Thursday, February 14, 2008

how to train future english teachers

Bedtime conversation between my 8-year-old son and me:

"On papers that I corrected, you can write 'corrected by Grant' when they put them on the computer, ok?"

"Ok, bug."

"And on papers that you corrected, but I found even more mistakes, you can write 'recorrected by Grant'."

"You bet, kiddo."

"I only have three papers left. Can I keep them up here by my bed and correct them in the morning?"

"Of course."

"Ok. Good."

It all started earlier this evening when I was helping him with his report on the Ordovician. Yes, the Ordovician! If someone would have asked me, even a month ago, what Ordovician meant, I probably would have told them it was some kind of cream for bald men to make their dreams come true.

There he was, sitting at his desk, trying to finish his homework (writing questions about The Ordovician) as quickly as possible. When he was finished, he asked me to look it over. I pointed out to him (lovingly and kindly, of course) that he needed to put question marks at the ends of all of his questions. You would have thought I'd asked him to kiss a girl! He got all bent out of shape and almost lost his mind (the way one might, I suppose, after they've snarfed down way too much candy from Valentine's Day and you've already bugged them one too many times about "Allison").

Finally, after a battle of wills over a few question marks (I won), I noticed that he had written "contents" when it should have been "continents", and I asked him to correct that as well. More anger, more opposition, more defensiveness.


Then I glanced over and saw my manila folder filled with papers waiting to be edited on my desk, and decided to illustrate the issue rather than continue to harangue. About half of them had already been edited.

"Take a look at these. My students are all learning to write in English, and so I help them by correcting their stories. I put in punctuation marks and fix their spelling. They want to know how to do it right, so I show them. That's all I'm trying to do-help you become a better writer, too. That's my job."

Then something miraculous happened. He stared hard at all the red marks on those papers. (I usually use green or blue for editing, but being Valentine's Day, I had decided to use red for a change). His mind began to race. He wouldn't give them back to me. He sat down right there and started editing with my red colored pencil! And he wouldn't stop!

He changed "persons" to "people". He repaired comma splices. He placed periods appropriately in run-on sentences and began the next sentence with a capital letter (I showed him how to put three lines under the letter you want capitalized). He changed "agree" to "agreement" and "finded" to "found". But it wasn't the fact that he "finded" these errors that astounded me; it was the obvious LOVE and OBSESSION with which he did it.

Finally, after the lights were out and I was scratching his back:

"Maybe you'll be an English teacher someday, bug."

"Yeah, I think I'd like that."

P.S. My adult students are publishing their stories on their very own blogs. You can read the stories my son edited here:

Freedom of Voice

and here:

The Beginning Writers

and leave a comment or two over there for them if you will. All writers like to know that they are being read. It means a lot to them.


Friar Tuck said...

Have you written books?

suesun said...

I wrote a book once in 5th grade about a dragon and a rabbit that were friends. Does that count? In all honesty, it pretty much sucked....

suesun said...

weird. I just realized that one of my boys is a dragon, and the other is a rabbit in the Chinese Zodiak.

Anonymous said...

That is very cool - I love it when kids have the "ah ha" experience and run with it.

By the way, what happened with my blog is that when I changed url's, a spam site napped the old one and kept some of my earlier posts! That's why you commented on soemthing from last summer. Blogger fixed it for me, and it's all deleted now, and you can find me at this site.

Jim Thomsen said...

This is awesome ... I make those correction marks professionally as a night news editor at a newspaper. In fact, right now, I'm red-penning the hell out of a stack of newspaper page proofs with them. It's like our own secret all-negative, all-irritable language!

suesun said...

"all-negative, all-irritable language" -perfect.
I'd like to think it was all a positive experience, but really I think my son was most likely taking out his negative, irritable feelings on somebody else's paper! :-)

Anonymous said...

That was a brilliant approach, you gave him the real world application and a chance to see that all writers benefit from editing. I can't deny the excitement I have for correcting, but my mother is an editor and it was trained into me.

Marie said...

Now when I tell my children that I am an editor for an e-zine, and they ask what that means, I'll shift my eyes to the mysterious graphic posted on the fridge, and they'll know that I have my secrets...