Unlimited Rewrite option (2019 version)

For well over a decade now, I have been utilizing an unlimited rewrite policy in my courses (FYW, but also other Writing, English, and Gender Studies).

I have discussed it with many people in our department down the years, wrote a blog post about it (see here) 6 years ago, and did a workshop on it last year. Since only a few people were at the workshop and I got some queries about it later, plus we are at the start of the new semester and academic year, I thought I’d do a new post about the policy, in case any of you find it helpful.

I’m mostly making use of the points that I used in the workshop, fleshed out with a few details. I’m also trying to keep this short and avoid rehashing too much of what I covered in the previous blog post, so I recommend checking that one out first.

Why you should not do unlimited rewrites:

  • You (want to) have family/pets/a life
  • Finding space/time for grading rewrites between regular drafts is difficult
  • You need more detailed commentary on final drafts for rewrites to work
  • Students may put less work into earlier/final drafts pre-rewrite

As should be obvious, even without the above, the unlimited rewrite policy eats a whole lot of hours and energy. However, over the years, I’ve worked out a few ways in which to cut down on the time that it takes, so as to make it (mostly) doable without losing one’s sanity.

The benefits of unlimited rewrites:

  • Students practice more (re)writing
  • Students actually pay attention to your comments, whether rewriting or not
  • Grade unhappiness/disputes dramatically decrease, even for those who don’t do a rewrite
  • Students have more personal responsibility (and options)
  • The classroom dynamic changes dramatically (for the better)

These things have remained essentially the same throughout my use of the policy. The changes that I have gradually made to it have certainly made my life easier, without detracting at all from the above. In fact, some of the changes (see below) have only added onto them. Which, sadly, is why I am seemingly doomed to keep using it forever.

The policy:

1 – Students can rewrite any and all essays, as many times as they wish, throughout the course of the semester. They are usually limited to doing so until a week before the last day of classes. [Note: The exigencies of time usually means that they get to rewrite their first essay up to twice and their second essay once.]

2 – A rewrite must be submitted within 10 days of receiving a graded paper.

3 – All changes to the paper must be marked in a different color to set them apart from the original.

4 – The new grade completely replaces the original grade (and the original grade is retained if the new grade is lower)

5 – Previous penalties (e.g. late submission or for submitting an incomplete draft) still apply to the rewrite

If you do anything like this rewrite policy, the 10-day deadline is an absolute lifesaver. It’s a longer version of the one week deadline that Tavya Jackson suggested when I made my original blog post, at which point I had no such restriction (which led to me getting 70 rewrites on one day!). It provides students more than enough time for a rewrite while ensuring that they do not leave it till the last moment, while adding an additional level of emphasis on student responsibility. I have found that students who fail to turn in rewrites will criticize themselves for not using the time properly rather than complain about how much time they have. I should note that I never accept rewrites past the 10-day mark, always making sure to tell students who try it that I cannot because it would be unfair to the other students who are being held to that limit. I can’t recall ever having a student disagree with that argument.

How to make the unlimited rewrites work:

  • Emphasize them from the start of the semester and reference them often
  • Make it clear to students precisely how much extra work it is, that it will take more time to return rewrites than regular drafts, and that you are giving them substantial opportunities that they will not get in most courses
  • Sometimes trade out a paper draft or make one optional (my preferred approach) to have additional time for rewrites
  • Do not let rewrites pile up. Do them in small batches or individually between normal drafts
  • Write MUCH less commentary on rewrites (primarily comment on improvement)
  • Return each rewrite as soon as it is graded and update the gradebook
  • Grade slightly more generously on rewrites

Many of these are small tweaks that I have made to my initial approaches, all of which have combined to make the rewrite policy work even better for my students and me than it already was. The reasoning behind each and/or the reason why it would be beneficial is hopefully self-evident, but if you have any questions about them (or anything else), feel free to ask in the comments below.

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