Revision Decisions: A Chat with Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean (Win a copy!)

ETA 11/17/14:

Congratulations to Miss Maichael, the winner of a copy of Revision Decisions from Stenhouse Publishers!

Revision is always the most difficult step of the writing process for my high school students. They’ve had the writing process ingrained into their classes for so long that they can’t envision the process as anything but linear. Draft, write, revise, edit, hand in. When we talk about revision they tend to lump it together with editing and they are reluctant to do the meaty work of revision: adding and deleting ideas, trying new words and sentence structures, working within the text. revisionThat’s why I am so excited about Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean’s newest book, Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond. The book provides teachers with lesson plans and ideas for helping students through the process of revision in fun and interesting ways.  I was so excited to get the chance to speak to Jeff and Deborah about the book and I had a few questions for them.  Hopefully, their answers inspire you to go out and purchase a copy of Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond.  Stenhouse has also generously offered to run a giveaway for one copy of the book.  To enter, leave a comment on this post! Q: Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today! I think that revision is the hardest step of the writing process for teachers to focus on in school and as a high school teacher I know it’s the step that my students writers most often skip. However, right at the beginning of the book you and Deborah Dean state, “True writers revise”. In a school system where standardized tests only value quick, rough drafts, how do teachers help students value revision? Jeff: Great question. A few things come to mind. This same conundrum faces middle and elementary teachers as well as your high school students. First, when we revise often, our first drafts get better each time, right out of the chute. So, the playing with sentences we call for in Revision Decisions lessons, prime our writers best craft to the surface. In exploration and discovery of how sentences can be put together, young writers minds are opened to possibility. These possibilities eventually get applied (sometimes with our nudges). As the Writing Next report (2007) concludes sentence combining is a proven pedagogy for improving student writing in grades 4-12. So there’s that. But also most standardized writing test have a test on revision, editing, and grammar. To pick the best sentences, students need practice at this kind of evaluating, and this is just the kind of practice they’ll get in Revision Decision lessons. Deborah: We’ve had quite a few teachers ask this question; there is so much concern about testing! But we both believe (and our work with student writers seems to show) that this kind of playing with sentences improves even students’ one-shot writing, which is often all they have time for on tests. After this kind of playing around with sentences and paragraphs, they have more ways of using language effectively stored in their heads, so they can use it spontaneously as well as in situations where they have time to revise and craft more carefully. Q: I promise this will be the only other question about standardized testing! Whether it’s the upcoming PARCC/Smarter Balance tests or the SAT/ACT, standardized tests force students to rush through writing an essay in 25-45 minutes. Is it possible for students to do any type of revising in these situations? Should we encourage students to revise in these situations?t Jeff and Deborah: If they have a moment to revise, great. If they don’t, then that’s not what’s being tested. I think the evaluative talk that Revision Decisions is built upon will, as I stated earlier, make them better drafters. Drafters who know more options and who are used to making sense and crafting for understanding and clarity should do well. But back to the actual revision–if time. I always say a reread is great idea. After that, I encourage students to look at the lead and conclusion. This is where you set the first and last impression before the paper is scored. I know the first read is really editing, but if they tinker with the intro and conclusion, that’s revision;-) Q: What is your revision process like? Jeff: Oh, man. That’s such a good question. I am a spewer. I plan less than most and find my shape, structure, and sometimes my message by drafting and freewriting little snippets until I find my access point. That said, I end up with a lot of writing that needs to be revised. First I revise for big things. This usually involves reading it aloud to a not-so-critical friend. I can find a lot of bumps in simply reading it aloud, but the questions the reader asks help too. Then I go and try this a few more times, all the while, tightening