Helping Students Become Their Own Advocates

One of the aspects of teaching writing is to motivate students to take ownership of their own writing. This, in part, is also a major component of the writing process. We want them to feel accountable for their work and master the skill of self-editing. But how do we do this? On occasion, students may perceive the writing process as a series of steps without actually becoming their own critics. There are a number of steps that you can take to help students become advocates of their own work, which, in turn, allows them to become problem solvers during the writing process.

The first step is a series of informal writing assignments that allow students to become critics of their own work as they work towards a polished piece of formal writing. Formal writing assignments are often the capstone of a course no matter what the discipline. Whether it is a term paper or a lab report there are opportunities during the writing process that allows students to engage in self-reflection of their work through small steps. One method that works particularly well is reflective journal entries. Students can be asked to keep a journal of their written work that also includes notes on the process of writing. This task is twofold. First students will write a journal entry in the form of free writing about their topic of choice. The second step is students will write a journal entry about reflections on their journal about previous entries. They should focus on how they feel they are progressing, things they might do differently, or areas of inquiry. These meta-journal entries will help students become problem solvers as they reflect on the writing process.

The second method where students become their own critics is during peer review. Here, they become advisors of work other than their own. However, peer review can have a dual purpose. First, students learn to problem solve as objective observers. However, they are doing more than just reading, they are to become actively involved in the revision process. There are two benefits for this. First, students are receiving valuable feedback from their peers. Second, they will become more thoughtful concerning their own material. By reading work other than their own, they gain a fresh perspective on ways to revise their own writing. It is also helpful to give students a peer revision handout to act as a guide during the peer review process. For example, students can be directed to give their general impressions after a first read. Then students should identify the conventions of writing that include whether or not there is a clear thesis statement that flows throughout the paper. Students should discern whether there is a clear introduction, topic sentences and a conclusion. Students can also be advised to note if there is sufficient evidence in the supporting arguments. In this case, students will have two avenues of feedback. The first is suggestions for revision on the original work. The second is on the handout which provides the students with a criterion for revision. In this way, students will have direction as both receivers and editors during the writing process.

The third method that allows students to take ownership of their own work is through the submission of a rough draft. This step should occur after peer review. The student is now ready for feedback from the teacher. As teachers, there are specific ways during the grading process that will encourage students to self-edit. There are two marking strategies that I recommend. The first is minimal marking. Try not to correct every mistake on the student’s work. Instead provide as an example of one or two revision suggestions. These should be revisions that tend to have a recurrent theme throughout the students work. But do not correct every instance. Give the students an example of each, and allow the students to revise their work on their own. This provides opportunities for students to grapple with their own writing but they still have initial guidance from a teacher. The second is to develop a working rubric that can be handed back to students so they can distinguish what their working grade might be. This rubric can be simple and provides feedback on the general conventions of writing. For example, the rubric may contain criterion on themes, supporting arguments, grammar, word choice, and format. You need not provide detailed descriptions of each, but note general comments that will guide the students through the revision process. Here, the rubric will act as a guide as students craft the final draft.

As educators, we want students to find meaning during the writing process. Students will retain more about writing if they are encouraged to become critics of their own writing. The take away should be that students learned more about writing because the process required that they become promoters as writers. The first step is as writers that create reflective journal entries. The next task for them is to be recipients of peer review and act as active reviewers. Finally, they continue their writing journey through a dialogue with their educators. All three activities require ownership. We do not want students completing assignments as the only way to receive a good grade. Rather we want students to become active participants during the learning process. We want students to hand in a polished piece of work because they advocated for themselves.