Monday, August 10, 2009

Topic: The Red Pen in Writing Instruction

10-second review: Story of a student who was scarred by a second-grade teacher who red-marked everything she wrote and held up her papers as examples of what not to do when writing. She urges teachers of writing to drop the red pen and encourage students in their writing.

Title: “The Dreadful Red Pen.” Mary Ressler. English Journal (May 2009), 105-106. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Comment: Let’s separate the red pen from the personality of a teacher bent on negatively criticizing the students’ writing. The red pen has its place: after the student has brainstormed, constructed a thesis sentence, written a first draft consisting of paragraphs clearly related to the thesis sentence by means of topic sentences, a summary paragraph and an introduction preceding the thesis sentence.

The first concern is ideas and organization. Let the students judge for themselves unity, clarity and smoothness of expression.

Directions for Students Evaluating Their Own Compositions

Each student has a partner. They do NOT look for grammatical mistakes or spelling. They are looking for ideas and organization.

1. Unity. Fold a paper in half width-wise. Partner reads the draft and writes the main idea on one side of the folded paper. Writer writes the main idea on the other side of the folded paper. Partners compare their main ideas. If they are similar, then the composition is unified. If they are markedly different, the writer should check the thesis sentence, the topic sentences and the summary paragraph to see where the unity has broken down.

2. Clarity. Partner reads the paper silently. Puts question marks in the margin whenever an idea is not clear. Writer notes the ideas that are questioned. Is the idea incomplete? More information needed? If the expression is not clearly expressed, talk out fully what the writer wanted to say and then revise.

3. Smoothness of expression. Instead of the teacher’s “awk’s,” the partner reads the composition aloud. If the partner stumbles while reading the partner underlines the stumbled expression. The writer also reads it aloud and does the same thing. The writer then decides which expressions need to be revised.

Using the word processor, the writer now revises to assure unity, clarity and smoothness of expression.

4. Editing I. The writer first makes corrections according to the spell checker. Then the writer reads from last word to first word looking for spelling mistakes and typos not picked up by the spelling checker. This technique allows the writer to focus on each word in isolation in order to see the misspelling. When writers proofread by reading from the first word to the last, they are likely to concentrate on the ideas and not on the words.

Editing II. Now the writer reads for problems in usage, sentence structure and punctuation and uses the word processor to make changes.

Attention, Red Pens: Now the teacher’s red pen comes into play. The teacher evaluates for unity, clarity, smoothness in expression, spelling, and grammar. But only after the students have had the opportunity to make their own corrections.

The final grade should be in four parts:

Unity: 25 points.

Clarity: 25 points.

Smoothness of expression: 25 points.

Spelling and grammar: 25 points.

That’s how I did it. RayS.

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