Revising the Writing Attitude

From guest poster Hillary Kidwell

In his Senior year, Jeff had reached a point with his writing where he felt confident that he could produce acceptable pieces for any assignment. For him, that was a huge success considering his early childhood battle with dyslexia. In addition to his newfound confidence, he also carried with him an attitude that he could not do any better than just produce; as I saw in his essays, he settled for mediocrity and did not see himself as someone with any degree of creativity.

In the fall term of Senior English, in a unit based on “writing with style,” we focused on developing strong personal voice in our student writers. Throughout the term, students handed in a quickly produced essay each week that was, in many ways, a “rough” draft, in order to expose them to writing with style and testing various rhetorical modes. For the final project of the term, students had to take one essay and take it to “final draft” status. For many, this meant a significant restructuring process and even a complete rewrite in order to submit their best essay. For Jeff, he was convinced that his first draft was ultimately as good as any final he could produce. He hung on to his quitter attitude.

The required steps of the assignment essentially “forced” Jeff to put in his effort over the course of the revision project. With two weeks of focus on the specific elements of the final draft, such as paragraph unity and coherence, word choice, strong starter and conclusion, use of anecdotes, developing a clear purpose or dominant impression, enhancing personal voice and tone, as well as basic mechanics, Jeff found himself with an essay that he was truly proud of. He remarked it was “completely different” than his first draft. For Jeff, learning to push a piece of work beyond what is comfortable was a new and exciting challenge to take on. He began to recognize that persistent hard work (courage) and input from others (brother’s keeper) can help you reach your academic potential, as was demonstrated in that single English assignment for him.