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Helping Writers Develop Their Own Ideas: Revising the Content of Writing


Peggy McGuire photo

Peggy McGuire
EFF Writing Content Expert

As mentioned in a previous post,  I presented ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transition at COABE in April this past year. One thing that stood out for me was a lively conversation by the participants around the ‘revision’ component of the Convery Ideas in Writing  process.*

When you think of “revising” a draft piece of writing, what activity comes to mind?

When you ask students to “revise” their first draft of a written text, what are you actually asking them to do?

For many of us, revision of writing immediately brings to mind the act of “correcting” – correcting mistakes in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. – that might also be called proofreading. There is no doubt that it is important to learn how to correct mistakes like these in writings. Otherwise, errors could get in the way of a reader’s ability to understand what we are trying to say in our writing. Further, if our students can fix mistakes of these kinds, they are providing evidence that they know about, and can correctly use, common writing conventions.

There is, however, another meaning for revision. This meaning, while sometimes overlooked, is important for our students to be aware of and understand: revision of the actual content of their writing. If our goal is to Convey Ideas in Writing, then content revision is the strategy for making sure that we are conveying our intended ideas to our targeted audience via our written text. And of course, content revision is a process that we can teach our students to employ for all types of writing tasks at ANY functional level (not just for those transitioning into postsecondary settings).

Do you currently ask your students to engage in content revision of their writing drafts? If so, what activities or strategies do you use to support them in the content revision process?

Here are a couple of ideas for helping your students learn how to revise the content of their writing:

Idea #1: Compare Your Draft to Planned Ideas

So much of successful, effective writing comes back to what we do (or don’t do!) during the planning stages – affecting all other components of the writing process, even content revision.  Once your students have produced a first draft, encourage them to compare it to the information and ideas they generated during their planning, and then to decide if they have said everything that they planned to say about the topic. To come up with ideas for ‘what to write about,’ did the student:

  • Brainstorm a list of terms/key points on the topic?
  • Make a mind map?
  • Freewrite on the topic?
  • Develop an outline?
  • Keep a writing journal?
  • Highlight important information in a text they were reading?

Whatever kind of planning was done to generate and organize ideas to use in writing, at the content revision stage, encourage your students to:

  1. Look at the results of their planning,
  2. Reread their drafts,
  3. Reflect, and decide:
    • Did I incorporate all the ideas I wanted to into my draft?
    • Did I miss anything important?
    • Did I include anything that doesn’t really seem to belong there now?
    • Did I come up with new ideas that I hadn’t thought about when I was planning?
    • And in the end, is my point clear and am I saying what I want to say about my topic?

 Idea #2: Seek Feedback on Your Writing

Revising writing content becomes much easier when a writer can get direct and constructive feedback from an external audience. This can give writers an immediate sense of whether or not they are in fact conveying the ideas they want to convey. So – encourage your students to find an audience!

Your student-authors can ask someone they trust to read what they have written (or listen to them read it aloud – remember, the focus is on content, not writing mechanics at this point). Authors can then prompt the readers/listeners to:

  • Tell the authors what they ‘heard’ in the piece of writing – basically “reflecting the piece back” to the writers.
  • Ask questions and/or clear up any confusion about specific points, asking the authors what they meant to convey.
  • Describe to the author specifically what they liked about the piece. This gives authors information about what’s working well in their writing.
  • Describe the words or images that stood out for them as they read/listened to the piece of writing.
  • (If needed) Ask the authors, “What’s hard/easy about writing this piece?” This gives the writers a chance to talk about what’s blocking them, and to find their own ways ‘through’ the block.

As you may have noticed, this idea can also assist students to be effective peer reviewers/editors as well!

The above activites are designed to provide feedback focused on helping writers develop their own ideas. Note, however, that your student-authors may need a bit of practice before they feel comfortable performing these tasks. It may be a good idea to model these strategies with your students, and provide supported practice opportunities before asking them to use them on their own. They will find, however, that the payoff can be considerable. Such strategies for content revision empower students to really think about the substance of their writing and to revise their drafts (as needed) to meet their own communication goals.

What is your experience with teaching content revision to adult literacy (or ESL) learners? Please post a comment to share your ideas, thoughts, and insights. Here are a couple of questions to get you started:

  • Have you ever taught your students strategies like these? How did it go?
  • Have you used other effective strategies for helping your students revise the content of their writing? If so, please share!

We look forward to hearing from you!

*Note that effective revision of writing is also a  Writing Anchor Standard of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and as such appears at every grade level of these Standards.


For more ideas, take a look at how these two writing lesson examples from the EFF Teaching Learning Toolkit  address content revision:
Heritage Books: Family Literacy    Preparing for Release: Corrections


Post Contributor:

Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies

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Benchmark Numbers: Everyone Can ‘DO’ Fractions, Decimals and Percents!


How do your students generally feel about fractions? decimals? percentages? Do they moan and groan and say “I hate these” or “I can’t DO… (fractions, decimals, percents)”

How about yourself? How much do you enjoy computations and problem solving involving fractions, decimals and percentages?

