Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six Traits
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Conventions
Lecture: Editing Every Day

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If we are going to teach editing every day we need to establish simple routines. Many teachers use a daily oral language approach. Let's make it a daily editing experience approach and stop correcting for our students!

  • Early on, introduce the basic proofreading symbols
  • Provide direct instruction one issue at a time
  • Start each class with a brief sponge or transitional activity.
  • Periodically assemble a list of Editing Essentials to tally the collective skills of the group
  • Throughout the year, take portfolio samples that document student progress

Anonymous Samples

Another way to practice editing skills is to provide a variety of anonymous sample paragraphs in need of specific corrections. Take these paragraphs from student papers, pull them from reference texts, or invent them for a specific lesson on a problem area. Homonym errors, dialog punctuation, possessive apostrophe usage, and spelling are specifics that can be used. During these daily editing sessions use a professional proofreader's trick: focus on a single specific issue. If you try to edit for capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar all at once you may 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.

It is important that students first practice editing with anonymous examples. It is far easier to work on samples than to edit your own work. When it does come time for your students to edit their important pieces, be sure you have given the writing time to cool. Waiting about three days before you edit allows a writer to see the work with new eyes and spot errors they were previously unable to see.

Parent Expectations

Of course parents expect red ink. You will be pressured to teach the good old-fashioned way. Still, the good old-fashioned way (correcting) just isn't effective. 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, not correct.

Reality Check

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

Writing is too often judged by Conventions alone. Do good manners insure fine character? Do polished chrome and a fine paint job create a competitive racecar? By balancing Conventions with 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 even your weakest students with some independent editing skills. You've done the job!

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."
~ Thomas Carruthers, American Author

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