Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why Writing Can be a Challenge and Making Editing Work

Over the past few months, many of you are visiting earlier posts I've written on writing and on spelling and have been  commenting on the challenges your kids face when writing - be it spelling issues or difficulty getting kids to edit. I thought I would collect some of your concerns and address them here. 

First, let's take a look at writing.  It is probably one of the most challenging skills our kids have to face because it involves simultaneously coordinating a number of skill sets. 

When we write, we have to constantly monitor WHAT we are writing, consider the ORDER in we're writing it (making sure it makes sense to others), weighing what WORDS BEST express our thoughts, while making sure we're , entering and/or printing the correct letters using correct spelling and grammar.   More specifically, writing's challenging is the simultaneous coordination and feedback between:
  • higher order cognitive systems -  brainstorming, synthesizing  and/or creating content ideas;
  • sequencing systems - organizing what to say in a way that makes most sense to most readers;
  • memory - remembering what they are supposed to be writing about while remembering the words we want to use, along with proper tense, spelling and grammar WHILE keeping track of the order in which we want to relay it;
  • attention - continuous monitoring making sure we are staying on topic; making sure we're making sense; making sure we're using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation;
  • graphomotor coordination -coordinating muscle memory while entering the correct letters/words; and
  • language - recalling vocabulary and rules of grammar and syntax.

SPELLING'S CHALLENGE  is having to learn and focus on: 
  • graphic details (making sure we're writing or keyboarding the correct letters); and
  • language details (making sure the word we're using means what we think it means, and we've included it in the correct and consistent tense); 
  • while remembering letter sequences (their rules and their exceptions) and memorizing an infinite number of words and their correct spelling format; 
  • all while making sure they are written down correctly.  
  • And, even when they've memorized rules of spelling and grammar, there are so many exceptions they need to be aware of.
Some good news is that and when your kids make a lot of spelling errors, analyzing the type of errors they make can provide a window into your child's language, memory, attention, sequencing and cognitive skills. Let's take a look.

What to look for in your child's spelling errors:
Phonetic accuracyWords that sound 'right' but are misspelled show that your child can distinguish between letter sounds and  knows the component sounds of the word she is trying to write.  She just either didn't notice the error or  could not recall the correct spelling.   These types of errors often arise because of overloads or weaknesses in attention or memory - which are understandable given the incredible demands writing places on the brain.
Letter sequencing.  Look at how the letters are sequenced together. Are letters reversed or a bit jumbled?  If so, your child may have trouble remembering or attending to sequences, or she may be experiencing graphomotor weaknesses. Pencil grips and practice can help with that. If she reverses particular letter sequences, she may have a weakness remembering sequences.  There are lots of spelling rules and mnemonics she can use to help her better remember these sequences.  Here too, practicing (in private so she's not embarrassed) will help.

Handwriting.   Is it getting sloppier as he or she writes?  IF so, her hands may be tiring.  Check the grip ((where and how tightly the pencil is held) and  how heavily she presses down.  If her grip is too tight, too light, too heavy, this could tire her and drain attention. Keyboarding instead of writing is also a viable alternative that can help her.

Inconsistent, random errors. If her spelling errors appear to be random, your child may have trouble focusing on small details. If this is the case, have her slow down when she works. Also, point out the details she may be missing and how they are so important when following instructions or directions. The focusing on details, however, should be done during edits and not necessarily on the first draft.  [On the first draft, focus should be on generating and sequencing ideas.]

MORE Suggestions:
  1. Leave enough time between assignment and due date to write in stages.   FIRST - make sure your child gets her ideas down on paper in some informal outline or draft.  SECOND - review the outline/notes/draft making sure it responds to the writing prompt.  THIRD - make sure what's written is presented in an organized, flowing manner.  FOURTH - check spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation.  You may also want to reread it a final time just 'to make sure' you got everything.
  2. Edit.  Depending on your child's ability to attend to detail and multiple facets at a time, this may have to be done in stages, much like those described in the item above.  The first edit may be to simply focus on the flow of the paper.  The next on spelling and or grammar.
  3. To strengthen sequencing skills:  help your child focus on patterns and sequences around her.  Help her recognize the beginning, middle or end of a story; sing songs with multiple verses; have your child teach you or a sibling how to tie a shoe, cook a favorite dish, follow a familiar recipe.

Making Editing More Fun:

Part of the problem is that editing requires attending to detail through multiple reads through the piece. Hard to do.  

In my experience, the key is using reinforcements, prompts, and turning editing into a habit not a chore. One thing that works with many (not all) kids is that I have kids keep a record of the number of spelling, grammar, and word-choice corrections they make.  I make up a chart with columns for the date spelling, grammar, and word choice, and each writing assignment they chart their edits.  It's sort of like a treasure hunt. This way they actually SEE their progress.

Another way to get your kids to edit is for them to see that YOU edit too. Edit emails, edit notes, edit blog posts, etc.  

Finally, as a teacher, I actually give a grade for editing.  This reinforces the importance of editing as a "required skill" and as such is a skill that I actually teach.  When teaching editing I have students make multiple edits.  NOT FUN BUT IMPORTANT.  There are edit runs where students look at spelling, edit runs where they focus on word choice, edit runs where they check grammar while checking that they are writing in a consistent tense and switching from past to present or any variation therein.

Final point when overseeing editing.... praise goes a long way!

A final note on spelling tests vs. spelling in writing:
There is a difference between our kids' spelling test scores and their applying their spelling prowess in their writing.  Spelling tests simply demand remembering the spelling patterns and attending to the task, making sure they produced the right result.  Writing demands much more.  Keep reinforcing studying and memorizing spelling because it will free the mind to focus on other aspects of writing, BUT make sure your kids make the connection between words memorized for a spelling test and then recalling them under different circumstances - when writing freely.

Hopefully this helps.  Let me know what works for you and what issues your child faces when writing or editing.  Also, please let me know if you want more detail on writing, outlining, or editing.


  1. Wonderful post! I have pinned this to my "parenting" board on Pinterest so other parents can see it!

  2. love the tips and suggestions here.. I will keep these in mind while working with my kids..