Part III focuses on the process actually experienced by my students. The students I introduced to you in the last post will have more to say in this post as they take you through their stages of design and revision as well as assessment. This is by far one of my favorite posts I’ve published if for no other reason than my students wrote along with me this time. Their comments are insightful and at times gut-level honest. Their candid portrayal of the process is worth the read alone!
For anyone interested or in need, you can find part I of the series here and part II here. Part I really just sets up the thought process that came out of my frustration with timed essays, and my desire to get in touch with my student’s writing process as introduced the concept of looking at their writing as design versus composition. Part II invites two of my students into the conversation. They very kindly answer a few of my questions concerning the big picture of how they see writing in school in general and related to my original prompt.
Enough about that though–I’ll let S and J tell you a bit more about themselves as English students:
S: I am a person who likes perfection and is easily stressed. When it comes to language arts I tend to want to perfect my essays, making it hard for me to be proud of my work. Thus I often turn in a paper that may be worse than the one I wrote before. I also tend to lack expertise when it comes to grammar. It’s something I have always struggled with, making me feel less than adequate to follow my dreams of possibly becoming a renown, beloved author. Other than that, I have always been known as a good student, who is considered an overachiever by others and has had straight A’s since the 6th grade.
J: I am the worst when it comes to doing school work because I am plagued with a serious illness called chronic procrastination. It attacks the brain and smothers all thoughts of the consequences of not having that ten page essay ready by tomorrow and instead fills it with random and utterly useless things to do in its place; like looking up “how to pick a lock” on YouTube just in case I ever lose my house key when I still have five pages of math homework sitting in a lonely little pile, incomplete of course, on my desk. I love to write on my own, about anything really, but as soon as it becomes a class assignment there’s a million and one things my brain would rather do. However, I have gotten a little better about procrastinating this year, and I think my grades have really shown it.
As you just read, these are great students. I’m not bringing you my most weary or struggling writers, but I think anyone reading this will appreciate the candid insight they provide about their process. Without further ado, lets see what they have to say about each stage I asked them work through.
Rough Draft: Rethinking the In-Class Writing
Timed, in-class writings are the worst. They never resemble real writing, but they are necessary to practice for testing preparation. My goal moving forward is to make in-class writings–as often as possible–rough draft activities. Below you’ll see pictures of S and J’s rough drafts followed by their own commentary on the process.
S: When it came to the rough draft, I had no idea whatsoever that we would be writing more drafts of the paper. I felt rushed and upset that I only had one day to write a paper I would have to get a good grade on somehow. It definitely didn’t help that we had a substitute in class and she wouldn’t stop talking the whole forty-five minutes we had to write our papers. I was absolutely frustrated at this point and making side comments to that effect (with my friend who was sitting at the desk beside me). As my frustration and anxiety rose I started to write down a bunch of nonsense that might get me an alright grade, but it was not easy. My body was shaking so bad from the time limit that I could barely get a word down by the end of the time period and I felt as if I couldn’t quite express what I wanted/needed to express in my paper. I was devastated. How could I get even a relatively good grade on that worthless paper?
J: As I reread my rough draft, I can’t help but cringe at every mistake I make and feel disappointed in my past self for writing something that random and only vaguely related to the prompt. (Also looking back, I’m a little embarrassed at some of the dorky notes I wrote for myself in the margins but that’s beside the point now.) I remember rereading the prompt that the substitute teacher handed out to us at least five times over before even making an attempt to start my essay. Something about the prompt, maybe the way it was worded or the concept it was asking us to explain altogether, flew straight over my head; I spent at least seventy percent of the class time sweating in my seat and stressing over the fact that I was going to fail an essay. Finally it got down to the last fifteen minutes or so of class and I thought, “You know what? Screw this,” and I slapped together this monstrosity of an essay and turned it in. I felt horrible for letting myself write something so half-heartedly but I also had the overwhelming euphoria of that essay being lifted like a weight from off my shoulders.
The Revision I: The Peer Edit
Unfortunately, only S can speak to her peer edit. J was out sick the day we did them. At this phase, my biggest dilemma was not being totally transparent with my students about my intentions for them to revise their original papers to draft again. I justified the action in my mind, telling myself that leading them through it piece by piece would make the process manageable. I’ll reflect on this in part IV though. Here is S’s peer edit and comments.
