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Editing, proof-reading, self-marking - call it what you want, but it’s essential to improving writing.

The green pen…

Of all the policies that my old English department implemented to improve on standards, there are a few that really stand out.  The one I want to talk about in this post is the green pen policy.

During my English GCSE Show, I always ask if pupils check their work.   It’s rare that any put their hand up.  I then ask who doesn’t check their work and a sea of hands floods across my field of vision.  Allowing for some pupils ‘acting hard’, I’m reasonably sure we can all agree that pupils are reluctant to edit their own work.

The ‘green pen policy’ essentially involved me refusing to grade anything that hadn’t been proof-read or edited by the pupils themselves.  The evidence of them doing this was visible through the amount of green pen that highlighted any correcting of mistakes.

When implementing such a policy in your own classroom, you will inevitably get pupils bringing you their work and claiming that they couldn’t find a mistake.  This can usually be be remedied by asking them to check their first or second sentence, pointing out a mistake that you know they should have spotted and sending them away to actually do what they were asked to do.  Even tough pupils, who are likely to try it on, usually have an ‘it’s a fair cop’ attitude when confronted in such a way (if this really isn’t the case, I’d suggest there are probably other issues, which may require senior support).

Once pupils get used to editing and proof-reading their own work, the visible evidence of them doing it will be apparent in the amount of green pen they use.  The benefits of the work to implement this policy:

  • Pupils will spot most of their mistakes and will achieve better grades.

  • Your marking workload will decrease.

  • You will be able to see the gaps in pupils’ learning and plan accordingly.

  • Typically, pupils (particularly higher ability pupils) will take an ownership of their proof reading and editing as it becomes habit.

Most of the above can also be applied to peer assessment to add some variety to the task.

Check list for Proof Reading

Most people can’t write several pages of A4 without making mistakes.  It doesn’t mean you’re not very clever, it means you’re human and humans make mistakes - it’s how we learn.

It does become a problem if we don’t correct those mistakes where we can.  You do this by reading your work.  If you do this, you’ll spot most of the mistakes before someone else does.

Use this check list to help you with your proof reading.

  • Ensure you leave yourself time to do it!

  • Your writing should make sense and sound formal, rather than conversational (unless you have a specific reason for writing in a conversational style).

  • Do your sentences start with capital letters?

  • Do your sentences end with a full stop (or question mark or exclamation mark where appropriate)?

  • Do your sentences contain a subject (noun, pronoun or noun phrase) and a verb (doing or being word)?

  • Have you paragraphed your work?  Change paragraph when you write about about a different time, person, topic or place.

  • Are you using commas appropriately?  They should be used in lists, to separate clauses (not two main clauses) or for parenthesis.

  • If you have two main clauses that are closely related, use a semi-colon.  Don’t use too many of these.

  • Does your writing have a mixture of sentence types, such as simple, compound and complex sentences?  Try to ensure your complex sentences sometimes open with a subordinate clause to ensure variety.

  • Vocabulary - try to improve about five words in your writing - if you’ve written ‘small’ consider changing it to ‘tiny’ or ‘minute’ etc.

  • Look over your spellings as best you can.  If it’s possible, check the ones you’re not sure about by using a dictionary.

You can download the checklist here in Word format to edit as you see fit.  Implement it properly and you WILL see an improvement in attainment.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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