Command F or How I Got 8th Graders to Actually Edit their Essays

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My education instructors would probably be terribly disappointed to find out that some of my “best teaching moments” have not come from careful planning and thought but were merely off the cuff ideas.  Case in point – finally finding something to actually get 8th graders to edit a piece of writing – ON THEIR OWN!

I view editing differently than revising and always tell my students that it is the last thing they should do before turning in a piece of work.  Students write all their essays on GoogleDocs in my class, and although I do typically have them print out a paper to revise, they often will stick to the computer for editing.  This doesn’t mean they do it well or even have any idea where to start.  I finally came to the conclusion this year that I could not leave my students to edit on their own, even after what I believed was careful instruction, but that I needed to give them time in class to edit their writing, so I could actually watch their approach.

This year as I reviewed some tips with students regarding things they should look over and some strategies for doing so, I suggested they use the Find feature on their browser to look for common errors.  Little did I know that this one spur of the moment thought – and it was just that –  would have such a great effect on my students’ writing.  We brainstormed things that we could put into the Find feature: we found commas to make sure we were putting them in the right places, looked for words that frequently cause fragments (if you’re familiar with Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined, they are known as AAAWWUBBIS words), and even typed in some commonly misspelled words among other things.

In about fifteen minutes, students realized that they found a good number of errors in their work, but more importantly that they found errors that they knew how to fix.  They were excited to make the changes and felt accomplished at the work they put in. . At the end of the year, when I asked students to edit their papers on their own and reflect on the strategies that they used to edit their work, the majority of the class used the Find feature.  Several even commented on their formal evaluations that this was something that greatly helped them as writers.  It was important that they realized how quick this strategy was and how much it could improve their work.  Let’s face it – 8th graders don’t exactly have long attention spans, especially for things they do not think work.

Something often so simple is easily overlooked but can be extremely powerful.  This tool was helpful for my students because it was tangible and allowed them to focus on one thing at at time.   I often tell them that the best writers are not those that do not make mistakes but are those that realize the mistakes they frequently made. This simple strategy allowed my students better understanding of their own writing and better grades as a result.  And who can complain about that!