Revise This!

My revision policy in all my courses is that anyone can revise his or her first project; they have to meet with me and then have two weeks to turn in a revision. I do this, in part, because I feel like the first project is a kind of “getting to know one another”: I get a sense of the class and the range of their writing, and they get a much clearer sense about what I value most in their writing.

After this first project, students have to come to me and make a case for revising, and “I want a better grade” just doesn’t cut it. When I explain this in class I offer them examples of good arguments such as “I found some new information that I want to include,” or “I now see how I glossed over some important concerns and would like to work on ways to examine these things in my project,” but I rarely get requests to revise beyond the first project.

One of the problems is, though, that students don’t see the need to revise until late in the semester when they realize if they can earn a B on paper 1, they can get a B in the class. I keep telling myself to put a deadline stating by when they have to revise their papers, but I don’t. So here I am with 4 weeks left in the semester and students clamoring to revise their first project and adding to my already full schedule. And another problem is project that aren’t really revised; instead the spelling errors I noted have been corrected and some sentences have been rewritten, but there is nothing all that different from the first draft.

So this year I decided if a student wants to revise project 1, they not only must come see me, but they also must bring in a revision plan–something that details what they plan to do as they revise the project. As I just explained it in an email to a student, “you have to come in with some ideas about how you plan to revise your project. I’m here to listen to your ideas and give you feedback, but not to tell you what to do to revise.”

This is the last week they have to meet with me and talk about their revision plans, and so far this change has made a huge difference. First, they do most of the talking during our meeting, and for the most part, they’ve come up with some good ideas. I’m not getting the “so I correct the things you pointed out” stuff (as if the “things” I pointed out were errors); instead I am hearing interesting ideas and enjoying my conversations with students.

I’ve yet to see any of the revisions that come out of this new approach (the first come in at the end of this week), but I’m looking forward to reading them.

What do you do in terms of student revisions?

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2 Responses to Revise This!

  1. Joe Pineda says:

    The main issue with revisions of this kind that I saw not as a teacher yet, but as a student back in my college years, is that students are extrinsically motivated to turn their projects in, but nothing else. In other words, they just want the highest grade possible, treating the project as “some other thing” they have to do.

    Perhaps the solution lies not in putting your foot down and demanding more interest and more input in their revision, but rather finding a way to make them interested in delivering better quality in their work. You could show them exemplary projects from previous semesters, something to give them a general idea of what you want and what you believe they are capable of.

    Thanks for sharing your post. It was a very interesting read.

  2. desertdem says:

    I agree Joe; the grade and getting the thing done are what many students focus on the most.

    Something I try to do with every course I teach is to devise assignments that engage students and that aren’t “school essays,” but projects they might do on their own or in a job. For example, last semester my students developed audio essay along the lines of NPR; they did a lot of writing–probably more than in a “writing” assignment–but were motivated less by the grade than by the desire to learn how to do something like this and be effective in doing so.

    So I think making interesting and “real” (as real as is possible in a school setting) is important and gives students a buy-in.

    At least I can say I’ve had success with those sorts of assignments.

    Thanks for your feedback.

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