sentences structures, varying or tidying. I also have enjoyed the ability to cut and paste a sentence or passage that isn’t working in a new document and then mess with it there. If I do it right in my file, sometimes I mess it up. This copy and pasting in a new “play” doc allows me to take greater risks and not fear “messing it up.” Deborah: This is a really interesting question to pose to two writers who have just collaborated and, in the process, entwined their writing processes. I probably plan a little more than Jeff, but I still tend to be a writer who writes my way into what I have to say. In that way, Jeff and I were somewhat alike. We wrote a lot at first! We would, literally, talk about the general idea of a section and then pass the laptop between us to compose alternate paragraphs at times. Jeff mentions talking—and I think that was the biggest thing. We talked a lot! On the phone and in person. Early in the process, we had worked out a broad framework and had written more than half the book when we had some extended time to talk. All of a sudden, Jeff said, “I think we need to approach this differently.” I remember thinking, “NO! We’ve got so much done!” We talked. At first, I resisted his revision suggestion—not because of the idea of it but because of the work of it. I think students are often in that space, too. By talking it out, I could see the ways Jeff’s new framework would improve the overall book. So, then we went back and rewrote, moved parts around, and drafted new parts. We did a LOT of reading aloud during revision, too. And the talk at that point, too, benefitted us. Not just in hearing the words aloud but also in deciding if they really said what we wanted them to say. Jeff is very playful with language; I am more straightforward. We had to hear our words to make sure they say what we wanted them to and in the way we wanted them. Q: I love that the lessons in the book bring grammar lessons into the revision process. It’s a natural fit but not one I have seen presented very often. Instead, grammar seems to fall under “editing” in the writing process in the eyes of many teachers and students. Do you see editing and revising as separate steps or is more of a “you can’t have one without the other” situation? Jeff: My friend Kelly Gallagher and I have chomped on this a bit in conversation. I do see grammar as part of revision. Almost all grammatical structures embed detail in a economic, sometimes musical way. So separate. Sure. But not really. Just as when I revise, I draft again often. My go to phrase is from Donald Graves: “The enemy is orthodoxy.” That is the only enemy of writing process. Those who try to over pigeon hole or programatize it into expensive kits. Process is messy and goes in and out. To me, it all mixes in eventually. Am I sounding like a hippie? Deborah: Jeff is a little bit hippie! J But he is definitely right. We can make generalizations about separating editing and revising, but in reality they often blend into each other. If we try too hard to make the distinction, separating the two processes too distinctly, some writers feel shut down. In the book’s lessons, concepts of punctuation are entwined with the language concepts because punctuation often affects meaning. It’s not only about correctness. So if meaning is revision and punctuation is editing, how can we do this kind of thinking unless we’re willing to muddy the boundaries a bit? Q:  And last but not least, something a little fun. What are you reading right now? Jeff: I’m working like crazy on my middle grade book, so on a my way to a retreat with Linda Urban, I am reading A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Deborah: My grandfather grew up in the early 1900s and didn’t get past the 8th grade in school, but he was one of the most active readers I have ever known. He always had more than one book going at once, and I’m afraid I take after him. Right now, some of the books I am actively in the middle of are these: This House of Sky by Ivan Doig, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (finally getting to this after it’s been in my to-read stack for a year), and The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers. I just finished two picture books I am still thinking about how to use as mentor texts: Whimsey’s Heavy Things and An Armadillo in Paris, both by Julie Kraulis. Thanks so much for stopping by, Jeff and Deborah!  I’m looking forward to using your strategies with my high schoolers! GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond, courtesy of Stenhouse Publishers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Revision Decisions, please leave a comment on this post by Monday, November 17th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, who will be contacted via email.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you if you win.  Stenhouse will be shipping the book to you, so I will share your mailing address with them.

