This school year I have tried very hard to help my 8th grade students understand revision as a process in their writing. For a number of them revision means to rewrit
Today, February 25th my students must complete a state-mandated writing assessment. They will have sixty minutes to write a drafted response to an arbitrary persuasive or expository writing prompt (situation). For instance, the following is an example of the “tasteless” writing scenarios to which an 8th grader might be subjected.
- Eating healthy foods is important.
- Think about why it is important to eat healthy foods.
- Now explain why you should eat healthy foods.
With prompts like this it’s a wonder that students haven’t already revolted and formed a coup to overtake the state and federal government demanding educational reform. But that’s a different post and you don’t want me to get started on education reform.
In preparation for the assessment I had an epiphany: give every student a brain eraser as a symbol of their power as writers. Because students have no resources from which to source how they will support their writing, their one and only resource during this assessment is their brain.
So I purchas ed brain erasers for my students.
Yesterday, I gave each student a “gift” to encourage them to do their best. It was a simple token: a note with a reminder about revision and an inspirational quote from one of my favorite researchers—Carol Dweck.
I gave my students a “pep” talk after passing out the note and brain eraser, their gift. I told them that if they erase (instead of strikethrough) they might take away something the reader would benefit from. I also mentioned to them that everything they need to be successful is inside their brains—no, not the little erasers, but the brains housed in their heads. Finally, I encouraged them to bring back both their brains for the assessment. I want them to place the eraser on their desk throughout the test to remind them that they don’t have to erase, just add, remove, rearrange, reword, and/or replace. Honestly, I really want them to be reminded of the fact that they should revise:
anything they write on their allotted two pages. I’m not sure if my “kind gesture” and “words of encouragement” will be enough to spur them to higher heights, but I figured it was worth a try. —hence why the eraser is glued to the note.I don’t want them to erase anything. To erase something from the page is to permanently remove its existence. And here is where the art of revising becomes a metaphor for life.
If I erase the fact that I filed for bankruptcy at age thirty-two, and a few months later went through a home foreclosure, I
am eras ing (from the pages of life) the lessons I’ve learned about money management and needs versus wants. Furthermore, if I erase the two abortions I have had, I will have also erased the lessons learned about humanity and the value of human life from my life’s pages. If I erase from my memory my parents divorce, I erase a personal struggle that has strengthened my resolve in life. I erase the pain and deny myself the opportunity to get grittier. I could literally go on and on about the myriad of personal experiences that I would eagerly love to permanently remove from the pages of my life, but if I d o so I do so as a detriment to my personal evolution. To permanently erase people, things, places, experiences—both good and bad—from the pages of our lives would alter who’ve become as a result of those same very people, things, places, and experiences.