I have noticed that students often hate the revision phase. In the design thinking cycle, they go from research to ideation and building a prototype. It seems cool. They’re excited about what they made. But then when we switch to testing and revising, they get frustrated. The same is true of revising a persuasive blog post or fixing a broken math problem or going back in to a video and changing things up in the editing phase.
Part of this comes from fear. They don’t want the prototype to fail. No one does. No authors says, “Man, I hope this piece I worked ends up being scrapped completely from the book.” No coder says, “I really hope this string of code ends up failing to work.” For all the talk of “embracing failure,” the truth is that failing isn’t fun. It’s infuriating. At times, it feels devastating. Students are no different. They don’t want to feel like they wasted their time. So, there’s this intense fear with any creative work that you truly put your heart into, where you don’t want it to fail.
Other times it’s less about fear and more about the boredom that often accompanies the small tweaking of revision. In some cases, even with a product that students love, students will be tempted to ask, “Isn’t this good enough?” There’s a certain project fatigue that sets in when you’ve had to fix so many things and then you run into another round of revisions.
I don’t blame students for hating the revision process. I have so many times when I don’t want to revise. I don’t want to test what I did to see if it’ll work. I don’t want to face the fear that I wasted hours or days or months on a project. I also empathize with the boredom. I hate staring at a page of code knowing that a misplaced semicolon might be screwing the whole thing up.
What Teachers Can Do About It
There are certain things teachers can do to keep the testing and revision stage interesting:
- Change up the grouping so that a fresh set of eyes comes in to add some perspective in the testing phase. I love the writer’s workshop model for that reason. But I wonder if that should be happening more in a math or science class, too.
- Help students become better critics. What if we had a sort-of peer review process that went deeper than “two things I like and one thing to change?” This takes time, but it’s why ultimately creativity requires thoughtful consuming.
- Switch to a standards-based, mastery-based grading system so that students aren’t worried about what grade they will get if their first prototype isn’t very good. If students are graded throughout the project with an average applied to each piece, they will grow naturally risk-averse.
- Emphasize that all great products went through many iterations before they worked well. Share your stories of testing and revising. Talk openly about any struggles you might have had with perfectionism.
- Break up the revision so that students test a particular part of their prototype and revise it before moving on to another area of testing and revision. Sometimes a big testing phase (here’s everything wrong with your video) can feel overwhelming.
- Create the right atmosphere for revision. Often deep revision requires a thoughtful intensity borne out of silence. This can be tricky in the chaos of a maker project. I’ve found that it helps to provide quiet spaces for revision — even if that spaces is down the hallway. Ideally, we would have more spaces of quiet throughout school.
- Devote more time to revision. Part of why so many students struggle with the revision phase is that the deadlines are too tight or all revisions are expected to be done at home.
- Utilize student conferencing. In the past, I used two types of conferencing. The first was consulting (where I would provide advice when they were stuck) and the second was coaching (where I led students through self-reflection).
- Be open about the emotional roller coaster of the revision process. It helps when teachers are makers and can share the frustrations of making mistakes and having to revise.
It’s never going to be entirely easy. Revision will always have an element of fear and boredom built into it. However, over time it can become a normal, natural part of the design process.