Writing a story, a book or a poem might not be a physical feat, but it is certainly a mental accomplishment worthy of medals and trophies. Finishing a story, polishing it up to be read and shared is much like what we do to prepare for church, for a date, for school pictures. Who would ever think of having a school picture taken with messy hair and a smudge of playground grass on your cheek? Ok, I just described my fifth grade picture…but that was a mistake I still regret!
Parents and teachers feel frustration when kids turn in writing assignments that have not been edited or revised. While it’s a valid excuse for frustration, what do kids really know about the difference between writing, editing and revising?
Editing is the grueling task of fixing spelling errors, comma splices or a lack of a comma, adding possessive apostrophes…you get the idea. Editing does not come naturally. The knowledge must be learned and practiced.
Revising is studying the flow of a paper. Do the paragraphs begin with a good introduction sentence? Are they followed by supporting sentences? Does the paper veer away from the intended purpose?
The best way for students to learn to edit is to read their work aloud. For me, that step alone helps me catch more than 50% of my editing errors. Reading aloud works for revising, too. First, for a student to recognize a good flow of a five paragraph essay, they need good examples and poor examples – none of which should be fellow student’s work. The pressure is too great to be a good writer and the horror too lasting if a student’s paper is selected as being the ‘bad’ example.
If you are a teacher or a homeschooling parent, teach writing in small and consistent chunks. Share samples of good writing. Choose a topic and help students to create one outline. Assign each student to write their own five-paragraph essay from that outline. The most important piece is to grade these writing assignments using only three or four specific areas. For example, all students should know when to use a capital letter, end punctuation and how to indent a new paragraph. Once those three areas have been mastered, move on to three new areas.
This idea is not mine, but something I learned years ago at a writing conference. The areas are called “Focus Correction Areas” or FCA’s, which should be written at the top of the paper to remind each student in which areas the teacher will be grading. There is a great example of this at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/23426069/Five-Types-of-Writing-and-Focus-Correction-Areas-(FCAs) .
As a writer, a task I do for several hours each day, I still make mistakes. How can we expect students to hand in well-edited papers? (In the professional world, we have editors for that!) Allow them time to “professionally” edit each other’s work and keep the possibility of earning a good grade an achievable reality. Don’t hand out those gold medals for writing to every student who hands in a half-effort. Allow the students to earn that prize by keeping the focus on the progress, not the final result of each paper.
Put on your Sunday best for your writing. It will pay off, I promise!