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Improving Writing Through Revision: Stop Complaining and Start Supporting

Written by Rebecca M. Achen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Illinois State University

A photo by Joanna Kosinska. unsplash.com/photos/1_CMoFsPfsoIn the spring of 2016, I embarked on a project to discover a revision strategy that would help my graduate students become more accomplished writers. After spending my first semester at ISU hearing students lament about writing and voice frustration with their scores, I decided to implement three revision strategies into one graduate course in the spring of 2016. I received a SoTL Research Mini-Award for June 2016 from the Office of the Cross-Endowed Chair to support the analysis of the data and writing of the manuscript.

Bean (2011) highlights the importance of encouraging revision for improving writing and critical thinking skills. He suggests faculty focus on strategies to help students understand the process of writing. As such, I embarked on a project to improve students’ writing through revision to determine which revision strategy is most effective. In a graduate course, I assigned four written concept papers, with identical assignment instructions and rubrics, but varying concepts. After completing the first paper, students were given the opportunity to rewrite it. Prior to writing the second paper, students were invited to send me a rough draft for feedback. For the third paper, students were required to bring a draft to class for peer review. Finally, none of these revision options were afforded for the fourth paper. After final course grades were submitted, I reviewed student consent forms and then compared scores across papers. While the average score was the highest on the assignment they were allowed to rewrite, t-tests revealed no significant differences in average scores across the written assignments.

I also asked students their perceptions of each revision strategy. Overall, students found rewrites and rough drafts to be useful for improving their writing skills. However, their comments clarified their focus was less on improving their writing skills, and more on getting feedback from the individual who would be grading their paper. Also, they did not value peer review. Most students did not feel feedback provided by peers was detailed or specific enough to be useful.

After reflecting on the results, my own experience teaching the course, and what I observed using the revision strategies, I plan to make systematic changes to my course to help students improve their writing through revision. Below are my suggestions for faculty who wish to encourage revision in their classes.

  1. Teach students to be effective peer reviewers. Being able to provide useful and critical feedback is an essential skill for students in their academic and professional careers. However, students need to be taught how to provide good feedback. First, I intend to spend class time discussing effective and targeted feedback strategies. Then, I plan to provide students with peer feedback forms to use. Finally, I will review the feedback they provide to peers, so I can provide advice to improve their peer review skills.
  1. Require students to provide a rough draft or complete a revision for at least one assignment during the semester. Overall, students were not motivated to revise their work, and less than half the class took advantage of rewrites and rough drafts. Requiring them to do so at least once will help them see writing as a process, and not as something they can complete the night before the paper is due. While I realize this might be time intensive for faculty members, doing so only once a semester provides a good balance between resources and student needs.
  1. Help students understand why improving their writing skills will help them as professionals. While students indicated they valued improving their skills, they were not interested in putting in time or effort to improve. Brandt (2006) interviewed professionals about their writing in the “knowledge economy.” Having students read this article, which includes a plethora of quotes from professionals on writing, will help them understand why technical writing and creativity are valuable skills to foster while in college. Also, this article highlights the use of peer review in the work force. The more we can connect students’ learning to their lives after college, the more likely we will get buy-in from students.

While not all courses are focused on improving writing skills, we have a duty as educators to help students continually learn and develop their communication skills. Writing should be encouraged, assessed, and fostered in each class we teach so that, at ISU, we graduate professionals who defy the stereotype of young employees with poor writing and communication skills.

Blog References

Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brandt, D. (2005). Writing for a living: Literacy and the knowledge economy. Written Communication, 22, 166-197.

 

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