Editing your kids’ writing, especially if you haven’t had much experience, can stir up anxiety and concern. How do you find the balance between appreciating the content and picking apart the errors?
The Elements of Writing
Writing includes three main elements: content, style, and mechanics.
- 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 these errors 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, because 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 distracted by 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 two-fold trick to finding the balance is remaining as objective as possible and cushioning our suggestions with praise.
Use these three simple tips as a guide:
Tip #1 Before the red pen strikes, spend a few minutes identifying something positive about the paper, whether it’s a well-crafted sentence, a strong word choice, or an effective argument. Make sure you point these out to your child!
Tip #2 When you’re ready to begin making suggestions to the paper, focus mainly on content. Do ideas make sense? Do they flow well? Is there enough information and/or detail?
Tip #3 Once the story or essay or paragraph is organized and more rounded out, you can look at word choice and sentence style—and then deal with any grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues that remain.
Sure, the thought of editing student writing can seem intimidating. But if you know what you’re looking for, it can make all the difference!
Here are a couple more articles that can encourage you and help you feel more equipped for the task: