Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Writing Basics - Proofreading

I'm lousy at teaching proofreading. I'm not the best proofreader in the world myself; I especially can't spell well. (I'd like to blame Chaucer, but I think it's more a factor of reading tons of student papers.)

So, here's the question! How much do you teach proofreading skills in general writing classes at the college level? And how the heck do you do it?

I don't teach a lot of proofreading skills. What I do teach I try to do through group work in a way that reinforces peer review group skills.

On the day an essay's due, I take a BUNCH of small sticky note pads to class. I have students get back in their peer groups, and exchange papers. (I pass out sticky note pads to everyone.) Then I ask the students to read the papers backwards, sentence by sentence, and to put a sticky note wherever they think there's a grammatical, spelling, or other proofreading error. They shouldn't write on a peer's paper, but rather on the sticky note, indicating the problem they see.

When they finish, they should read the paper forwards, too. And if they have time, they should trade papers again.

After they've finished reading their peers' papers backwards, they trade back so each has his/her own paper. At that point, they work through the sticky notes. At that point, they can make a change neatly in pen or pencil on their paper. Or, they can decide not to make a change. Or they can ask me about the problem, or look up spelling in the dictionary. And again, they can make any corrections in pen or pencil.

Then they take off the sticky notes, and I usually have them write some stuff on the back of their essay; since the peer groups have now had a look at the final draft, I'll often ask them how well their peers did at doing real revision on their essays, what they think this essay does well, and so forth.

The big benefit is that I don't have to stand up and try to lecture about grammar or punctuation problems. Students learn a bit about proofreading and practice. They learn about the specific mistakes they've made, rather than having to worry about problems they don't have. And the whole process of teaching and proofreading takes about half an hour for each essay.

Finally, the corrections mean that I don't have to mark as many proofreading problems on essays, which saves me time, and also means that the student may actually LEARN something from his/her peer, which I KNOW won't happen much from seeing a bunch of "tick marks" or quick notes from me.

On the other hand, they often make the same kinds of mistakes repeatedly, and I still end up making more proofreading marks than I know I should, so it's sure not a perfect system.

Who's got better ideas to share, please??

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I think that is one of the best methods I've yet heard. When I was going through it, my lecturer would read the piece out and get us to stop her when we thought we had found a mistake.

    BAD idea.

    It led to chaos. If we weren't sure, we would keep quiet. And she would get all shirty. On the times we did speak up we would get into such a hugely convolted discussion of possibilities that none of knew what the answer was at the end of the class.

    The method I eventually used (and continue to use as a part of my proof reading jobs) is to read through and mark as I go with greylead. Then to read again with an eraser. Then, ideally, go through once more with the greylead. Then I make a list of all the things I had a problem with every read through.

    I will now be trying out the read backward thing.

    Best of luck.