Effective Editing In The Writing Classroom

We know inexperienced writers make errors. We also know experienced writers make mistakes. Learning cannot take place without some level of error occurring. The challenge is, how do we equip our student writers to identify errors so they can effect the changes necessary to improve the quality of their writing pieces?

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 see 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 the writing they share, work for the reader. They begin to respect their readers and understand their needs. This awareness of audience is a vital consideration.

The pen that makes the corrections must be in the hand of the writer, not the teacher. When the teacher assumes the total responsibility for correcting errors related to spelling, punctuation or grammar, they effectively entrench student dependency. The student comes to rely on the teacher to make the necessary adjustment in order for the writing piece to be viewed as ready to be shared. 

So I am advocating editing strategies that are 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!

I feel the need to be an advocate for all those young writers out there. I still remember being one myself and the dis-empowering feeling of having my writing ravaged by the red pen people. Those written remarks were usually the only feedback we received for our efforts.

When teachers inform me students are careless editors, I begin to wonder about the way it is being presented.  

Establishing clear guidelines and procedures will assist student writers to become more effective proof readers and editors.

•Create an expectation that student writers will take responsibility for the initial editing efforts.

•Teach them how to undertake this task. Help them to see what to look for. Show them how you edit.

•Evaluate their needs based on their edited work. What are they noticing? What are they overlooking? Focus on that.

Any editing conference you have with a student should be used to selectively teach a targeted skill, rather than overwhelming the writer by conducting ‘a major overhaul’ of the piece.

If we as teachers are confused about these processes then it will hamper the level of revision that occurs. If students just ‘fix up’ the surface features of the writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) they are not revising the piece, they are editing. Revision requires the writer to re-vision the writing. This means revisiting the content and working to improve the way the piece is written. The writing is re-crafted, not just fixed up. Sometimes this may involve surgery, cutting and pasting chunks of text. Young writers need to be shown how to do this too. Telling them to do this important work without showing them how it actually works is essentially a waste of time.

Be aware that checklists alone will not teach editing. They are there to guide students to read their writing in ways that draw attention to particular aspects of language conventions. If you provide students with a checklist, it is imperative to show them how to use it. Guide them through each item on the list and how to apply it to their own writing.

Suggest to students that they use a different coloured pen to undertake their edits. This enables you, the teacher to more clearly observe what the writer is attending to and what is being overlooked. It also lets the writer know that they are effecting change with respect to the quality of the writing.

Is This Editing or Revision?

Aim to include skills that are developmentally appropriate for your student writers.

Some Skills You Might Include on an Editing Checklist

Have I used capital letters for names of people and places?
Did I end each of my sentence with the proper punctuation?
Am I using commas to separate item in a list?
Have I circled/underlined words that don’t look quite right?
Have I found correct spellings for words that are incorrect?
Have I used quotation marks to show when people speak?
Have I given my writing piece a good title?
Have I got rid of any unnecessary words?
Have I chosen strong verbs?
Have I used contractions to bring more real voice to my writing?
Have I varied the length of my sentences?
Have I used paragraphs to separate different thoughts and ideas?
Have I got proper tense agreement?
Have I used precise language? Specific terms not general 


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