6 Reasons to Assign Essay Revisions

6 Reasons to Assign Essay Revisions
Writing is a cyclical process. And even though we have our students turn in final draft versions of their papers, any middle school or high school English teacher can tell you that these final drafts are quite far from final.

As a high school English teacher, I can tell you that students improve their writing when they go back and revise their work. In an earlier post, I wrote about how I conduct essay revisions in my classroom. Here is a list of 6 reasons why English teachers (and even teachers of other content areas) should allow students to revise final drafts even after they’ve been graded and entered into the grade book.

1. Provides Students with Another Opportunity to Learn
As educators, we are lifelong learners, and this is just the philosophy we should pass on to our students. Even after an assignment is completed, turned in, and graded, there is still room to learn and grow as a writer. By allowing students to revise their graded essays, students focus on and correct parts of their writing in which they didn’t master in the first place. This practice helps students become better writers because they will remember the revisions they made and be more cognizant of these revisions the next time they write.

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2. This Shows Students That You’re on Their Team
Our students want to know that we are on their side, and as their teachers, that is where we should be. For some students, teachers are their most constant adult-figure, and they should know that we are cheering for them to be the best versions of themselves. By giving students a second chance at revising their graded essay and improving their score, we are showing our students just how much we want them to succeed.

6 Reasons to Assign Essay Revisions in the ELA Classroom

3. Essay Revisions Support Mastery Learning
Trust me. I completely get it. We are so cramped for time, and every year it seems as if we have more content and more curriculum to fit in our year. I’ve been there before, and I know how it feels barely to make it through one unit and then to have to squeeze a full five-act play into two weeks, and then to have two days taken away from you without much notice because of registration or field trips or something else. Rather than moving on to the next unit so quickly though, students will grow more and learn more if you dedicate even just one day to reviewing some of the common mistakes that students made and how these mistakes should be corrected. By taking a moment to review and correct only one or two significant writing errors, you’ll save more time in the end. By allowing for essay revisions, students will reach mastery sooner.

4. It Reinforces a Growth Mindset
Giving your students a chance to revise their essays reinforces a growth mindset. After reviewing your comments and suggestions on their graded essays, students will see their mistakes, correct (some of) their mistakes, and learn from their mistakes. Going through the essay revision process, especially after students thought they were done,  helps students realize that there is always room for improvement.

5. Students Will Actually Read Your Comments
I remember my first year of teaching like it was yesterday. I spent countless hours over the weekend grading the very first full essay I assigned meticulously. I corrected multiple grammatical errors, I provided students with suggested ways to revise sentences, I wrote notes to each of my students explaining their grade, and when I handed the papers back to my students, I was crushed when so many papers went straight into the trash without even a quick glance. I felt defeated. Once I started assigning essay revisions, I noticed that more students reviewed my comments and marks more carefully.

6. It’s a Way to Cover Your Behind
Sometimes as a teacher, you need a failsafe. We’ve all heard the horror stories where teachers are blamed for things beyond their control. By giving students multiple opportunities throughout the semester to improve their grade by revising a final essay, you are proving to students, parents, and administrators that you gave students numerous opportunities.

Helpful Writing Units and Lessons:

6 Reasons Why Students Should Write Daily

Six reasons why middle school and high school English students should write daily.
Writing is a skill your students will use for the rest of their lives. When students write daily in the classroom, it will help them master this craft and prepare them for life beyond the classroom. Here are six more reasons why students should write every day:

1. Writing will improve.
The more students write, the better their writing will be. Just like the old saying, “practice makes perfect,” the art of writing will become better as the students practice writing. Often, they may not realize that they need to practice their writing, but writing daily in the classroom will prove this wrong. To help students expand their writing knowledge, try my Descriptive Writing Mini-Unit.

2. Writing relieves stress.
Having a practice that eases the students’ minds, where they write for a short period in class, without having to think about their other concerns, will relieve stress if only for a few minutes. Writing can be therapeutic, so writing for a few minutes a day will calm a student’s worries. To incorporate quick journal-type writing exercises in your classroom, check out my Growth Mindset Bell-Ringers and my Classroom Community Bell-Ringers.

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3. Writing provides a creative outlet.
Writing daily will make students think creatively, inventing new ideas and finding ways to express themselves. If given a chance to be creative, students will take full advantage of it and ultimately hone their skills as both writers and creatives. One of my favorite ways to help students harness their creative writing is through a narrative essay.

4. Writing will expand vocabulary
As students' writing improves, their vocabulary will develop and change too. The more one writes, the more understanding one gains from the practice of it, and new vocabulary will infiltrate their language.

5. Writing daily gives students a confidence boost in their work.
As the students’ writing will improve, they will begin to feel more confident in their writing. Students will notice how much better their writing has become and then they will feel more confident in their writing for other classes and other assignments. Writing will become second nature to the students.

6. Writing daily allows students to self-assess.  
During the time given to write, students can reflect upon both their writings and their lives. Students will be able to see what causes them problems in their writing and they will be able to work on it and improve their writing.

