Hey, homeschoolers! My homeschool mom friends frequently asked me to edit their kids’ writing. If you don’t feel confident as a writer, it’s hard to feel confident as your child’s editor. In this episode, I hope to give you some simple tips for growing in your editing confidence.
Before I do, I want to announce the launch of the last volume of the Grammar Galaxy series called Supernova. This volume is for 8th graders or those who have completed the equivalent of Nova. Like Nova, Supernova is an extended review of material covered in previous volumes. It’s perfect for middle schoolers who need a grammar refresh. It also includes engaging, more advanced writing projects that you’ll be able to edit after listening to this episode. The volume and bundles that include it are 20% off for a limited time. Learn more at FunToLearnBooks.com.
If you struggle to edit your child’s paper, it’s not your fault. Here’s why: writing is subjective. Unlike math where there is typically a single correct answer, writing is more of an art than a science. We have preferences for writing just as we do for paintings. But the art forms we don’t enjoy aren’t wrong; they’re just not our style.
You may object that spelling and grammar can in fact be wrong.
For example, there is just one way to spell the word beautiful. But that’s not always the case with spelling. Take the word judgment. It can be correctly spelled with or without an e after the g.
British spelling also varies at times from American English spelling. I wrote an article for a British journal once that returned a draft in which they had changed the spelling of several of my words. At the time, I didn’t realize why they had changed the spelling, so I changed it back. I have students using Grammar Galaxy from countries who use British English, so I included a lesson on the spelling differences so they wouldn’t go on to look as foolish as I did.
What about grammar? Isn’t grammar clearly right or wrong? Some English grammar constructions are universally agreed to be errors. Like Me and Audrey went to the store. This sentence uses an object pronoun in place of the subject. However, as this construction is used more and more in casual conversation, that grammar rule may end up being applied more loosely. If you’re a grammar nerd like I am, you’re shuddering.
But let’s take comma usage as another example. There are sentences in which commas are required as when addressing someone. I bought you an ice cream cone, Lisa requires a comma before the name Lisa. But many other comma rules are preferences such as the last comma before and in a list. This comma is known as the Oxford comma. I’m a fan, but there are style guides that don’t require it.
Let’s move beyond grammar and spelling. Aren’t there agreed-upon metrics for good writing? Yes. Good nonfiction writing has a clear thesis statement, smooth transitions, and enough supporting details for each point. But again, each editor has a different definition of clear thesis, smooth transitions, and enough supporting details.
Have you ever had someone ask you how to homeschool? The question is so broad that you just laugh. When you stop laughing, you try break the process into very specific beginning steps. They are the steps you think are important, but another homeschooler may not agree. The question “how do you write well?” elicits the same reaction. If writing came naturally to you without specific step-by-step instruction, you may be at a loss to answer the question.
This subjective, broad nature of writing gave rise to teacher’s attempts to create a very specific, step-by-step structure for writing instruction.
Rules were developed for students to follow like you must use an adverb sentence-starter and no more than one linking verb per paragraph. These rules made editing and grading papers easier. If the student didn’t follow the rule, they lost points. But this imposition of structure did not advance the art of writing, in my opinion. I do agree with introducing writing practices like these and having students try them, but requiring adherence to the specific rules for an extended period can take away from students’ joy in creating. I have found them very restrictive for both student and teacher.
If we agree that writing is a subjective art form, how are we to edit our kids’ work so they can grow as writers? I know it’s possible because it’s how I’ve taught students of varying abilities to be excellent writers. That’s my opinion, but they’ve also earned A’s in college composition.
Our first and most important task as writing instructors is to faciliate enjoyment of the process.
Kids who don’t enjoy writing will not practice and will not improve. I’ve spoken about other aspects of writing education that interfere with enjoyment before:
But specifically I want to address the editing process here.
