Tweaking the Rough/Final/Rewrite Draft Process in First-Year Writing

I find it ironic that every measure I have taken this semester to get out of doing work has resulted in better writing from my students.

Daily writing journals I never read = better writing.  Homework I grade solely on whether it was turned in on time = better writing.  Limiting my commenting on their rough drafts to ten minutes per paper = better writing.  Using the rubric to give them a “grade so far” on the rough drafts and to target feedback, so I can limit commenting on their final drafts to five minutes per paper = better writing.

I’ve never before had a job where I got better results by doing less work.  I’m sure this is because I’m doing less work in the “right” ways; if I tried to do less work by assigning less homework, for instance, the writing would certainly not be better.

The rough draft/final draft/rewrite process is my current focus.  This semester, my students write a “rough draft,” to which I respond by “grading” it according to the rubric and targeting my comments to the rubric sections in which the draft loses the most points.  (This “grade” is for reference only; the only points at stake in the rough draft are the ten they get for turning it in on time, just like any other homework assignment.)  Then, they write a “final draft,” in which I encourage them to use my comments and their peers’ review as a guide to revision (most do).  If they are still dissatisfied with their grade at this point, they can write a “rewrite” – at this point, I strongly encourage them to stop by my office hours to talk before they attempt the rewrite.

So far:

  • Quality of the final draft is absolutely correlated to whether or not the rough draft was turned in, with most students making significant gains between the rough and final drafts.  I had one student bump a grade from a 65 on the “rough” draft to a 100 on the “final,” although the average bump is 15 points.
  • Students who turned in both a rough and final draft averaged an A on the paper.  Students who turned in only a final draft averaged a C.
  • I recommended a rewrite to only one student, of 30, who turned in both a rough and final draft.  This student made the 15-point average increase, but it was from a 65 to an 80, and I firmly believe the student can move this draft into “A” territory with one more go-round and some one-on-one coaching.

What I am trying to decide now is whether to keep this three-step structure or to modify it – and if so, how.  Possibilities include:

  • Making the “final” draft optional if the student is satisfied with his or her “rough” draft grade.  Pros: fewer finals for me to grade; more free time for students.  Cons: Even the ones who gave me “A” rough drafts improved in the final draft, so I believe the revision process is good for them as well.
  • Eliminating the rewrite option.  Pros: fewer rewrites for me to grade; more pressure to do both the rough and final drafts.  Cons: students who don’t do rough drafts typically don’t do them under increased pressure either; less flexibility for students with computer issues/family issues/whatever; less scope for that one-on-one time.
  • Mandating a one-on-one paper talk before turning in the rewrite.  Pros: Students who need a rewrite typically do better one-on-one; my office hours actually get used.  Cons: (maybe?) more work for me; occasional student may be unable to schedule.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  What would have worked for you a student – or does work for you as a teacher?

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About Dani Alexis

Dani Alexis is the Legal Coordinator at Autonomous Press as well as a freelance writer. When she's not working, she coaches winterguard and waits on the whims of two spoiled cats. Check out her most recent work by subscribing to her Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/noncompliantspace.
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One Response to Tweaking the Rough/Final/Rewrite Draft Process in First-Year Writing

  1. Cin Vhetin says:

    As a student, an optional final draft would be great. I know this may not be typical, but when somethings optional, it’s easier for me to get it done. Or maybe telling students that they’re allowed not to do final drafts on some portion of their papers if they get a high enough grade–half or a third maybe, so they can still see how a final draft can improve a paper, but if they’re really busy they have some leeway in which ones they do.

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