Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How To Get the Most out of Your Child's Writing with the Least Amount of Hair-Pulling

1. Listen to the student read the entire work before making comments. Better yet, read the work aloud to the student. By listening, you will focus more on substance than on mere proofreading errors that catch your eye.

2. Ask questions about what the work conveyed (what you ask will also show what the piece has NOT conveyed.) Read only what appears on the page, without “filling in the blanks” for the student, even if you DO know what he/she meant to say. Address questions line by line, as needed. Rephrase Q’s if the writer seems exasperated.

3. Offer to help the child come up with a better line, as needed, based on the explanations he/she provides in Step 2, above. Suggest alternative words ONLY if your child has accepted your offer.

4. Ask the child to reword lines you suggest, so he/she can own the revised words.

5. Separate substance from form, if possible. In other words, leave proofreading (corrections of spelling, grammar, format, and punctuation) for the final editing phase. Focus first on meaning, flow, power of language, clarity--how the piece touches you, as a reader, overall. Focus on writing as a means of verbal communication between the author and the reader.

6. Suggest that the student double-space all writings (to allow room for editing and revisions), and type the work, if s/he can.

7. Proofread the revision with the author by your side, asking the child to identify errors and omissions, before you correct them.

1. Never interrupt the first reading of the child’s work, whether you read it or he/she does. (Often the author will stop him/herself during this initial reading to self-edit.) Never disrespect a young author by rushing the editing process.

2. Never tell the child what’s wrong; SHOW it subtly via your questions (see “Always” column), which help the student discover necessary revisions on his/her own. Never say “That made no sense!” or “What were you SUPPOSED to write?” or “You can’t turn in something so sloppy to your teacher!”

3. Never dictate: “I think you should say...,” or “You need to add this…,” or “Change that…,” or “Why don’t you write...;” and never make any suggestions until your child answers “yes” to your offer of help.

4. Never let the writer simply transcribe your words. It’s not your homework.

5. Never focus on form or proofreading before substantive editing. Never say, “What kind of grade do you expect, with all those misspelled words, and such a messy presentation?!” Your child will think of writing as filling a paper with neatly printed words, and revising as fixing misspellings and errors in punctuation and grammar. Grades will take precedence over clear communication.

6. Never recopy or retype the student’s work without your child asking you to do so. AND, if you do recopy or retype, never edit as you go; rather, preserve the errors for him/her to catch on the next revision.

7. Never mark up the paper and say, “Here.”


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