As I’ve noted elsewhere, I try to give my students a timed essay once a week. I constantly say to them, “This isn’t a test. It’s practice.” And it is. If you can’t sit down and write for twenty-five minutes straight without some sort of interruption about a topic you’re studying in a class, school eventually becomes very difficult. Finding ways to help students navigate that barrier becomes very useful. Unfortunately, there are very few cures for a failure to write well besides practicing writing.
On the other hand, if you can help a kid reach a point of “flow” in their writing, so much the better. That’s ultimately the goal, isn’t it?
Of course, there has to be follow up. I don’t grade the essays in any way, but I used take the time to pick one or two bad sentences, and pull them apart.
Then I realized last night, as I was correcting papers, that I could open up the experience for everyone, and make it equal-opportunity. Here’s one sentence from every kid in the class, followed by a ‘better’ model of writing.
Because I don’t have to write each sentence on the board ahead of analyzing it, I can run through a lot more sentences in a shorter period of time. These slides were done quick-and-dirty, but I can certainly demonstrate all the usual techniques of proofreading this way, and use presentation software to show how to fix your writing in more effective ways.
As a class, we went through all eleven sentences in a 40-minute period — without photocopies, without a lot of confusion about which sentence we were on. We were discussing the sentence projected onto the board. We were talking about the sentence visible to everyone, and only that one.
What I should do next time, of course, is what I didn’t do today — which is ask each student to rewrite the sentence in a way that made explicit what they believed the student was trying to say.