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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Plugging the holes

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

With my kids about to move on to 2nd grade I’m busy figuring out what holes need to be filled before they go.  My primary goal in this is admittedly self-centered: I don’t want to get a bad reputation among the 2nd grade team.  My fear is that I’ll have done such a bad job in something that all my kids will be markedly deficient, and when the 2nd grade team meets next year they’ll say something like “Nicole can’t write to save her life, do you think she needs to be referred for Special Education evaluation?  Oh, wait, she had Miss R. last year.  None of her kids can write. [Teachers nod and/or sigh in agreement.]”

To forestall this possible outcome I’m basically throwing out the curriculum for the last 5 weeks of school and focusing exclusively on the things I think my class is worst at.  This includes handwriting, writing, editing, and (for many of them) explaining their math problem-solving beyond “I thinked it in my head.”  Today we spent the morning hitting editing hard, then spent the afternoon writing math story problems and explaining how we figured out the answers.

I was pleasantly shocked by the quality of their story problems once I reminded them how to write them.  I was less impressed with their editing skills, but we’ll keep working on it.  And while they don’t know it yet, next week I’m starting spelling tests (I still need a good bribe for strong performance – suggestions welcome), with a focus on the high-frequency words I know they can read easily but they they misspell ALL THE TIME.

I’m heartened that they are all at or very, very close to the 1st grade reading benchmark, and if they don’t screw up the end-of-year math assessment with careless errors I might just finish the year looking like a decidedly non-sucky first-year teacher.  So if I can just deal with the few remaining glaring holes in my teaching, my first year might not have been a disaster for my students.

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Writing conference

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I read the long, detailed, imaginative draft of a student’s fairy tale yesterday, and while I enjoyed the story (and his obvious pride in it), I shook my head at his spelling. “Samuel,” I said, “do you remember when you and I did the spelling words at my desk?” (He nodded yes.) “Well, that showed me that you’re one of the very best spellers in our classroom. Do you think you used your best spelling in this story?” Samuel gave a knowing grin, shook his head, and agreed – without arguing! – to go back through and check his words so that it would be easier for readers to read his story.  Sometimes I forget how much further they can go with a little push.

Editing the world

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I had a sudden realization last week: I don’t just read like an editor – I see the entire world as an editor.  The corollary: I’m not really a creator.  I can’t direct the play, design the layout or come up with the visionary business idea. But once someone else has done those things I can make them better.

I recognized this pattern when I was at my friend’s theatre performance, making my regular internal list of suggestions for improvement (that I of course never share).  It hit me that if I’d been asked to make the initial decisions on blocking, tone, movement, etc. I would have been lost, but once the director made the choices I knew exactly how to improve them.  This habit of trying to fine tune other people’s work is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a curse when I’m at a job fair and more focused on how to improve it for next year than on prepping for this year’s interviews.  Or when I stop paying attention in a graduate school class because I’m thinking “you know, if you moved those tables closer to the front and asked more questions that forced everyone to participate you might have fewer people checked out.”  (Yes, I lose focus trying to figure out how to stop other people from losing focus.)  It’s a blessing because I appreciate the work others have done in creating and I like that I can almost always see a way to make things better.  To me, editing in an optimistic act.  Whether the original is rough or already polished, editing says “I think we can make this better.”  It’s powerful, addressing both big picture problems and minute fine tuning.

As I talk with my classmates I realize that this penchant for editing may have a strong influence on my career path.  I love to talk with other teachers about what they are doing in the classroom, reinforcing the things that are going well and making suggestions to address what’s not working.  Essentially, I love editing teaching, and I think there’s a real need for that in schools.  As a new teacher I won’t have the professional heft to do this, but it’s a role I can see for myself down the road.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Editing Awe

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

We had an author come speak to our writing class today.  She was great – warm and funny with a lot to share about being a writer and being a teacher of writing.  She talked about her family’s history, her journey towards being a full-time writer, and the process by which stories unfold for her.  The most interesting part of the talk for me, though, was reading the 4-page letter her editor sent her in response to the first draft of her first novel.

The letter was exactly what editing feedback should be.  Supportive, well-organized, and with evidence of careful thought and analysis.  Reading the letter, I could see the shape of the first draft, and I could see exactly where the author had incorporated the editor’s suggestions into the final version of the book.

