The Research Shows Series: Revision

What does the research show about teaching students how to revise their own writing? Do teachers and students perceive revision the same way? Are computers a help or a hindrance in teaching students how to revise?  Most important of all, how can teachers help their students to revise? Read on to find out what some of the most important names in teaching writing research have to say!

Teaching Revision in the Writing Process

Although Donald Murray (1982) argues that writing is rewriting, students often see revision not as an opportunity to develop and improve a piece of writing but as an indication that they have failed to do it right the first time. To them, revision means correction. This attitude is attributable partly to textbooks, in which revision is often defined as the act of “cleaning up” or “polishing” prose, and partly to instructional practices that treat revision as cosmetic changes rather than as rethinking one’s work (Sommers, 1982). Revision, however, is the heart of the writing process–the means by which ideas emerge and evolve and meanings are clarified. This Digest hopes to provide information that can help in changing students from “correctors” to “revisers.”

WHAT IS REVISION?

Revision is often defined as the last stage in the writing process (prewriting, writing, and revision). Sommers (1982), on the other hand, sees revision as “a process of making changes throughout the writing of a draft, changes that work to make the draft congruent with a writer’s changing intentions.”

HOW MUCH DO STUDENTS REVISE?

For the novice writer, however, revision appears to be synonymous with editing or proofreading. An NAEP (1977) study found that students’ efforts at revision in grades 4, 8, and 11 were devoted to changing spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Students seldom made more global changes, such as starting over, rewriting most of a paper, adding or deleting parts of the paper, or adding or deleting ideas (Applebee, et al., 1986). Even older college students appear to follow this model of surface changes. Yoder (1993) examined journalism students’ attitudes about revision and the kinds of changes they made as they revised. She also found that surface level changes predominated over meaning changes.

HOW CAN TEACHERS HELP STUDENTS TO REVISE?

Merely requiring students to revise or just to spend more time revising will not necessarily produce improved writing (Adams, 1991). Direct teacher intervention, however, seems to produce positive results. Hillocks (1982), for example, examining teacher comment, prewriting instruction, and revision, discovered that instruction focused on specific goals and skills “coupled with the presence…of revision” improved the quality of the writing produced by seventh and eighth graders. Robinson (1985) found that children in grades 2-6 produced better stories when they revised in response to teacher questions directed at specific content. In another study, Dale (1994) found that collaborative writing seemed to move ninth grade students toward “more thoughtful, sophisticated writing habits.”

Sommers (1982) found that teacher comments on college students’ writing were usually text-specific and, therefore, not helpful. Further, the comments often took students’ attention away from their own purposes and focused it on those of the teacher. Sommers suggests that teachers provide more specific comments and design writing activities that allow students to establish purpose in their writing.

Calkins (1986) recommends that students discuss positive rather than negative aspects of their writings. “Why not,” she asks, “ask them to find bits of their writing–words, lines, passages–which seem essential, and then ask them to explore why these sections are so very significant?”

Publishing student writings can be a powerful means of motivating revision. Publication instills pride and provides an incentive to produce good work. According to Simic (1993), “acknowledgement of good writing, whether it is peer or adult, helps build an awareness of the importance of writing.” Giving students the opportunity to share their writing through hardback books, newspapers, or newsletters, or through oral presentations to other students shows them that quality matters, “and that quality is achieved through revision” (Balajthy, 1986). Additionally, Balajthy recommends providing students with in-class time for revision and allowing flexibility in due dates as a way to encourage students to engage in more extensive revision.

CAN COMPUTERS IMPROVE REVISION SKILLS?

The ease with which students can manipulate text with word processing programs has prompted increased computer use in the writing classroom as a means of promoting student revision. However, the research on whether computers lead students to revise more frequently or more effectively is somewhat inconclusive. In her study of the effects of word processing on the revision strategies of advanced college freshman writers, Hawisher (1986) found that students using computers did not revise more than those using pen and paper, nor were there differences in the quality ratings of the two writing groups. Working with interested tenth and eleventh graders, Kurth (1986) discovered that while word processing motivated students to write and promoted group discussions, it did not affect either the length of compositions or the amount and quality of revisions made. Daiute (1986) found that seventh and ninth graders who used computers made revisions involving longer segments of their draft texts, but the same students revised less frequently when using computers than when using pen and paper.

