Revising for Clarity
"Writing needs to be clear, and not just in the world of journalism where I started my career. I try to communicate to my students that most of the time they are not writing for themselves. Their audience needs structure, supporting details, and clarity."
Tatiana With teaches fourth grade at the Heath School in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Heath is the smallest public school in the town, with almost 400 students in grades pre-K-8. Ms. With's class (ranging in size from 17-23 students) includes a majority of Brookline residents and a minority of students bused in from Boston.
In the featured lesson, Ms. With's students were learning to revise for clarity. Before this lesson, her students completed several prescriptive writing assignments. By the time they began this lesson, many students demonstrated basic mastery of the mechanics of writing (editing), but few understood the need for improved structure and clarity (revision). Ms. With discussed these differences with her students and accompanied the discussion with a revision activity. Using an InFocus projector, Ms. With modeled the revision process and incorporated class suggestions. She chose a writing sample that didn't have any mechanical errors so that her students could focus strictly on structural issues. She then assigned them to different groups to work more closely with the text.
Ms. With's writing routine involves a pre-writing stage, a first draft, up to three revisions of the first draft, a second draft, a revision of the second draft, a final edit, and a final draft. Taking her students through this rigorous process means that students will typically complete and polish six to eight pieces over the course of the year. Some assignments just allow students to practice specific phases of the process. For example, sometimes students focus on a particular theme and just work up to a graphic organizer or a first draft. Ms. With constantly models and practices revision strategies with her students at all stages of draft development.
Ms. With has seen the results of practice and repetition in her students' work. Students typically revise their own pieces in red ink, while Ms. With adds her comments in green. Over the course of the year, the quality and amount of self-correction reflects students' increased understanding of the revision process.