Entries Tagged 'Editing & Revising' ↓

The trick to finding the balance

Writing includes three main elements: content, style, and mechanics. The content, of course, is the heart of the composition—the story, main message, or thesis. Style is the way the writer communicates the content through word choice, sentence variation, etc. Mechanics includes all those tricky little rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling that govern how the words actually appear on paper.

Mechanical Errors Make the Most Noise

When it comes to giving our children feedback on their papers, many of us are in a muddle. Sometimes the “noise” of a zillion grammatical errors drowns out the content as we zoom in on each misspelled word and sentence fragment. But is that the place to start? What should be our focus? You’ve probably asked yourself these very questions:

  • Isn’t mechanics an important part of writing?
  • Should I allow inventive spelling, or insist that every word is spelled properly?
  • Should I focus on the main content, or should I address grammar and punctuation errors too?
  • How do I help my kids fine-tune their writing if I don’t point out all the mistakes?

It’s Like Walking a Tightrope

Just as we can correctly—or incorrectly—judge a person’s character based on outward appearance, it’s easy to judge a piece of writing by the mechanical errors we see. We don’t mean for them to interfere with our enjoyment of the content, but typically, they do.

The whole editing thing is like walking a tightrope, isn’t it? We don’t want to discourage our children from spilling their ideas onto paper, for the freedom of doing so sparks in them a love for writing. But for fear of dousing that fire, some of us sway too far to the left and never utter a word about grammar or spelling.

And tipping too far to the right are the parents who are so caught up in the glare of dangling participles and grave misspellings that we run amok with our red pens—and completely miss the heart of the child’s writing.

We really can address content, style, and mechanics without throwing our tenderhearted kiddos to the lions. The trick to finding the balance is remaining as objective as possible and cushioning our suggestions with praise.

For the rough draft, focus mainly on content. Do ideas make sense? Do they flow well? Is there enough information and/or detail? Then, once the story or essay or paragraph is organized and more rounded out, we can deal with any grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues that remain.

Photo: Joar E.M. Klette. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What you really want to say

     “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” 

Mark Twain

Stumbling block #8 – Parental criticism

Stumbling Block #8: Fear of Parent Criticism

When it comes to chores, character training, and schoolwork, you can’t always be the nice guy, the friend. Nope. You’ve got to be the parent, which means it falls to you to judge and evaluate your kids’ work. But if you don’t evaluate with wisdom and purpose, you can unwittingly set them up for today’s Stumbling Block to Writing.

Stumbling Block #8

Problem: Students feel criticized when parents evaluate their writing.

Solution: Use editing and grading tools that encourage objectivity and consistency.

Worry about criticism from Mom or Dad is a huge issue for your child. She doesn’t want disapproval; yet if her paper isn’t perfect, she fears facing judgment. Since kids often see their writing as an extension of themselves, they feel personally affronted when they see marks on their formerly unspoiled pages. Their feelings can be summed up like this:

If you criticize my writing, you criticize me.

Well, clearly, in spite of your child’s hypersensitivities, you still have to evaluate, edit, and grade. So what’s the solution?

Be Objective and Consistent

Nothing makes the editing and grading chore easier and more pleasant than objective tools that equip you for the task. An equipped parent is a confident parent! Your student can sense your confidence. She knows you’ll be consistent, and she won’t worry that you’ll be capricious or unpredictable with your remarks and suggestions. This kind of objectivity and consistency builds a lot of trust.

It’s as simple as using a good editing checklist that pinpoints particular things you can watch for in each paper. Now your student can see that your comments are not based on whim or mood, but on specific lesson expectations she accomplished—or failed to meet.

As you review your student’s writing project, this impartial checklist will allow you to comment on the work in a way that helps her feel less criticized. Ultimately, when editing and grading become consistent and purposeful rather than arbitrary or illogical, you’ll see a big change in her attitude—and yours!

For specific ideas, check out editing tips for the faint of heart.

Give Plenty of Praise

Dish out generous servings of praise and positive comments along with your helpful suggestions. Show your student that you notice her efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage improved writing without bruising her sensitive spirit. And when you give a final grade, laud her with sincere praise. Show that you notice things she did well and correctly. Remember: if you use an objective grading rubric, you’ll know what these things are!

