How to edit and grade writing | Editing high school papers

Tips for homeschool parents who need help learning how to edit and grade writing, esp. their high school students' compositions and essays.

Homeschooling middle and high school kids carries an extra weight that isn’t nearly as evident when we’re teaching our younger ones: the older the kids get, it seems, the more intimidating it becomes to homeschool them.

Moms confess to me that writing is one of the most challenging subjects for them to teach. And when it comes to editing and grading that writing, they feel like they’re all adrift.

Do you feel that way too? Take heart! If you’re just starting to teach writing to your teens, don’t expect to know everything at the beginning! It’s a learning process, and I hope these editing and grading tips will give you more confidence.

Today we’ll look at editing your students’ compositions with the intent of helping them write stronger final drafts. Then next time, we’ll talk about how to actually grade those finished papers.

Begin with Self-Editing  

After your teen writes a rough draft, have him use a writing checklist to look for errors in his own writing. (Some programs, such as WriteShop I and II, include checklists—and they’re invaluable to both student and parent.)

Once he has self-edited his rough draft and written a revision, it’s time for you to review it and make suggestions before he writes a final draft.

Use a Teacher Writing Checklist  

A well-written checklist will remind you of the lesson’s expectations so you don’t have to make guesses about what that composition or essay should include. This is the key to being objective and consistent. Using a checklist keeps you focused and fair because you’re not making stabs in the dark. Instead, you know just what you’re looking for as you edit the text.

Your child has had a chance to self-edit and revise already; this is your opportunity to catch and comment on anything that still needs attention. Typically, the more suggestions you give during editing, the better his final drafts will become. As you edit, do your best to identify the errors your student has missed during his own self-editing. Otherwise, he won’t even realize he made those mistakes—and they’ll go uncorrected in the final draft.

Is It Laziness?

Your role is to help your teens spot errors he just doesn’t see—those subjective details such as “strong topic sentence” or “communicated clearly.” He may think he’s done those things, but if you believe differently, you can then steer him in the right direction.

On the other hand, if he’s clearly being lazy about self-editing, and he’s not catching obvious things (such as “to be” verbs, repeated or weak words, or missing sentence variations), return the paper to him and tell him you will edit his paper once he has done his job.

Try These Editing Tips

Not only are the following ideas helpful for parent editing, they’re great tips to share with your teen when he does his own self-editing.

SEARCH FOR ONE KIND OF PROBLEM AT A TIME. Read through the paper several times. As you do, watch for something specific each time, such as strong word choice, sentence variety, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, etc.

1. Content

Check the paper’s content. Did your teen fulfill the lesson expectations? Are there areas where he needs  to add more details, facts, or explanation? Are any parts of the text unclear?

2. Organization

Is the writing organized and easy to follow? Does it flow well from one point to the next? Does he use transition words and phrases to connect ideas?

3. Clarity

Is the paper’s tone appropriate for the audience? Does your student need to restructure any awkward or wordy sentences to make sure his writing is clear and readable?

4. Mechanics and Word Choice

Look for misspelled words and grammatical errors. Check sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation. Again, you’re more likely to catch errors if you look for one of these details each time you make a pass through the paper.

BE POSITIVE. Note things your student did well. Finding every error should not be your primary goal. Yes, it’s important and necessary to identify mistakes. Otherwise, your teen’s writing will never get better! Just remember to edit with grace and kindness so your suggestions are more well-received.

An Analogy

Learn how editing a writing assignment is like making chicken stockSuppose you’ve just made a big pot of chicken soup. You ask your teenager to take out the large chunks of vegetables, meat, and bones—anything he can scoop out with a large slotted spoon. This is just like self-editing, where he catches obvious errors in content, style, and mechanics himself.

When he has finished removing the big pieces, you then strain the broth to catch whatever he missed—those soggy celery leaves or pieces of onion skin that still remain. This is like parent editing, where you find the errors that are less evident to him—as well as the occasional bigger mistakes that went unnoticed the first time.

Even after straining the stock, you may find a few bits that never got caught—and that’s okay! It won’t ruin the soup. Likewise, neither you nor your teen will always spot every writing error. That, too, is okay.

In truth, even if you only catch half the mistakes in his writing, his revision will be greatly improved over the first draft. So relax and do your best, dear homeschooling mom, knowing that your encouraging input is making a difference.

Photos: woodleywonderworks and SaucyGlo, courtesy of Creative Commons
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1 comment so far ↓

#1 Kim Kautzer on 06.16.14 at 3:32 pm

I agree, Gail! It’s so important to point out the successes, not just the errors.

I actually prefer to begin the editing process by identifying the things the student did well, so she realizes from the start that I’m not looking only for her mistakes. Thanks for weighing in!

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