Implementing writing into a daily routine of the classroom gives students a lot of advantages. Writing daily allows students to master the craft of writing and also allows them to succeed in life. When students begin reflecting on their strengths and interests, you might want to consider assigning a future career research paper.

Essay Revisions: How I Help Students Become Better Writers

When students have opportunities to revise their work and learn from their mistakes, growth happens. Providing students with the chance to edit their final essays after you grade them is one of the most beneficial learning opportunities for students. However, giving students this extra chance to improve their writing also comes at a cost. It takes more time -time in which we don’t necessarily have. And even though giving students an extra opportunity to revise their already-turned-in-and-graded essays takes more time on our part, it is one of the best ways for students to actively work on improving their writing.

In my classroom, I alternate how much essay revisions are weighted and worth. I do this so that students always try their best on their final draft rather than waiting for me to be their copy editor. For their first essay at the beginning of the year, I allow students to revise their essay using my marks on the rubric for up-to full credit. Allowing students to review and revise for full credit is an excellent incentive for students to revise their papers. Plus, it forces students to read the comments on the rubric! However, I don’t allow full credit revisions all of the time. However, I don’t allow full credit revisions all of the time. Sometimes I only let them revise their essays either up one letter grade or for half of the extra points they earned. After that first full score revision, I am completely transparent with my students, and I let them know that this won’t always be the case.
When I grade essays, I use a standard rubric consistently throughout the year. While my students usually turn in their final drafts electronically, I am old-school when it comes to grading. I print out one rubric per student and write on it. (I usually attach the rubric to the students writing process work: their brainstorming, outlining, and initial drafting). Students get used to these rubrics, and they also help me save some time when grading 100+ essays. On the rubric, I circle the score the student earned for each category and write comments underneath each section. These comments might point out what the student did exceptionally well or what the student needs to work on. At the bottom of the rubric in my notes section, I write students 2-3 sentences of feedback. I tell my students one thing they did well and one revision they can make to raise their grade and improve their paper. Since I don’t mark every single grammatical and structure error on the paper, I try to be as precise as possible in my notes. I want students to find their mistake. I also encourage them to ask me about their essays if they have questions.

Essay Revisions: How I Help Students Become Better Writers
For the revisions, I ask students to review the rubric and improve on the categories in which they scored poorly. Then, they make their revisions, print out their new draft, and highlight all of the areas that they revised. They turn in their highlighted paper with their rubric. I have them revise their essays this way so that it saves me some time when I grade revisions. I quickly glance at the rubric and read the highlighted parts. Typically, I only grade the highlighted sections.

If you’ve never allowed students to revise their final drafts after you’ve graded them, I encourage you to give it a try. You can require it as an assignment, or you can make it completely voluntary. You can dedicate a day in class for students to do this, or you can offer it as homework. Either way, your students will grow as writers when they revise the essay they once thought was their final draft.

Using Comics in the Classroom

Using comic books in the secondary ELA classroom
Comic books may seem like an odd addition to an English class curriculum, but there can be a lot of benefits to starting the school year off with this type of textual analysis. Introducing students to the basic concepts of plot, setting, character, and theme can be more comfortable in a format that they feel is more relaxed and entertaining than the traditional canon.

Recently, there has been a greater emphasis on superheroes in the media which creates an area of interest for middle schoolers and high schoolers. Even the most popular superheroes (Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Batman, and more!) have very different settings and therefore very different character developments. There can be a lot of content and concepts for students to unpack in these characterizations, especially if you allow them to compare the book to the movie adaptations and have open discussions about the stories.

Questions to ask your students:
What is the setting?
Why might the setting have changed between comic and film?
What does this different setting change about the characters?
What does this setting change enhance?

Using comic books in the secondary ELA classroom.

These questions will get the students thinking in this fundamental way going into every book you will read from here on out. From here you can encourage the students to consider each character, setting, and theme in every novel you read within the literary canon.

I realize that the introduction of comic books of the superhero nature can seem odd and out of place in an academic sense, but many comic books have academic and literary merit.

And that is not to say that superhero comics are the only type available to read. There are plenty of academic comic books to talk through with your students as well, such as Persepolis or Maus. They can take on severe social issues with easy to follow panels that the students will be able to read in a short amount of time. In theory, you only need to devote a week of time to this exercise. By starting the school year with this, the students can transition from their “summer brains” to a more analytical thought process for the remainder of the year. This reintroduction to English academics will help the students in the long run.

Resources that can use used with comic books:

My Favorite Activities From the School Year

My favorite high school English activities and projects from the school year
Now that the 2017-2018 school year has come to a close, I am spending some time reflecting on my practice as an educator. While there were some lows of the school year and things I will try to change up and improve upon, there were also many highs to celebrate as well. Here are some of my highlights from the past school year.
My favorite high school English activities and projects from the school year
My seniors had so much fun working together to complete a growth mindset escape room. This activity forces my seniors to cooperate, have patience, and utilize their problem-solving skills.

