There’s some debate among my colleagues at Local U. as to whether or not it’s wise to implement a revision policy for student work.
Some of my colleagues think that it offers an unfair advantage to students who recieve low grades on their papers. They argue that the kid who got a C- on her paper will be more likely to revise for a higher grade than the student who earned a B+ the first time out, and that it’s a lot easier to raise a low grade to a high one than it is to elevate a grade that’s pretty high to begin with. They think that it sends the wrong message to students – that they can submit a crappy piece of writing because they know they’ll have the chance to revise it later, and that few – if any – of their other professors will offer them an opportunity to revise their work.
I get all that, I really do, but here’s the thing; this is ENGLISH class. We’re ENGLISH teachers. More than that, we’re WRITING teachers. If you’ve been trained in writing pedagogy in the last… oh, I don’t know… fifty years or so, you’ve been taught that revision is damned near required as part of the writing process. My naysaying colleagues would argue that students get the chance for revision BEFORE the due date, but my thinking is that that’s just not enough.
I believe – both as a teacher and as a writer – that a piece of writing isn’t done until the AUTHOR says it is. To be perfectly honest with you, I sometimes peruse through my archives on my blog and revise pieces I’ve written YEARS ago. Will anyone but me see it? Probably not; I can’t imagine that anyone would be that interested in my back writing and besides, sometimes I’ll only change a word or two here or there, so even if someone were interested enough to read the updated pieces, they’d probably not notice much of a difference. My point, though, is that it’s MY writing and if I feel that a change of a word or two makes my prose clearer and, well, better, then it’s my prerogative, as the author, to make that change.
My colleagues DO make some valid points, but I don’t think that they stand up to scrutiny. If the kid who got the C- really busts butt and actually earns a higher grade, good for them – but there’s no guarantee that the grade will always go up. The kid who got the B+ has just as much right to shoot for the A; I don’t discriminate against good papers. I’ll concede that it IS harder to lift a B+ to an A than it is to lift a C- to a B, but again, if the B+ kid busts butt and earns the grade, bully for her! I don’t necessarily agree with the claim that a kid can drop a crap piece of writing because they know they can revise. My answer is that, really, one way or the other, the kid’s going to do the work, right?
My colleagues’ last line of protest is that it makes more work for us as instructors. In a perfect world, that would absolutely be true. The fact of the matter is, though, that I’ve had a revision policy in ALL of my classes since I began teaching – even in my internship year – and I’ve literally never found myself buried under an avalanche of revised papers. I’ve never had students milling around at the end of class, waving their improved papers in my face. The fact of the matter is that I’ve only had a handful of students – five at the MOST – who’ve ever even taken me up on the offer. The sad truth is that most kids take their Cs and Ds and wander off, never to be heard from again.
My morning kids are getting their papers back tomorrow morning at the end of class. Most of them are going to spend the better part of the weekend actively hating me; I’m CERTAIN that the grades many of them earned are far less than they’re used to receiving on their work. I’m posting this policy to both of my classes’ Blackboard sites this afternoon, and will go over them on Friday morning before the papers get handed back. I’ll report back next week to tell you how many of them availed themselves of my (very generous, according to my colleagues) revision policy.
My philosophy of writing includes the idea that a piece of writing is never truly “done” until the author thinks it is. While deadlines and grades are necessary components of a functioning class, they do frustrate my understanding of a writer’s relationship to his or her work. Because of this, I have always instituted a revision policy in my classes. A student can re-submit a piece of writing that’s been graded if he or she feels that the piece can be made significantly better after a revision.
This does not mean, however, that a student can clean up some comma errors, change a few words here or there, and expect a favorable return. Therefore, the rules of my revision program are as follows:
1. The student must include the most recent graded draft with the revised work. Revised work unaccompanied by the prior draft will not be accepted.
2. The revision must be significant. Do not waste your time, or mine, by making superficial or cosmetic changes. Your grades are not substantially affected by grammar issues; if you want to improve your grade, you must improve the essential structure of the paper.
3. The revision must be handed in NO LATER than ONE WEEK after the prior draft was handed back to you. In other words, if I return a paper to you on Wednesday and you wish to revise for a better grade, you must hand the revision back to me by the following Wednesday. I will not accept revisions beyond the one-week due date.
4. Revisions MUST BE PHYSICALLY HANDED IN. You may hand it to me personally, you may slip a folder or envelope under my office door, or you may give your work to the English Department secretary and ask (nicely, please) that she put it in my mailbox. Emails are not acceptable.
5. Your revision must be accompanied by a written reflection of the changes you made in your new paper. Why do you feel that your original paper was weak, and where – and how – did you make changes to improve it? I’m looking for you to be meta-cognitive and critical of your own work, here; an awareness of one’s process is integral to good writing. Revisions without this reflection will not be accepted.
6. I will promise you that your grade will never go down for a revision effort, but I will not promise you that it will always go up. This is a case where “I worked really hard and put in a lot of effort,” while noble, won’t earn you extra points. If you work really hard but the paper still fails at its purpose, the original grade will stand.
7. If you do earn a higher grade on your revision, the lower grade will be discarded and replaced.
8. You may continue to revise your paper until THREE WEEKS PRIOR TO THE END OF THE TERM, as long as the guidelines are followed. I have deadline commitments to the University and cannot accept papers any later than three weeks before grades close (remember – you have to write one paper; I have to read ALL of them). I recognize that this means that you will likely not be able to revise your final papers, but I can’t help that.
9. You are welcomed – encouraged, in fact – to meet with me for conferences for your revision efforts. There’s often a conference schedule taped to the wall outside my office door (HS37). If there’s no schedule there, send me an email and we’ll arrange to meet.
If you have any questions, concerns, or problems regarding this policy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.