Editing is the last stage of writing process. As we start the school year, we often ask students to engage in an eye conference or a self-conference to look at conventions – spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation – as the last thing they do before publishing. Editing is a stage of the writing process that is often reserved for the “final look.” In truth, editing can occur as early as the first sentence of the first draft. Writing process is recursive in nature, not linear. Some students may actually do a better job with editing if they work on it as they go along. There is no right or wrong way to do this.
However, the job of editing should not be left to peers. While peer conferences work very well for helping a fellow writer discover a topic or do some revision work, peer conferences are far less successful with editing. Often, peers make suggestions for incorrect uses of punctuation and even correct the spelling of a word that has been spelled correctly. The writer usually trusts these edits. (See Mark Overmeyer’s Let’s Talk: Managing One-on-One, Peer, and Small Group Conferences. Stenhouse, 2015). The writer should always be the first reader and first editor of his work. The teacher is the final editor.
As we begin to move through cycles (or units of study) throughout the school year, we should start to push a certain amount of editing skills farther and farther back. Students should eventually be responsible for using the skill all the time, and even across the content areas.
For example, let’s say you are a second-grade teacher and have been working on beginning each new sentence with a capital letter and ending with some mark of punctuation. As you move out of the first cycle, you should expect your students to start paying attention to these two skills in the drafting and revision stages. Later, when you move to a third cycle, these skills should be pushed back to appear in their writer’s notebook entries. Finally, you should expect to see an attempt to begin every sentence with a capital letter and end with some mark of end punctuation in everything your third grade students do.
Don’t expect your students to be perfect in every area of editing. Of course, you will be the final editor for published work that appears in the hallway or is sent out to the greater community. You can, however, gradually increase the number of skills that you feel your students should know and can learn at your grade level.
Often, you need to examine their writing to know what a particular student or class really needs to be able to do. If your fourth graders are trying to use conversation in their narratives, but they don’t use quotation marks and have no idea where to place end punctuation or begin on a new line each time the speaker changes, then it’s a good time to take a small group (or whole group) who needs to be able to do this right now and do some minilessons on writing conversations.
Sometimes you need to “tuck in editing skills” throughout the year in several places. Word study work can include a look at a sentence from a novel or picture book. Encourage the students to “walk around in someone else’s syntax.” This includes building a sentence similar in structure and using the punctuation, too. For example, take the first sentence from Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Notice that Yolen tells when in the first part of her sentence, and then tells who and what in the second part of the sentence. Have the students copy her lead sentence in their writer’s notebook and try it out – walk around in Yolen’s syntax. Here is my example: It was a sticky, uncomfortable July afternoon that should have kept everyone holed up inside air-conditioned malls or homes, but I was wilting at the Warrington Horse Show with my students, waiting for the next division of competition to begin.
At the beginning of the year, start to make a list of editing skills you think your students need. Talk with your grade level partners. They may have some of the same needs and some different ones. Decide what is necessary to move the writer forward – not the individual piece of writing. And please remember – writing cannot be taught in a year!