SOL2015 March 20 That's Not Correct


A conversation with a group of teachers yesterday about correcting errors in writing has had me thinking today. We know inexperienced writers make errors. We also know experienced writers make mistakes. Learning cannot take place without some level of error. One of the greatest issues a developing writer can face is to be inhibited from responding, for fear of being wrong.


When a young writer tackles an unfamiliar word in their writing and spells it correctly they confirm their existing beliefs concerning that word. If they happen to get it ‘wrong’ then they learn something just as important. They learn that they must modify their belief about that word. The writer learns by testing their existing belief. This is the kind of healthy risk taking we must encourage in our classrooms. Writers should not be afraid to tackle new words.

I recall with glowing pride as a Grade 1 writer tackled the word aquarium in her writing, because ‘fish tank’ just wouldn’t do. We celebrated the risk taking with much ceremony during the share time that day. The next lesson saw many more risk takers emerge in that writing community. I further recall reading Frank Smith’s ‘Essays Into Literacy,’ many years ago, where Smith wrote, ‘Children do not learn from being corrected but from wanting to do things the right way.’ Children do not become better writers by writing less, and this is the possible negative outcome from an over emphasis on correction.

Correction is beneficial when students sees the need for it. When they have an authentic purpose for the writing they are doing, they engage in the process with purpose and a desire to make it work for the reader. The pen that makes the correction must be in the hand of the writer, not the teacher. Correction needs to be about ownership rather than imposition. Most of the effort  expended by teachers playing the part of the correction police is largely a waste of time. It overwhelms the learner and openly discourages effort in the mind of the hapless victim. Imagine how we, as adults would feel if someone took hold of our notebooks and started correcting them for spelling and grammar?


Jeff Anderson’s idea of issuing students with’ an invitation to explore’ exemplars of good writing  has always struck me as a wonderful way to deal with many of the issues that young writers deal with as they grapple with making their writing ‘reader friendly.’  

By consistently sharing models of great writing we have the opportunity to highlight the conventional wisdom regarding spelling, grammar and sentence construction. Armed with this information the young writer is then invited to conduct a discrepancy analysis and make the appropriate changes. Again, more power to the writer…

Do we want students to be able to identify errors and make corrections, or do we want them to use the power of punctuation to create messages that resonate with clarity and beauty? Actually, we want both!

Last Friday I felt a little frivolous. Today I feel the need to be an advocate for all those young writers out there. I still remember being one myself and the disempowering feeling of having my writing ravaged by the red pen people.  Those written remarks  were usually the only feedback we received for our efforts.


Comments

  1. I am so glad I read this before I delved into the pile of papers in my bag, ready to make corrections. It's report card time and I need to make decisions about student writing- are they on grade level when it comes to writing? What does a third grade "on level" piece of writing look like? Are they using capitalization consistently? Punctuation? Are they applying spelling strategies? How do I communicate all this in a way that doesn't discourage them from writing but also acknowledges the work we have to do? I completely agree with you about purpose and audience motivating the writer to make his/her piece the best it can be. But what if the student still isn't really motivated to put time and care into the writing? What to do with the lackluster pieces that are missing clarity and care? How can I give meaningful, positive feedback that doesn't ignore the areas where students still need to learn?

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    1. So many great questions Kathleen. I guess it's about the quality of the feedback we provide -written and verbal and how it must be designed to assist the writer to improve- move forward, develop. We also want them to gradually assume more responsibility for the writing. When a student lacks motivation, we must ask why? Invariably, it is a lack of self belief or confidence. I am continually reinforcing and celebrating effort. The research suggests if our feedback focuses on this area we are more likely to get traction. So rather than being rebuffed by those students who are seeming to be resistant, I reach them by focusing a lot of my verbal feedback on student's who demonstrate 'stickability.' it tends to subtly evoke a change in those less confident writers. They think, well maybe I can also buy into this.It overcomes passive resistance.

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  2. This is a very important post. It's so tough in our CCS world to send papers home or to publish unless it's nearly perfect as that seems to be what is expected. Yet, the result is students writing serviceable passages and teachers marking up the best they can.

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    1. Anita, it's sad that student writing is serviceable rather than inspired. We have much work to do it seems, in teaching parents and administrators about the developmental nature of writing. These practices act as a stricture to writing development.

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  3. This is the message we need teachers to understand. Too many were taught with the red ink bleeding on their papers, so they think that is what a writing teacher does. I will print this out to share with my teachers and have that discussion as we look at student work. BTW, I have read that chapter from your book to groups of teachers. Love it!

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    1. Elsie, you are so right. It's called the primacy effect. So many of us tend to initially teach the way we were taught. We repeat this awful action. An action that does little to develop the writer. So glad my book has been of service to you. Red pen people beware! We're onto you!

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  4. Great points on the tyranny of the red pen. To give the student the power to learn and make corrections.
    "The pen that makes the correction must be in the hand of the writer, not the teacher. Correction needs to be about ownership rather than imposition."
    Well said.

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    1. Thanks Pamela. I tend to be a bit of a zealot on this one, but I sincerely believe over emphasis on correction hampers writing confidence, risk taking and ultimately it hinders development,

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