Watch for the next article in our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series: Stumbling Block #9 – What’s the Point? 

Share a comment: Is parental criticism a stumbling block for your children? What objections do you face when you edit or grade their writing assignments? 

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles. There’s still time to comment on any previous post!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Are you looking for a writing curriculum that provides you with specific editing and grading rubrics? If so, you’ll appreciate WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th graders and WriteShop II for 8th – 11th graders. Lesson-specific checklists build confidence by ensuring that you only hold students responsible for the writing skills they’ve learned. 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Writing tip: Wise feedback makes a difference

Correct and grade wisely. An arbitrary grade based on feelings (”This feels like a B-”) won’t help your student become a better writer.

Tip 4: Offer helpful and consistent feedback.

  1. Woman smilingUse objective checklists to help you pinpoint specific areas to improve.
  2. Value your child’s efforts. If you stick her paper in a pile and never respond to it, she won’t bother doing her best because she assumes you don’t care.
  3. Your kids want to please you, so praise the things they do well! An approving tone and encouraging words can go a long way toward soothing the sting of a critical comment.

Though we’re not all strong or confident writers, we can’t let that keep us from investing in our children’s writing. Remember: Writing doesn’t teach itself. Our kids need us. Really! And today, more than ever, there are tools at our fingertips to help each of us teach successfully.

(All of the WriteShop products offer tips and checklists to help you edit and grade your students’ work more objectively.)

Also see Writing Tip 1: Set Boundaries, Writing Tip 2: Process vs. Product, Writing Tip 3: Write Often

Put some fun into editing!

Humphrey the blogging catI know a cat that blogs. Really.

His name is Humphrey, and he belongs to our dear friend, Nancy Sanders. Nancy, who also happens to be the author of our new WriteShop Primary series, invited Humphrey to be a guest writer on her blog yesterday, where he offers his own tips for making editing fun.

But don’t take it from me! Here’s “The Humph” himself to share some of his fabulous secrets!

    Hi. My name is Humphrey. I’m a cat. You may already know that. But what you may not know is that I’m also a writer. And today, now that you’re writing your [composition], I want to tell you about putting on your editor’s hat.
    Do you like to edit your own [writing]? You know—self edit? Come on…really?
    I don’t.
    I mean, it’s just not the cat’s meow.
    But I know I should. I know I’m supposed to. I know it’s what a cat’s gotta do to learn how to be a successful writer. So I decided to break my habit of neglecting this part of my writing life.
    The first thing I did was get myself an editor’s hat. You know—first you wear the writer’s hat and then you take that off and put on your editor’s hat? Right? Well, I didn’t have an editor’s hat. So I went out and got one. Like it? It even has a little mouse at the top and this twirly thing to twirl around. It’s purrfect for a cat like me. You should get one, too!
    After I finish my first draft of my manuscript, I set aside some time to edit. And now I make sure it isn’t the drudgery it used to be. I make sure it’s fun!
    I put on my silly editor’s beanie. It gets me in the mood to have fun, dude. Then I get out my special . . .

Humphrey may be joking about wearing a special hat. Or…not! Nancy shared with me that she’s in the process of making her own editing hat. She’s going to stick velcro all over a floppy cotton beach hat and attach items related to the story she’s writing. Cute idea!

How about a baseball cap with the word “Editor” across the front? Or maybe a favorite beanie? But editing hat or no, once your kids adopt a few of Humphrey’s clever tips, I think they’ll actually begin to discover the JOY of editing.

And if you’re using WriteShop this year, your older kids will be able to apply these ideas while using their Writing Skills Checklists. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

The key to teaching self-editing

Lazy feetI’m sure it’s no secret that your kids don’t like to edit their compositions. Unfortunately, by not editing their own papers thoroughly, they place themselves in a “Catch-22″ position; that is, though too lazy to edit their own work carefully, they fall apart when they see all the changes you suggest! Sound familiar?

