Revision Policy

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.



Filed under about writing, colleagues, composition, great writing, Learning, Local U., Questions, self-analysis, Teaching, writing

12 responses to “Revision Policy

  1. Although your colleagues may feel your policy is generous, the guidelines for revisions are strict enough to deter any superfluous attempts.

    As a student, I felt my first attempts were always good enough and rarely, if ever, revised anything. I waited until the night before anything was due to begin writing usually knocked a page out in half an hour. I thought I had a natural flair for writing and understood the difference between proofreading and revising, thusly in my mind a well edited piece was a well-written piece. It took several years of college before I got a professor who flat out refused to grade a paper I submitted until I revised it. He wouldn’t tell me what the grade was, he simply handed it to me with the following comments on top: “This is a very well-written string of the concepts we’ve covered with excellent references for support, but it doesn’t tell me what you THINK. Rewrite it and submit it next week.” I chased after him as he headed off to office hours, but he would not budge – he said his comments were sufficient enough and that the paper needed revision. I was floored. I had no idea how to revise anything!

    I ended up scrapping everything and starting over. The final paper had about ten fewer references but much stronger evidence of my point of view. This professor didn’t change my entire philosophy of writing but did make me understand the difference between spitting back facts and processing others’ ideas and letting my opinion show through the work.

    Hope your new policy helps your students. I think it’s great.

  2. “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.”

    It’s not just your prerogative, Mrs. Chili, it’s your DUTY to make your prose clearer and stronger if it’s within your power to do so. Same goes for your students!

  3. Wow. I never was given the opportunity to revise a piece of writing, save one lit class, and one paper within it: Each student had an individual conference with the prof, in which he reviewed the paper, made suggestions and comments, and gave it back to us (ungraded) to be actually turned in for the first time like a week later.

  4. Then again, I rarely would have taken you up on this offer, either. I can think of maybe two papers, each in a different class (one in honors American government, and one in a journalism class) where I would have liked the chance.

  5. Kari

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one that goes back and revises a word here and there in old posts. LOL!

    I guess the fact that I used to be an English major shows through after all. =)

    I love your policies especially while in college. How can you learn if you aren’t given the opportunity to improve? I think that includes your work. Grant it, a junior or senior shouldn’t have the same problems in their writing or the need to improve their papers the way freshmen and sophomores will.

  6. I think I disagree with your logic. If, as you believe, no piece of writing is truly done until the author thinks it’s so then they could continue to revise this paper long after the course is concluded. If it’s still niggling at them they can re-work a piece while they’re kicking around the nursing home with plenty of time on their hands. It just wouldn’t change their original grade. It seems as though the contract is an agreement that a grade will be given on a paper, wherever it is in the author’s revision process, on a given date. Knowing that going in a student has to be comfortable with where the paper is in its process even if it isn’t finished in their minds. I know you give them ample opportunity to practice revision and receive feedback before a due date so I don’t think the lesson of how to revise is necessarily furthered by the opportunity to hand in a paper later for an entirely new grade.

    I don’t think it’s bad that they have a chance to rework it after the grade has happened and get consideration for it but, as a kid who would probably not have revised and an adult who revises now, I am kind of annoyed by the implication that a due date isn’t a due date. It feels grossly unfair to me. Are we working to a point of completion by this due date or by a week later? I would probably have huffed and flounced like a member of the High School Musical cast. Isn’t there a possibility to treat any revision as a piece for extra credit with a lower weight to it rather than a change to the original grade? That strikes me as more fair to a group with widely divergent work ethics.

    You’d have to go to JRH for the math on how to weight that, though, I have no idea how that would work but I bet it’s possible.

  7. I think it’s quite fair, and in fact a great opportunity for those who wish to take advantage of it. Everyone has the same chance, and if you do your revisions prior to the actual due date and really get it right, your reward is not only a good initial grade but also the fact that the work is done and you don’t have to redo it. If you didn’t get the grade you wanted the first time around, but do the extra work to revise it, as you pointed out, you are still doing the work. I would even bet that you are doing *more* work, because I imagine that most people aren’t doing extensive revisions to their first drafts before submitting them on the initial due date. Yes, it can be a disincentive to push yourself hard to do a really good job the first time around if you know you can make it up later, but… I also think that the students are likely getting enough incentive to work to a deadline in their other classes, and you are offering them the chance to develop a different, equally (or even more) important skill: revision.

    It’s telling that not many students take you up on it. It is a lot of work, and not an easy out for slackers.

  8. I hear those some objections to my rewrite policy, and yet, in the end, the students that often NEED to rewrite the paper don’t. They got the original grade because they don’t really care too much about their outcome. So, why not afford that option to those few students that just really do want to get better? I teach high school and, for me, they might not be afforded that same policy in college–but if they don’t become better writers they’re not going to succeed in college anyway.

  9. Of course you bring this up LONG after I’ve buried all my stuff from my internship – specifically my thesis (is that the word I want?) – in a storage unit a few miles down the road. I’ve been away from education for too long now for me to remember specifics, but if you’d like, I can dig the stuff up and bring it with me for when we get together on either the 12th or the 23rd. In the meantime, ask Bowyer about the book I did my thesis on, because he was the one who recommended it to me.

  10. jrh

    I always give quiz retakes… my rationale is that I want my students to learn the material, not necessarily to learn the material by THIS DATE. To combat Kizz’s concerns, I average the two scores together, so that there is no incentive to just wait and study for the retake.

  11. I see the writing done at the college level to be about the product, unless it is a class teaching the writing process.

    In grades 7-12, I see writing being more about the process as opposed to product.

    I guess what I am saying is that if you are teaching the writing process then revision is part of that process. If you are teaching something else, but expecting a finished product as the outcome, then revision is a no no.
    It sure sounded better in my head.

  12. Simply put, revision is writing.

    I can’t imagine teaching this discipline without rewrites.

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