Revising Strategies

What Are Revising Strategies?

Revising strategies help students achieve the related goals of identifying mismatches between what was intended and what was written, altering text to correct such mismatches, and improving the overall quality of a paper. Revising strategies typically use acronyms to encapsulate the multiple steps involved and often take the form of a checklist.

How Can My Students Benefit From Revising Strategies?

For accomplished writers, revision takes place throughout the writing process. Struggling writers, however, typically do little revising and when they do revise, they focus on superficial aspects of the text, most notably mechanics such as spelling and neatness. The advantage of revising strategies is that they help students focus attention on the communicative intent and underlying meaning of their texts at a specific point in time so that they are not burdened by the cognitive load imposed by transcribing text, continuing to plan new text, and revising/editing simultaneously. Research evidence indicates that revising strategies do improve the structure and quality of students’ papers (e.g., MacArthur, Graham, & Fitzgerald, 2005). In fact, most students benefit from revising strategy instruction, including those with disabilities, because so few students make meaningful revisions to their papers.

How Do I Teach Revising Strategies?

Revising strategies should be extensively modeled by the teacher before students are asked to use them. This means that a teacher identifies a topic or theme about which to write, plans and writes the paper, demonstrates how to use the revising strategy (soliciting ideas from students can increase student engagement) while thinking aloud, and edits the paper. Of course, taking a paper through the entire writing process will require multiple lessons, and the teacher needs to make sure that the focus on revision is not lost. The teacher will need to discuss the particular strengths and limitations of the strategy, when it should be used, and how it could be modified to fit particular situations.

After modeling how to use the revising strategy, the teacher should have students work in cooperative groups (or with a partner) to collaboratively practice using the revising strategy with ample feedback from peers and the teacher. Essentially, the students plan, write, revise, and edit a group paper. All of the students might be assigned the same prompt, or each group might be allowed to select their own prompt from a related set. Students should discuss how the strategy worked for them and offer suggestions for how to use if most effectively. Following collaborative practice, each student then should have an opportunity to individually practice the revising strategy with continued feedback.

What Are Some Revising Strategies and How Do I Use Them with My Students?

SEARCH is a revising/editing strategy (Ellis & Friend, 1991) that employs a checklist. The teacher can eliminate or add additional items to the list to adjust expectations for each student to accommodate individual needs and to reflect growing mastery of revising and editing. This particular strategy has three important features. First, the student is expected to set writing goals before even beginning to write, and when finished revising and editing a paper, to determine if those goals were met. Second, the student is expected to work with a peer to double-check his editing. Third, the teaching procedures for the strategy involve a substantial amount of modeling and guided collaborative practice before students are expected to independently use it. There are four steps involved with teaching SEARCH, switching gradually from teacher modeling (“I”) to group writing and practice (“we” and “you guys”) to the individual student (“you”):

Step 1: “I wrote it (with deliberate errors that reflect those typically produced by students); I fix it.”

Step 2: “I wrote it (with errors); you guys fix it.”

  • Each cooperative group gets a copy of the same paper
  • The team captain directs the group to edit the paper line-by-line and work is divided among members
  • The team recorder notes all corrections on a master copy
  • Teams report on errors identified and corrected (and tallies points awarded)
  • Teams switch papers and apply the strategy to catch previously unidentified errors (and to gain points)

Step 3: “We wrote it (with deliberate errors); you guys fix it.”

Step 4: “You wrote it; you fix it.”

Teachers can provide explicit feedback and reinforcement by: (a) assigning a point for each correction made by a team; (b) having the class (and later each student) create a chart with error types and frequencies listed and asking students to set performance goals based on data in the chart; (c) using a system in which grades are assigned based on percentage of errors uncorrected or percentage point improvement; and (d) giving extra credit for using SEARCH without prompting.

C-D-O is a strategy for individual revising (De La Paz, Swanson, & Graham, 1998) and involves a greater degree of self-regulation on the part of the writer than checklists and is considerably more powerful; consequently, it is very helpful for students with writing difficulties. The prompt sheet lists the three steps for strategy deployment—compare (identifying discrepancies between written text and intended meaning), diagnose (selecting a specific reason for the mismatch), and operate (fixing the problem and evaluating the effectiveness of the change). These strategy steps occur first while the student attends to each sentence in the paper, and then, during a second “cycle,” while the student attends to each paragraph in the paper. A third cycle, focusing on the whole text, could be added. A minimum of two cycles is necessary to help the student attend to local as well as more global problems in the text. The diagnostic options for making meaningful revisions vary depending on the level of text to which the student is attending. The teacher will need to develop sets of diagnostic cards, color coded for each cycle, from which the student selects.