Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Revision strategy 1

Yesterday the boy finally broke down and admitted that perhaps I could give him a few helpful tips about how to revise his college-application essay. I have been patient, very patient, about allowing him and his father to pretend they know what they're doing with this thing, so let's hope all this sitting on my hands has paid off. In the meantime, I will share my opening revision strategy with you, in case you, too, have found yourself in the position of having to help a kid figure out how to write in his or her own voice.

What I noticed in J's case is what I notice in the first drafts of many students who are accustomed to writing for teachers rather than themselves: his pronouns slip unwittingly from "I" to "we." This immediately allows him to make generalizations rather than personal remarks. So Revision Instruction Number 1 goes like this: "Go in and change all the we's to I's. Then reread and decide if used-to-be we is saying something that sounds like something I would say. If not, substitute a remark that I really would make."

This approach can be helpful in a couple of ways. First, it allows the student to think of revision as a concrete activity: "I change one word to another." Second, the simple pronoun switch also immediately forces the student to accept responsibility for everything that "I" now says. When "I" was "we," "we" could easily fork out a lot of pompous, un-[your student's name here]-like stuff. But now that "we" is "I," [your student's name here] will start to think twice about such undigested tripe.


charlotte gordon said...

I love that you were sitting on your hands pretending.
Good teaching, by the way!of course --

Carol Willette Bachofner said...

It's so difficult to "sit on your hands" watching. It pays off though when the boy comes to and asks for your help.I have long been the "editorial advisor" for my kids and now for my grandkids on essays etc. I wait for them to ask and sometimes it is a painful wait. But they do often come to see that they are in need, and then acknowledge my expertise in things written and proffered for evaluation. All in all, it is a dance we do. LOL

jen revved said...

What a deceptively simple exercise, Dawn. I miss teaching and would have loved to try this. Hope all's well there-- we're up to eyebrows in snow again today-- last year it didn't snow here til January! xxxj