More positive findings are reported by Flinn (1986), Womble (1984), and Owston (1991). Flinn found that sixth graders using computers to revise compositions wrote longer papers and received slightly higher holistic scores than those using pen and paper. However, the most striking differences between the groups had less to do with computers than with an instructional emphasis on fluency, word choice, and mechanics. Womble observed that students using word processing tended to work longer on their writing, to make more changes in the text, and to develop a better sense of audience than they did when writing in the traditional manner. Studying eighth graders who were very familiar with computers and word processing, Owston found that papers written on the computer were rated significantly higher than those written by hand. Scorers did not know in which manner the papers had originally been written, but they consistently judged the computer written papers superior on all scales of judgment. Data indicated that students continuously revised and edited their work at all stages of the writing process, with most of the revision done in the initial drafting session, making the traditional distinction between draft and final versions of a piece less meaningful.

Perhaps, as Tone and Winchester (1988) have argued, the computer offers real facilitation of revision “to writers who know how to compose on one.” This would back up Owston’s (1991) findings, and with the current proliferation of personal computers allowing for a larger segment of the population available for study, more conclusive data as to the computer’s effectiveness should soon be forthcoming.

It appears, however, that revision, whether done with computers or with pen and paper, will go beyond correction only if teachers emphasize the whole text over its parts. When this happens, students discover the power of writing as a means of shaping ideas and clarifying meanings rather than as a way of correcting errors or fulfilling a class requirement.

REFERENCES

Adams, Peter (1991). “Revising: An Approach for All Seasons.” Writing Notebook, (9)2, 11-12. [EJ 435 687]

Applebee, Arthur N., et al. (1986). “The Writing Report Card: Writing Achievement in American Schools.” Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service; Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. [ED 273 994]

Balajthy, Ernest (1986). “Do Writers Really Revise?” Paper presented at the Conference on Language and Literacy (Geneseo, NY).[ED 274 997]

Calkins, Lucy (1986). “The Art of Teaching Writing.” Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [ED 263 613]

Daiute, Colette (1986). “Physical and Cognitive Factors in Revising: Insights from Studies with Computers.” Research in the Teaching of English, 20(2), 141-59. [EJ 332 972]

Flinn, Jane Zeni (1986) “The Role of Instruction in Revising with Computers: Forming a Construct for ‘Good Writing.'” St. Louis, MO: University of Missouri. [ED 274 963]

Hawisher, Gail E. (1986) “The Effects of Word Processing on the Revision Strategies of College Students.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (San Francisco). [ED 268 546]

Hillocks, George, Jr. (1982) “The Interaction of Instruction, Teacher Comment, and Revision in Teaching the Composing Process.” Research in the Teaching of English, 16(3), 261-78. [EJ 268 134]

Kurth, Ruth J. (1986). “Using Word Processing to Enhance Revision Strategies during Student Composing.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (San Francisco). [ED 277 049]

Murray, Donald M. (1982). “Learning by Teaching: Selected Articles on Learning and Teaching.” Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook. [ED 230 962]

National Assessment of Educational Progress (1977). “Write/Rewrite: An Assessment of Revision Skills. Selected Results from the Second National Assessment of Writing.” Denver: Education Commission of the States. [ED 141 826]

Owston, Ronald D., et al. (1991). “The Effects of Word Processing on Student Writing in a High Computer Access Environment.” Technical Report 91-3. York, Ontario: York University Centre for the Study of Computers in Education. [ED 341 365]

Robinson, Ann (1985). “The Effects of Teacher Probes on Children’s Written Revisions.” Macomb, IL: Western Illinois University. [ED 276 053]

Simic, Marjorie (1993). “Publishing Children’s Writing.” ERIC/REC Digest. [ED 363 884]

Sommers, Nancy (1982). “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” Washington, DC: National Institute of Education. [ED 220 839]

Tone, Bruce, and Dorothy Winchester (1988). “Computer-Assisted Writing.” ERIC/REC Digest. [ED 293 130]

Womble, Gail G. (1984). “Process and Processor: Is There Room for a Machine in the English Classroom?” English Journal, 73(1), 34-37. [EJ 291 267]

Yoder, Sue Logsdon (1993). “Teaching Writing Revision: Attitudes and Copy Changes.” Journalism Educator, 47(4), 41-47. [EJ 459 139]

Source: ERIC Clearinghouse

Author: Lehr, Fran

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