Tag Archives: revision

More Than a Grade: Cultivating Intellectual Play in Students

This post is written by student member Danah Hashem.

Educators know the dreaded question well: Will this be graded? Subtext: As a student in your class, the impact this assignment has on my report card matters more to me than the potential learning experience it offers; how much should I care about my performance on this?

This simple but familiar and frequent question encapsulates a larger issue impacting classrooms around the globe. It is not a new phenomenon for students to give in to the temptation to trade mindsets of intellectual play, exploration, and growth for the reductionist, quantifiable goal of high grades. However, in the face of increased standardized testing and global competition, today’s students are chasing the grade more than ever before. And who are we to blame them? Increasingly, the systems in which they are asked to operate measure and assess them based on these numbers, awarding opportunities, status, and identities accordingly. More and more our students are viewing grades as the reason and the reward for their learning, and it’s not always difficult to understand why.

This leaves us as educators with some difficult questions of our own. What are we doing that is communicating to our students that grades are the final goal and ultimate achievement of learning? And how do we stop? What can we do to shift the culture, reframe the goals, and revive the elusive spirit of intellectual curiosity in our classrooms?

While the answers to those questions are complex, systemic, and extend well outside the walls of our own classrooms, I believe there are some concrete, achievable steps we can take to support, encourage, and mentor our students in their very real struggle to understand the importance of personal education in a grade-driven culture.

  1. Value process along with—and perhaps even over—product. A strong summative writing assignment requires work that is completed in stages, a few of which should include brainstorming, exploration, experimentation, drafting, and revision. We can communicate the importance of these stages to students by dedicating class time to them, giving detailed feedback on them, holding reflective conversations regarding them, and potentially weighting those stages more heavily than the finished product when grading. This tells students that you care more about the journey they went through to create and understand their final product than the final product itself.
  2. Allow revision. Particularly on larger assignments, I always allow my students to resubmit their work for a higher grade, deducting no penalty points for wanting another try. This shows students that my primary concern is their personal struggles as scholars wrestling with challenging tasks and concepts.
  3. Integrate single-point rubrics. As helpful as a well-crafted holistic or analytic rubric can be, the goal of these rubrics is essentially to standardize and quantify intellectual creation, which can encourage ranking, comparison, and fixation on teacher-direction in order to target a specific grade. The single-point rubric is a grading option that describes what proficiency should look like in each of the outlined categories, making no attempt to anticipate where and how students will succeed or fall short. Structuring rubrics in this way allows more subjectivity and invites educators to reflect on both strengths and weaknesses in each category. Grades can still be assigned with clear explanation; however, there are no predefined levels, limits, or categories for success. This rubric stresses descriptive, personalized feedback over the numerical grade.
  4. Encourage self-reflection. In order to actively demonstrate that the grade is not the capstone of intellectual pursuit, spend time reflecting on assignments before, during, and after the grading process. These reflections can be structured as journal entries, large-group discussions, or partner conversations. Guiding questions can encourage students to think deeply about what they gained from the process. Questions that encourage this kind of thinking include
  • What was the most difficult portion of this assignment for you?
  • How did you overcome those difficulties?
  • What do you think was the strongest aspect of your project and why?
  1. Highlight intellectual courage. Educators can encourage student identities that operate outside of the grading system by highlighting exemplary work that does not necessarily reinforce the culture of grade-based status. Taking class time to promote a student’s work as innovative, courageous, or explorative can subvert the grade-based status system while also gently fostering the confidence students need to engage in intellectual play.

Ultimately, if we must grade, our grades should support, complement, and encourage real learning. This makes the job of an educator more nuanced and admittedly more difficult; there are no effective ways to standardize and quantify the authentic intellectual pursuits of individuals. However, before we can ask our students to internalize this reality, we ourselves must be willing to take clear and definitive steps to make that reality evident in our classroom culture. It can be difficult in our grade-saturated culture, but change always begins with initial steps.

Danah Hashem teaches tenth-grade world literature at Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, MA, where she pursues her passions for and scholarship in digital literacies, Middle Eastern literature, and student-centered learning. Follow her on Twitter at @DanahRHashem or via her blog, www.pencilsandpatience.wordpress.com.

