A New Take on Peer Revision

Peer Revision in my class has been lukewarm at best. I have tried everything to get the exercise to move out of the pocket of mediocrity where it seems lodged but to no avail. I have created checklists for students to complete on each others’ drafts, scavenger hunts of things to search for, warm/cool feedback sheets, and I have modeled all of these revision practices, but nothing really seems to click.

I realized towards the end of last semester that the students don’t understand how to attack an ENTIRE paper/essay/report. When given smaller chunks of writing, they can provide substantial feedback, but when asked to read a whole 5 page paper and provide feedback they get lost. The tricky part of peer revision is that the peers have to have both reading and writing skills for exercise to be helpful. And, even then,  it can still be lame. Last year, when working on a short story piece about teaching with a class in the New York City Writing Project, we did monthly peer revision exercises. Sometimes I got great feedback. Other times the feedback did nothing for me as a writer nor my story as a piece of writing. Like I said, lukewarm at best.

But I still feel the need to have the students SEE each others’ writing and WORK to develop a language to talk about writing; it is a valid use of class time. I continue to struggle with new and exciting ways to mix this up. I have recently been somewhat successful.

Solution:  To have them work with smaller pieces of their essays. To have them write/rewrite = revise in class. To have them do a guided share/revision with a partner.

I did this last week with ideas from a great article called “Unsettling Drafts.” (I’ll include a citation later, as the article is at work and I’m on Spring Break (woot!).) The premise of the article is that in revision, sometimes it’s best to focus on the re-vision part of the task–re-seeing a part of your writing through the process of reading, re-writing, and then adding that new writing as an act of revising your original essay. Here’s what we did:

1. I asked the students to re-read their essay slowly (this was their first draft). Twice. Once for content, once for small grammatical errors.

2. Then I had them write. I gave them the list below, went over the options, and then had them write for 10 minutes.

Options for Revision = Generate new aspects of your topic!

  1. Write a new introduction
  2. Write a new conclusion
  3. Switch the point of view (from first person to third person or from third person to first person)
  4. Add dialogue where you have description of an event
  5. Rewrite your conclusion as the introduction and then write a new conclusion
  6. Write a dialogue with a friend describing your paper, telling why you thought it was important, what you thought was important
  7. Create a stream of consciousness about what is going on beneath the surface of the action or arguments or explanations
  8. Describe a place briefly mentioned in your paper
  9. Create an opening that starts in the midst of an action
  10. Describe a person mentioned in the paper
  11. Describe what happens after the paper ends
  12. Describe what happened before the events of the paper
  13. Describe a personal experience related to the argument of the paper
  14. Argue from your opponent’s point of view
  15. Create a dialogue representing two or more points of view
  16. Write an argument as a narrative
  17. Write an analysis as a letter to a friend

Whatever exercise you choose may or may not become a part of your paper.

The point is to see a new angle, another perspective, to your writing.

You might also take a sentence or two from this writing and add it to your paper.

You might add all of it!

3.  After the students wrote for 10 minutes, I had a few share out their new writing to the entire class. Many students chose to write a new introduction, a description, or a new conclusion–I think that’s because those are things they know and understand–and that was fine with me. I had about three students share out loud. The student would read their newly written piece and I would ask them:

–Why did you chose to do this type of writing (introduction, conclusion, description)?

–Where might this fit best into your essay?

–Would you use this whole piece of writing or just a part of it?

And, remarkably, the students had good, thoughtful answers to those questions! They were thinking about their whole essay through microscopically examining a small piece of it.

4.  The students then turned to someone in their writing group (they were purposefully grouped for this essay assignment), read a piece of their original essay to their partner (say, the original introduction), read their new writing (say, their new introduction), and explained how/where/why/what they might use from their new writing in their original draft (say, put their new introduction which may have been a descriptive piece before their original introduction, which may have been more traditional = problem set up, thesis statement).

ONE LAST POINT: Like many of us in community college, I am desperately trying to break my students of the 5 paragraph essay that they learned in high school to pass the New York State Regents Exams. This exercise allowed me to introduce to them that they can have multiple paragraphs of introduction and/or conclusion, a first step to breaking the Intro–>Body Paragraph–>Body Paragraph–>Body Paragraph–>Conclusion rut they are in when organizing their writing. They got the point that you can have a pre-intro intro or a post-conclusion conclusion.  The reason I know that they got it is because during our next class we were reading aloud a short essay called “What ‘Model Minority’ Doesn’t Fit” by Diane Yen-Mei and, as we paused to process both the content  and the structure, a student called out, “This is what we talked about Monday! She has four paragraphs of introduction!”

And my heart almost exploded.

Awesome.

Happy revising, all.

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