I can get a little crazy with my red pen. I’m like one of those crazy editors who takes apart every sentence, every independent and dependent clause. I start cutting and slashing with my red pen. I circle grammatical errors, phrasing errors, misspelled words. I underline, not once, but three times, factual errors. I make comments on the side and sometimes there is not enough room I have to turn the paper over. When I’m all done, some corrected papers look like a bloody murder scene from CSI or Law and Order. And by the look in some of my students eyes, they look like they have just witnessed a crime.
But here is what I realized last semester. While some of my students read my comments, some just don’t. When I get their re-writes back, the same mistakes are still glaring back at me. I think all that red either makes them not care or angry at me. Some students have probably been told what great writers they are by some professors and when they see my sea of red on their paper, I have probably squashed their dreams of being novelist. On a side note, I actually had one student who was a terrible writer tell me she wanted to be the editor of the New York Times. Too bad she never read the paper! Okay, I digress — so here’s the thing about teaching writing skills. First of all, I have come to accept the fact that some of my students are terrible writers. I seriously don’t know how some pass the freshman composition classes. I may be their first writing teacher ever, especially those students in my intro newswriting classes.
So today I stumble upon a blog called “The Campus Copy” on the Society of Professional Journalist website. There is a posting about great writing teachers. It quotes Roy Peter Clark who wrote “What the Best Writing Teachers Do, How Students Can Learn From Them.” According to Clark, the best writing teachers: #1 Encourage daily writing #2. Do not bleed red ink all over every paper, but finds other ways to assess student work.
So there it was in black ink that a great writing teacher does not bleed red ink all over every paper. I already knew I had to change my ways, reading that just made me realize that I had to drop the red pen now. So I will try a different approach. Clark offers some great tips. I can already hear the groans from my students when I tell them they have to write everyday (see tip #1). Don’t worry, that’s not happening. I don’t have enough time to correct daily writing assignments! And ff there is anyone out there with ideas, please send them my way.
( If you want to read all of Clark’s tips, check out the posting on my blogroll under “The Campus Copy”)