Using an Unlimited Rewrite option (and why you might never want to do so)

(Since we had some discussion during Admin Week about my unlimited rewrite approach, plus a few people asked me for more details subsequently, I thought I’d post some details and thoughts on the subject. Plus, since people are presumably still putting the finishing touches to their syllabi for the Fall semester, perhaps someone else would want to try it out. Anyhow, I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on it and any suggestions you might have for improvement/modification.)

Policy details:

The rewrite policy that I utilize has the following components:

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.

2 – A rewrite must be submitted with all changes in a different color (usually blue), to clearly set them apart from the original text.

3 – Rewrites are returned with the same volume of feedback as earlier drafts.

4 – The rewrite grade completely replaces the original grade that the essay received, e.g. a D paper rewritten into a B will count as a B paper for the course. If a rewrite actually makes the grade worse, then I use the original grade.

5 – A late (or other) penalty that the original essay has still applies to any rewrites.

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Focus on Revision

Over the next couple of weeks, our FYW classes will transition into portfolio mode, which means even more focused attention on revision. For many instructors, revision is the cornerstone of the entire course and the focus is always on teaching writing as revision. For some, this time in the classroom is a welcomed shift that allows for the space to dig in and, as Adrienne Rich suggests, look at student writing with “fresh eyes” (18). For other instructors, this is a dreaded time filled with frustration, and even self-doubt, as the focus of class planning becomes convincing students to see revision as something much larger than simply crossing t’s and dotting i’s.

Whether you welcome or despise this aspect of teaching writing, this is the perfect time of year to open up a program-wide discussion about the role that revision plays in our classrooms and to share our challenges, successes, frustrations, and triumphs. How do you define revision? What experiences inform students’ understanding of revision? What works best in your classroom and why?  Peer review, teacher comments, conferences? Do you agree with Nancy Sommer’s argument, in “Responding to Student Writing,” that teachers “need to show students how to seek, in the possibility of revision, the dissonances of discovery – to show them through our comments why new choices would positively change their texts, and thus show them the potential for development implicit in their own writing” (156)? Does our current program model allow for real revision to happen? In what ways can we imagine revision as a community practice?

Just as we are asking students to re-see in their own writing, instructors might also seize this moment to consider how to engage in a similar process of revision when making choices about classroom activities and portfolio expectations. How is instructor participation in the process crucial to the success of revision in our classrooms? Are you going to hand out the same tired peer review sheet one more time or is it time to challenge yourself to try something new? In these last few weeks, can you both motivate students and at the same time inspire your own teaching?

In an effort to facilitate the sharing of ideas and to continue to build community within our program, the Mentoring and Collaboration committee is offering an informal workshop in Dickson 179  on Wednesday, April 10th from 2:30-3:30ish. Come share your assignments, ask for guidance, and offer up your questions, frustrations, and successes.

Hope to see you there!

Works Cited

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision.” College English 34.1 (1972): 18-30.

Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (May 1982): 148-156.