Getting rid of repeated writing errorsGive me some ideas of how to help students weed out entrenched mistakes "learned" over time. Some 'get it' the first time around, but with others...

Getting rid of repeated writing errors

Give me some ideas of how to help students weed out entrenched mistakes "learned" over time. Some 'get it' the first time around, but with others their mistakes keep coming back again and again like crabgrass!

Expert Answers
sfwriter eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the community college where I work we have writing tutors who work one-on-one with students.  While this is not possible everywhere, one of the tricks they use is this:  make a sheet (handmade, or photocopied) called an Error Log.  If you can edit a paper with a student at least one time (or with a tutor, or teacher's aide, or parent, or older student -- anyone who can help with writing) and write down the instances of an error and its type (such as incorrect tense, misuse of articles, run-on sentences, etc) in any one paper, and then take the error which has the most instances to work on first (or whatever is the most grievous error).  Just the act of the student looking for (with a tutor or teacher) errors, finding them, defining them, and writing them down in a list helps a lot.  Make the error log like this :  Name of paper on the top, then column headings of "text of error", then "type of error" then "solution to error", or something like that.  Leave plenty of space in each cell for the student to write down the type of error and text.  This can be done every time the student turns in a paper if they are having consistent, repeated errors.  If you make it part of the assignment (if there is the the luxury of your time, an aide's time, the availability of a tutor, or the participation of a competent parent) to turn in after each paper is graded, you might see some success.  This seems to work well at the junior college level -- not sure how this would work in high school or elementary grades.

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My approach was similar to what others have said.  After each writing assignment, we would go over the together and talk about the errors students had made.  (I could have just totaled them up, but the conversation helped point out why the errors were just that and it gave us a chance to address possible remediation(s) --- these were often the dreaded incomplete sentences and run-on sentence.)  The error that appeared most frequently was addressed in class and it became the target error in the next writing.  If the same error(s) came in first next week, the penalty got ratcheted up ... All that means is that they were more penalized on the next writing assignment if they repeated the error.  I HATE using punishment to reenforce learning, but it does work :)

As an aside, I found that some students just never got it, especially about sentence structure errors ... it was as though there was something wrong with their "wiring" (although I suspect it was a lack of reading).  Any similar experiences?

mrerick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The older my students are, the more accountable I hold them for their mistakes - especially ones that get repeated.  I will continually remind my kids that if they make the same mistake ten times, they only learn one thing.  If they make ten different mistakes, they can learn ten new things.  If a student is making the same mistake over and over, I make the assumption (and I tell the kid I've made this assumption) that he/she has no interest in fixing this problem and is choosing to write incorrectly; then, because he/she is choosing to write incorrectly I will dock the mistake at a higher level than normal.  Once the student sees that I do actually dock them more than normal, they usually fix the problem (or at least start making an actual effort to fix it).

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Amy, I like this idea ... going to give it a try in the term about to begin.

I can support it with some research evidence ... one study found that 85% of the papers we turn back to students meet the same fate ... the student glances at or searches out the grade (I used to hide it somewhere in the paper in a silly attempt to get them to read at least SOME of the suggestions) and then pitches the paper.  (You could probably ask them to rewrite to "avoid" this, but I have never been a fan of rewriting a paper incorporating my suggestions ... too much of their writing becomes mine ... I'd rather have them try again on their own.)

That red stuff on the paper isn't really ink ... it's our blood, often shed for no particular gain ....

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Have them help each other.  I like to highlight just one or two sentences in student papers which don't make sense.  Then, I have the kids get into groups of 3-4 and take turns talking over their highlighted sentences with the purpose of improving the writing.  Some of the questions I hear them asking are, "What were you trying to say?" "What if you tried this______, would that get your point across?"

It helps them, and you'd be surprised how many errors they catch in the coming papers.  It's a learning community...not just me with a red pen bleeding all over the paper.

cburr eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you know that the student understands the error and how to do it correctly, then I suggest making a check list for that student that they must check before completing each assignment.  Also, I think it is important to give them short worksheet type assignments intended to give them repeated practice in doing it correctly.  Yes, you can and should teach them to catch the error and fix it, but it's also important to give lots and lots of practice in doing it right.  It takes MUCH more practice to unlearn a mistaken approach than to learn something new.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
In reply to #5: Some of it does have to do with "wiring," I think, but we can also lay blame at the feet of modern technology. After all, if kids weren't texting each other messages like "C U ltr" or "BRB, I'm ROFLMAO," we wouldn't run into the constant battle to justify why real writing rules should apply. In this one respect, it's a real shame that many schools no longer have a strong emphasis on technical or business writing -- with such education comes purpose and motivation for good and correct writing.
engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Mrerick -- Individual consultation with error-makers is necessary when they keep making the same mistake. Sitting down with a student and explaining the how and why factors to them makes things more memorable.

Other than that, keeping frequently-violated rules posted prominently helps also. If the kids are putting commas in the wrong place, post the comma rules. If it's run-ons and fragments, those rules should be handy.  

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with individual consultations and posting rules.  Frequent testing and/or worksheets also would be helpful to keep the rules fresh in their minds.  I penalize essays heavily for major grammar errors like comma splices and sentence fragments/run-ons, so students know they must learn them or their grades will suffer.