Staggering Assignments

Distillation by Alembic, 1910. (Published before 1923 and public domain in the US.)

Distillation by Alembic, 1910. (Published before 1923 and public domain in the US.)

In my poetry class, I decided to stagger revision assignments throughout the semester instead of assigning a final portfolio, because I wanted:

  1. to avoid end-of-the-semester-grading fatigue, in order to ensure that I was always fresh and never rushed in grading;
  2. to alleviate students’ end-of-the-semester stress, so that they would be able to concentrate on revising individual poems rather than meeting basic requirements of a portfolio (better— instead of more—work at a time);
  3. to give students a better, ongoing sense of how they are progressing in the course;
  4. and to situate revision as an integral and ongoing part of the writing process that goes hand-in-hand with writing new poems and reading.

Structuring the course in this way, I felt like I was able to give more feedback, and my students’ revisions improved. In previous courses, a revision unit at the end of the semester suggested that revision was an afterthought to the writing process. By having students revise throughout the semester, workshop directly correlated to students’ next steps and, in their self-assessments, they often referred to feedback they received from their peers. Workshop, therefore, was explicitly linked to revision; it wasn’t the end but the means of their creative work—not a junkyard, but an alchemical machine.