I am a HUGE fan of Ralph Fletcher and agree with him and what he writes constantly. I profess his wisdom to colleagues, students, and parents constantly. I have heard that Ralph believes that revision is the most important stage of the writing process. And as painful as it is, and as conflicted as I feel in doing this, I must disagree with Ralph (I can't believe I just wrote those words!).
I believe that selecting is the most important stage of the writing process. Selection is where students choose an incredibly powerful and meaningful memory and create a thoughtful and honest memoir. It's where students select the naked mole rat to develop a feature article that teaches readers all about this disgusting-looking yet fascinating, little rodent. It's the time when students pick to argue the case for or against longer school days in a persuasive letter to the board of education. Selection is where an idea is chosen carefully and thoughtfully that will take flight and evolve into something incredible or...where an idea is chosen quickly and frivolously causing angst for both student and teacher for weeks to come as they both struggle though the rest of the writing process.
Care, thought, and time should be taken when selecting an idea for a piece of writing. I believe asking students to think "small", at first, is the way to help them focus their idea and then grow it, as they move through drafting, revision, and editing.
A fourth grade teacher from a school in which I consult invited me to demonstrate a drafting minilesson in her room a few weeks back. To gain some insight, I asked her to send me a list of the students'' ideas. This is the list she sent.