By Jolene Borgese
I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe people come in and out of our lives for a reason and a few stick around forever. I am most curious about the people who come in and out our lives and then return years later. I haven’t figured out the reason, but I suspect I never will.
This semester I have been teaching graduate school and presenting professional development (for the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project) at two very different schools. There seems to be an invisible thread running through all these very different teachers I’ve met. They are young, old, privileged, struggling, working at stellar schools, and schools that lack sufficient books. All of these teachers have a common need that I had first addressed 30 some years ago – writing instruction strategies, specifically revision strategies.
Over 30 years ago, I became a Writing Project fellow and worked with teachers on how to teach writing. Now, I find that many teachers have little teaching of writing background; they seem to only know how to edit their students’ work for spelling and grammar errors. Consequently, I have devoted whole sessions and classes to teachers’ revising their own writing in hopes that once they have experienced the process of revision they will be able to teach it to their students.
To the delight of the teachers and me, it’s working! Last week a teacher was anxious to tell me, “My students loved the ‘to be’ revision strategy – they got it! I had them circle the passive to be verbs and rework their sentences to use active verbs.” She smiled broadly at me and asked me to teach her another strategy she could teach her students. Here are a few of the strategies I demonstrate. They aren’t new, but new to many teachers today: ARMS, Tally it up and Verbs, verbs, verbs.
A= add information that is needed,
R= remove information that is not needed,
M= move information to another place in the piece and
S= change information to be more specific.
Writers use this as a self-guided strategy to revise.
Writers underline the first word in every sentence and then tally those words up to make sure they have used a variety of words and techniques to start their sentences. The goals are variety and fluency.
Verbs, verbs, verbs!
Writers circle all the “to be” verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) in their writing. The writer then has three strategies to make their writing active- showing rather than telling:
Delete the sentence- if it is not needed
Combine sentences with another sentence with an active verb
Rework sentence with an active verb
I left teaching a high school English classroom in 1999 to work for Houghton Mifflin. I presented hundreds of workshops, presentation and conference sessions during those twelve years, and now I have come full circle. I am teaching graduate level classes for Cabrini College. I prepare lessons, mark papers, confer with my students and take attendance every week! I even have one of my former high school students in my graduate class. She makes me proud- she is a high school English teacher and she is so passionate about her students and her teaching!
To complete my doctorate at Widener University, I focused my energies and time on my studies and research, so I left the PAWLP back in 1995. I reconnected with the Project this spring when I met with Mary Buckelew.
Is it a coincidence? Whatever it is, I am happy to be both teaching and working for the Project again — my passions in life!
Jolene A. Borgese is a writer, a reader and a learner. She earned her doctorate from Widener University and attended the first PAWLP summer institute in 1980. Her first Book, Revision Strategies for Adolescent Writers was published by Corwin press in 2012. Jolene loves to travel and swim in the ocean!