'Writing in tight spaces': Secondary Students Address the Problems and Possibilities of Revising School Writing
Oliver, Lucia Jane
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Studies of writing process over the last 40 years have clearly shown that effective revision marks the difference between the skilled and the unskilled writer. Early research also showed that school and college students typically revised little and at superficial levels, so that the scope for improvement of writing was limited. The apparent failure of student writers to revise more substantively has been variously explained. On the one hand it is suggested that adolescent writers may lack the cognitive and metacognitive resources necessary for effective revision (Flower & Hayes, 1980; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Kellogg, 2008) and on the other that school models of composition may not adequately support critical reflection or reconceptualisation (Emig, 1971; Sommers, 1980; Yagelski, 1995). However, there are marked gaps in the evidence base concerning students’ current understanding and practice of revision, particularly at secondary level. There have been few recent school-based studies and almost no examination of adolescent writers’ perspectives on revising school writing. Post-National Curriculum studies in the UK are especially scarce. There is therefore insufficient empirical evidence to determine at what level secondary students now revise their writing or to explain the problems and opportunities they may encounter in the attempt. This is especially important in the context of national concern about standards of attainment in writing and increased policy emphasis on the drafting and revising process. The current study adopts a case study approach to investigate secondary students’ understandings of the purpose and process of revising school writing, and the criteria by which they evaluate their success. It combines one-to-one observations of writing and post-hoc interviews with analysis of students’ texts over the course of a classroom writing task. The findings suggest that whilst the revisions of writers of different abilities were indeed primarily superficial, students did not necessarily lack the understanding or capacity to revise more effectively. Able writers attributed their limited practice to tightly prescribed assessment requirements and time-controlled writing conditions. They were also hampered by a dichotomous view of the choices available to them which caused them to set unnecessary parameters on their revising behaviours. These findings have important implications for practice and policy.
PhD in Education