A common challenge for many of our learners is their ability to work with a particular set of number concepts: fractions, decimals, and percents. Our learners have often developed ‘mental blocks’ to these mathematical concepts and even develop anxiety upon hearing the terms. Yet anyone entering an adult education classroom has already had years of experience in solving problems and mental math involving fractions, decimals, and percentages. Honest!

Think back over the past 24 hours. How often did you use fractions? Think about a percentage? Interact with a decimal?(other than as part of instruction)

Ok now, how often did you use or encounter the concept of  ½? 10%? .25? How about quarters, dimes or dollars?

Clearly, adults encounter and use these types of benchmark numbers every day in various facets of their lives – in their work, with their families, and out in the community. See if these examples sound familiar:

  • “Split that with your sister – each of you can have HALF.”
  • “I want to see a 100% team effort!”
  • “Thank you for shopping with us, you saved $3.75.”

Helping students to realize that they ALREADY SUCCESSSFULLY USE  fractions , decimals and  percentages is one way to combat anxiety and “I can’t” attitudes. Another recommendation is to incorporate activities using these friendly ‘fractional numbers’ into instruction with ALL learners – even those still learning their basic math facts.1 Note that these recommendations are not limited to adult education – the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics call for fractional concepts to be explicitly taught at the 3rd grade level, and introduced less directly even earlier (via telling time, comparing measurements, dividing shapes into parts, etc.). These standards also state: 

Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace.”  (CCSS-M Introduction)

Thus of course, as always, it is important to keep it REAL. Instruction should be based in everyday contexts that are meaningful to your specific group of learners. Here are some example contextual activities from the EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum that address fractional concepts:   A Typical Day/Time on Task

It is also important to note that many adult learners working at more advanced levels of math instruction may have an incomplete understanding of fractional concepts. They may have memorized a process, or algorithm, but cannot easily or readily apply it to real-world situations, or easily convert from fractions to decimals to percentages. Again, some work with basic benchmarks can help – even those who think they ‘know’ fractions, etc..

 Could your students easily move from ‘80 out of 100’ to ‘80 percent’ to ‘8 tenths’?Do they seem to confuse fractions, decimals and percentages or give up when asked?

In Algebraic Thinking in Adult Education (2010), Lynda Ginsburg emphasizes the importance of making connections among multiple representations of the same information – symbols, tables, graphs, etc.2   This idea applies to number concepts for fractions, decimals and percents as well.  Learners need instruction and practice in understanding the equivalencies between fractions, decimals, and percentages to deepen their conceptual understanding of these numbers. Activities that mix together fractions, decimals and percentages, and/or ask students to move from one representation to its equivalent (10% to 1/10 to .1) are effective tools for both assessing and strengthening understanding. Comparing Numbers is one example of such an activity (also from the EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum).

Please share with us your tips and tricks for helping adult students to understand number concepts relating to ‘fractional parts’ (fractions, decimals or percentages).
OR
Try out one of the ideas in this post, and let us know how it worked for your learners
(and you).  Below is one last resource to help get you started!

Using Benchmarks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents – STUDENT BOOK – Lesson 5: One-tenth3 http://empower.terc.edu/pdf/Using_Benchmarks.pdf

We look forward to hearing from you and your class!


To learn more about teaching Benchmarks in the EFF online mini-courseHow Close is Close Enough?: Improving Estimation Skills  or in the EFF Preparing for Work curriculum, contact us via eff@utk.edu.


Post Contributor:
Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Content and Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies

 References and Resources

1 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics,  (2000) Reston, VA.   Pages 33-35

2 Lynda Ginsburg (2010); Algebraic Thinking in Adult Education  National Institute for Literacy, Washington, DC. http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/algebra_paper_2010V.pdf  (reference error corrected 7-27-12)

3 Using Benchmarks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents Schmitt, Steinback, Donovan, Merson, & Kliman (2006) Key Curriculum Press, Emeryville, CA. http://empower.terc.edu/  (Part of the EMPower mathematics Curriculum developed at TERC)

FAQ: What is “Standards-based Instruction”?


From time to time, we address questions on key/core education concepts from adult education practitioners like you. These blog posts are collected on the EFFTIPS FAQ page for easy reference.

Question-puzzle imageEFFTIPS is designed to be a place for adult education teachers to learn and exchange ideas about implementing standards-based instruction and/or instruction based on quality instructional principles.

Q: But what exactly is “Standards-based instruction?” What do we mean when we say that?

In adult education, we feel that standards-based instruction starts from a BIG IDEA:  that the quality of the adult education services we offer is better when we focus teaching, learning, assessment, and accountability processes around the knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.

Thus one part of the answer to “What is standards-based education?” is this: Instruction that is structured around the content that people widely agree is most important to be taught, learned and assessed.  ‘Standards” then, are a set of clear and broadly understood descriptions of that content. You may also have heard some other phrases lately: “core standards,” “performance standards” “content standards,” “state standards,” etc.

So going back to our BIG IDEA, “Content Standards” for adult education must then DEFINEthe knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.”