Have you ever made something like a dish or a craft that you were excited about, only to have someone immediately tell you how to make it better? It’s deflating. When any of us creates, we want someone to celebrate with us. We put ourselves into that creation. We experimented and had fun. We want to enjoy the creation for a time without worrying about making it better. That’s especially true when we don’t have the developmental capacity to make it better. We wouldn’t chide a two-year-old for coloring outside the lines. We ooh and ooh over the color and all the scribbles and our toddler enjoys the adulation.
That’s appropriate for a two-year-old, you may well argue, but what about my eight-year-old who still isn’t capitalizing the first word in a sentence? I’ve been there. But here’s the interesting thing that we know from our own experience. When our child delights us with his writing, he will repeat the process again and again. Does a child ever tire of our attention and applause? The constant calls of “Mom, watch me. Watch this,” after we’ve been enthusiastic say no.
How can we delight in a child’s writing that has errors in spelling, grammar, and handwriting? We do not want to lie, but we can always find something to enjoy in a child’s writing. I see those enjoyable aspects as a child’s gift in writing. When a child believes she is a gifted writer, she will work to hone that skill.
I took my son for an initial drum lesson. The instructor kept marveling that he had never had a drum lesson before. He said he had never seen such natural quickness with a student’s hands. Every week it was the same praise and amazement at his skill. This approach, whether it was honest or not, worked beautifully to gain the instructor a new student, but it also inspired my son to play.
I also saw this work with a friend’s son who was my writing student. I saw an emotional depth, attention to detail, and uncommon maturity in his writing and told him so. He soon told his mother that writing was his new favorite subject. He paid close attention to my suggestions for improving his writing as we continued in class.
These are some gifts to look for in your child’s writing: sense of humor, excellent examples, use of statistics, detailed description, references to an area of interest, unique style, concise writing, illustrations, creative approach, strong vocabulary, humility, storytelling, and diligence in adjusting to a learning disability.
Praise of the gifts in our child’s writing should be foremost. I’m saying this as someone who immediately wants to edit and proof. But I push myself to take in the writing as a whole before I worry about the mechanics.
After we have enjoyed our child’s writing and praised the creation, we can focus on one established skill and one new one.
Here’s what I mean. If you have been working on run-on sentences, you can look for those in particular. If you told your child that in this writing assignment, you will be looking for descriptive language, then edit for that. Your student then has just one new thing to focus on and another that you’ve focused on before. We won’t overwhelm him with critiques.
Of course, if you aren’t confident in your own editing ability, this type of focus presupposes that you’ve reviewed or taught the lessons on run-on sentences and descriptive writing. You will be improving your own writing as you edit your child’s. If you aren’t sure you’re correct about an error, ask someone you know who’s a good writer for feedback. If you don’t have anyone else to ask, post the sentence in a question in a Facebook group like the Grammar Guardians group. You can also email it to me at grammargalaxybooks [at] gmail [dot] com. Eventually, you’ll have the confidence that you need.
But what about punctuation and spelling as you’re focusing on these two other areas? You can either ignore them or mark them without comment, depending on your child’s reaction to edits. Simply add the comma or write the correct spelling. You can also have your student add spelling errors to a list to review regularly. If it seems wrong to you to focus on just a couple of skills, I’d like to give you an analogy here.
I have taken tennis lessons for years. While I have hit forehands, backhands, overheads, volleys, lobs, and serves in one class, I have never gotten specific instruction and correction on all of those shots in one lesson. If I had, I wouldn’t have kept playing. I would have been overwhelmed and felt incapable of ever playing the game. Instead, classes consisted of instruction and correction on just one or two skills plus playing the game.
I want to end this episode with something for you to consider. If you don’t want to improve in your paper editing skills, why should your student want to improve her writing skill? Like you, your student could conclude that it’s just not her gift and stop trying.
Not every student was created to be a gifted writer, but every student has a gift that they bring to writing that can be developed and enjoyed. My hope is that you will work at editing your students’ papers to build your confidence and help your writers blossom.
I have created The Better Editor game you can use for this purpose. First, your student will do his own editing. You will see if you find more errors than he did!
Have a happy homeschool week!