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The Writing Process -- Bridging the Gap between Schoolwork and What 'Real' Authors Do
The following is an overview of the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revision, proofreading, and publishing) with an eye toward real-world application.
1. At the prewriting stage, writers brainstorm ideas and begin to organize their thoughts. At the earliest stage, they should put down their ideas freely, with little thought to editing. Young children often prewrite by drawing. Prewriting may also include some organizational work: for example webbing, creating a problem/ solution chart for a piece of fiction or a flow chart for an expository paragraph.
2. In the drafting stage, students make a first copy of their essay or story. In order to be successful, thy need to write from beginning to end, but often think of new ideas as they go. Little thought is given to proofreading or editing, and it is acceptable to cross out material. Students should be dissuaded from using a dictionary at this stage, or from editing themselves too heavily. Some students get hung up because they are perfectionists, and are too intimidated by the task to write much. If there is nothing on the paper, there is nothing to work with!
Some students (and indeed many published writers) will choose to draft one section of a long work, and then do some revision and editing of that section before proceding to draft the entire work.
Journal writing is drafting, and many 'real' authors keep a writer's journal. Journals can be mined for material for published work. However, not everything that is drafted makes it through all stages of the writing process...
3. In the revision stage, students seek to improve their work. They focus on the first five writing traits: content, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, and voice. They read their work aloud to see how it sounds. Ideally, they will also with both teachers and peers in order to gain another perspective on their work. In the conference, listeners should be supportive, offering feedback on what was done well, as well as questions they would like to see clarified, and suggestions for improvement. The final choice should rest with the author, and the more experience s/he has had listening to and reading good books, the more successful s/he will be.
Students will likely also use a checklist when looking for areas of improvement (i.e. varying sentence structure or adding details). They should feel free to write on their first copy: inserting words, moving sentences or whole paragraphs.
4. After revision, students move on to editing. With peer or teacher support, they correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. At this stage, they may use a dictionary, or, if working on the computer, spell-check. How correct the finished work is expected to be generally depends on the age/maturity of the writer. Teachers will not necessarily make children correct all their errors, choosing instead to focus on what is developmentally appropriate. Some maintain a word wall, and make children correct word wall words, but don't hold them responsible for other corrections. In the case of very special 'published' writings, they may give primary age students correct spellings.
5. In the publishing stage, children put their writing into a form that they can be proud of and share with others. Often this takes the form of a book, complete with cover and illustrations. Conversely, it could be a typed report, with cover page. This is the stage to concern oneself with presentation and handwriting (the '+1' in '6 +1 trait writing'). The 'published' writing may be displayed in a particular area of the classroom, or featured in classroom publication or website. Ideally, students will also read their work aloud, and may put on some type of presentation. Publication can be a motivator and help children see themselves as authors.