Q: But what is that knowledge? What are those skills?

Read the rest of this entry

“Writing the Book” at COABE 2012: An Interview with Peggy McGuire


On Thursday, April 12, 2012, writing content expert Peggy McGuire lead a discussion at the National COABE Conference exploring how to support adult students in writing effectively for postsecondary transition.

Peggy McGuire photoAs a follow up to our post earlier this month, we interviewed Peggy about her session at COABE, and have posted her responses here for our readers. If you attended her session, please be sure to chime in and add your view point.  If you weren’t able to attend, please don’t hesitate to post any questions or idea you have for Peggy on this topic – she’d love to hear from you all!

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Thanks, Peggy, for taking the time to share with us about your COABE session in Norfolk.

No problem, it was a great session, and I’d love for our blog readers to hear about it.

So, Peggy, remind us, what was your session about?

My COABE 2012 workshop was a double session (two 75-minute sessions back-to-back) titled ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transitions. I designed the session to focus on the writing that adult education students need to do for successful postsecondary transitions, and on ways that adult ed teachers can prepare them to do it. Specifically, I was trying to support the proposition that to help our students write for transitions, we can teach them strategies for:

  •  Identifying transition-related purposes, audiences and tasks/contexts for writing (i.e., “rhetorical aims”).
  •  Identifying writing genres appropriate to the rhetorical aims to be addressed.
  • Generating and organizing ideas for writing.
  • Using the full writing process at the transition level to accomplish their writing goals/rhetorical aims.

Tell us a bit about the participants – who attended your session?

13 folks participated; they represented at least 6 states and a variety of adult education/literacy centers and community/technical college providers. This was admittedly a fairly small group; however, it felt like an ideal size to me for some good interaction and collaborative learning, and the members of the group were really smart, engaged and insightful! I felt really fortunate to get to work with them in a pretty intense way, and the time just flew by!

You had a double session on the COABE schedule – how did you organize your presentation?  Can you give us some more specifics about what you covered?

I organized the session so that the first part focused on what I call “the WHAT and WHY” – instructional activities that teachers can use to 1) help students identify the rhetorical aims of the writing they need to do, and 2) help students know the “rules” of the different kinds of writing they will need to use – different writing genres like persuasion, description, comparison, process analysis, etc. — in order to meet these rhetorical aims.

The second part of the session focused on “the HOW”. In it we looked at the EFF content standard Convey Ideas in Writing and the research-based writing process that it describes, as an overall approach to accomplishing transition-related writing tasks that we can teach our students. With it, they will be able to apply the writing knowledge and strategies they are learning to plan, draft and revise text that will meet their writing goals. Then we spent time discussing some fairly detailed examples of what this kind of writing instruction might look like in actual teacher lesson plans.

That sounds great – a really chock-full session! Was there a specific format to the example lesson plans?  Could you share one of those examples with us?

Sure, here’s a model lesson plan we worked with that focuses on teaching students to write an ‘academic-type’ persuasive essay similar to those needed for post-secondary education placement tests and coursework.

As you can see, the lesson planning tool/form we looked at is organized so that the teachers have to clearly describe:

  1. What they expect students to know and do in each step of the writing process for a particular writing task, and 
  2. Exactly what knowledge, skills and strategies they will need to teach students in each step along the way.

As one participant pointed out, the planning form we looked at might also serve as a tool for developing scoring rubrics that both teachers and students could use to evaluate the resulting writing.

Sounds like there was a lot of discussion going on – like the participants were really involved.

In general I always like to “mix up” information-sharing and hands-on activities in a workshop like this, so participants did a bit of writing and talking to each other as well as listening to me! I remember one particularly great exchange about how we can help students learn how to do content revision of their writing (instead of seeing “revision” only as correcting mistakes or proofreading). In both sessions I tried to model in my own facilitation some instructional strategies that teachers can replicate and use in the classroom.

And how did the participants like your session? What kind of feedback did you get?

Participants seemed pretty pleased with the session. They indicated that they particularly enjoyed:

  • The discussion and interaction between presenter and participants – the good sharing of ideas.
  • The emphasis on explicitly identifying writing purposes and audiences (“rhetorical aims”), and
  • The focus on teaching specific conventions and strategies so that students have the tools to consciously make choices about the best way to address their writing purposes.

When asked how the session might have been better, they pretty much said that they would have liked MORE — more strategies, more materials, more time! I have to tell you – as a facilitator I love to hear that, even though there never seems to be enough time to do everything I’d like to. That was especially true for me at this session because the participants were so interested and so interesting; what a wonderful opportunity it was for a good conversation among colleagues!

Well it sounds like it was a great ‘writing’ session at COABE – thanks so much for sharing with us!

Thank you!  I’m just hoping I’m lucky enough to enjoy many more such opportunities – both at COABE and via this blog.

Again, Peggy would love to hear from you – whether you attended the session or not, please share your thoughts on this topic!


For more about on the EFF approach to teaching writing, including the research behind the process, visit the EFF Assessment Resource Collection and The Research Base for Convey Ideas in Writing