Friday, February 24, 2017

Thinking Outside the Checklist Boxes: Using Stations for Targeted Revision

This may be a controversial statement, but I dislike using long checklists for revising writing.

I've used many revision checklists in the seven years I have taught, and it's easy to see why. It's convenient to throw together a list of "common mistakes" for students and ask them to use it to polish their writing. Moreover, it does feel nice to cross items off of a list! However, in my experience, the longer the list, the more likely I am to see my students quickly checking off box after box without accomplishing any meaningful revision.

I don't blame them. Revision techniques like checklists don't always work well for me either, especially ones that aren't tailored to my writing struggles. I wondered if there was another approach that would help my writers see how valuable revision can be. Good revision requires more work than checking off items on a list, but I was confident that once my writers saw how meaningful it could be that they would be convinced of its importance. But how?

After reading about using stations or tables that each target one revision strategy in Kate Messner's Real Revision and talking it over with my colleague, Liz, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. Of course, I thought. This makes way more sense than a long checklist that is checked off and forgotten. This type of focused revision was perfect for our upcoming snapshot writing piece (a slice of life or small moment narrative).

The more I thought about what works for me as a writer when revising, the more this focused approach made sense to me. I prefer to think about one aspect of revision at a time and re-reading my piece with a laser-like focus for one thing, using the areas I know I struggle with as a writer (wordiness, repeated words...the list goes on).

Ideally, writers would know themselves well enough to know what to revise for, but this type of self-knowledge is a tall order for writers of any age, so my fellow 7th grade ELA teachers and I thought about what common writing struggles we saw with snapshot writing when making decisions about what revision strategies to offer at each station. Since students had written three other snapshot pieces this year, we knew that they typically struggled with staying focused, choosing strong words and adding sensory details.

We have 49 minutes with our students each day, so we settled on asking students to spend five minutes revising at the following four stations:

Stay Focused
At this station, students reread their snapshot with the lens of focus, using the questions on the left to help them determine whether their piece was zoomed in on a small moment. We added some ways to revise for conventions to this station as well for those students who found that they were focused on a small moment. Though this is a long list, the time constraint helped students focus on reading specifically for one or two items.

Replacing Weak Words

Messner's book came in handy when compiling a list of "frequent offenders" that students could replace with stronger words. Since students each have a Chromebook, I found that reminding them of the "find" option on Google Docs (ctrl + f) would come in handy for finding and replacing weak words with stronger ones. I also saw many students using a thesaurus for this station to find the best word possible.

The Details
This station was also inspired by Kate Messner (if you haven't picked up Real Revision, it's a gem!). Highlighting sensory details helped writers see if they tended to focus on one sense over the other four and was a quick way to determine whether they had enough sensory details in their piece. We also added a few questions to help writers determine whether they had included details about characters and setting, as well as places to prune details.

Read Aloud 

I'm a big fan of reading my writing out loud. Our brain often "autocorrects" our own writing, making it hard to catch our own mistakes. This station was pretty straightforward: read your writing out loud and underline any mistakes or phrases that needed reworking. Writers used "whisper phones" to help focus on their own writing instead of getting distracted by other people simultaneously reading their pieces out loud.

I really enjoyed using the stations today, and the students did too. Focusing on one purposeful aspect of revision at a time helped writers make meaningful changes to improve their writing. Revision is an ongoing process (and one that is never really finished), but providing students with targeted strategies to help lift the level of their writing is a great way to equip them with revision methods they can use in future pieces of writing.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the entry, Katie. I'm trying out revision stations tomorrow for the first time ever!