64 Responses

  1. I have every Jeff Anderson book on revision, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. One thing that makes these so interesting in the middle school classroom are the real examples taken from his work with students. I look forward to reading more and trying new things.

  2. Thanks for writing this book! Getting my 8th grade students to revise is a tough challenge- I would love some new, innovative ideas.

  3. Sounds like a great book…my students often think changing some grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors is all they need to do to revise!

  4. Revision is so tough. I’ve found that having kids work in a digital format makes them more willing to change in the play. I think it’s because they know they won’t have to rewrite everything again to make a “clean copy. ”

    (I hope this registers my email address. If not, you can reach me at @Davidaetkin 🙂

    David Etkin


  5. I am working on creating a new way of teaching grammar for my school. This would be awesome!

  6. Great discussion, sounds like a valuable book. My only complaint is that I don’t have it in my hands now as my students begin revising their current essays!

  7. I am rejoicing in the fact that talk is coming back to revision! For my ELLs, talking is part of their revision. I can’t expect them to complete a revision assignment without talking! Can’t wait to get the book!

  8. Debbie and Jeff, thanks so much for the hard work you put into writing this book. Anytime I see your names attached to ANYTHING, my time and attention is yours. I’ve already started reading this book, but I’d love to win a signed copy to share with a student teacher. Also, I am going to keep asking about when the two of you will be presenting together here in Utah until you set a date. So, when is this happening? My life motto: Ask Until the Answer is Yes!!!

  9. Revision is sooooo important. Beginning writers often resist doing it because of the amount of work, but it is so helpful. Anything that can help teach students the value of revision is a must-have for any English teacher.

  10. Love the idea of playing with sentences. Teachers need a better way to teach grammar than copying sentences and filling in a blank with the correct verb form.

  11. Love the research on sentence combining and the concept of playing economically and musically with structures of sentnece–brought Noden’s brushstrokes to mind. Thanks for the Q & A preview!

  12. […] miss Sarah Gross’s interview with Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean. Enter to win a copy of Revision Decisions, […]

  13. As I get ready to start my revision process this week I really wish I had this book! Already picked up a good idea or two from this post. Have recently ordered two of Jeff’s other books and can’t wait to read this one!

  14. I’ve replaced Mechanically Inclined three times since my teacher babies keep (inadvertently!) swiping them! I can’t wait to get my paws on this one! (I also to think 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know is a modern classic!)

  15. I am so excited for this book. I remember Debbie talking about working with Jeff while I was her student after a UTCE conference where I heard Jeff present.

  16. My co-teacher and I are struggling with revamping our 9th grade approach to teaching grammar in the context of writing–would love some help with thinking about sentence-level revision strategies! My email address is jackieregales8 (at) gmail (dot) com.

  17. As a community college writing instructor, this sounds like great material to help my struggling writers and to reengage the middle of the road to more advanced students who think that revision isn’t something they need to be concerned with! Can’t wait to get my hands on this book! Thanks!

  18. Revision is definitely the hardest part of teaching kids to write – this book sounds like a great resource! Thanks for this post!

  19. Sounds like a “must-have”!! As a middle school librarian, I think multiple copies are in order….so that all my R/ELA/Writing teachers have access!! Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  20. Looking forward to using these ideas with my students!

  21. I began my quest to help students revise with Barry Lane’s After the End and have since read many helpful books, including Mechanically Inclined. I found sentence revising to be a great way to improve writing so I can’t wait to read your new book.

  22. Ahhh, revision. Thank you Jeff Anderson. Mechanically Inclined has done so much for my teaching of the often uninterested middle school student, I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. Keep the ideas coming, you are my Grammar Guru…

  23. This sounds like a fabulous book. I have never heard of these two until I read a Nerdy Book Club post by Donnalyn Miller and then came here and read this article. Thank you for the inspiration.

  24. This is going on the must read list. Next Halloween I want to dress up as The Sentence Doctor and demonstrate some “surgical” revision techniques on ailing sentences, and this book seems to fit the bill!

  25. Reading the interview makes we wonder if it might also be used by teachers who are working to improve their own writing process. I am excited to take a look and see it that might work as well.

  26. As an instructional leader in my building, where we have a huge focus on writing this year, this book sounds like it will make a great book study for us. So excited to read it!

