Editing is best taught as an isolated skill and from the time children are old enough to rework a piece of writing, they are old enough to self-edit and peer edit. Recopying a piece of writing that has been corrected to death by an adult is not editing and it serves no good purpose beyond penmanship practice. If you want to teach children to write well, your best bet is to teach them to self-edit and peer edit.
Focus on Isolated Skills
Children learn to edit best when they focus on isolated skills like punctuation or capitalization and then apply that skill to their writing. When you read through their many pieces of free writing, take a mental note of what needs work. It may be just the proper use of capitals. Teach a mini-lesson on that skill (ten minutes maximum) and practice it on a worksheet or by correcting a few model sentences. Always use impersonal examples. Never use your children’s work to demonstrate errors.
Let Them Apply What They Have Learned
Now let the children choose one piece of writing from their portfolios and apply what they have learned to improve it. Begin with one skill and as you get good at this, increase it to two or three for young children and a few more for older kids. If they work on capitalization this week and punctuation next week, they could work on capitalization and punctuation the third week. No one can take care of everything in one assignment and children should not be expected to. Not if we want them to ever enjoy writing, that is. Of course we want them to do it all, but learning is a process and we need to take small manageable bites if we are ever going to polish off this T-bone.
Let Them Do It Themselves, Beginning with Self-Editing
Once we give them the responsibility we must back off and let them do it themselves. That means that you do not sit with them and point out each error. They get to do it themselves. It’s far more satisfying and less humiliating if they correct their own work. They won’t do it perfectly, but they don’t have to. When you stop requiring perfection and teach editing as an isolated skill, it becomes more enjoyable and you can accept that it’s not necessary to catch every little mistake. The goal is to learn, not to be perfect, and learning is a process that takes time.
Next, Try Peer Editing
This can be a lot of fun. The kids follow the same process but this time they swap papers with a sibling or friend. Remember, you are focusing on one or two skills at a time. Each child is responsible for finding mistakes relating to those skills. If your kids’ work has too many errors to address at one time, ask them to find a fixed number of mistakes. For example: Find three words that break the capitalization rules. The last part of a peer edit is when the kids sit together and explain the edits to each other (you are still not involved at this point). This is a great reinforcement of their learning and kids like playing the teacher.
They Just Might Enjoy It!
Experience has taught me that kids enjoy editing when it is presented this way. They feel good when they know that the task they are given is manageable. The reason most kids hate writing is that we expect them to correct everything at once, and that is overwhelming. Who could do it all? By focusing on isolated skills, teaching them to self-edit and peer edit and letting the kids apply it themselves, we empower them to improve their writing. Just don’t be surprised if they end up liking it.
Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges. Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write. Visit her website at HomeschoolWell.com [link no longer active].