This is how they think:

I don’t like editing. It takes too much time. Besides, I like my paper just the way it is. It sounds good to me. Anyway, if I don’t proofread, Mom will find my mistakes. Why go to all that time and trouble to find mistakes and (perish the thought!) correct them when someone else will do it for me?

However, when their parent-edited composition comes back, they sing a different tune!

You’re always so critical! I can’t do anything right. My paper is too marked up. I thought my composition was fine. I didn’t see all that stuff when I read it!

Granted, not all students think this way. However, in our experience over our many years of teaching writing to nearly 200 students, we have learned that many, if not most, do become lazy as time goes on, self-editing less and relying on our comments and suggestions more.

Here’s how we began to think!

What’s with all the ‘to be’ verbs? She used six but only circled two. And she marked her checklist saying she didn’t use more than two. Hmm.

Wow! Look at all the weak words–very, really, had (twice), went (three times), and a lot. That’s odd–he marked off the box on his checklist saying he avoided weak words. I wonder why he didn’t underline them on his rough draft?

There’s no sentence beginning with a present participle, and I can’t find her simile. But she checked the box saying she used all required sentence variations.

Once upon a time, we used to find these errors for our students and suggest ways to fix them–and then we got smart! We began to realize that we were doing them no favor by spending an hour poring over each paragraph rather than requiring them to make greater editing efforts themselves.

Here’s the bottom line: put the responsibility back on your students to do their part in this learning process! When they turn in their self-edited draft to you, give it a cursory glance. If you find too many problems showing evidence of poor self-editing, return it for additional proofreading before editing it yourself.

Specifically, look for overused “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been), repeated or weak words, failure to use all required sentence variations, too many spelling errors, and failure to follow the assignment’s directions for content. If you find that even one of these areas has been neglected, send it back! You will teach students to improve their own editing abilities, and you will save yourself a great deal of time as a bonus!

Copyright 2008 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

From the archives.

Ways to make grading writing less subjective

Teaching writing is less subjective than you think! Knowing what to look for and having clear expectations can reduce anxiety.

To most parents, the process of editing and evaluating your teen’s compositions does seem like an overwhelming, subjective effort. It’s usually pretty easy to spot spelling and grammar mistakes and other problems with mechanics. But grading for content and style is another thing altogether!

Have you ever said anything like this?

  • I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong.
  • I’d say this essay feels like a B+.
  • I love the story, but I don’t exactly know why. It just…sounds good.
  • I hate grading. I’m always afraid I’ll either be too easy or too hard on my child.
  • I never know what I’m supposed to be looking for.

Christy’s Story

I have a junior high boy who hated writing because he (and I) felt it was so subjective. WriteShop . . . breaks it into objective little pieces with skills to practice, examples for visual learning, and student checklists so a reluctant writer has a clear path to follow. It takes the guesswork out!

For the parent, there [are] Teacher Writing Checklists to make specific, encouraging comments to help the student revise his work. The best part is the objective scoring of each component.

My son went from being a C writer to an A writer in just one year! I thought he would never be a straight A student all because of the problems in writing. Well, he is this year thanks to WriteShop.

Finding Answers

WriteShop can help 

WriteShop Teacher's ManualHappily, as Christy and others have discovered, the process is easier and more objective than you think! Knowing what to look for and having clear expectations can take the anxiety out of this task. Since teen writers often make the same kinds of mistakes, the Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and II addresses these common areas. In the tabbed sections of the Teacher’s Manual you will find:

  • A step-by-step guide through the writing and editing process
  • Instructions for using the Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists
  • Pages of positive comments to encourage your young writer
  • A section that helps you identify and correct problems specific to each WriteShop lesson
  • A section highlighting the most common problems of mechanics
  • Edited samples of student paragraphs to serve as models (this section also contains lessons designed to help you practice and develop confidence in editing)

Learning to edit a composition is a process for both you and your student. WriteShop’s comprehensive Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists take the intimidation and guesswork out of editing. Because your teens know what is expected, they also respond more positively to suggestions for improvement.