Note: NCTE has a variety of resources to support teachers looking to approach grading intentionally and generatively in their classrooms. For additional information on assessments and grading, visit the following position statements: Resolution on Grading Student WritingFormative Assessment That Truly Informs InstructionWriting Assessment: A Position Statement

How Do You Teach Students to Write Solid Sentences?

This guest post is written by author Michael Laser. 

If you’ve had success, please share what worked!

This post is adapted from a much longer post on Doug Lemov’s blog, Teach Like a Champion.

MichaelLaserI’m a novelist and a relatively new teacher of freshman composition (going into my 4th semester). I’ve been searching for effective teaching methods to help my students improve their writing at the sentence level. To give you a sense of the problems I’m trying to address, here are a few sentences from their essays:

Because now in today’s age if it were opposite and it was a group of males in a store shirtless and a male manager walked in he would 9 out of 10 times ignore it and say that they weren’t doing anything stupid or unnecessary, holding women to a different standard.

The similarities among the speakers and their author are illustrated differently through their speaker’s separate tones. 

The money in the household shared between the Nora and Torvald contrast the idea of a happy marriage. 

I’ve read books and articles on integrating grammar instruction into a writing curriculum and have adapted the strategies that seemed most promising. I’ve also invented lessons of my own, including “Recognizing Awkward Sentences” and “Improving Awkward Sentences.” But even students who seemed to get the idea when we practiced usually forgot the lessons when they wrote their essays. And, though it hurts to admit this, very few of my students improved significantly—at the sentence level, at least—by the time they handed in their final essays.

I expect awkwardness in a first draft, in student writing and in my own; but I know that I can clear up most of the problems by going back and revising. That’s the skill I’ve tried to teach my students. So far, I haven’t found a way that works.

Frustration has led me to rethink my search. Instead of trying one teaching strategy after another, I want to find teachers who have gotten better results and ask how they did it.

Have you seen significant improvements in your students’ grammar and style between September and June? If so, would you be willing to share some of your methods? The more specifics you can provide, the better.

You can post suggestions in the Comments section, or email me at Michael@michaellaser.com. Eventually, if enough people respond, I’d like to compile these ideas and present them for other teachers to use, either on the Web or in book form. Either way, I would credit the teachers who suggested the methods.

Note: Many writing specialists believe that an emphasis on correctness crushes confidence, stifles creativity, and produces less capable writers. For decades, they have sought to engage students by assigning topics that matter to the writers, encouraging students to flesh out early drafts with more detail, and overlooking most errors. They have worked to overturn students’ belief that I can’t write—a belief that results from finding their best efforts bloodied with red marks, repeatedly. These insights are important. Still, it seems to me that, in the reaction against oppressive teaching methods, basic skills have been lost. If students graduate from college and go on to write emails, letters, and reports that are as awkward and error-filled as the papers they’ve written in my class, they’ll be judged harshly.

I want to encourage my students to think creatively. The challenge is to build their confidence at the same time that we teach them to write graceful, grammatically correct sentences. If you’ve accomplished that, please take the time to explain how.

Michael Laser writes novels for adults and younger readers. You can read more about his work on his website, michaellaser.com. 

Teaching Students to “Re-See” Their Writing

writingIn the December Voices from the Middle, Katherine Batchelor examines teaching middle school students the art of revision, and she finds value in the use of transmediation:

[I]ncluding transmediation, the process of taking understanding from one sign system and moving it into another in order to generate meaning, may change the conversation regarding revision to allow learners to “re-see” their writing. For example, if I wrote a short story and then recast my thinking about the short story, translating it into an online graphic novel, transmediation takes place. Transmediation paired with revision allows students to reimagine their writing, thus acquiring new skills based on intuitiveness, feeling, and aesthetics.

Many students who struggle with traditionally taught literacies, Batchelor says, have sophisticated “out-of-school literacies,” sharply understanding comic books, blogs, movies, etc. By asking students to write in multiple media, we allow them to mingle the literacies they have already developed with the literacies they still need to develop.

In the seventh-grade ELA class Batchelor examines, students were asked to write a short science-fiction story, then re-create the story in another medium. “For example, Elsa created avatars based on her two main characters: a teenage girl and her dad. She then condensed her plot into a nine-frame comic. Some students pulled quotes to use as speech bubbles, while others looked for the main theme, such as fear or isolation, and centered their iMovie, Glog, or Prezi on these images.”

