Teaching Revising During A Pandemic -- Part 1 of 2

This is part one of two posts on revising in distant learning environments. 

I want to respond to a question about revision, which came to me from a colleague Iris Ruiz (@ChicanaDra), in two ways. The first way is from a teacher's perspective: How do you teach revision in these times of social distancing? In another post, I'll offer the same question addressed to students, so it'll be about how to learn to revise and learn from it.

Teaching Revision from a Distance
I think there are lots of ways to do this, like most things. I don't think I have all the answers, or even most of them. Mine is just one of many answers. Hopefully I offer here something that helps you further your own thinking about how to help you create ways to help your students revise drafts in your courses that are now online and from taught from a distance. What I offer, though, are ideas that I use in both face to face and online courses.

Photo from Mopple Labalaine, "Dafad"
The first thing I think about when I design a course and syllabus with assignments, such as drafting something, getting feedback on it, and revising it, is what kinds of labors do I want my students to go through. What labors do I think will help them achieve the goals of the course and be flexible enough to achieve their own? In this case, how do I direct them in the labors of revising? What exactly do I think I mean by "revising" when I ask students to do it?

As a way to see some of my process, let me break down the kinds questions and answers I pose to myself when I design a revision task for my students. Like most other assignments, this assumes labor of research and drafting, and getting feedback from peers, usually in the form of assessment letters -- letters written from readers to writers that detail (1) their experience of reading the draft, and (2) some prompted assessments along dimensions from our rubric (see below). I won't get into those instructions here though.

Let's say my students are writing a paper that enters a discussion with other voices. Let's not call this a "research paper," since it may have different kinds of sources than academic or library ones. Let's call it a source-informed paper, a discussion that the student writes that uses a variety of voices to help them explore or inform or persuade. They've drafted a complete version, given it to colleagues, and received feedback from those colleagues, maybe even gotten feedback from me (the teacher). Now, their job is to revise that draft based on the feedback they've gotten and turn in their new version for my final review and feedback, while I don't do grades, you may, so it could be for a grade also. If you are interested, you might consider labor-based grading instead. It's a way to do antiracist and more socially just writing assessment, in my humble opinion, and get rid of those harmful grades on papers.

Now, my process of developing the instructions for my students to revise. Here's how I created them. I ask a set of questions.
  1. What do I consider ideal revising practices, or revising done well in this case? This is the first question I ask myself, and it can differ depending on what the goals are for the draft. Let's say the main goal is to explore a topic or question in a compelling way for readers in the class. What are the ideal revision practices as I understand them for such an instance? Note that I'm not concerned about an ideal text or product, even though we all work from some notion of what might be an ideal product. As a teacher, I'm trying to come up with a process that helps my students do revision well, not give me what I think a well revised draft is (I put that aside). What I want, then, is to guide the learning process, or the acts of revising, not predetermine what is learned, or dictate what a revised draft is supposed to look like. I need a flexible understanding of what that practice likely looks like as well. Let's say that in this case, I want my students to consider multiple viewpoints (from feedback letters) on their drafts that focus on the same dimension in the draft, and to do this, they need to read those assessment letters in a particular way, form a revision plan, then make some changes to their drafts -- this is what I think revising done well might look like. Since we use a collaboratively created dimension-based rubric, I can have my students pick two dimensions from that rubric that their colleagues have discussed in their assessment letters to them, and craft revision plans from their thinking through those ideas. 
  2. How will I know if students do revising well? Another way to ask this is: What are the my markers for revising done well? Since I cannot sit on the shoulder of all my students, regardless of the kind of class, I know that most evidence of the act of revising done well will be indirect. I must trust my students, and be open to what they do and give me, even if I will provide specific instructions on how to do revising. So I have several markers or evidence that I like to use that suggest to me revising is being done well. These are things I can ask for in the labor instructions that I create: (1) prompted Slack postings, maybe with a pic; (2) a revising plan that shows things I think are important to consider when revising; (3) short prompted reflections explaining what they did, why, and how they feel about them, likely at the end of revising, and (4) a new, significantly changed draft that comes out of the process. Note that items 1, 2, and 3 are mindful activities that ask students to either pause in their work or slow down and notice what they are doing, what they are about to do, or what they've just done. This mindfulness is, for me, a hallmark of good revising labors, so I'll likely call attention several times to this fact in the description, goals, and the labor instructions themselves.  
  3. How will I direct my students in the labors of revision? Finally, I think carefully about what exactly are the individual actions that make up the entire process of revising in this case. That will be the labor instructions I give my students to follow, leading them through the work of revising. These instructions must also produce the evidence of revising well described in question 2 above. So as an assignment to revise, I want to produce not a directive to revise, instead I give them instructions that lead them through a step-by-step procedure to do the kind of things I think good revising means, while leaving some room for individuals to do their own thing at important points in the process. I don't want to overly-constrain their labors, but I also don't want to simply thrown them into the sea of revising without giving them some swimming strokes to use initially. I also have a few minimum elements important for me to include in my labor instructions' steps: (1) clear, chronologically numbered steps; (2) time signatures for each step that give how much time each step likely takes; (3) minimum amount of words produced or read (if applicable) when I ask them to read or write in each step; and (4) any due dates, times, and places to post things or turn in parts of the labor process. 
While I also include a few other things in my labor instructions (like a brief description, a list of goals, and a purpose statement), I'm only focusing only on the procedure part here. I've found that no matter the purpose we set for revising a draft, there at three main acts I want all students to perform in the process and they go in an order. In this case, the purpose of revising is to compare feedback by at least two colleagues. These colleagues have provided in their assessment letters judgements and explanations of two dimensions from our rubric, and given thick information about their readings of the draft. The three acts then are the following.

