Faculty Spotlight Series: Sarah Nordgren on How to Motivate Students to Want to Revise Their Writing

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics. 

How do you get students to  want  to revise their writing?

It is important to recognize that revising can be incredibly daunting for our students. There isn’t just one correct way to revise; the task is open-ended and subject to opinion. I find that students are more likely to make revisions and have positive attitudes toward revising when the act of revising is embedded into the daily routine. Creating an environment where students see teachers and peers habitually improving their writing praises the process of revising, instead of only praising the product. I always loved how my mentor teacher would tell the class, “All good writers find ways to improve their work. Revising is something everyone does, and you can do it too!” This mantra is especially helpful for the students who sadly believe that revising is admitting they made mistakes in the first place.  

Creating an environment where students see teachers and peers habitually improving their writing praises the process of revising, instead of only praising the product.

Explicitly teaching students how to revise a composition as a class with a step-by-step checklist, as we do at The Windward School using the Expository Writing program, helps to break the process down into more digestible, concrete tasks. Moreover, this provides an opportunity to explain why certain changes might improve a piece. It opens up discussion about different preferences in writing and why one revision might be appropriate in one scenario, but not as ideal in another. Students begin to view the open-endedness of revising as a chance to make their writing unique and have their voice heard.  

I like to read the students a painfully simple, boring sentence and tell them I’m in desperate need of their help making it more informative and interesting. We work together to add information by experimenting with different conjunctions, sentence starters or vocabulary. We are always praising each other (teachers and students alike) for particularly sophisticated or “juicy” writing that draws the reader in.  

This overall appreciation for good writing is also cultivated by reading student work aloud from previous years. The students’ faces light up at the prospect of what they will be able to create. Similarly, asking students to stand up and share their work aloud with the class instills a sense of pride in their writing and serves as inspiration for the whole group. This inspiration leads students to want to revise their work in order to present a final product they are most proud of. 

Sarah Nordgren is a fourth-grade teacher at The Windward School Manhattan Lower School, where she has worked since 2014. She received a BS in education from Bucknell University and a MA from the Reading Specialist program at Teachers College, Columbia University.