Monday, May 19, 2008

What really matters?

I've been having some interesting conversations lately with teachers around the issue of editing and revising student work, often lumped in with conversations around grammar. The conversations usually start with strategies for working with students on editing or revising their work (harmless) to when and how to teach grammar (much less harmless).

Inevitably - we end up discussing cliff-hangers such as diagramming sentences ("they are really powerful for visual learners" I am told) to dangling participles (I kid you not - this one happened today!!) My personal opinion is that these lessons in the abstract (i.e. without reference to a specific piece of writing) do absolutely nothing to impact how I write. Unless there is something in MY writing that I can connect the lesson to and then use that lesson to revise, I lose the meaning/importance of lesson. Thus, I believe that grammar is best taught not in isolation but in mini-lessons and as they appear in student writing.

I think that this comes from the writer in me that values ideas over the correctness of the piece - at least initially. As someone who drafts and re-drafts their writing, at first blush I am more concerned with the ideas and how I have put them together than I am about the finer points of grammar, punctuation, and often word choice. I need to put the piece away or seek feedback on the ideas (revision) before I can turn my focus to the editing.

And this - I know - comes from those teachers in my past who, with the power of their red pen and marginalia, reduced my writing to a series of mistakes that I had made, rather than seeing the power of the words within. Feedback - both the focus and how it is delivered - can make or break any writer.

And so I ask you to please read this blog post about how feedback can extinguish a writer's flame and then decide what is really important when we read student writing.

Source Note: The diagram of the Pledge of Allegience at the top of the page comes from the Capital Community College Guide to Grammar and Writing.

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