I think the concept of ‘drafting’ is possibly one of the most dangerous concepts in secondary schools. It is used with aplomb and glee abandon in the classroom. Today, we are going to draft a story. We are going to draft our assessments. Let’s draft our answers to this question.
We like to think drafting is a vital and integral part of the writing process, but time and time again drafting amounts to nothing much. Take the drafting process of coursework. I have read endless numbers of drafts and final versions. Every single one tends to carbon copy of the original one. In fact, drafting in some cases should be called human photocopying. The students just write up the previous version and change one or two things.
We have this romantic version of writing and drafting is right at the front of the writing process. Drafting does have its place in the world – I just don’t think it is necessarily in the classroom. You’d need a high level of sophistication and a good few months, or even years, to perfect a text. Writers draft over time and long periods of time. How long does it technically take to write a book? Hint – more than one hour’s lesson.
My main problem with drafting is that is focused on the end product. It is all about producing something and then thinking how it can be improved. The thoughts and thinking, we like to think, are post mortem. Once the text is written the student has a chance to think of improvements and ways forward. The issue for me is the thinking process. When would it help students to understand when they are doing things wrong? Is it so helpful to tell them after the car crash piece of work? Not really. We need to intervene some time before the crash.
Because writing is a process, it isn’t helpful to make changes to that process after the process has been completed. Take lesson observations. We give guidance and support to teachers after an observation, but at that point it is too late. The process has finished. It is gone. Wouldn’t it be better if we helped the teacher change course during the observation? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial if the teacher made the changes and saw (felt) how the changes improved things?
Driving lessons are another good example to prove this point. Did the instructor tell you where you went wrong at the end of the session? No. They did it during the process, so you’d learn and avoid making the mistake again. You were in the process of driving and it was relevant and pressing. At the end of the lesson, the process has finished.
The 200 Word Challenge has made me see the benefits of ‘course changing’ during the writing process. Every week, I speak to fifteen or so students about their writing. We discuss what they have done in previous lessons and their writing that lesson. I correct them in the process, when they need my input most. They need me to tell them they are doing it wrong. They need me to guide them. I am in the moment with them. But, I am also doing something else. I am showing them how good writers work. They think in the middle of writing and change their course. They self-correct. They modify. They improve, during the writing. We seem to spend so much time getting students to plan, proofread and draft writing that we have missed the important part of writing – the thinking process, while they are writing.
My marking of books during the 200 Word Challenge session has had a bigger impact on work than 10 years of marking. Why? Well, I think it is because I am in the process. I am working with them side by side, but I am also thinking with them about improvements. I am modelling the correct behaviour. It is also a time where I can clarify things. What do you mean that my paragraphs are weakly constructed, sir? We assume that a written mark on work is understood and retained by the students.
Progress happens more often now than before because of the immediacy of the improvements. We want students to self-correct work, and, for this to be part of their writing process, they need to feel the benefits of the course correction. They need to see and feel the benefits of the changes. That is probably why drafting has failed for so long. They don’t feel and see the benefits immediately. When the instructor tells you that you need to go up a gear, you experience the benefits of the change. The distance between the process and the advice is paramount. If the advice isn’t immediate, they fail to see the benefits of a changes. I say ‘see’ but the word should be ‘feel. They need to feel a positive experience to enable them to adapt their behaviour.
So stop drafting this week. When students are writing, get them to sit next to you and give them feedback. See how giving students immediate feedback changes things for you and them.
Thanks for reading,