Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Your Marks

As an 8th grade writing teacher, my ultimate goal is to create independent writers by March.   First quarter focuses on narratives, ideas, written expression and apostrophe usage.   I feel like if I can get 8th graders to see writing as a craft by revising for specific nouns and strong verbs, there's a big payoff.   Craft.   That's what I'm talking about.  

I've written before about how I incorporate highlighters into writing instruction, but I'll mention it again because I think color-coding is one of the best approaches students use during editing and revising.   In short, we use pink to pause and green to go.   Pink means something's amiss; green means that something's sweet.   The more tools we can give our writers, the more independent they become.   And the more independent they become, the less you have to correct.   (Highlighters, colored pens, colored pencils---anything similar will work.)

Which brings me to the issue of marking up students' final drafts...   Use red, if you want to.   There's no harm in that.   You can also use highlighters to mark up a final draft. Highlighting something in pink...not just putting an editor's mark...puts the responsibility on the writer to determine the type of error.   We do need to consider the writing instruction given by that point in the year.   For example, I'm not going to write rants about usage and mechanics on children's papers in September.   That's counterproductive.  

I realize that students don't really have much of a choice when it comes to deciding if we are the type of people they'd like to share their thoughts, hopes, dreams, feelings and stories with, but we should be the type of readers that can offer both critique and praise.   If we shut our writers down early, how can we expect them to approach each of our lessons with a sense of optimism?   How can we encourage them to take stylistic risks or dig into some of their darkest corners for honest storytelling?

Okay.   I know that sounds a bit deep for third grade students, but I think you understand what I mean.

I would caution teachers against creating a penalty system to grade papers in which a product can fail on minutia.   The best example is spelling.   You will have some wonderful thinkers who have a diagnosed or undiagnosed processing hurdle when it comes to spelling.   What if their essays are perfect in every way, but their spelling is not?   Using a rubric will help avoid failing a child on one isolated skill.  And I don't get a kick out of marking up finals with negative comments at all.   My preference is that the skilled child writer will find all of his/ her errors before I do.

Am I saying to take it easy on your writers?   Nope.   Just give them challenges in which they have the real possibility of success.   Don't get caught up in carrying on about which skills they should have mastered in earlier grades.   It doesn't matter.   That's for your administration to ponder.   Teach the students in front of you what you want them to know now.  

Also, if you are a true crafter of language, you can identify something successful in just about any paper.   Voice, written expression, word choice, imagery, sequencing, believable dialogue, ideas, sentence fluency...you can find it.  

If you are still thinking that you need help on giving constructive feedback, here are 100 trait-specific comments!

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