By Christopher Mann

 

When students can successfully edit and redraft their own work, they can make astounding progress and produce incredible work. Christopher Mann takes us through how he teaches those editing and redrafting processes to his students.

 

As a teacher of writing, I would maintain that the best type of writing is rewriting.

Amateur writers from any year group will normally fall into one of two categories in regards to their own work. The first is the group that see the best writers in the class, or the best authors of their favourite books and believe the success is almost a magic act whereby these people can instantly achieve brilliant prose. The other group are those that work hard on their writing and upon handing it in to the teacher, are unable to redraft anything as they see it only as correcting their errors.

I think every teacher has been in the position when a child from their class has handed in a final piece of writing at the end of a unit of work and then felt that sense of disappointment when that child’s work doesn’t flow from sentence to sentence, or perhaps ideas lack development. This, unfortunately, was how I came to realise the importance of redrafting that is built into the writing process – not just something to be done vaguely at the end of a completed piece of work. Nor should it be something that is relegated to simply correcting spellings, commas and capital letters.

In order for children to redraft their word choice, sentence detail and paragraph coherency, they need explicit instruction, teacher modelling and a carefully crafted sequence of activities. In addition, I always teach the distinctive difference between redrafting and editing. Both improve writing, but only redrafting focusses on the elements of writing I mentioned above. Editing is about reinforcing the basics of writing: punctuation, spelling and capitalisation.

Initially, children need to be guided on the redrafting and editing journey, as it is one that, if done incorrectly, or rushed, will only result in very small gains.

I hasten to add here that this process of redrafting is built in throughout a unit of work, so that the children, over a course of two to three weeks, have experience of redrafting and editing small paragraphs, which they have no ownership over, as well as their peers’ work and finally their own writing.

Children need to develop their confidence in improving their own work and this takes time. To do this, I always begin with a short paragraph that I create, which includes perfectly edited writing – no spelling or punctuation errors. However, there are plenty of undeveloped sentence examples, or sentences that don’t flow from one to the other. This allows children to focus only on the redrafting process.

When presented with an anonymous ‘Child A’ paragraph, I then introduce children to a sequence for redrafting; I begin with the small, word-based changes, then build up to sentence development and paragraph flow.  At each step, I also model the same point of redrafting using a different, but similar, anonymous piece – let’s call it ‘Child B’.  This is crucial, as it allows me to model the redrafting skill and speak as a writer, explaining my thought process and the consideration of the reader as I go, therefore developing the children’s metacognition.

The Redrafting Sequence

Precise and varied word developmentSentence variety and developmentCreating flowPurposeful skills

 

Precise and varied word development

The first area to redraft is word choice.  Throughout the entire writing process for a unit, I will explicitly teach words that are related to both the subject of the writing and the purpose. I will model using the ‘Child B’ paragraph and focus only on these previously taught words and demonstrate how I can use these appropriately, making sure it doesn’t become a tick list. Only those words that enhance the writing have a place in my redraft. Further to this, I look for repeated words or phrases (of which I always add some) and this time I first think aloud to see what other options I have already, then I look at a thesaurus if I’m struggling. Occasionally, it won’t be just single word substitution or addition, but will develop into phrase development, which is fine. After I have finished with this section of redrafting, I pass it onto the children looking at their own ‘Child A’ piece, whilst providing them with a clear success criteria:

  1. a) Can you add any language from the working wall, or change words you have used already to better suit the audience and purpose?
  2. b) Are there any repeated words or phrases that need changing or taking away?

To complete their redraft, we introduce tracing paper positioned on top of the paragraph of ‘Child A’.  This technique allows children to develop their confidence in making changes (however scruffy) without having to commit to these changes. The class use highlighters when selecting the language that they want to redraft, or pens to show where they want to add in additional language or phrases.  Each time a change is made, and I model this explicitly myself, children read aloud their sentence to feel the changes they have made in the shoes of a reader.

Sentence variety and development

Next in the sequence of redrafting is developing the sentence level detail. Again, I would model this using my own paragraph of ‘Child B’ first. I would start by reading my whole paragraph first, including the new changes in order to get a sense of which sentences I want to develop. Once I have identified my sentence, I would share my reason with the class and continue by developing necessary detail through skills the children have already been taught such as relative clauses, subordinate clauses and adverbials. Children would then return to their own paragraph and, with a success criteria available, they would make these suggested redrafts to their tracing paper.

Creating Flow

One of the last stops on the redrafting journey is ensuring the paragraph flows seamlessly from one idea seamlessly to the next. These techniques include: adverbials to guide the reader through time or place; use of pronouns to replace repeated nouns; alternative nouns or adjectives to avoid unplanned repetition; subordinating conjunctions to link ideas together. Although each of these steps may sound time-consuming, because the class and I have just one paragraph to redraft, there may only be one or two techniques that are used in the redraft. I would still endeavour to explicitly model both the thinking process and the success criteria the children need to redraft their own paragraph.

When this process of writing is implemented across the school, the older the children become, the less direct instruction and practise they require to redraft and edit. However, at the beginning of each, year, I would still use this ‘I do – you do’ model to ensure complete understanding and transparency of approach.

Purposeful Skills

This is the moment which allows everyone to revert back to our original audience and purpose for the writing. As a consequence of both, the lessons the children have completed are linked to the skills necessary for writing for the correct audience and purpose – these are your typical objectives such as using formal techniques to gain trust from the reader and developing an atmosphere to create tension. This is the part of redrafting the class normally look forward too as they love spotting where a specifically taught skill can enhance a sentence or the paragraph.

And that marks the final part of the redrafting instruction. The tracing paper used to track these changes is fairly full now and children then read through their own writing as a reader, including all the changes. Once they are happy with their redraft, they re-write the single paragraph below the example given. The next lesson, the class would normally be set the independent extended writing task, which allows they to use the same process, practised themselves earlier in the week, to their own writing. Using the one I created breaks down that initial reaction of children which makes them unwilling to want to change anything.

Breaking down the barriers of writing as a single process with an unobtainable outcome (for some) is the principal aim of the redrafting process I use. Instead of a linear process, children see writing as the constant ability to take a draft and improve it. No one sees themselves as the best writer, but they ask who can be the best rewriter? Who can take the ordinary and, with a little work and a clear process, turn it into something glorious.

Author

Year 6 teacher. English lead. KS2 lead writing moderator. Likes include climbing, writing, music and drawing.

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