Cave Painting of 4 happy figures


If you are the author (or parent of the author) of the story with the errors, I am very happy to work with you to make your story better. Just drop me a note clearly explaining the corrections you would like made and I will take care of it. (Also include your full name and contact information in the email!)

Write to:

If you are a concerned reader who has spotted an error, please read the following excerpt from the Conventions Module of my online course Teaching Writing with the Six-Traits, A UW-Stout Professional Workshop for teachers.

Conventions - Editing, Not Correcting

I wish I'd learned this sooner...

I have spent hundreds of hours reading student writing. I now understand that the precious time spent correcting my students' writing was wasted. While correcting taught me to be a good proofreader, it did very little to teach my students how to edit their own work. At best, my corrections gave them something to copy that was technically proper; at worst, it crippled their efforts to become independent writers.

Don't get me wrong - I believe that correctness and conventions are important. I know that for many parents and students correctness is still the only measure of success in writing. It just took me a long time to realize that students do not learn to correct their work by having it done for them.

For years, I was frustrated and confused by the ineffectiveness of my edits to improve student Conventions. I spent long hours correcting student work. I took care to use proofreading marks to signal errors in beginning and ending punctuation. I marked spelling, sometimes writing out the words for my students. I added punctuation and perhaps a brief note about joining two closely related sentences with a semicolon. I spent every spare moment offering specific and thoughtful corrections.

Upon returning the work what happens? Nothing, more often than not. Sometimes all you hear are complaints about how long it took. "What's this mean?" is a victory. The students with the deepest problems would lose corrections or ignore them and recopy their errors. I demanded proof of "revision," but what I really meant was correction of the errors I marked. I used specific rubrics, maintained high standards, and graded fairly. Many students did improve their conventions; others never moved at all. I learned to live with this open wound. Now I know better.

I wish I had learned this sooner: students will not become good editors if you correct for them.

If you are correcting your students' errors, the wrong person is practicing the skill. The time you could spend teaching them to become independent editors is going into correcting errors one paper at a time. Over the years, with all this practice, you have become an excellent editor. You can get a piece in shape very quickly. You can turn out copy ready for publication in a few minutes.

However, your students can't.

Remember you won't be there with your correcting pen when they are writing in the real world. We have to give them their own correcting pens. The job is to teach them Conventions by teaching them how to edit.

  • Teach them proofreading symbols
  • Focus on a single issue at a time
  • Start small and chip away at the worst mistakes
  • Edit every day
  • Help them become independent editors
  • Work yourself out of a job

I know it feels right to make corrections. It feels virtuous to mark that paper. Parents expect you to correct their kids work and often imply you are slacking off if you won't. Students expect you to fix their work. It is easy to give into the pressure, especially if you think you are doing the right thing.

What if you were to take the time spent "correcting" and spend it offering critical feedback using the language of Traits? "Convention errors in the first paragraph are distracting me to the point where I can't follow your ideas. Please edit your work for spelling and end punctuation."

I wish I'd learned this earlier: as good as it feels to correct work, you're not teaching, you're just burning yourself out. You do not have to be a red ink slave spoon-feeding your students doses of correctness.

Be a teacher of editing.

©2001 Dennis O'Connor

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