Short Story Theme Analysis Poster
At the beginning of the year, my sophomores worked together to analyze a short story and create a cooperative theme poster. Students worked in small groups to analyze and explain how certain literary elements and devices worked together to help form the theme of the story. Students then presented their posters to the class. I always like to start presentations as informally and casually as possible at the beginning of the year to help students build their confidence in a new classroom setting.

Hands-on and Engaging Rhetorical Analysis
My sophomores explored rhetorical analysis with hands-on activities that utilized sticky notes. We spent our time closely reading and rereading texts together. This practice showed my students the value of reading something more than once. I hope they carry this lesson with them throughout their educational journey.

Mock Interviews
To help dive into our college and career preparedness unit, my seniors held mock job interviews in class. For some of them, this was their first ever experience in an interview-type setting. At the end of the year, some told me just how valuable this day was, and some even told me that it helped them land a part-time job. Now knowing what I do about this activity, I plan to extend it and make it more beneficial for my seniors next year.

Rhetorical Analysis PAPA Square
Don’t let the artsy project fool you. This rhetorical analysis PAPA Square assignment was filled with so much rigor that I gave my sophomores a week to work on it. During our rhetorical analysis and research unit, my sophomores selected topics that they valued and rhetorically analyzed text that they found. Their work truly amazed me.

Multiple Readings with Meaning
Also wanting to teach my seniors the value in reading an article numerous times, I challenged my seniors with reading a text multiple times -each through a new and specific lens. They recorded their findings on sticky notes each step of the way, and they were taken aback by how much their perspective changed as each lens changed.

Introduction for 1984
To begin our novel study for 1984, I had my seniors complete a mini nonfiction unit on government surveillance as an anticipatory activity to reading the novel. We analyzed the pros and cons of government surveillance and applied it to our own lives.

Lord of the Flies Map Project
As I read Lord of the Flies with my sophomores, I emphasized the importance of textual details and citations by assigning a collaborative map-making activity. This activity was a tremendous help for my EL students and struggling readers who were getting lost in the novel. The visual aspect of this activity also gave my students further context for understanding.

The Stranger Mock Trial
Quite possibly one of the most memorable and engaging activities of the entire year was when my seniors put Meursault on trial after reading The Stranger. For my first time doing a trial in class, there are definitely some improvements I plan on making for next year, but it was so rewarding to see my students embrace the assignment, take on their roles, and get into character. The trial got pretty intense, and, once again, my students amazed me. If you would like to receive a free copy of my Mock Trial Assignment Sheet via Google Docs, subscribe to my email list!

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Setting Clear Expectations for Student Work Days

Setting clear expectations in the classroom for work days
In an earlier post, I discussed the benefits of providing students with work days during class time for large projects. And while work days are tremendously beneficial for students, the lack of a formal lesson plan and structure can sometimes lead to classroom management problems.

Whenever I designate a class period as a work day, I follow these simple guidelines to make sure that my work days are as productive as they can be.

1. Set clear guidelines.
Students thrive on structure and order. When students know what is expected of them, they tend to perform better because they know what is and what is not acceptable. At the beginning of the workday, I set out clear guidelines and expectations. I also emphasize the importance of using the time wisely. Typically, I allow students to listen to music during work days. However, I inform them that texting and social media is off limits.

2. Make sure students have enough work to complete.
One of the best recipes for success when it comes to planning a workday is having enough work for students to complete. It is even better if students have multiple assignments they can work on. With options comes choice, and with choice comes a preference. When students choose what to work on and when they have made that choice themselves, they are more likely to be productive in class. If a small percentage of your students are finished and idly passing the time, you are more likely to encounter classroom management issues.

3. Plan for work days toward the end of the grading period
By scheduling a work day near the end of the grading period, students are more likely to see the fruits of their labor pay off sooner rather than later. By knowing that not only will this assignment go into the grade book, but that it will also be entered rather soon and that it will have an immediate impact on their grades, students are more likely to work. One of the best times to schedule a work day is toward the end of the semester when students are overwhelmed with final projects and final papers.

4. Be present
To make sure that students fully take advantage of the time you give them in class, you have to be present. This doesn’t mean walking around the classroom for the entire class period, but you should walk around periodically to make sure that everyone is on task. To be even more present as you walk around, talk with your students. Ask them questions about their work. Ask them what else they need to do for the assignment. Ask them to show you their progress. Ask them if they have any questions or if they need help.

5. Refocus, don’t punish
If students aren’t on-task during the work day, it is essential to focus your energy on refocusing the student rather than disciplining the student. An immediate jump to a punitive stance completely negates all of the benefits work days have to offer, and such an incident is also likely to distract surrounding students. Instead, try to refocus the students on the task at hand. I usually have to do this in my collaborative classes where I have quite a few students with IEPs. One of the best ways I’ve found to refocus a student is to give the student small, manageable tasks to complete during the class period. Once a student has completed a small portion of the task, praise is significant. However, rather than telling the student, “good job for getting this done,” recognize and praise what the student did well.  

Next time you plan a work day for your class, remember these five strategies to ensure that your workday is successful and productive.