Faculty Spotlight Series: Alicia Kempin on the Most Effective Ways to Demonstrate the Importance of Revising

Jana Cook

WLS teacher Alicia Kempin discusses the importance of motivating students to want to improve their own 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?

As a teacher of students with language-based learning challenges, it’s often difficult to get children to write, let alone revise their writing! There are, however, several strategies I use to encourage the revising and editing process with my students.  

I have found that one of the most effective ways to demonstrate the importance of revising and editing to my students is by completing unelaborated paragraphs together. This is an engaging writing activity in which I purposely prepare a terribly written paragraph on a topic with which the children are familiar. (Of course, I do not tell them that I intentionally wrote a bad paragraph; that’s part of the fun!) I display this awful paragraph on the white board, read it to the students, and ask them what they think. Inevitably, these honest children will tell me it’s horrible. So, I tell the children that the goal today is to improve my writing by revising and editing it. (They love that they get to improve MY writing!) We do several of these activities together as a class and use a revising and editing checklist that prompts them to use particular writing strategies. For example, I might say “Improve the topic sentence by adding an appositive” or “Answer the question words when and why to expand the sentence.”  

After we complete all the revising suggestions, we read the original paragraph once more, followed by the revised paragraph—and what a difference! The children not only see the side by side comparison of the first paragraph compared to the revised paragraph, but they also hear the difference. I believe that hearing the original and revised paragraphs really helps the children to internalize how a paragraph can be improved. These unelaborated paragraphs can then be followed with children writing paragraphs of their own with some teacher directed revising goals which are more general such as “Improve topic sentence” or “Expand detail sentence two.” Ultimately, the hope would be to have the students eventually internalize these strategies and not even need revising goals. 

Another strategy I use to encourage revising is to build enthusiasm for vocabulary. I do this throughout our reading and writing lessons by directly teaching vocabulary words and by modeling more advanced vocabulary in my oral language. For example, if we are discussing a book in which a character is sad, I might ask, “What is another adjective we can use to describe how that character is feeling?” I would try to elicit the words heartbroken, devastated, crushed, etc. That translates into our writing process when the children have completed their rough drafts, and I ask them to look for words that might have “juicier or more flavorful” synonyms. We work to elevate vocabulary throughout the year and challenge each other to use more interesting words. Fourth graders really seem to love words like flabbergasted and astonished! When the children know and use these words regularly, it’s easier for them to revise their writing and look for words they can “elevate.” 

I have found that what the children want more than anything is to take ownership of their own improvement.

Perhaps the most meaningful strategy I use with my fourth-graders is to model and encourage a growth mindset about writing and revising. I start by sharing some writing that I have completed and then show them the pages and pages of revisions that I made in order to get there. It is important for children to see that good writers look for ways to improve their writing. This is also when I tell the class a secret: that an eraser is an opportunity to improve—not just a tool to “fix mistakes.” Embracing a growth mindset in the classroom allows children to feel safe in taking chances, and it is a natural intrinsic motivator. I have found that what the children want more than anything is to take ownership of their own improvement. And let me tell you something—the children beam with pride when they see the results of their effort! 

Encouraging a love of writing and revising takes an extraordinary amount of work and enthusiasm on the teacher’s part. By allowing children to view writing as a fun, engaging process, rather than as a laborious product, they become motivated to grow and improve as writers.