Last week I visited Mrs. Christy Allen’s third graders at Valley View Elementary again. Christy was kind enough to let me try out a new idea, a program to focus on editing skills for grades 3-5. This is where testing begins, and proofreading skills are critical. I talked to her students about how I work in my critique group and with my two partners. Then we turned her classroom into one big critique group. Our assignment: to edit book reports. Our goal: to improve scores and model good editing skills
We started easy, with books I just checked out from the library. Books help me write. I’m always reading new ones. They keep me current with what’s being published. I learn what I love, then I try applying it. I also learn what I dislike, and I try to avoid it. Reading builds writing skills for me, and for students too. It’s an excellent thing!
We also looked at what good writing actually is by reading a few short cards. The cards gave us a quick way to measure writing. We used a simple scale: love, like, or needs work. We talked about why some cards were love, and why others needed work. The need-work cards all had main ideas, but were missing specific details. Good writing is specific. It has enough detail to support it.
Next I showed them how I edit, and why. I spent the least time here. Last September I learned my story was flat. It was from someone I trust. I’ve worked on it for 6 years, but it needed something more. I showed Christy’s students what I’ve learned, and later I taught them the same lesson. A good critique tells what you do well. It gives you hope, but more importantly, it tells what you’re missing. It helps you improve.
To push my writing, I now shade it with details from the main character’s five senses. I also show more world view by editing in what all my characters think and feel. I highlight in different colors to help me see what’s in my words, and more importantly, what’s missing. Every time I edit a chapter, I reread it 3 times, and every time I reread, I add, delete, or change something. When I finish a chapter, I proof a set of three old ones, yes, 3 times. You can never reread or edit a chapter too much! If I had to guess how many times I’ve edited my book, I’d put in in the hundreds, maybe even the low thousands. I LOVE to edit! Can you guess my favorite number…3!
We spent most of the time editing student writing, which was the goal of this program. Students volunteered their work. If they didn’t feel comfortable sharing, they didn’t have to. But, if they wanted my help finding mistakes, they did. A girl said she didn’t want to volunteer. I told her no problem, and, out of three classes, I had only one student get upset. He hid behind a bookcase. I got him to come out, easy-peasy…I told him about my 10 years of trying, failing, AND learning. It worked! Big time! I guess misery needs company!
My student writer picked a friend to read their writing. My trick (I learned from an agent)..where ever the friend stumbled, this is a place to edit. Mrs. Christy marked it with a dot. (A student writer could too.) All students could see and hear where the mistakes were, especially its author. As a critique group, we went back and uncovered why. Sure enough, these stumbles were mistakes in punctuation, spelling, or awkward sentences. Skills that Mrs. Christy taught, but needed to be applied. This why all writers (students, professionals, and me) need to go back and edit. You’re never perfect on the first try. EVER! Before editing, we also graded the piece wholistically (love, like, or needs improvement). A few times I asked Mrs. Christy post-editing, if her student made the suggested changes, if their grade would change. Can you guess her answer…YES! DUH! OF COURSE!
I’m already looking at ways to edit this presentation. With Mrs. Christy’s class I was lucky enough to have 90 minutes. Looking back, I’d still work in 10 or 15 minute blocks, whether I had 60 minutes or 90. I’d move back and forth from my materials to student writing. I’d start with a library book and a few of my cards, my resources. Then I’d do class critiques for 10-15 minutes, longer if I held their attention. I’d rotate back and forth between my stuff and student writing to keep kids with me.
When I did the slide show, the kids loved it! It was easy to pay attention. This was harder, much harder. I plan on checking with Mrs. Christy now that it’s a week later. It’s great to hear what went well, but it’s more important to hear what could improve. I especially want to hear about those reports, whether I worked with the student or not. I’m hoping it made a difference. Fingers crossed!
Beach’s Best Writing Tips:
1. Write “loose” when working on your first draft. Don’t worry, just keep writing! Let it flow! Then go back later and tighten things up by editing. If you get lost in your draft, go back and reread. Look at your outline. It works for me, and it can work for you too.
2. Your first draft is your worst. When you reread, you will find errors. Finding those errors and correcting them will improve your writing…and your grade.
3. Reread your work in sets of 3. Take a break, then do another set of 3. It’s my go-to editing number.
4. Why 3? When you make a change, it may ripple through your writing. If it’s small, it can change something a sentence later, like spelling or subject/verb agreement. Maybe it won’t. You have to reread to find out. But, if it’s huge, it will splash through your whole piece. In my ant story, I discovered they use belly holes for breathing. That one small fact dropped a boulder in my story. I had to reread every breathing sentence from chapter one all the way to 15. Take the time to edit! It’s worth it!
5. First drafts are like gems covered in dirt. It’s hard to see what’s under the grime. It’s the same with your first draft. How do you uncover your gem? Polish and edit your work. It’s simple. It takes a little time…and brain power. But’s easy-peasy!
6. Editing is like fishing. Really! You throw out a line, and, a few more words/sentences. Or, you reel the line in, and cut words/sentences. You keep doing it till your words are complete, and snagfree.
7. Read your work aloud, or with those tube phones/whisper phones. They let hear your work without bothering a neighbor. You read too fast in your head. Reading out loud slows you down. It helps your brain find mistakes. If you’re working on a computer, try changing the font, font size, or both. It slows you down too, so you can find those mistakes.
8. Don’t be afraid to work in a critique group, especially if you have trouble finding mistakes. This is like the phone-a-friend strategy from game shows. Your best friend can even read it to you. Remember first drafts are always terrible, even for published writers. Plus you’ll know exactly where/how to start editing. That’s why I go to critique groups. If it’s still too embarassing, watch the mistakes your classmates make, then look for those in your work. Kids tend to make the same mistakes, year after year. Really!
9. How do you know when you’re done? When I’m changing little words around (like a and the) again and again, put a fork in it. You’re finished!
10. Another way to know is by picturing editing, like running fingers through your hair. You keep rereading until the knots/errors are gone. If you keep hitting snags, keep going! Don’t stop!
11. For teachers: If I returned to classroom teaching, I’d use critique groups to teach editing skills. I’d start whole class, move to ability groups, and then into peer tutoring. In 2nd grade, it might take a half a year, but I think my students, and yours, would possess better editing skills.
12. I can edit in front of your class. I’m always editing my work. If you and your class would like to see an unpublished writer edit in real time, contact me. I’d love to do it! I can talk about what I’m doing and why. Modeling is a great way to show kids good habits in action.
13. I understand authors’ purpose because I do it everyday, like editing. I’m glad to talk to author’s purpose with your class. I can use my work or a story you’re reading.
14. I also have a new editing technique that could be great for student retellings. I write two sentences for every chapter, a plotline and a heartline. The plotline tells what the chapter’s about. Heartline tells the big emotion/s of the chapter. A well written chapter has both. It’s a good quick way for students to track their reading, and for teachers to track their students.
15. Teachers: If you’d like me to come in and model/do a class critique group this year or next year, please contact me. I’m happy to use your checklists or rubrics. I love to work with teachers and kids, and most of all, I love talking about writing!
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!