  27. I’m excited for this!

  28. I want to get my hands on a copy of this book for my library. I think my English teachers would love it as well!

  29. Came here from Nerdy Book Club site — This book sounds terrific!

  30. I charge happily into new manuscripts but turn into stone when faced with revision so this sounds like a book I need! Thank you for the post. wgreenley (at) comcast (dot) net.

  31. This makes so much sense! I dislike DOL, but so many teachers continue to use it–and then complain that their kids aren’t applying it to their writing! Would love to win the book!

  32. I would love to have a chance to dig into this book! This is my first year teaching ninth grade ELA and I need all the help I can get.

  33. This sounds like a very helpful book. Great post!

  34. Thanks for an interesting interview. Jeff and Deborah have so much to teach us.

  35. Awesome interview! The more I teach students to become writers, the more important I realize revision is in that process.

  36. I love reading books on writing. This sounds like it will be a wonderful holiday read for me.

  37. I love teaching writing! But wonder why I have never heard of these 2authors before.. What else am I missing…? Thank you Donalyn for recommending this book.

  38. I am soaking up any and all things “revision.” My writing instruction is under revision on a regular basis! Thanks for this interview.

  39. Although this is my 40th year of teaching, it is the first time I’ve taught middle school language arts. The school went through three (yes, three) language arts teachers last year and two the year before. So, I really have my work cut out for me. We recently began revising our first piece of writing, I’d appreciate any help in that area. Thanks!!

  40. So excited for this book I own every other one and refer to them constantly. Great interview!

  41. Jeff and Deborah,

    I love that you call revision, “playing with sentences.” So many of my 9th graders fear revision, and I try to show them that it can grow to be enjoyable when they see me model it, as well as their own results. I agree that revision and editing sometimes end up merging together, for I used to separate them with “revision time” and “editing time.” The one reminder I always tell my students is that in order to improve our writing, we must read. Great readers are better writers. I look forward to reading your book!

  42. As a teaching author, I realize the challenge of REVISION. Love finding new ideas to use in my own writing and with the students I teach.

  43. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. It sounds really amazing.

  44. This sounds so intriguing! I love the idea of playing with sentences — it’s building inquiry into writing instruction.

  45. I’m so excited to read this book! Two great teachers who have fabulous ideas to share.

  46. When I think about revision, I think about Tom Newkirk’s comment, years ago, in a graduate class, that young children tend not to revise a work in progress, but incorporate the teacher’s suggestions into the next piece of writing. Then this weekend, I read something Kelly Gallagher said, that kids don’t need our feedback after a piece of writing as much as they need them midway, before they do a final draft. I’ve read lots of Jeff’s work and can’t wait to get hold of this book!

  47. Hoping to win this for the teacher PD section I’m building in the library. Love his books!

  48. Can’t wait to read this!

  49. This would be great to use with my developmental writing students!

  50. I love all of your books! Thank you for giving me real suggestions to use with my EL’s. It has truly changed my way of thinking, and my instruction. I can’t wait to read your new book!

  51. My 8th graders do enjoy revising their work. I would love to use this book to give them even more resources and let them feel like they are improving their writing and not just correcting it. Thanks!

  52. I am putting this on my wish list for Christmas…unless I win a copy. :).

  53. I think I have every book written by these two authors, and I’d love to add this one!

  54. I’m looking forward to sharing this with future teachers and teacher educators!

  55. I can’t wait to read Revision Decisions, how to best teach grammar and the writing process has been a challenge for my grade level lately, I look forward to any new ideas, thoughts, and strategies.

  56. Can’t wait to read it!

  57. Thanks for this great interview and generous offer! I’d love to win a copy to share with my ELA dept.

  58. Just found out about this book and would love to have a copy!

  59. Win or lose-I will be purchasing this book. Our curriculum has spelling and grammar embedded so students don’t receive direct instruction.

  60. This book sounds fascinating.

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