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Glossing: How to Help Your Composition Students Think and Write About Revising (Guest Blog)

September 21, 2010

Today's guest blogger is Bob Alexander, a language arts consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), in Harrisburg, PA.

No matter how much technology may change writing instruction, there will never be an advance sophisticated enough to replace the writing conference as the most effective formative assessment tool available for gauging students' writing progress, both overall, and specific to a current assignment. On the surface, Glossing is a simple revision technique that requires students to highlight changes to writing, but a closer examination reveals the depth and power Glossing can add to writing instruction, for both teachers and students. The great thing about Glossing is that it uses "innovative" technology to maximize time and effort.

As the result of a writing conference, someone is going to be writing and rewriting; it then follows that someone will be reading and rereading. This is old news for composition instructors, and often they have legitimate concerns about managing the paper load of multiple drafts. "Glossing" is a technique that streamlines the revision process for teachers and students, allowing for more effective conference time and focused assessment opportunities, more meaningful reflective writing and revision time, and less time wrangling with paper load.

Glossing: "Puttin' on the Ritz"

Generally, when a student finishes a writing conference, he/she has received feedback and is charged with revising the draft as discussed in conference. With the demands for assessment as well as progress in instruction, finding the time to revisit the draft as many times as is necessary to ensure leaning goals have been achieved may prove challenging. Having students put a "Gloss" on the paper is a quick and easy way for instructors to measure the growth and change of writing over multiple drafts.

The Glossing "How To's"

To put a "Gloss" on the paper, use the following process:

  • Carefully coach the student through the conference and make sure there is a process in place for notating and/or recording feedback. The students should always leave a conference understanding where they are in the writing process. Transparency is essential to progress.
  • The student utilizes feedback from the conference to revise the specific draft. On the revised draft, the students apply the following process:
  • 1. Either with a highlighter, or with the highlighter function in word processing, the student highlights the changes made from the previous drafts. In some cases, it may be a line or a sentence. In some cases, it may be an entire paragraph. Either way, it is important to highlight or "Gloss" any and all changes, even conventions.

    2. In the margins of the paper next to the glossed section or with an arrow pointing to the revisions, the student writes why they made the changes. If details were required to better illustrate an example, a student would write just that. "I added this detail to strengthen my example." This step is important because it requires a student not only to make revisions, but also to use the language of the revision process to illustrate understanding of why the change(s) were made. This understanding is essential for a student to take ownership of writing and move forward in the writing process, and it is important information for a teacher in assessing the next step(s) of the process and mastery of specific assignments.

    3. Students must turn in the "Glossed" draft along with the previous draft for teachers to review. The teacher can quickly browse the original draft, and then refer to the glossed draft to see the specific highlighted changes. A double check of the students margined explanation provides further evidence of the students understanding of the revision. It is not necessary to read the entire piece of writing, but rather, teachers can focus attention directly to the glossed portions of the piece.


    I have discovered these truths when using the process with consistency and fidelity:

    • Students learn and apply the "language of writing" which leads to metacognitive reflection and articulation. Making revisions and explaining the nature of those revisions and how they fit into the bigger picture of piece of writing creates a life-long-learning skill that is transferable to all content areas.
    • Combined with careful planning, conferencing, and instructional support, an instructor's paper load and reading time can be greatly reduced and streamlined. Remember, you do not have to read everything.
    • A "living" record of the writing process is preserved, and students have a concrete document that illustrates their own personal learning process. Students take possession of their learning and develop their own formative assessment skills.

      Of course, Glossing is not the end-all be-all of revision techniques, but it is a great tool for the teacher who uses conferencing in conjunction with other formative assessment techniques. As a regular part of coaching and instruction, glossing can save you time and engage students in taking an active part in the writing and revising process. Ok, so the technology utilized is not really "innovative", but it is practical and accessible. So, give it a whirl and have students get their gloss on!

      For Deeper Exploration on Glossing

      A lesson plan for Glossing from Learn NC

      The Glossing Process as a Practical Approach to Grammar Instruction

      A Different Take on Glossing

      Bob Alexander is a Consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) in Harrisburg, Pa. Bob has also worked with the North Carolina Department of Public, and he has twenty years experience as a high school English Teacher. In addition, Bob is a member of the Paideia National Faculty.

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