Teaching WritingI've been noticing a strange trend lately and wondered if it's just in my school or if anyone has a problem. My students don't indent the first lines of paragraphs. Instead, they...

Teaching Writing

I've been noticing a strange trend lately and wondered if it's just in my school or if anyone has a problem. My students don't indent the first lines of paragraphs. Instead, they place a line of space between the paragraphs. Is this a side effect of computer use? Are elementary and middle schools teaching that? Has anybody else noticed this? Is it worth trying to "fix"?

Another thing that bugs me is the use of the apostrophe to make a word plural.

And the schools that "feed" my high school don't teach cursive writing anymore!

Expert Answers
clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love the idea of having students fix each other's work.  I got to the point that even a lower grade didn't do anything to get my students to start thinking about the little things.

So I reverted back to a practice I learned while working at a residential wilderness camp.  Much of the academics was built into the program through writing and mathematical tasks that had to be ERROR FREE (an example was writing menus for the weekend meals, which included breakdowns of portions, prices, and price per person, to be turned in for government supplement).  We handed papers back 2, 3, 10 times until the student did it PERFECTLY.  It was a frustrating process until they started to check themselves, knowing they'd get it back to redo anyway.

So in my classroom, I no longer accept incomplete assignments for partial credit and on some assignments, any "proofreading" errors (like formatting and basic spell checking on typed papers) are considered INC until turned in perfectly.  Students who never cared about a 50% were suddenly quite awoken by zeros.  It only takes a couple of tries to fix a laziness problem - when you find a student's currency.

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is from computer use, it's typical to skip in emails rather than indent, it kind of indicates a new idea. I do it all the time, but it is worth fixing and I used to have the same problem with my students too! I also can't stand the apostrophe thing and I hated marking it when editing.

I finally stopped marking and we took a day to a lesson on 4 small points that I was sick of editing. I showed students how to mark it if they saw it, we went over the rules of application, I showed them the concepts, and then I gave them other student's papers. They edited those papers solely for those 4 points and nothing else, even if they saw something else that was all they were allowed to mark. Now I do this all the time and it really cuts down on my grading time and student mistakes. When one mistake disappears and another one appears the students get another day where they get a new point to edit for. It also makes it easier for some of my lower students to edit and it makes the comments I get to make more meaningful because I don't have to sweat the small stuff anymore.

Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow... sounds like you're writing about my students!  I am constantly fighting the paragraphing battle, even to the point of deducting points as a "format" grade.   I've been having "Pet Peeve Mini Lessons" for things my 9th graders do that should have been corrected in middle school at the VERY least!  Apostrophes is a common mini-lesson as well as the use of the comma and for capitalization.  I insist that all students must have the same format for essays (.7" margins all around, Times New Roman 12 font, double space) for consistency.  I also do quite a bit of peer editing, making sure that they are on the lookout for the "Pet Peeves" in each other's writing.  The enriched kids are getting the hint (mostly because they are always grubbing for points, so they are scared to death of getting below a 90 on any assignment), but my regents kids are still making the same mistakes over and over.  I just don't get it!

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to basic laziness and lack of concern by students, I blame this trend on computers.  It's so frustrating to me when I have to reformat anything I write because the computer thinks it knows better than I how an essay or letter or whatever would work.  I care enough to fight the computer; students rarely do.  The worst computer offense, to me, is what it does for outlines.  It's so frustrating to teach proper outlining and have to tell students to override their computers so their outlines will be correct.  That just shouldn't happen.  The benefit is that it's much easier for students to write, edit, and correct their writing; the harm is these kinds of ridiculous issues. 

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is really hard for me too to get students to realise the differences in terms of paragraphs if they are word processing an essay and if they are handwriting it. Students don't seem to care nowadays about presentation, though after reading #5 I am thinking about dropping marks from those who don't do it properly. I don't want to sound old and curmudgeonly, but this is something that has changed since "I was a lad", isn't it? I don't remember when I was a student having problems with this.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What gets me is that they do the same thing with handwritten essays--no indents, lines between paragraphs. And they don't know when to stop on a line. I can't tell you how many times I've told students that the red lines on a piece of notebook paper are there for a reason.

How many times have you been asked, "How many sentences are in a paragraph?" My standard answer is "As many as it needs."

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My students do this, too.  They don't indent, they double-space between paragraphs.  I never thought about texting and computer use...I just assumed they were trying to take up space on the page!  Ha!  Of course, they also try to slip a size 14 or 16 font by me, too.  I'm sure that all has something to do with trying to meet the number of pages/word limit in the assignment.


ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I too am an English teacher, but perhaps my perspective is a little different. This most likely orginates with block style learned in many business classes, but what does it matter. It indicates paragraphing, and if students recognize that paragraphs change with main ideas, why does it matter if they show this through indentation or through block paragraphs?

jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is from texting on their phones. No doubt about it.

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