Writing teachers who have worked with me over the years have heard me say many times that above all they should do no harm.
Reading a blog post by leadership and management expert Dan Rockwell recently inspired me to write about four ways writing teachers can do no harm.
#1. Don’t allow nagging issues to persist.
If Morgan and Mahil enter eighth grade unable to tell whether the sentence they wrote calls for its or it’s, that’s not your fault.
If Morgan and Mahil leave eighth grade still unable to tell whether the sentence they wrote calls for its or it’s, that is your fault.
Give students a list of three serious writing mechanics errors they habitually make in their writing in the first month of a school year.
Insist each student master each of those three, serious, habitual errors before the last month of the school year.
(The simple way to insist is to refuse to give a grade higher than a C to any paper that contains one of the student’s habitual errors.)
#2. Don’t keep changing the objective.
Learning to write an informative/explanatory text is different from learning to write a narrative.
Don’t keep changing the writing objective just because you’re bored with the students’ writing.
#3. Don’t jump in to save the day.
Trial and error is a powerful teaching tool.
Let students make mistakes.
Then ask, “Where’s the first place in the writing process you could have done something different that would have prevented this from happening?”
#4. Don’t penalize mistakes during practice.
Learning to write is a bit like making pie dough: Even when they know the principles, it takes a long time for most folks to get a feel for the thing.
While students are getting a feel for writing, praise what they are doing right: turning in their work on time, not giving up, putting effort into planning, or reducing the number of their serious habitual errors.
What would you add to the list?