Modeling Writing and Revising for Students
If I had been more efficient with my time, the letter that I wrote to you would have been shorter.
Before beginning a lesson on clear and succinct writing, I go through this proverb with my history students at the high school level. It is possible that Blaise Pascal was the originator of this saying. I explain to them that as juniors, they are required to eliminate words that are not necessary while writing language that is accurate and economical.
The majority of students believe that an assignment is finished as soon as they have written the last statement, thus this is not an easy task. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that a significant number of high school students fail to review their work, which leads to disheartening grades and aggravation on many fronts. Thankfully, I’ve also had success with modelling great writing, which is vital for assisting adolescents in the development of essential revision abilities.
STARTING WITH SMALL STEPS
In the beginning of the school year, I give my students brief essay questions to answer based on the reading we did over the summer. This is done in preparation for giving them longer writing projects later on. Because I want to have a clear image of what they are capable of doing without any outside assistance, I have them complete these during class. After that, I will reveal some of the comments while keeping the identity of the people who provided them in order to call attention to various types of flaws, such as incorrect punctuation and language, logical fallacies, and generalisations.
While the students are discussing these omissions, I advise them to refrain from pointing the finger at possible writers. I tell them, “What’s essential is that you learn from these mistakes, not that you focus on trying to find out who made them,” adding that nobody, not even their instructor, is immune to the benefits of receiving constructive criticism. To ensure that my students fully get this concept, I provide them with versions of the articles that I write, such as this one, as well as comments from the editors that I collaborate with.
My favourite passage from William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, which is one of my preferred writing guides, is the following: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph should contain no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines, and a machine should have no unnecessary parts.” I share this passage with my students to encourage them to think deeply about their writing. This does not need the writer to make all of their sentences brief, or to eliminate any detail and cover themes simply in an outline fashion; rather, it requires that each and every word tell. In addition to that, I stress the importance of clarity to my students.
In order for students to get experience putting this advise into practise, they are assigned to produce a 700-word opinion essay regarding the legacy that Thomas Jefferson left in American history. I allow students around two weeks to do this task, which provides them with adequate time to perfect their work and meet with me if they are having difficulty if they feel they need additional assistance.
However, before I let students go on their way, I take about twenty-five minutes to draught my own response, which I then project for students to watch as I write it. I demonstrate the importance of spending time crafting an excellent opening line (the lede), developing strong transitions, and using language that is punchy. As I write, students are able to observe how I continuously improve my work by switching gears frequently between paragraphs to adjust the structure and flow of the narrative. In the meanwhile, I respond to inquiries regarding the train of thought that led to the decisions I made, such as why I chose to modify a clause or reevaluate my syntax.
In addition, I encourage students to point out any errors that they see in my work, whether they pertain to the presentation of the material or my writing style. I sometimes make errors on purpose to ensure that kids are paying attention, and it makes me pleased when they see something that I didn’t plan to write that needs to be addressed that they brought to my attention.
I like to remind my students that I’ve had much more time to think about their assignment and that I’ve been teaching these skills for a dozen years in order to prevent them from feeling deflated by my productivity. This is especially important when taking into account the fact that I believe it will take them several hours to complete this task.
When it is time for students to turn in their first submission, I avoid using the word “draught,” as this gives the impression to the students that it is OK to turn in work that is either incomplete or riddled with errors. Instead, I stress to students the importance of giving their best effort on the initial draught of their work, and I explain that if they don’t, I won’t be able to assist them in reaching their maximum potential on the project.
Following the submission of the initial, fully-completed versions of the Jefferson assignment by the students, I use a word processor to project anonymous paragraphs, also known as grafs in the jargon of the journalism profession. Students are instructed to revise sections such as the following, which have been presented in their entirety:
Jefferson, then-President Jefferson, presented the Native Americans with two options: either they could assimilate into white culture or they could be forcibly removed and driven out of their traditional lands.
On the other hand, criticisms levelled towards Jefferson are constantly being made. He advocated for freedom, despite the fact that he held more than 600 slaves. The fact that the seventh best president didn’t even obey what he himself proposed should be a major cause for concern for the people of the United States.
Only a short while ago, CBS News published an article that placed Thomas Jefferson in seventh place among the nation’s most effective presidents. Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite who was morally corrupt and continually contradicted his own words. The score given to Thomas Jefferson is utterly illogical and has to be adjusted downward.
Students realise the value of revising their work together as we do so, despite the fact that it can be time-consuming at times. Before breaking up into smaller groups to recommend improvements in a more intimate context, they may first debate several more instances as a class before moving on to the next step. Students will become better at recognising their own errors if they work together to help each other improve, which is the ultimate purpose of this activity.
In this particular instance, I was so pleased with the finished products that the students had produced for the Jefferson project that I decided to share some of them on the internet. This includes the students’ work that was used to create the examples that were presented earlier.