do: the idea that once they get a full draft, they’ve captured what they think and want to say, and that’s that, except for tweaks.

    Sometimes yes, a really good draft comes in that doesn’t need much work. But in the context of a writing course, that’s no reason not to work it anyway. One can posit to a student something along these lines: this is good, just polish it for a final draft that’s due in two weeks. But since we’re working on midprocess drafts, why don’t you experiment instead. Make a copy of this draft, and for the sake of invention and stretching your thinking a bit, play with the copy by taking any one paragraph and then deleting all the others. From that one paragraph, start a new draft and write as fast as you can without looking at the original. See what happens.

    That is, revision can be a release, an exercise in looking a new. Assess the student simply on the degree of new, of difference from the revised draft from the prior draft. Celebrate risk, don’t require that the revision be better, just that it exhibits some re-thinking.


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