Among the students observed in that class was one Batchelor refers to with the pseudonym Darin:

Because of Darin’s ease and comfort with technology, he reimagined his writing as a digital format, thus transforming his sci-fi flash story into the look and feel of a video game. Darin also explained that while working with Goanimate.com, he realized that he did not like his story, which occurred to him while transmediating. He felt that he needed to revise. However, the next day in the computer lab, Darin noted that he wanted to work more on the scenes in Goanimate in order to help him think differently about his story. He said, “I’m going to make a scene and base the story off that scene.” When he finished, Darin went home and rewrote a flash sci-fi that originated from the scene.

Batchelor concludes:

Combining transmediation with revision allowed students to think about their writing more deeply. Sandra explained, “I think of the deeper meaning or the detail that I brought out in my object creation and bring it out in my story.” … Amy also commented that transmediation allowed her to better understand her story, saying, “It helps you evaluate the meaning of your story and adding specific details in your story.”



Read Katherine Batchelor’s entire piece “Digital Transmediation and Revision.”

Revision Makes My Students Thirsty

The following is from Noreen Moore’s piece at the blog Writers Who Care, reprinted here by permission:


revisionOn a crisp fall day after lunch, my fifth-grade students began working diligently to revise their narratives about our class trip to the pumpkin patch.  However, five minutes into our writer’s workshop, hands started going up with students who claimed they were either finished, needed to sharpen a pencil, get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom.   This thing called “revision” had a strange effect on my class.

As I reviewed their writing, I suspected that they had what Nancy Sommers has described as a student view of revision rather than an experienced view of revision.  They were correcting errors rather than envisioning new possibilities with their writing.   They also were scared to “mess up” the first draft they worked so hard on and, as a result, were reluctant to revise.  Many students also felt their writing was already great and needed no revision; they were not able to distance themselves and view the writing from an outsider’s perspective.  This experience prompted me to find ways to teach about revision and make it more fun for my students.

Experienced Writers Can Inspire Revision

I highlight how important revision is by sharing famous authors’ quotes about revision along with their actual revisions.  Revision is such an integral part of writing that Donald Murray argued writing is revising.  Many professional writers agree that much of what they do when they write is revise.   Sharing famous authors’ quotes or anecdotes about revising can help students see the value of it.

Fun Activities Can Inspire Revision Too

If given the proper scaffolding, young writers can develop revision skills and strategies and may even learn to love the art of revising (or at least tolerate it!).  Here are some ways to make revision less daunting:

  1. Ask the author to choose photos, artwork, images, music, or other texts that connect to her piece.  Then ask her to jot down words, phrases, ideas that are stimulated by the pictures and are not included in the original piece.  Afterwards, the author can add or tweak the piece to include this new perspective.
  2. Re-envision revision as play.  Invite authors to choose one aspect of their writing they wish to play with.  They can always change it back if they don’t like how it comes out.   For example, have writers print out their writing, cut it up into sentences, paragraphs, or sections, and play with organization.  Ask them to play with point of view.  Invite authors to change the point of view of their piece by doing a simple search and replacing pronouns and then rereading and tweaking.  Writers can also play with figurative language.  What happens when they add a simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, symbols?  When students see revision as an opportunity to play and discover, they may learn they like doing it!
  3. Ask writers to create podcasts of themselves reading their own writing or a partner’s.  As the author listens to the original piece read aloud, she may discover things to change, rewrite, add, or delete.   This type of activity provides distance and voice for writers, which can be instrumental in helping them notice aspects of their writing that may be unclear, confusing, awkward, or incorrect. For more about using podcasts for proofreading, see this article.
  4. Finally, try acting out a piece or a segment of a piece.  Writers could work in small groups, or with friends or family members, to act out a scene in the writer’s story.  As the writer watches the scene performed, she can take notes about what she may want to add, clarify, or change in some way.  This activity can work for narrative writing as well as procedural.

Revision is a time to gain perspective, experiment, tweak, reinvent, and play.  Just as play is a medium through which children discover and learn, revision is a time for a writer to play and learn.  By helping young writers see the importance and fun in revision, we may just quench their thirst enough that they are able to spend more time working on their writing and less time asking to go to the water fountain!