Summer Blog Series Post #6: The Role of Higher Order Cognition in Revising Written Work

Adding content and new ideas to a story, essay, or report can be difficult, but it is also very important. Students may stop at the end of a sentence, reread what they have written, and decide there is a better word to express what they want to say. They may find places where they need to add more description or rearrange sentences. (We did some revising while writing this blog post!)

Revising can happen at any time during the writing process. Some students spontaneously revise while they are writing. In school, students are often asked to reflect on what they’ve written after they finish their first draft – a task that can be challenging for many students. These students often focus on fixing punctuation and spelling rather than enhancing the content. 

To revise, students must first detect that there is something to change and then know how to change it.  Considerations include audience, grammar rules, appropriate levels of detail, and clarity of expression, just to name a few.  Revising written work is a multifaceted challenge, in terms of both academic skills and neurodevelopmental functions.

Neurodevelopmental factors:

This skill of revising – adding content and new ideas to a story or report changing a word, being more descriptive, re-ordering sentences, or inserting a new paragraph – requires students’ language and higher order cognition to be working well.  In this post, we’ll focus on the higher order cognition demands – specifically, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.

Students need to be creative and brainstorm new ideas when revising their writing. They also need to think critically about what information they need to cut and what they need to add – what will make the information most effective for the reader. Writing can be interpreted as a problem-solving task: The topic or assignment is the “problem,” and students need to “solve” the problem by producing a written piece that addresses the topic or assignment. Revising is a critical step in ensuring the quality of the end product, or the effectiveness of the “solution.” 

Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the higher order cognition demands of writing:

The student …

  • comes up with original, engaging ideas to share through their writing
  • is able to evaluate written material for problem areas such as clarity, relevance to the topic at hand, level of detail, logical sequence, etc.
  • includes highly imaginative ideas in their stories
  • chooses words that are appropriate for the targeted reader
  • is capable of identifying problems with a writing passage and taking appropriate steps to resolve problems

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the higher order cognition demands of writing:

The student …

  • has trouble choosing a topic to write about or using imagination to generate an engaging story or report
  • asks many questions about what to do to enhance their writing, e.g. which passages need revisions, how to address problems with the written work, etc.
  • generates better written work when allowed to collaborate with a peer or conference with a teacher
  • does not logically think through potential ways of resolving a problem, instead pursuing the first thing that comes to mind

Strategies to help students struggling with revising written work:

  • Have students break the revising process into steps, beginning with going through and marking the places where they need to add or change information. Students can use different colored pencils, pens, or stickers to mark where they need to make changes. For example, green could be where they need to think of some new words, yellow for where they should add more details, blue where they need to move a sentence, etc.
  • When having students work together as peer editors, first model the process and types of question they should ask. Provide students with a list of questions that they can ask the writer and example sentence starters for providing feedback. For example, “I really liked it when you said…”
  • Employ the C-D-O revising strategy (Compare, Diagnose, Operate):
    COMPARE: Read a sentence.
    DIAGNOSE: Does this sound right? Am I getting away from the main idea?  Will other people understand and believe the main idea?  Do I like it as is?  After “diagnosing,” the student should ask himself, “Why was this the diagnosis for that sentence?”
    OPERATE: Do I need to leave this sentence out? Do I need to include more information? Do I need to reword it? Should I leave it the same?
    Go to the next sentence and repeat the strategy.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help students who are struggling with revising their writing.  Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More information and strategies around the revision process
  2. More information and strategies on writing in general
  3. Related research on higher order cognition
  4. Writing section of the All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit
  5. Writing games for kids on Scholastic.com (click on the “Writing Games” tab to the left)
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4 thoughts on “Summer Blog Series Post #6: The Role of Higher Order Cognition in Revising Written Work

  1. “To revise, students must first detect that there is something to change and then know how to change it.”

    This is also true on a personal level. Writing is a great tool for enhancing self-awareness and self-consciousness and can help students with learning disabilities learn more about the essence of their difficulties and think of new ways to overcome them or use them as a springboard for growth.

  2. I use two different strategies to help students with revising. I tell students that good writers are really artists who use words to paint pictures in the reader’s mind. If their writing is unclear rather than talk to them about it, I draw or cartoon out what their words make me see in my mind. Then I ask if my picture matches the one in their mind. (It usually doesn’t.) Making the meaning of their words concrete and visible helps them determine what is missing in their choice of words or sentence structure.

    The other strategy is to have the writer close their eyes while their work is being read aloud to them. I tell them to make their mind a blank TV screen. They are only allowed to “see” what their words tell them to see. They are to raise their hand to stop the reader when their “picture” gets confusing. Then you work on revising the troubled area. This strategy also works for determining when to begin a new paragraph. I have them raise their hand when when they notice a “scene shift.”

  3. Many students are able to express their ideas orally but have difficulty writing them down. I ask students about their writing and sometimes prompt them for added detail. I write their own words on post-it notes and leave the notes with them when they revise their work.

    I find the notes help them remember their ideas as well as help with spelling and grammar.

    I also use this strategy with students who have difficulty getting started.

  4. Pingback: SHOW Dont TELL « Reading Writing and Thinking

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