Sunday, 20 January 2013

2013: The Year of Revision

Some might say that I was going a little overboard as I sat down for the sixth time to revise the Kadir Nelson bio I was writing for the upcoming Children's Literature Conference.  I know, it's only three paragraphs.  Not only that, it'll appear only for a short time, tucked in to the inner pages of the Conference program.  But I also know this.  Every time I sit down to revise a piece of my writing, it gets better. Every time.

Coincidentally, Brian Combes just sent this video out reminding us of the power of word choice.  It also speaks to the power of revision.  If the first draft of that man's sign was never rethought, reimagined, or reworked, it would never have left an impact on those who passed by. It's the same with our own writing.  And our students'.

I'll admit it, I don't emphasize the importance of revision enough with my students.  Most of my lessons are on generating ideas and introducing new craft techniques.  When it comes time to revise, sure I give them some time, but I don't give them new tools on how to do it.  Instead, I expect them to know how, or I allow them to have their partners revise their piece for them.  Not only are the not learning the way in which writers revise, some of them think revision requires another person to look at their piece and tell them what to do next.  That's why one of my New Year's Resolutions is to make 2013 The Year of Revision.

At its etymological core, "revision" means "the act of seeing something again."  When we do, we often see things in a new light.  It's like when we notice new details in a work of art or a background rift in a piece of music when we listen to it over and over.  Writers know this about revision, and they trust in its process to make their work shine brighter.  In fact, they spend the bulk of their time revising.  Remember two years ago when Linda Sue Park told us she revised When My Name Was Keoko 37 times?  

Simply put, revision matters.  I know I'm not the first to point this out, and I certainly won't be the last.  In his most recent book, Write Like This, Kelly Gallagher dedicates an entire chapter to revision.  In it, he says that most students stop at the "Down Draft," the first draft when they get their ideas down.  As teachers, we must place greater importance on the "Up Draft" when they begin to fix it up.  That's where good writing happens.  Unfortunately, it can be an uphill battle as we all face the "one-and-done" mentality that most of students have.

Recently, some of us in Grade 6 took one of Gallagher's practical ideas for teaching revision and ran with it.  By using a radar as a metaphor (and mnemonic device), we taught one revision strategy.  Like a radar that identifies "blips on the screen," a writer identifies words, phrases, sentences, or even whole paragraphs that need attention when revising.  Once she does, she can use the RADaR to improve it by:

RAD andR

  • words that are not specific.
  • words that are overused.
  • sentences that are unclear.

  • new info.
  • descriptive adjectives and adverbs.
  • literary devices/ figurative language.

  • unrelated ideas.
  • unwanted repetition.
  • unnecessary details.

  • to make better sense or to flow better.
  • so details support main ideas.

An additional key in teaching revision goes beyond just teaching the strategy though.  As Gallagher highlights, teachers need to think aloud during the revision process by taking a piece of their own writing and revising it in real time.  That way, students can see the possibilities as well as the challenges.

So, as we begin the new year, I hope you stand with me in making 2013 The Year of Revision.  I hope that my revisions on the Kadir Nelson bio pay off and that you enjoy reading them in the Children's Literature Conference program in two weeks' time.  And I hope that you got something out of this post (even though I only gave it five revisions).


  1. The Year of the Revision -- much preferred over the Year of the Snake (at least it is from this snake-phobic woman!). Thanks for the RADaR strategy -- a cool one to add to another revision acronym I learned years ago. It's the MAP revision strategy. Move, Add, Prune (to cut away in order to grow and blossom into something even more beautiful). I can't tell you how many times we've since revised the CLC program "guts." These recent revisions are for clarity and unified voice. Not that anyone knows. And yet, I bet they would know if we DIDN'T revise. Thanks again for your beginning of the week teaching thoughts.

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I love the MAP strategy. Haven't heard of that one before. Your thoughts on the program revisions also remind me that we can revise for different purposes, and we should be explicit about that when showing it to our students. Finally, I appreciate your idea about readers not knowing if we revise a piece of work but knowing it if we didn't. That makes lots of sense.