IMPORTANT NOTE: I went to a session about managing the paper load in AP courses at the convention in Las Vegas in 2013, and a presenter shared different strategies for having students write more, but grade less. This session was packed, and rightfully so. We all left with a wealth of ideas, and I wish I could find the handouts to provide proper credit–I believe they were safely stored in my AP school box that went missing between our Houston to Chicago move. If this was your session, you are a goddess! (Also, please message me!).
Right about now, the stretch after spring break into AP exams, I find myself wanting to provide students with as much practice writing as they feel they need to be confident in transferring their skills to the exam in May, but not bog myself down with essays upon essays to review as the weather becomes warmer and the days are longer.
Enter “Essay Edit Rotations,” a way to include timed practice but not grade every piece. There are two simple components to this instructional pacing. Part 1: Students write. Part 2: Students learn more about how they write.
Here is how the rotations work: Set aside one day a week for a timed writing session. Students come in and write, then those timed drafts are collected and reviewed for trends/misunderstandings, but not scored. Repeat this over the course of four weeks, so students have four essays in total to edit. That is Part 1: students are practice writing without grades.
Part 2 involves editing those drafts from Part 1. I provide students with the same number of options for how to study their writing as they have timed writings and typically set aside 3-4 class days to dig in. Students select which edit to apply to each one of their essays, “rotating” through their pieces, with one of the timed writings is always revised and typed to be scored by me for a stand-alone AP grade.
You can tailor the prompts/essays to what your students need practice on, just as you can create as many different edits as you need and scaffold over the course of the year.
I have utilized a variety of editing strategies over the years, including:
- Scored Second Draft: Students edit, revise, and rewrite one essay to be submitted as a stand-alone AP score, graded by me. I typically always ask students to complete this edit.
- Peer Editing/Conferencing: This unfolds so organically as students grow in their writing–they’re able to help their peers assess and improve their writing based on experience and mentor texts/exemplars
- Reflective Annotating or Writing: Students can utilize a rubric or create a +/delta chart based on their noticings. Often, I ask students to assign themselves a score based only off the adjectives used on the AP scoring (see below).
- Analyze the Components: Students color code and highlight each element of their essay (i.e.: Claim, Evidence, Analysis, Transition) to understand how they are layering their ideas by reflecting on the visual structure, as well as the ratio of evidence to analysis.
- Oral Editing with a Peer: Have students pair up and read their essay, verbatim, to one another. Students can hear what sounds inconsistent or where a thought trails off. Students then revise these murky areas with
- Grammarly: Students can upload their essay (requires typing) and receive feedback. I typically have students reflect over the commentary and identify trends and next steps for implementations.
- Focused Revisions: I am pinpoint a specific area we have been playing with, such as varying our syntax for emphasis or upgrading our diction, and ask students to only revise those elements.
Rounds of Essay Edit Rotations support the foundational ideas, practices, and benefits of a workshop-based classroom:
- Low stakes writing practice: Students practice in a timed environment, but know they will have a chance to review and edit their essays. This workshop approach to the timed writings becomes about the edits and what students learn from their writing versus what is produced within 40 minutes.
- Students are writing more than we are grading: As only one of the essays will be graded by the teacher, after revision, students are benefitting from writing practice yet we are not grading each one (I do complete a quick review the essays after each writing period and provide feedback, usually in a +/delta format, before they write again).
- Students understand themselves as writers: Test writing is different from regular writing. There is a rubric, yes, and a goal, but there is also pressure. With the opportunity to edit, students can gain insight into their habits when they write for this purpose and make improvements accordingly. Students also have the autonomy to select what edit to apply to their writing, curating their learning.
- Builds skills for test transference: Timing is often the most anxiety-inducing component of any standardized test. Students can practice writing coherent, intriguing ideas within 40 minutes safely so they can find their rhythm before exam day.
- Creates space for writing conversations and conferences: I typically have students do their editing in class over 3-4 days so students can ask questions, work with their peers, and meet with me. It feels like a true writer’s workshop with students tinkering away, shuffling through multiple colored pens, highlighting, adding post-it notes, and conversing with peers.
In the past, I have had students practice Part 1 with the same style of open response question, mixed up the questions, given students choice over what question they practice with each week, and have done a full exam using the three prompts over the weeks. After that round, students assigned themselves a formative score to use as a conference conversation to set goals for moving forward. I have also implemented this during the fall when AP writing seems scary to students, in the middle of the year for review, and in the spring for low-stakes practices.
Every time, these Essay Edit Rotations work like a charm.
So thank you to the amazing writing teacher who presented in 2013. You have saved me hours upon hours and fostered conversations around writing in my classrooms around the country. Thank you.
Maggie Lopez is saying goodbye to ski season and hello to spring in Salt Lake City while keeping her juniors focused with choice reading, low stakes writing, and student-driven conversations as we build to the end of the year. She just finished Everybody’s Son by Thirty Umrigar, an NCTE conference find, and began Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow yesterday. You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.