Moving Beyond a First Draft
A very large focus for the fourth quarter this year is on not just writing, but writing well. For most of the year, the writing we have done has been primarily first drafts. First drafts are often full of spelling and punctuation areas and poor organisation, but the ideas are strong. I have emphasised that my primary goal for my students’ writing is to get their fantastic ideas out of their heads and onto the paper (or computer screen, if they are typing). Spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, overall organisation, word choice, and the like are all important for good writing, but they all come after the ideas have been written down.
This is a hard concept to grasp. My fourth graders want their writing to look like the writing they have seen from older students, from parents, from teachers, and from books. They want their writing to be polished, fancy, clear, neat, and as close to perfection as they can get. But that doesn’t happen at once. That happens as the result of using the writing process: of planning, drafting, editing, revising, editing, revising, editing, revising, and finally publishing. Sometimes the editing and revising stages go on for weeks, months, or even years! Sometimes it doesn’t. But students shouldn’t expect to write a first draft and have a final draft ready to publish all at once. A final draft takes time and effort.
I’ve had mixed results with having students edit their own writing earlier in the year, so this week I decided to try a new direction. Instead of trying to correct their own writing or a peer’s, I’ve had them correct mine!
“But wait!” I’m sure you’re asking “Isn’t your writing always impeccable?!” Well, I don’t want to brag, but I think I’m pretty good at stringing words and sentences together. But for this activity, I’ve decided to fill my writing on the board with all sorts of spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation errors. (And no, I do not use the same British spellings I use on my blog; I stick with Standard American English.) For example, this was yesterday’s morning message:
monday april 21 2014
we are goIng to due Something knew fur jurnal wriTing. Please copey this paragraph in yor jurnal then make correckshins. We will go Over Them togethur
After the students had written down the message and made corrections in their daily journals, I had them come up to the board one at a time to make a correction. As we got closer to the end I would point out how many errors were still remaining. By the time they finished, the message read like this:
Monday, April 21, 2014
We are going to do something new for journal writing. Please copy this paragraph in your journal, then make corrections. We will go over them together.
I was actually shocked that someone thought to put the tilde (~) by my name. I always write that, but I didn’t expect anyone to pick up on it missing! I was also very pleased that they were able to identify all of the errors on their own! I think that it helped my students to see that this was writing from their teacher and not someone their age. I also feel like this is much more authentic than many of the daily language programs out there because it is my writing for my class. It is as authentic as writing can be.
As we get into some of our more extensive writing this quarter, I will have students write, then look over their own work to find errors in spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation. Once they think they have identified them, they will turn the revised draft in to me for further examination. I have thought about having peer editing, but I am not convinced that is the best thing in the world. Even though it makes my workload lighter, I don’t want students with lower writing ability to feel like they are being judged by their classmates anymore than already happens by virtue of children being children. Then students will use dictionaries to check spelling and we will work on punctuation and capitalisation rules as a class.
My ultimate goal for all of this is for my students to move beyond writing a first draft and focus on identifying what they need to do to have a piece that is ready for publishing, whether their audience is me, their classmates, their parents, or someone else. I am excited about the activities we are going to do and the assistance we will have from our fine arts teachers to support writing in the classroom! The next few weeks are going to fly by!