First Act: Reading Purposefully. I want them to reread carefully their colleagues' assessment letters with the expressed purpose of finding the relevant feedback. To help, I might ask them to take some notes or place words from their colleagues' letters side by side. I like having students create tables and lists in this reading and note-gathering phase. This allows them to see side by side, what one reader said about a rubric item next to others. By providing a timing on these steps in the process, it offers further guidance on how detailed this reading and note taking should be. Here's a sample step, I might use:
4. Reread your three colleagues' assessment letters and take some careful and precise notes on what each says about the two rubric dimensions you've decided already (from step #3 above) to revise in your draft. Copy and paste what each of your three colleagues have said about each dimension into your notes document. To do this, copy the table below into your notes document, and paste your colleagues' words into it, so you can compare their words side by side. Copy and paste the rubric dimension from our class rubric in the table too. This will remind us of what your colleagues are talking about. The table is meant to help you visualize and think about all three readers' judgements next to each other. Pay attention to the differences in what and how they say things. This step may take about 30 minutes
Second Act: Form a Revising Plan. You could call this a "revision" plan, but I don't since the focus in the labor is not on the noun, the exact revisions, or the draft, despite the fact that we all care about these things and are shooting for particular outcomes in the draft. The focus in the labor instructions is on the acts of revising, the verb. Learning is verbing, not a noun. This is the difference between goals-based assessment (emergent and verb-based) and outcomes-based assessment (predefined and noun-based). But that is for another post.

In revising plans, I want students to think through a few things that can lead to purposefully make decisions about their drafts, and NOT to follow orders or change things in a draft because I or someone else said to. Similar to the reading instructions above, I often ask students to organize their plans in a particular way, such as filling out a table.

It doesn't take long to fill this out, maybe 10-15 minutes, but it does ask students to pause a few minutes before rushing into the draft. It's a way to be mindful of what a student is about to do and why. I remind students in the labor instructions at this point that the most important parts of this table are the last three rows: Purpose, Revising Goals, and Revising Tasks. Purpose is what the draft is trying to accomplish, such as, "explore the question of race in old soap ads from the late 1880s and compare similar soap ads today." The revising goals are specific things the writer wants to accomplish through the acts of revising. This could be offered as product-oriented goals, like "redo the introduction so it asks my central question only," or it could be writing-practice oriented, such as, "dialogue with my sources more." The revising tasks will be even more specific to the draft, located more specifically in passages or pages, and relate to the goals mentioned. One task from the first goal just mentioned might be: "find a place in on the first page (near bottom?) to ask my central question."

Photo by Mopple Labalaine, "Highland Cattle"
Keeping in mind that other things may get revised or change, and as one revises the writer may change their mind about the purpose, goals, or tasks necessary in revising, but this plan is a way to be more purposeful and mindful about revising, and start with the two or three most significant goals and tasks that need doing, not the small stuff. I usually ask that student not include any grammar or proofing goals or tasks, unless that is the stage we are at in the semester.

Third Act: Revising the Draft. This final part of my labor instructions involves not just the physical labors of revising the draft from the revising plan, but also reflecting upon what was done and what was learned through the labors of reading, planning, and revising. It's hard for me to know how much time is needed, as it will vary depending on a number of factors, so I usually indicate the amount of time that I expect most will likely spend, and should spend, but encourage students to take the time needed, and try not to do revising in one long session. For a 3-5 page paper (900-1,500 words) in a first-year writing course, I my end this step with: "I expect you to spend at least 180 minutes revising your draft, but take the time you need, and start early so you can give yourself more than one session of revising. Sleeping on some changes you make may offer you a fresh perspective the next morning."