Should you ever let spelling and grammar mistakes in elementary student journals – or any writing – go uncorrected just because it might impede the flow of their creativity?
Here's an interesting question from a follower:
To correct or not correct?
“What are your thoughts on student writing journals? Do you as the teacher mark in their books and correct mistakes such as misspelled words and grammatical errors? Do you leave positive/negative comments on their pages?
“My students have a daily writing prompt and I require that they write at least six sentences. However, the majority are consistently spelling words wrong, making a lot of grammatical mistakes, and have short choppy sentences such as ‘It was fun,' or ‘It was cool,' or ‘I like pizza because.'
“I feel if I don't correct their mistakes they won't learn from them, but the Mom in me would not like to see my son's writing journal marked up. I would want a keepsake. Right now I just put a check mark in the upper right hand corner of the page if they had the required items:
- Writing prompt
- six sentences
“But I'm conflicted as to whether or not I should correct mistakes. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?”
Never let a writing mistake go
So, yes, mistakes in student reading or writing journals should be corrected, but let's look at the whole process. If kids are doing a task in school, it is:
A. for learning
B. directed by the teacher with explicit goals in mind, and
C. needing feedback to foster improvement.
In short: We are not creating “keepsakes!” We are teaching children to write. Period. Mom's will just have to treasure your comments along with the brilliant (or not) words of their progeny.
A prompt alone won't build great writers
First, simply assigning a prompt is not sufficient to develop good student writing. You must give the kids something to focus on when responding to the prompt. Examples:
“Today I want you concentrate on correct spelling. Circle every word you have a question about and then use your speller.“
“Today I want you to make sure every sentence starts in the right place on your paper, begins with a capital and ends with a period. Circle the capital and period on every sentence when you finish.”
“Today I want you to underline the verb and subject of every sentence you write.”
“Today I want you to underline the main idea of your paragraph when you finish.”
You get the idea… bit by bit you are training them to keep pushing their writing skills to a higher level. Of course you are looking over their shoulders and asking questions:
“That IS a confusing word! Let me know when you find the correct spelling because I'm curious.”
“Is that really how you start a sentence? How could you make that better?”
Just focus on that one thing a day, in addition to the task of responding to the prompt.
Correcting for maximum impact
When you correct, follow this rule without fail:
No matter how poor the writing sample is, find something to compliment with a note:
- use of voice
- great imagery
Anything they do a tiny bit correctly will be reinforced by complimenting them.
Then select just ONE thing per day to ask them to reconsider. Circle a word and ask them if they can find the correct spelling, ask if they could look again for the main idea, etc.
“I think I see a different main idea (or subject or verb). Can you find it?”
Then when you review the next day's work, flip back and see how they did. Draw a smiley when they get it right!
Teacher corrections build student connections
By not writing in their journals, you are missing a huge opportunity to communicate with them.
Students LOVE to read notes their teacher leaves for them! They will eagerly open up their journals to read their little compliment and see the smiley after they fix something.
One thing a day may not seem like it will fix their writing quickly, but it adds up fast and over time will make a huge difference.
And this teacher's response to my answer?
“I’ve wasted months of instruction!”
“It makes perfect sense. I knew I should have been correcting and making little comments (both positive and negative) but when I asked other teachers they said they never did because it was supposed to be an exercise for them to express themselves but every time I looked at another page, I (of course) didn't see any improvement.
“I feel horrible now. My students have been writing in their journals since October and I haven't corrected or made any comments on their pages at all.
“What can I do? Do I go back now and do this for every page and have them spend the next few weeks correcting little things until they have corrected every page or do I just start over?
“And if I start over, what do I do with their journals?
“I can see now that although the school where I teach has some wonderful people, I didn't get the guidance that I needed in some areas. I feel as if I dug myself into a big hole and can't get out…”
Teachers can always start over. Always.
See, here's the thing that everyone should know: Teachers get unlimited do-overs! You just announce that you are changing things and move forward.
No, don't have them correct everything. That would be a big downer and turn them off of writing. I recommend starting by asking them to choose one piece of their writing and getting it ready to publish. Any piece they want.
Announce that they have had a few months to get the feel of putting thoughts on paper. Now they are going to focus on sharing those thoughts in the best way they can.
Then spend a week working one thing a day. Every day they are rewriting the same piece.
- So on day one they make sure the sentences are complete.
- Then they add adjectives and give it real “voice.”
- Then they correct spelling.
- Then punctuation.
- Then a final copy.
- Then an illustration.
Every day, start by putting up a writing sample with errors (make one up) on your projector and having them guide you through making that day's changes. Kids love to correct others' work.
Then at the end of the session, ask if anyone wants to share their work the same way. Set super-high expectations about how to give feedback, including modeling exactly what they should say:
“I really like how you used colorful words. I wonder if you might consider using the word ‘chocolate' instead of ‘brown?'”
They will learn very quickly how to imitate the way that you give feedback.
Make a huge deal out of the amazing progress they are making.
So with this exercise, you have wrapped up the first phase of journaling and corrected a lot of the errors they have been making. Plus you've built excitement and community.
Re-launching your student journals
After they have published their work by putting their final copy and illustration up in the hall for all to see, let them know that every day when they journal, they will be working on one specific focus area. Then proceed with the day-by-day plan above.
Don't worry about about what has happened in the past. Just charge ahead and in a month you will be seeing amazing progress.
As a new teacher, it's hard to know who to emulate. But as time goes by you will learn to trust your instincts more and more. And kids are very flexible… you can academically experiment on them (so to speak) and figure out what works best.
I hope this gives you some good ideas for effectively managing student journals.