Good news

The more you edit and revise, the easier it will become for you. Familiarity produces recognition. You’ll quickly become adept at spotting repeated words, “to be” words, and misplaced modifiers. Soon they’ll just jump out at you. But in the beginning, you’ll need to search for these mistakes.

It’s actually more objective than you think—especially when you have WriteShop’s detailed checklists to help you look for specific things, including:

  • Topic and closing sentences
  • Over-used or repeated words
  • Vague or weak words
  • Passive writing
  • Use of sentence variety
  • Correct use of the lesson’s content and style requirements, such as including all the elements of a narrative or using emotion words
  • Avoidance of run-on or incomplete sentences

And here’s a bit of encouragement for you: Even if you only address half of these, your student’s writing is bound to improve! So don’t worry about doing it “perfectly.” Just begin offering concrete suggestions and you will see improvement right away.

Your student’s role

But it’s not all up to you! Your teen plays a big role. Asking the following questions of your student’s composition will address his or her two biggest stumbling blocks to success:

  • Did my student follow the assignment’s specific directions? She will avoid countless problems later on by doing exactly what the lesson requires.
  • Did she correctly use her Writing Skills Checklist, including using colored pencils on the “sloppy copy” (rough draft) to underline and circle as the checklist directs? Students who diligently use their checklists to find errors and make changes, and who earnestly look for ways to improve their compositions, will be more successful writers than those who sit back and let you do all the editing for them.

WriteShop I and WriteShop II have a proven track record! Using the program will help prepare your teens for advanced high school and college writing. But don’t take my word for it! Christy and Dottie have said it better than I ever could.

Dottie’s Story

When I placed two of my daughters in WriteShop I, I had no idea how greatly it would impact them. My youngest daughter took WriteShop in 7th grade. Now in 9th grade, with little other formal writing instruction, she is still applying the techniques she learned two years ago.

Her older sister did WriteShop I in jr. high also. She is now in college and was asked by her composition teacher to work in the English lab helping other students with their writing. I attribute this honor largely to the skills she learned in WriteShop I many years ago.

. . . . .

Do you struggle with teaching, editing, and grading your teen’s writing? Are you looking for ways to make the process of teaching and grading writing less subjective? Perhaps WriteShop is the answer. Visit www.writeshop.com and poke around. About WriteShop and Parent Testimonials may be good places to begin.

Photo: Laura Dye, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Interview with an editor, part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of our interview with the very versatile Sallie Borrink! Sallie is the “other half” of Arts & Letters, Inc. (along with hubby David), and is doing such a wonderful job editing our WriteShop Primary books. 

Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday and learn a bit about Sallie’s homeschooling philosophy, her thoughts on WriteShop Primary, and how she manages life with an active toddler in tow! Continue reading →

Interview with an editor, part 1

Writer. Editor. Wife. Mom. Homemaker. Five words that help describe Sallie Borrink, our new friend and WriteShop Primary editor.

Sallie, who’s married to David (our graphic designer), finds herself continually evaluating and adjusting her busy schedule as she learns to make time for each of these personal passions. So come share a cup of tea with Sallie and me as we talk about the many hats she wears. As a bonus, you just might learn a tip or two about editing yourself! Continue reading →

Editing tips for the faint of heart

Editing skills improve with time and practice. Moms can tackle their kids' writing more objectively with these helpful editing tips.

Today I’m talking about everyone’s favorite task—editing.

What? It’s not your favorite homeschooling activity EVER?

To most parents, the new and often unfamiliar process of editing and evaluating your student’s writing seems like an overwhelming, subjective effort. Apart from plucking a B+ out of the sky “because it’s not quite an A,” what can a non-English major homeschooling mom do to make editing and grading more objective?

It’s a Process

First, realize that learning to edit a composition is a process. The more you proofread and edit your children’s papers, the easier it gets. You’ll soon become adept at spotting repeated words, awkward sentence structure, or those pesky, passive “to be” verbs such as is, am, are, was, and were.

I began teaching writing classes in 1997. As you can imagine, over the past many years I’ve edited and graded thousands of compositions. But when I look back at some of those earlier papers, even ones we published in our class anthologies, I still find things I missed entirely, or at least would have addressed differently.

