Teaching Students to Use Tech to Self-Edit

This summer I will be doing two things with my blog: 1) I will reflect on the previous school year - What worked? What didn't work? What do I want to modify? 2) I will move my favorite posts from my old blogging platform to Blogger. Today's post will focus on a student editing technique that I want to expand next year.

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In March, I had an epiphany! Tired of constantly fixing run-on sentences, I asked my 7th and 8th writing students to color each sentence a different font color. If the student had a super long sentence - oh, say, a sentence that was an entire paragraph long - the student would have a color that spans multiple lines. This would be an obvious sign of a run-on sentence problem.

By changing the color of each sentence, the students can see if they have obvious run-on sentences.
The following self-editing procedure will be modeled and required for each future writing assignment.  This includes quick writes that are only read for content. Punctuation does matter! If it is is only a small percentage on the state writing test.

Self-Editing Procedure

This draft has major issues. Without even reading the narrative, both the student and I can see that the sentences are super long.

The above draft of a very low 7th Grade writer has major errors. Many English teachers will fruitlessly fix the run-on sentences. This keeps the teacher from focusing on the student's content. The following steps will help students solve many, but not necessarily all, errors.

  1. Color each sentence a different (dark) font color.  Look for periods, exclamation points and questions to help to see where the sentence ends.
  2. Do you have color variety? Or do you have super long sentences? To fix super long sentences, click CTRL F. A little box will appear in the upper right-hand corner. Type and. Do you have too many ands? Can you replace a few ands with periods? 
  3. Double-check your colors. Does every end mark (period, exclamation point, question mark) and its sentence have a different color?
  4. Speaking and writing can be viewed as two different languages. I know when a speaker's sentence ends because he/she stops before starting the next word. The only way I know that a writer's sentence ends is because there is a period, exclamation point or question mark. Read the sentences aloud. Where does a new thought begin? Add a period (or another end mark) and new words as you read aloud.
  5. Just to double-check, did you capitalize the first letter of each sentence (new color)? 
  6. Did you attach the end punctuation to the last word of the sentence? 
  7. Did you capitalize the nominative pronoun I? Are all proper nouns capitalized?

While the student’s narrative still has run-on sentences and is far from perfect, the writing has come a long way. The teacher can now provide feedback on the content and the student can respond it that feedback without feeling overwhelmed.

The next lesson should focus on revising the now-readable content. The draft at the end of Day 1 lists events of a narrative in a summary form. Dialog and description would greatly improve this student’s writing. The teacher can give this advice by popping into the student's Google Drive document via Google Classroom and writing comments while the student writes.

To learn more about why you should provide students feedback as they work, please read Alice Keeler's Turn the Assignment In and THEN Do the Assignment blog post.


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