My students are great at knowing all the separate pieces and rules of the language on their own but stumble when it comes to putting them together for the purpose of writing for communication. Something that always has been a challenge for me is to get my students to edit and proofread their work. When I give them writing corrections, I feel that the feedback is oftentimes ignored and no learning takes place. Recently my students have been doing a proofreading activity that has provided many teachable moments and I am now seeing positive results.
Pre-lesson preparation: My Spanish 2 students have been learning about house vocabulary. While we practiced vocabulary and descriptions in class, I posted a prompt on Edmodo for the students to write about. They had to go to Edmodo (an online collaboration website for our class) and type just one sentence describing their house. After they had typed their sentences, I printed them all off on to a piece of paper and we worked with the sentences in class.
Entrance Ticket: When my students walked into class, each student took a piece of paper and had to brainstorm at least 5 characteristics of a good sentence. I told them to think about what a Spanish teacher would look for in a perfectly written sentence and also what a 3rd grade teacher would look for in a perfect sentence. They had approximately 2 minutes for this brainstorming.
Class Sharing and List Making: As a class, we took the characteristics each student generated to create a class list of qualities that a sentence needs to have. My students were very attuned to the characteristics of quality sentences. Every class identified punctuation, capital letters and proper spelling. Most were able to speak about specific Spanish skills, such as proper word order, adjective agreement, gender agreement and correct conjugation. This class sharing portion of the class was also interesting because many students wrote down good grammar as a characteristic of well written sentences but they couldn’t elaborate on what good grammar was. They have been told over and over again that they need to have good grammar but couldn’t identify what good grammar meant. Many teachable language moments came out of this class discussion.
Finding Perfect Sentences: After generating a class list of sentence qualities, each student received a copy of the sentences they had typed in Edmodo about their house. I told the students how many of the sentences on the paper were perfect sentences, or sentences that had all of the qualities listed on the board. They worked alone to try and read each of the sentences to find the sentences with no errors. Since the paper I printed had each student’s name next to their sentence, there was a lot of personal responsibility for the sentences. Most students focused on their sentence first to see if it was good or not. Then I noticed that they zeroed in on the sentences of students they perceived as being smart and good at writing. Once they had some worktime, we came back together as a class and identified all of the perfect sentences.
Levels of Errors: After the perfect sentences were taken care of, we focused on editing the remaining sentences so that they could become perfect. I talked to them about the importance of the type of errors in these sentences. For most of my high school students, minus 1 is the same as minus 25; if it’s not perfect, it is no good. I drew a chart on the board of the 5 levels of sentences that I use when evaluating writing progress.
Peer Editing: I individually called on students to find the errors in the remaining sentences. Most were able to recognize something wrong. Sometimes I would give prompts, such as “This is a Level 4 sentence, so we’re looking for a small stuff”, or “Remember to check all of the qualities listed on the board to make sure that everything works”. I found that the students were very good about finding the errors. And they also enjoyed the labeling of the sentences in Levels. While the activity progressed, I heard students debating whether or not a sentence was a Level 4 or a Level 3. One said, “You just have to add a word here to make it correct, so it’s not that big of a deal. It’s only a Level 4”. The other countered with “But Level 4 sentences are so good that you just have to change the parts that are already there. Forgetting a word is a bigger deal and it should be a Level 3”. I did notice, however, that some students didn’t like that their sentence was being called out as a Level 3, or the lowest level in this particular activity. While I know that those individual students didn’t like that part of it, I know that they seriously will learn from that mistake they made. I also made sure that we spoke only about this one sentence written about that individual and not the individual in general. Since each student was included in the activity, I felt that they were very respectful towards each other in that regard.
Post Formative Assessment: Some days later I would give a short slip of paper to each student at the beginning or end of class. I would show them pictures of a house on the projection screen and ask them to write one sentence about that house, remembering the qualities of a proper sentence. Almost no student made the same mistake on this sentence as he or she did previously. The total number of correct sentences improved greatly and the students that did make errors made very small errors (Level 4 errors). I was pleased with the outcome of this activity and will make it a routine writing and proofreading exercise in my lesson plans.