S: As I wrote my second draft I was relieved to be getting a chance to redeem myself from my first one, but I was also aggravated. Why make me rewrite a paper I had already given up on the moment I left the class after the first draft?! Or at least, that was what I was thinking at the time. Now that I’m not in that position I see what he had planned for us to do when rewriting the paper and working through revising it to make the paper more effective. Speaking of revision, the revision for my second draft was vastly unhelpful. I see what my peers were trying to tell me, but they were only telling me things I already knew. Besides that, them writing on my paper was extremely bothersome to me. I need things to be perfect, and other people marking up my paper is not perfect.
The Revision II: The Teacher Edit
J ended up writing another draft without much in the way of peer edits. When the class turned in this revision, they all believed it was their last. They didn’t know that I would be applying four specific comments to their work and asking them to revise yet again. My disclaimer here is that it took about six hours on a Saturday in a Starbucks to get these comments complete and back in the hands of my students quickly! I avoided making convention markings (I really relied on the peer edit to help hunt out many of those issues). By sticking to four significant comments, I saved myself time and it forced me to give very pointed and clear comments to my students.
S: When it came to this next-to-last draft, I was really hoping I was done by the end of it. I was getting tired of continuously writing about the very same topic and changing the content of my paper every two seconds. I continued to give it a half-hearted attempt that could only mean what I would think to be a failure of a grade. So much to my pleasure and great annoyance I got the paper back with comments that would allow me to write yet another….. wait for it….. paper on the very same topic!! So despite my disappointment in myself after reading Mr. Jones’ comments on my paper, I can no longer be mad that he pointed out the flaws in my paper. His doing so actually brought me to give a whole-hearted and completely successful attempt at a much more thorough and thought out paper. A paper that did in the end get me the grade I was striving for, even if I only did so well on it because of my disappointment in myself and Mr. Jones for being thorough enough in his comments to anger me into showing him I could do better (as stupid as that may sound…).
J: Although I didn’t get to participate in peer editing because I was out sick that day, getting Mr. Jones’ comments on my essay definitely made up for it! I knew from the start of revising (or in my case, rewriting) the essay that he would have plenty of material to critique me on. I used almost none of my ideas from my rough draft in the making of my second draft so I was basically writing from scratch; but I have to admit, it was a pretty satisfactory piece of writing for being made from scratch. Of course, there were countless mistakes to fix; some I even noticed but was too lazy to fix (mainly the awkward sentence surrounded by parentheses in the first paragraph), but fixing those mistakes and adding in additional information to better support my paragraphs was overall painless and didn’t take a year and a half to do. It helped that I agreed with most of his comments and suggestions. Grading myself on my essay was a little awkward because I felt like I was giving myself too much credit at times and not enough at others, so I just settled on giving myself a low A (which still seemed a little like self-praise but I got over it).
The Final Product: There and Back Again
My hope for my students’ final revisions was for them to be fluid and punctuated with their writing voice rather than the robotic response of a quick, five-paragraph essay. I made it clear to them I was rewarding process and not the final product in this case. There are pitfalls to only grading process I suppose, but I generally felt justified and giving an A to any student who took the time to revise three full times and produce a more balanced paper. S and J are some of the better examples of going from point A to point D with their process.
S: For my final draft I corrected all tenses to be in present tense instead of in past tense when referring to the book. Then I proceeded to eliminate all the uses of conjunctions I could find and add more detail to back up my main topics in each paragraph, which helped to better support my thesis. I also stayed on topic and carried out my thesis more accurately to fix my organization and tidy up the stray ends. I was told in my next-to-last rough draft to finish my paper with a more upbeat note, so I took that into consideration and fixed that mistake as well. All together, all of the errors I fixed to get a better flow in and appeal out of my paper made for a good, successful paper that I can be and am proud of.
J: After I made all of my changes and adjustments to my essay, I finally felt comfortable turning it in, knowing that I put a good amount of effort into it and it wouldn’t sound like I did it half-heartedly. I made most of my major changes from the feedback I got, but there were some little tweaks I made on my own to help my writing really sound like me, to give it my voice. Overall, the comments were very helpful in my final revision and majority of the essay would be the same as the second draft if they weren’t there (except maybe the awkward sentence in the first paragraph because it was honestly bugging me too). I might have added the additional supporting information without the feedback but I’m thinking that I wouldn’t have added as much as I did with the comments because I would’ve eventually gotten lazy and given up, as bad as that sounds. But I am satisfied with my final draft so I think that’s all that matters in the long run.
That’s it for this post. A big thank you to S and J for putting their time outside of school to write and critique the process! The last post in the series is called “I Say/They Say”. The post will center on the differing perspectives of my teacher view of prompt and writing design and S and J’s student view.