Guest Contributor: Jenny Billings Beaver, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (Concord, North Carolina).

Oh no, they didn’t often comes to mind when a rough draft comes through as ‘final draft’. I cannot tell you often I would stress ‘process’ when teaching composition. I used to post notes, send reminders, lecture, assign readings…everything I knew to do to make sure students understood that the rough draft is and should not be the final draft. How did students expect their first and only draft to be their best work?

I have always wanted my students to look forward to the revision process; I wanted them to love to edit. After all, I did. As an adjunct, in early spring 2011, I realized, my students are, for the most part, not me. When I emailed a student about submitting his rough draft as his final draft, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt; it had to be a mistake. When he replied, “Sorry. I did not have time to revise. Do as you will,” I was baffled. Mad, but baffled.

His comment to “do as you will” was not a challenge but an admittance that he was wrong and that he would succumb to whatever decision or mercy I threw his way. While I did give that essay a temporary “0”, I explained to him the importance of revision and editing. It was much more important to me that he take extra time, even though I do not accept late work, and go through the revision process than it was to ‘teach him a lesson’ on deadlines. I know our students have lives outside of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) because I do too; most importantly, I know they have other classes, assignments and responsibilities outside of ENG-111 (Writing and Inquiry).

In my email back to the student, I sent him: 1) my rough draft feedback (forwarded from a previous email), 2) the link for Cengage Learning’s “Resources for Writers” and 3) a list of things to look for while revising/editing his essay. Three days later, I had a polished, final version in my inbox to grade. I smiled the entire time I graded it; he had taken the time and it had paid off. I could not even take off points for it being late; it was too well written and I was too proud that he had found the time.

Before entering ENG-111, it is our hope that students understand and have practiced the revision and editing processes. To instill the processes sooner at RCCC, we have implemented Write Experience into our DRE, Developmental Reading and English, classes. This solution allows our students to digitally revise their writing through revision goals and feedback provided by the program; it is a guided approach to revising and editing, making these steps less threatening and thus more approachable. In ENG-111, instructors teach and reiterate the process of writing. We do so and check this process through assigning and collecting portfolios, where for each essay, students have to provide us with their: planning, brainstorming or free-writing, rough drafts, revisions, editing and final drafts. In a lot of cases though, my students’ rough drafts looked A LOT like their final drafts. In fact, when grading students’ final drafts, I found myself writing things like, “Please refer back to my rough draft feedback”, “Did you read/use my rough draft feedback?”, and finally, “Is this your rough draft?”

I began questioning myself. Did I allow enough time to revise? Do students want the best possible grade on their essays? Was my rough draft feedback clear enough? A student summed it up for me in class one day: “Mrs. B, I hate revising.” I nodded, realizing this was my answer; in the back of my mind though was, Challenge accepted.

Because it is such a struggle to get students to look at, reread and re-evaluate their essays, I had to get serious. I had to make sure that I was giving them enough time to revise; I had to make sure they were receiving valuable feedback and I had to motivate them to want to revise. Even with all of that said and done, I had to make sure they knew how to revise as many would say, “I don’t know how to catch things like that, Mrs. B”. Slowly but surely, I took my students back to the basics.

I first explained to students that it is through revision and editing that their best essays shine through. It is truly through such processes that “B” essays become “A” essays; “C” essays become “B” essays. Revision and editing can also save a grade completely should a student mistakenly use the incorrect format or forget citations for information they used.

I knew that I needed to model revision so I first showed students a rough draft of an essay I wrote in college. I explained that I was not yet looking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, or capitalization (as that will come with editing) but more so to make sure I met the requirements of the assignment, that my thought process was clear and that the overall paper flowed. To model revision and then to have students mimic revision, I had to use and teach them ‘change’ questions, such as: “Does my beginning catch the attention of my readers?”, “Do I have a strong conclusion” and “Do I use the same word over and over (too often)?” It is also important that students practice this outside of their essays to make it more habit (as my swim coach used to say, “Practice makes permanent, not perfect”). Therefore, I use the Resources for Writers’ proofreading practice as in-class activities and homework assignments.

Once the revision step is over, students should then focus on editing (where we look for grammar, spelling and other ‘clean up’ items). Students typically feel more comfortable with this step because it seems more ‘clear cut’ to them. Plus, there are ‘review’ tools in programs such as Microsoft Word that assist them. For editing, my students complete ‘peer editing’; each student has to edit two peers’ essays, using ‘track changes’ in Word, and post those to the discussion board inside of Blackboard. I use Blackboard for this so students can see all edits submitted to assist them in their own writing/editing. Students are also assigned the grammar exercises on Resources for Writers to assist them; the feedback is instant which means they can apply what they learn immediately.

I am positive I have not solved the revision and editing scuffle forever. Students would love to be done with their essay the first time, I know. There are still groans or sluggishness noted when students are asked to look at their essays again, and again. But I have seen improvement. For example, upon writing the fourth and final essay, my ENG-111 student, who earlier did not have time to revise, submitted his final draft on time and in a near perfect version. In his email to me, he wrote, “Definitely got it this time!”

Jenny Billings Beaver is the chair of English, Developmental Reading and English and ACA at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) in Concord, North Carolina. She joined RCCC as an adjunct in January 2011. Mrs. Beaver was hired as a full-time Developmental Reading and English instructor in August 2011. She became chair in July 2012. Mrs. Beaver currently teaches ENG-111 (Expository Writing), but has taught a number of other courses in the past. Mrs. Beaver has her M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Poetry focus) from Queens University of Charlotte (2010); her B.A. is in English from Wake Forest University (2006). She published a chapbook of poetry, Ordinary Things, in October 2012. Mrs. Beaver won the Technology Excellence in Teaching award for RCCC for the 2012 and 2013 school year. She is also a Technology Power User for Cengage Learning.

How do you enable students to see the value of the revision process? Share your own secrets in the comments.