I managed to catch a bit of #Engchatuk today and was interested to see that the discussion was on how to get students to redraft their work. Redrafting is something I advocate when travelling round different schools and I’ve spent a fair bit of time training teachers in how to get students to proofread their work and subject it to critical scrutiny.

There were lots of useful ideas, some of which I recognised and other which I may well pinch, but I was particularly intrigued by this contribution:

It struck me that this was something I’d never been asked before. I really do think teaching students that work needs to be drafted and redrafted is crucial, but it does have to end somewhere. If we’re not working towards students being able to write independently in an exam then we’re failing them.

So when should drafting stop? When it’s ingrained. If students are in the habit of writing carelessly they need to get out of that habit. Practice does not, as my mother told me, make perfect; it makes permanent. What we repeatedly do we get good at. When the habit of drafting has been internalised and students have stopped being dependent on you checking their work, then you can stop pestering them to redraft. The point is for them to be able to do it without you.

But this is, of course, easier said than done. Students may have spent so many years practised not using capital letters, misspelling high-frequency words and festooning their writing with extraneous commas that these habits have become automated routines. While I can write my name in lower case it would be a distinct effort, but not for them; they don’t even have to think about it. The trick, in as much as there is any trickery involved, is create working conditions where the pressure on making mistakes is  great that it becomes easier to do the right thing. We need to make sure that what they’re practising is as close to perfect as possible.

To that end, my advice is to stop making students’ work for accuracy. It just doesn’t work. We spend all this time pointing errors they already know about and allow them to outsource their ability to think critically about their writing to us. I have almost never met a secondary age student that doesn’t conceptually understand how and why to use a capital letter, but you’d never know it from looking at their work. When we point out that there are some missing capitals they thank us, but then make exactly the same mistake next time! If we refuse to mark students work until they have proofread – and visibly annotated – their work; if we refuse to accept that the same errors are made over and over again and force students to rewrite shoddy work then most students quickly realise that it’s far easier to get it right first time. And from that point they start practising perfect.

Because of all the time I’ve spent over the past few years training teachers about the need to implicitly teach students how to write I’ve become much more aware of the metacognition of writing than I ever used to be. But I still almost never go through a formal drafting process when writing these blogs; my editing is internalised. I tend to write very quickly and while typos do slip through, I spot most errors as I go. I have a pretty good of idea of the things I’m likely to get wrong (e.g. I always misspell believe!) Then, I read over when I’m done and change phrasing, tweak sentence structure and massage grammar as the mood takes me.

If you’re keen to teach students how to draft and proofread, these posts might be useful: