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Revisiting Revision

How regular blocks of time set off to revise work not only help students with learning, but also strengthen class relationships — even remotely
Teacher planning in notebook

Over this difficult past year of remote learning, students and teachers have struggled to feel seen and heard, even with cameras and microphones on. We long for the intimacy and electricity that comes from co-creating together in the same physical space.
The humble in-class “revision block” deserves a fresh look as a way to regain closeness and collaboration with students at this time. I refer to a dedicated time set aside during class — every other week, or more frequently — for students to engage with our feedback on their assignments, learn from their mistakes, and consolidate new learning. This modest routine strengthens not only learning but also teacher-student relationships — regardless of subject area or age level. Yet we often overlook this old-school approach in the face of shinier, new ed tech.
Reluctance around revision right now is understandable. Building in revision blocks can lengthen our existing units, and we are already fretting about slower student learning rates this year. We also worry that students will just ignore our feedback. Platforms like Google Classroom can be efficient but often seem to release our grades and comments out into some virtual void.  Just like with our Zoom lessons, it feels like a monologue, rather than the vital dialogue we miss dearly.

However, revision blocks can help in two powerful ways:

They can help rebuild authentic learning conversations with students.

Regular revision blocks give students built-in time during class to read and respond to our feedback as they revise their work. Soren Tjernell, a humanities colleague from the Community Charter School of Cambridge, likens it to a pen pal: “Writing to them and them writing back to me, there is a closeness and a directness.” 

They help ensure that all students can internalize critical content.

Without them, despite best intentions, we frequently widen rather than narrow skill gaps in our classrooms — rushing ahead to that new unit when only some of our students have had a chance to master standards from the current unit. Similarly, when we only offer revision outside of class — e.g., during afterschool office hours — not all students are able to take advantage of these opportunities.
So where to begin for those of us who have never tried in-class revision blocks? Here are three quick tips for getting off to a successful start, whether remotely or in-person:

1)    Block Out Time

  • Before launching a new unit, set aside time preemptively for your revision blocks. You could start with as little as 20 minutes of class time every couple weeks.
  • Try to give yourself a weekend in between the initial assignment and the revision block so you have ample time to examine students’ work.

2)    Clarify Communication Channels

  • Make it easy for students to see your comments and for you to track their revisions. On Google Classroom, for example, Soren noticed that students often lost track of his in-document comments but responded quickly to concise feedback sent via the private message feature. STEM teachers, meanwhile, might prefer platforms like EdLight or Floop which allow them to leave written and audio comments directly on students’ pen & pencil work, even remotely.
  • During revision, have students track changes online or use a different color pen or pencil on paper so you can easily see their edits.

3)    Limit Your Feedback

  • For something like an essay, try restricting your comments to one specific commendation and one specific recommendation.
  • If you have a rubric, you could just put a plus by one thing the student is doing well and a delta by the area you want them to improve.
  • If you are seeing a common growth area for your students, you could even just put a star by places in their work where this issue crops up. Then, in class, you could explain what the star means and give a quick mini-lesson on the issue before sending them into revision time.

As more of us return to in-person instruction, we will be tempted to assume that physical proximity will automatically allow us to regain closeness with students. Regardless of our context, I encourage us to remember the powerful connection that comes from collaborating with students as they revise their work in class. Even in the cloud, revision grounds our classrooms — keeping us anchored to individual students and their thinking.

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