But as with many other challenges related to teaching writing, much of the problem arises from students' unfamiliarity with the stages of the writing process, in this case, not knowing what it means to substantively revise. Tom Deans offers an interesting diagnosis of how we instructors can inadvertently contribute to this problem by tacitly collaborating with students so that the process of revision turns out to be a process of correction:
Conflating revision with correction is quite natural: Students submit (usually flawed) drafts; faculty prescribe how to fix them; and students fix the flaws. Such a process, as anyone who has worked with a skilled editor knows, may not always be fun but it leads to a better final product.
The problem is that the ultimate aims of editing and teaching are different: editors want better writing; teachers may want that too, but they ultimately want better writers.
Certainly students can learn a great deal by following the lead of a good editor, but when teachers slip into editor mode, students in turn focus on delivering what the teacher/editor wants more than on either learning or inquiry. Consider the extreme version (but I've seen it happen): a student submits a draft electronically; a dedicated teacher makes extensive, time-consuming edits in Track Changes; and the student scans the first few edits and then hits the "Accept All" button. Revision done.
Deans points out that when we get into the "I'll tell you what's wrong and you fix it" mode, students turn in better writing but they don't become better writers. Ultimately, they don't learn how to critically engage their own work and become dependent on other people for their editorial judgment and their own writing voice.
Deans reminds us that we can avoid the "I'll tell you what's wrong and you fix it" mode by ensuring that the feedback we give "challenges writers with options and sparks further conversation." All well and good, I say, but there's a nearly genetic resistance to serious revision among my students. And it's especially frustrating when students won't revise in simple ways that nevertheless lead to dramatic improvements in argumentative cogency.
A common example: I receive a lot of student papers that I call "rabbit from the hat" papers. These are papers in which it's clear that the student is knowledgeable about the topic, but because the student hadn't settled on a thesis beforehand, wrote the paper as a report of their own thinking about the topic. As a result, the thesis emerges at the end of the paper, but is basically buried in the last few sentences. It is possible to write a successful philosophy paper this way, but it takes enormous rhetorical skill to keep the reader interested until the end. The more common result is that the reader loses patience trying to figure out what the paper's arguments are leading up to. The discouraging part is that this is an extraordinarily easy problem to correct: Put the rabbit up front by stating the thesis in the first 100 words or so of the paper, so that the subsequent argumentation is oriented around the thesis. Yet many students won't do this even after I explicitly suggest it to them!
In any event, I'd be curious to know what experiences others have with students' revising (or not revising) their work and what they've found to be effective in instilling in them the habit of revising — and not just correcting.