Put Down the Red Pen

20081203_RedPensLet’s be honest with each other: Revision is the most dreaded step in the writing process, both for students and teachers. Why? To be blunt, often times it is a colossal waste of time, because it usually consists of students receiving back their writing with markings all over it, only to mindlessly rewrite it a second time, with maybe (if we’re lucky) some of the corrections added in. When this is the revision process, writing ceases to be a creative process and instead becomes a rote, dreaded hand-cramping task.

As educators, it is important to remember that the hand making the corrections is attached to the brain doing the learning. Thus, when students’ writing is returned already corrected for them, whether they’re 5 or 15 or 45, one of the most important processes: the refinement of their written thoughts, becomes pacified and a message of “I know better” is conveyed.
More importantly, a student’s written piece must be revered as the work of art (and heart) that it is. Few things feel more vulnerable than expressing one’s thoughts, feelings, and new-found knowledge on paper to be analyzed and critiqued. Just as we would object to art teachers painting on work in students’ portfolios or piano teachers interrupting performers to play the sonata better, so, too, must we question the underlying message teachers send when they return writing covered in red ink.

So what are teachers to do? It’s simple but oh so difficult to do; it’s remembering the answer to this question, “Who, ultimately, is the only person who can improve student performance?”

The answer: The student.

Indeed, teachers can begin to transform the revision process by putting down their correcting pens and instead engaging students in lessons and activities that will show them how to critique and augment their own writing.

Through future blogs, we’ll offer specific ways to enhance and upgrade the revision process to make it the respected and vital element of writing it is intended to be, all the while remembering it’s our job as educators to provide the tools and resources for revision and model using them so that students can then use them as they revise their own writing.

But for now, put down the red