Does that mean I was unfit for the job? NO! Does it mean the kids remained weak writers? NO! Does it mean their writing didn’t make progress week by week? NO! It simply means my eye wasn’t as trained back then as it is now—and  improve they did, in spite of all the errors I failed to catch.

Get the Big Picture

Are you the type whose critical eye is drawn to every little error? Does your pen begin its attack before you’ve reached the end of the first line? Do you pick apart the composition till it’s riddled with red marks?

Your goal is to encourage your budding writer to take wing, not shoot her out of the sky, right? So strike a balance by reading the paper through several times first to get the big picture before deciding what kinds of suggestions to make. And then . . .

Use an Objective Checklist

Flowers in VaseImagine a buoyant, sunny morning, bursting with possibility! The kids are cooperating with you and getting along with each other. The house is tidy, windows thrown open to catch the clean breeze. Lesson plans are in order, a vase of bright daisies graces the table, and you’re caught up on the laundry.

It’s easy to feel positive about a child’s writing attempts, even when the paragraph clearly needs attention. On such a day, you’re likely to give a paper a cursory glance and say, “Looks good to me!” And why not? All’s right with the world!

But suppose your day is not like that at all. Gray and sullen, ominous clouds have gathered during the night, and now the rain drips moodily from the eaves. Imagine that the squabbling begins before you peel open your own tired eyes. You’ve run out of milk and the baby is throwing up. Laundry and dishes press against the ceiling, and someone just let the dog in, muddy paws and all.

Laundry 2

In the midst of the chaos, school must go on. Your teenager turns in his overdue paper—the paper that would have received kudos on your “perfect” day—and you react badly, taking out your frustration on your son and his writing efforts.

I can’t stress this one enough! Without a checklist, your poor children are laying their papers—yea, their very souls! bare before your whim, your emotional state, or your bad-hair day.

You can—and will—be more consistent when you use an objective checklist because it helps you look for measurable, specific elements—things your child either did or did not do. Did she include her required sentence variations? Did she find and replace overused, dull, or repeated words? Does the title fit with the content of the paper?

Your mood, ugly or sweet, will no longer dictate your response. And guess what? When your kids know you will be fair, they’re more likely to trust you with their fabulous (or feeble!) writing efforts.

Look for Ways to Suggest Improvement

It doesn’t take much to improve a paper’s style. Believe it or not, just a few simple tweaks in wording can add enough flourish and pizzazz to elevate a paper’s status from mediocre to downright decent! These ideas aren’t a cure-all, but they go a long way toward raising the bar. Offer some of these editing tips to your budding author:

1. Replace overused, dull, boring, or repeated words with synonyms.

I’m not saying that every word needs to sound like it spilled from the pen of Tolkien. But if there’s a proliferation of good, nice, funny, weird, thing, stuff, and went, then a few well-chosen replacements are definitely in order. A strong descriptive word like enchanting will run circles around very pretty. A good thesaurus can become your child’s best friend!

2. Add sentence variations.

Properly used, sentence variations bring greater depth and maturity to the writing. Beginning a sentence with a participle, prepositional phrase, or subordinating conjunction, for example, also improves rhythm and cadence. Add sparkle with a simile, or change things up a bit with paired adjectives.

3. Choose vivid, active verbs.

Strong verbs actively engage the reader and spice up the writing. So instead of saying, “The waves came into shore,” try: “The waves crashed onto the shore”; “The waves tossed and tumbled toward shore”; or “The waves rolled into shore.”

4, Use a short sentence now and then.

It breaks up wordy text. Honest.

Clearly, you’ll need to address more than just elements of style when you edit your students’ papers. But trust me. These easy fixes will produce noticeable and positive changes in their writing. So next time your child hands in a composition, take in the big picture, use an objective checklist, and suggest small, manageable improvements for starters. Like anything else, editing is a skill to nurture and develop, and with patience and practice, you’ll get better with each try.

2008 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Need more help with editing or teaching writing? WriteShop can help! Visit our website at writeshop.com.

Photos: Anna Gutermuth, Kuromeri, and rpavich, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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