Giving feedback on essays is a tough job for a homeschool mom. It’s not surprising that we make mistakes. You will probably see yourself in many of these.
Writing Feedback Mistake #1: Correcting Everything
It is best for you not to correct mistakes at all. Instead, point them out. When you point them out, the child can make the corrections.
Editing one’s own work is a vitally important skill. I know that it is easy to simply add the extra t or cross out the comma as you read over your daughter’s essay. But you will give your child more chances to learn if you mark the area where the mistake is. Make her hunt for it and attempt a correction.
Most of our grammar lessons have come out of those very situations — needing to correct a problem but not sure how.
Plus, correcting everything can be a lot of work for you. Mark. Don’t correct.
Writing Feedback Mistake #2: Marking Everything
Now you’re marking instead of correcting. Good. But resist the urge to mark everything all at one time. Instead, focus on a few key things you are working on. Maybe it’s word choice and transitions. Maybe it’s punctuation and sentence patterns.
Whatever it is, tell your child upfront what you’re focusing on during your review of the essay. Be sure to let her know that you didn’t mark all of the errors. (Otherwise she may assume everything else is right.)
Use my printable peer editing checklist when you read the essay if that helps you pinpoint things to look for. (That printable is not just for peers. It’s good for self editing and for mom to use as well.) Another advantage to the checklist is that you can make general notes on it instead of on the essay.
For example, if your child has not used any transitions at all, it may be tempting to add some in or to mark exactly where they would fit. But a better option is to make a note on the essay or checklist that her essay has almost no transitions. But the burden back on the child to do the editing. It will make her a stronger writer in the long run.
And if she knows you are going to make her work for the corrections, she will be more deliberate about getting it right instead of relying on your corrections to patch up her sloppy work.
Writing Feedback Mistake #3: Not Giving Positive Feedback
A young writer needs positive feedback. I’m not talking about feel-good compliments to build up self-esteem. I’m talking about very practical, very concrete descriptions about what the writer did well in the essay.
If you say, “It is good” or even “It is great!” you have missed a huge teaching opportunity. You must be specific about exactly what is “good” or “great.” Talk about the transitions, the introduction paragraph, the thesis statement, the word choice, the vivid details, the flawless spelling, or some other very specific facet of the essay.
Look back at the editing checklist if you need help with what to talk about.
Sharing your emotional reactions is okay too, as long as you tie it into what the writer wrote. For example, saying “Your essay is funny,” is not as helpful as saying “The story about the squirrel was so clear I could picture it in my mind! It made me laugh out loud!”
Learning what he did right is just as important for your child as learning where he went wrong. In fact, sometimes it is more valuable since it builds up a sense of confidence with his writing skill, one that causes him to savor the writing task rather than dread it.
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