I was nit-picking and scribbling some notes on my students’ writing output when a colleague said, “You’re so patient with editing. But you know what? My professor in graduate school told us not to correct students’ writings. He said students would lose confidence in their writing.”
Then she asked, “What can you say about that?”
Her question prompted an exchange of views but also kept me thinking if teachers should correct students’ writings.
Teachers have unique and strategic ways of looking at and doing things. That is why students learn so much because teachers are different people with distinct styles and approaches.
Teachers are also of various types when it comes to students’ writing. Some laugh at writing mistakes in class. Others would even read aloud in the faculty room samples of ridiculously and erroneously written sentences. A few would embarrass a student who attempts to write.
But there are also teachers who, instead of making fun of a student’s work in public, would rather keep the laughter to themselves and write their comments on the paper.
The worst are those who do not even bother to read what students write, stack them somewhere to be neglected, or throw them into trash bins. How unfair!
Again, “to correct or not to” is worth pondering. The question, however, must not put teachers at odds with each other. The bottom line should be respect.
It’s about caring
Correcting is a way of saying “I care.”
Take this example from my class writing on “how can a student show his or her appreciation of teachers.” One student wrote, “…by threatening them in a nice way.”
Obviously, this writer is confused with homophones. Or he is not conscious of word choices, or probably had the right word in mind but wrote the wrong one, or simply he is a malapropist (somebody who misuses words unintentionally by confusion with one of similar sound).
Whatever the reason or excuse, the above phrase requires correction. Will circling “threatening” and writing “treating” beside the encircled word reduce this student’s confidence in his writing?
A sentence is not only made up of words that make sense. It must also be properly punctuated, depending on purpose or type. The purpose of punctuation, say a period, is “to save lives.”
Use of punctuation is important. Some writers even substitute punctuation for words. A few may rarely or never use punctuation but this may be for style and identity. For sure writers are fully aware of their choice not to punctuate.
Young minds, on the other hand, need to be taught the right “basics,” such as the use of punctuation marks. This will help students learn and practice writing meaningful and correct messages.
A teacher writing down “please punctuate” reminds students of the power of little details that matter, details they commonly and sadly ignore.
Misplaced words and modifiers often create confusion. Will an arrow drawn from a misplaced modifier and pointing to its proper place in a sentence hurt a student? Will written or verbal suggestion on rewording, after a student’s attempt at showing off with superfluous, highfalutin words, not help teach exactness and precision and clarity?
Would written or verbal advice on verb tense consistency and correct spelling make a student think less of himself or herself? Will writing on the board random erroneous sentences not excite and tickle students’ imagination and improve their editing skills? Will writing down “please write legibly” or “please write neatly” not teach orderliness, neatness and discipline?
Correct with heart
Language teachers face the challenge and responsibility of correcting mistakes in writing. But correcting must be polite and honest and compassionate.
A simple chat or a serious conversation with a student concerning his or her writing works wonders. Group exercises on spotting and correcting street and store signage errors can be fun. Asking students to listen attentively as teacher reads an erroneous sentence provides opportunity for collaborative reflection and self-correction.
Simply saying “Keep writing,” with a smile, boosts a student’s confidence and helps develop trust in his or her capacity and ability to learn and become a better writer.
And what better place to learn than in school, a place where errors or mistakes and misconceptions are discovered and corrected?
But teachers must not simply teach students writing. More than teaching writing, they must teach right writing and teach thinking about writing. Correcting is like how science brings good results after careful, organized, logical thinking and doing.
Fact is, some students appreciate being corrected, others don’t. What matters is that we teachers should never fall short in our duty to teach what our vocation deems right and good and true.
Solomon says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge; stupid are those who hate correction.”
The author teaches English and is the journalism coordinator at Barangka National High School.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.