August 30, 2014

Tired of Being a Red Ink Slave to Corrections?

Editing, Not Correcting

How do you respond to the statement: Correcting isn't teaching!


Think about it: all correcting does is make you a better proofreader. Students more often than not ignore your hard work. You as a teacher feel obligated to take out the red pen, while in your heart you know this just isn't working. Don't you see the same errors over and over again? How many times can you check, highlight, underline and explain in the margins that a lot is two words? What else can you do? Isn't every English teacher obliged to correct the work of their students? Isn't that the expectation of parents and administration?

What if you shift the burden of correcting to the student where it belongs? You can do this by integrating editing skills into the writing process from day one. If you establish simple routines by editing every day you can chip a way at the persistent problems without bleeding red ink after school and every weekend.

Many teachers use a daily oral language approach. Let's make it a daily integrated editing exploration approach and stop correcting for our students!
  • Encourage students to re-read their work at every stage of the writing process.
  • Be sure students read their own work aloud.
  • Introduce and use the basic proofreading symbols
  • Start each class with a brief editing sponge or transitional activity.
  • Periodically assemble a list of Editing Essentials to tally the collective skills of the group
  • Collect and organize mentor sentences for modeling usage and grammar concepts
  • Throughout the year, have your students choose e-portfolio samples that document student progress

Edit Anonymous Authentic Samples

Practice editing skills with a variety of anonymous sample sentences or paragraphs in need of specific corrections. Toss the work sheets and find samples from the real world.
  • Use student papers that display the most persistent problems.
  • Find samples in online student publications like KMSoul .
  • Use the NWREL 6-Traits database of student work.
Better yet, use the Notable Sentences Blog a treasure chest of well organized examples. Self proclaimed "sentence stalker" Loren Wolter maintains this remarkable resource. Her blog is a collaboratively build collection of sample sentences organized to address editing essentials like grammar, syntax, figurative language and many other aspects of writing. These model sentences provide powerful teaching examples and pave the way for meaningful, traits inspired, writing process oriented grammar explorations.


Remember: It is far easier to work on a sample than to edit your own work. Provide process practice before you move to self-editing.

Fresh Eyes = Edit Better

When it does come time for your students to edit their important pieces, be sure the writing has time to cool.
  • Waiting a few days allows a writer to edit with fresh eyes.
  • Try reading the text backwards to discover invisible errors like repeated articles.
  • Zoom word processed text or switch to a larger font to see the words in a different way.

Focus on One Type of Error at a Time

Here's a professional proofreader's trick: focus on a single specific issue to keep things manageable. If you try to edit for capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar at the same time you overwhelm your weaker editors, causing them to shut down. For younger students, this may mean starting with just end punctuation or capitalization. For older students, the focus may be the rules of dialog or the use of quotation marks.

Integrate Editing into the Writing Process

Students who can revise and edit their own work are on the way to becoming independent writers. Editing helps writers understand their own voice. I'm not advocating a close spell check and punctuation drill early in the process. Too much focus on correctness can stunt fluency. Instead encourage re-reading and reading aloud as part of the writing/editing process. This habit will provide opportunities for students to experiment with usage as they go.

Model by Thinking Out Loud

Often we expect students to 'hear' or 'see' grammatical problems by applying a mental filter based on their previous exposure to language. Not all students have this filter. This is especially true for English language learners or students with learning disabilities. This is why it is so important to model the editing process using the think aloud method.

Put up an sample of your own weak first draft writing on an overhead projector or computer screen. Talk your way through a quick editing process. Broadcast your inner monologue as you tear into the typical problems you want to address. Modeling your own process shows students how important writing is to you and creates a safer learning atmosphere.

Where Will I Find the Time?

If you find yourself saying, I don't have time for one more thing in my curriculum, you'll love Jeff Anderson's insightful article Express Lane Editing Techniques. His field tested methods for modeling editing and re-reading throughout the writing process are practical and effective. Anderson suggests we approach grammar as.."something to be explored, not just corrected".

Anderson is also the author of the books: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. His books provide a road map for integrating powerful editing practices into the writing process. This isn't dry academic writing. Anderson comes from the classroom and has a voice and outlook are seasoned by the realities we all face everyday.
I started thinking of how we taught editing at our school. It looked like a series of half-baked attempts to solve a problem that we were not sure how to fix. If I asked my sixth-grade class to correct a sentence riddled with errors, did that show them editing is a powerful tool? When I looked at their faces, I had to admit the answer was a re-sounding, "No!"

Set Parent Expectations

Parents expect red ink. You will be pressured to teach the good old-fashioned way. Still, the good old-fashioned way (correcting) just doesn't work. A thoughtful letter home at the beginning of the year is a good idea. Explain your editing approach. Help parents understand that you value independent correctness. Be consistent and proactive. Periodically, send an editing paragraph home and ask parents to work together with their children on the edit. Consider inviting parents who are strong editors to work in your classroom, and train them to teach editing.

Reality Check on Editing

Finally, accept the fact that not everyone will be a strong editor. A writer with a talent for unique ideas and a powerful voice may be very weak in the conventions of writing. Consider Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows. Rawls was so ashamed of his spelling, punctuation, and grammar that he burned all his manuscripts and almost gave up writing. Yet who can deny the lyrical genius of his prose?

Writing is too often judged by correctness alone. Do good manners insure fine character? Does polished chrome and a fine paint job create a competitive race car? By balancing conventions (correctness) with the other traits of wiring; ideas, voice, organization, word choice, and sentence fluency, you help students find their strengths, while working on their weaknesses.
In the end, by teaching instead of correcting, you arm all of your students with some independent editing skills. You help them on the road to becoming independent writer.
You've done the job. Relax, take the weekend off!

Additional Editing Resources:

Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six Traits (UW-Stout Online Class)
Conventions Homepage (WritingFix)
6-Traits Resources Blog: Jeff Anderson The Write Guy (a guided tour of Anderson's online resources.)
Loren Wolter Notable Sentences...For Imitation and Creation

Resources from Jeff Anderson:

The Write Guy (Jeff Anderson's Website)
Mechanically Inclined (Google Book Preview)
Mechanically Inclined Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop
Making editing useful for young Adolescents
Grammar intertwined throughout the writing process: An "inch wide and a mile deep"
Zooming In and Zooming Out:Putting Grammar in Context into Context (PDF)

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