The student has put time and effort into his writing, but part of that writing doesn’t work.
- Maybe it’s irrelevant information. The child has lost his focus and is heading down an interesting but off-topic route. You can see this, but he can’t.
- Maybe the words repeat. The child says the same idea he already said and the repetition is not needed.
- Maybe the sentences are something the student needs to write to get going. (I woke up in the morning and then I went to the bathroom and then I got dressed and ate breakfast, and we got on the plane and we flew to Las Vegas. Ah Las Vegas!) Everything that happens getting to Las Vegas has to be written by the student in order to start her writing, but it’s not what the essay is about and needs to be cut.
How does a teacher or parent show that words need to be cut without breaking the child’s heart? Here’s my approach.
- First I ask the student to read his writing aloud. I might ask him to show me where the “off topic” section is on his prewriting organizer. He might notice it’s not there. I say that I think the reason it’s not there is because it’s not what he planned to focus on. My goal here is to get the student to agree with my analysis.
- I suggest that certain sentences probably should be saved for another essay. By saying they should be saved, I am allowing the student to save face as well as to think that all his work has not been in vain. Usually the student says nothing. Then I lightly, with a regular pencil, draw a big box around the words which I think should be removed, explaining what I am doing. I do not cross out the words. I don’t draw the box in ink or even in dark pencil. I make it all seem tentative at first and able to be erased if the student disagrees. My goal is to gain the student’s trust but not to force him to delete.
- Next I ask the student to read the parts not boxed and see if they work without the boxed parts. Usually they do, but sometimes transitions might be needed. If the box is the beginning of the essay, sometimes a new introduction needs to be written. I ask the student to verbally say how the remaining parts can be connected if we leave out the boxed parts. Usually the student has good ideas. Usually he writes the new parts or the transitions between the lines or in the margins.
- It’s important to evaluate the student’s body language through this process. If he becomes a stone, or if he is barely able to talk, don’t press him. Sometimes I say, let’s think about this until next lesson, okay? And then I move the paper away and go to a different part of the lesson–a BINGO vocabulary review, for example. My goal here is to maintain the student’s trust and to give him time to adjust his thinking.
- At the end of the lesson the box is still there, untouched. The boxed writing is the student’s writing and he or she must decide whether it stays or goes.
Did you ever see the film, All the President’s Men? One reporter grabs the copy of another reporter and revises it without permission. The original writer of the copy goes ballistic. It’s the same thing when a teacher or parent changes a child’s copy without the child’s permission. We need to respect the child and give him or her time to come around to our way of thinking. And sometimes the child doesn’t. That’s okay too.