What We Need More Of: Teaching, Not Editing, in the Margins of Student Papers

This is the second of a mini-series that I am doing on things we need a lot more of in the writing classroom. The first was on needing more low-stakes writing and use of writing as a teaching tool, as opposed to solely as a vehicle for expressing one’s thoughts. This week’s is on how we need to do more teaching and less copyediting in the margins of student papers and why doing that is so hard.


Over the last forty years, a compelling and comprehensive case has been made that teachers should not act as editors and mark every little error on every student paper. I’ve written on this before, as have Carol Jago, Kelly Gallagher, Nancy Atwell, Penny Kittle, Donald Graves, Nancy Sommers, and [Fill in name of well-known writing teacher here]. Continue reading “What We Need More Of: Teaching, Not Editing, in the Margins of Student Papers”

I Write to Learn What I Think: Why Our Classrooms Need a Lot More Learning Through Writing

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” -Flannery O’Connor

One of the biggest misconceptions that many people hold about writing is that it is mainly a vehicle for recording and sharing what we already know. While preservation and dissemination of knowledge is certainly a key reason to write, any writer will tell you that writing just as often (if not more often) is actually about figuring out what we know. Continue reading “I Write to Learn What I Think: Why Our Classrooms Need a Lot More Learning Through Writing”

The Most Overlooked Yet Important Writing Instruction Stat I’ve Ever Seen

The massive 2011 “Nation’s Report Card” on writing contains a number of striking statistics. Among other things it found that…

  • barely a quarter of students in both 8th and 12th grade are proficient in writing
  • students who were assigned 4-5 pages per week of writing had the highest average scores
  • computer access translates clearly into larger writing success.

But tucked in amongst all of these stats–as a mere footnote–is one of the most important stats I’ve ever seen concerning writing. Out of all of the factors measured, which do you think was the most correlated with students’ levels of proficiency in writing? Is it the schools they attended? Their socioeconomic status? How much they wrote each week? These things were correlated or even highly correlated, but they were not the best predictor of their writing scores. That honor belonged to how many times the students hit the backspace key. Continue reading “The Most Overlooked Yet Important Writing Instruction Stat I’ve Ever Seen”