Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writing the Ten-Minute Essay (2)

Question: How did I, RayS., help students eliminate mistakes in sentence structure, usage and punctuation?

Answer: The ten-minute essay (continued).

What follows is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, From Passive to Active in High School English.

What Are My Readers’ Questions about 10-Minute Essays?
How could you find the time to mark and correct 10-minute essays for five classes? I did not use ten-minute essays for the five classes all at the same time. I used ten-minute essays in the first class for three weeks, then for three weeks with the second class, etc. When the cycle of five classes was completed, I started all over again with the first class.

Did students have to complete the essays in ten minutes? No. They wrote for the ten minutes and then I stopped them, in mid-sentence, at the end of the ten minutes. The amount of writing was relatively short to enable me to be able to mark and correct them.

Did you assign complete essays? Yes. I will explain my writing program in the next chapter. The first purpose of the ten-minute essays is to demonstrate to students how to correct basic mistakes in sentence structure, usage and punctuation. The second purpose is to help the students understand the labels that I put on their mistakes. Having learned what the various labels mean and how to correct the mistakes, students are prepared for the full-length compositions that I assign in the regular writing program where I use only the labels.

Aren’t you just doing the work for the students? I am demonstrating how to correct mistakes that I have labeled, while recognizing that the students might not understand those labels. I am showing them what the labels mean and how to correct the labeled mistakes. I am modeling behavior that I expect of the students.

Did the students do anything with your corrections? They copied the corrected essays, which, of course, were marked with a red pen, so that they could visualize their writing as correct writing. When they turned in their corrected copy, I awarded them extra credit.

What effect did this daily writing have on the students? Gradually, the students’ ten minutes of writing began to produce fewer and fewer mistakes. In their evaluations, students wrote that the corrected ten-minute essays gave them confidence that they could write in almost any situation.

Next blog: The ten-minute essay and standard written English.

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