Most interesting, though, was that one of the character issues I ran into when reading the the book was echoed in the editor’s letter (albeit with more grace).  Given how much else in the book seemed to change between the original feedback and the final, I wonder why these issues didn’t get resolved.  I would have loved to ask the author about it, but it felt strange to say “why didn’t you fix this thing that your editor and I both dislike?” especially after such a great visit, so I stuck to commenting on the quality of the letter.

The letter reminded me that no matter how talented the writer (and I do believe that this author is talented), a good editor is vital.  Good editing finds the great and preserves it, then roots out the problematic and suggests solutions.  It’s a powerful role and one we rarely get to see – but I got a glimpse of it tonight.

Categories: Books, Career Tags: , ,

Read like a…

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In my class one of our goals is to learn how to read like writers.  I think this is something I do, but I’m not sure, because I’m realizing that a better way to describe what I do is that I read like an editor, and I don’t think editors and writers are quite the same thing.

I think when you read like a writer you’re supposed to be reading with an eye towards how the writer creates the effects in a piece – the sense of character  or of place, or the way the sentences pick you up and pull you along.  What tools does he use?  How does word choice heighten the impact of a particular sentence?  This, I think, is what it means to read like a writer.

Reading like an editor, however, is both more and less than this.  Less because it does not focus on what can be learned from the writer.  More because it looks for what works – and tries to figure out how to fix what doesn’t work.  Reading like an editor sometimes means spending more time thinking about the one awkward sentence in the book than the 100 pages of great writing.  What made this sentence not feel right?  Why does this stand out from the rest?  How could it be better?  It focuses, perhaps, on the art of problem-solving rather than the art of writing.

In responding to my classmates I mute the reader-as-editor voice because that’s not what the class is about – I don’t really want word by word feedback from them, and I’m sure they don’t want it from me.  I do try to pay attention, though, to my internal reactions to their writing – places where I automatically remove words or rearrange sentences, and I wonder if they do the same thing when they read my writing.

I think, too, about what it means to develop an author’s voice, and if there is such a thing as an editor’s voice.  It’s not a term I’ve ever heard a teacher or colleague use, but my own experiences editing and being edited tell me it does exist.  In my own editing I see patterns – strong likes and dislikes in word choice and sentence structure; in the editing others have done on my writing, I see personalities come through too – different likes, different dislikes, a sense of confidence or of timidity.  Our class starts work on revising and editing after spring break.  I wonder what they’ll think about the idea of reading like editors.

Categories: Books, Reflection Tags: , ,

Learning to write

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I never actually learned to write in school – if anything, my teachers reinforced bad habits (last minute rushing, verbal dexterity over actual thought).  Instead, I learned to write at work.  Based on my experiences in school and work I’ve come up with several ideas on what needs to happen for people to learn to write.

1) Writing needs to happen often.
When I write more often I start doing it better.  Like everything else in life, practice helps.

2) Writing needs to matter.
I write better when I know the quality matters.  I can write any junk that comes out of my fingertips if it’s just about a grade, but if someone else’s money or reputation rests on my words, I pay a lot more attention to what goes down on the paper.

3) Rewriting matters.
We don’t rewrite much in school – the paper is written, turned in, graded, turned back, forgotten.  And the same mistakes are made on the next assignment (and the one after that, and the one after that…).  When writing matters, rewriting matters, because that’s how writing gets good.

4) We all need an editor.
I published over a dozen professional publications without anyone ever editing my writing.  This wasn’t a good thing.  Writers need feedback – even experienced ones.  We all write self-indulgent sentences, or explain things in ways that others don’t quite understand.  A good editor notices the extra word, the misplaced phrase, the confusing thought – and helps to fix it.

5) We write better when there’s an editor in our head.
When we work with an editor we begin to internalize the editing process.  After spending weeks editing her thesis together, my sister said that she was having trouble writing new material because she kept hearing my voice in her head critiquing her word choice.  While we don’t want our inner editors to stifle us, we all need that voice inside our heads asking us if we really needed to add the word really in that sentence.

6) Reading is important.
I’ve talked to my literacy professor and learned that there is research on vocabulary acquisition in children and research on how to teach writing, but no research on the impact of vocabulary acquisition on the quality of writing.  If I ever decide to get a Ph.D. in education, don’t be surprised if I make this my area of specialization. I believe good writing is all about word choice, that word choice comes from having a large vocabulary, and that a large vocabulary comes from reading.

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Categories: Books, Relationships Tags: , ,
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