Monday, June 7, 2010

To correct or to not correct.

"For schoolchildren, the red pen has long been a fearsome weapon, blazoning the marks of failure on once pristine writing assignments. And in recent years, many teachers have turned down the volume, switching from red’s loud rebuke to gentler purple pens. Now research has illuminated another aspect of the red-pen effect: A study published last month reveals that teachers armed with red pens actually grade more severely than those using blue.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that when participants marked up a paper supposedly written by an English learner, the red-pen wielders found more language mistakes to criticize. And when asked to grade a paper with no actual errors — just some doubtful style choices — the red-inksters awarded lower overall marks than the blue team.

 I love to read things that validate my opinions (who doesn't!) on education, what works and what doesn't. I found myself nodding in agreement with much of this article; at least until I got to the comments.

Many of the comments posted to the article seem so off the mark to me. Like this one in particular:
"I am completely SICK of all this talk about our children's emotions. If you're doing such a horrible job parenting that your child can't handle hearing that they did something wrong, I fear for the world when this generation is running it."
 And another:
"so now you can't write in red because it will hurt a kid's feelings more or less?? how pathetic. soccer mom nation has taken over this country. your kids are going to grow up soft useless human beings."
 And for fun, one more:
"Give me a break. If students feel bad when teachers write negative comments in red ink... then tough! Maybe they should work harder."

These people are completely missing the point here. Whether to correct in red pen or not. whether to correct in that way at all or not. It is not about hurting a child's feelings. It's not about bad parenting and it's not about toughening up our 'speshul' snowflakes so they can survive the big bad world. It is about whether it creates an environment in which a child thrives or an environment that contributes to children disengaging.

"Toddlers don’t need to be rudely corrected whenever they brave a new construction; “the dog runned away” will become “ran away,” the “mouses” will turn into “mice,” and they’ll end up talking like their friends and families.
Why should writing be different? It’s harder than talking, but like any skill, it’s mastered by imitation and practice. Making prose, like making art or music, is a process of experimenting, revising, and remodeling; the errors that peevers love to pounce on are often the least important (and most fixable) of all the ways writing can go wrong.
If even good students are writing worse today — and it may be so — my (unscholarly) guess is that it’s lack of exposure to models, not lack of correction, that ails them. If you don’t read much — not only great books, but even everyday competent exposition — you won’t get the rhythm of long-form language into your bones. And without that, writing will be a struggle."

I completely agree with what the author has said here. We don't correct toddler's speech because, much like walking, we know they will get better over time and correction is more likely to cause harm than good. Instead we model correct speech by talking to them while giving them the time to self correct. I suspect early writing should be approached more slowly and be allowed to develop more organically much as we allow speech to develop. I do believe that a person should know how to write formally eventually but don't see why can't that wait until they've had time to experiment and think creatively.

For quite some time I've been considering how to approach the subject of language arts for our home education. My gut tells me to approach with extreme caution least I scare my budding scholars. EJ has struggled with writing this year, at one point declaring "I hate writing". With some change in approach and gentle work together he's made quite a bit of progress. Now I want to give him a break and focus on things I think he'll be more excited about. At this point I don't intend to do any specific language arts program. We might do spelling and dictation in time but for now there will be no phonics, no grammar, minimal writing as needed. Instead we'll focus on reading lots of books and hands on work for our other subjects. Ultimately I know there is plenty for the boys to learn right now without worrying too much about writing. To a degree, I have to trust that I will know when the time is right and it will come eventually.

I do know one thing; I won't be using red correcting pens!


Melzer said...

You know your kids are going to grow up soft now, right?

dawn said...

They're pretty soft and squishy already :)

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