Editing & Revision, Thoughts & Symbols

[NOTE: For this post, when I refer to editing I mean the proofreading of spelling, punctuation, indenting, etc. that can often be delivered from teacher to student via copyediting symbols (if they have been taught and practiced in class). When I say feedback, I am referring to the comments on content & organization that I–as a teacher–often write in the margins to better guide the revision process.]

I am constantly struggling with how much editing and feedback to give to students on their writing. I have read the research that explains how an overabundance of editing and feedback overwhelms students to a state of paralysis in which no growth and/or no revision of their writing happens. I have seen teachers give such a skimpy amount of editing and feedback on work and then the same thing happens–no growth and/or no revision within a piece of writing. What is the solution? What is the perfect amount of editing and feedback?

The sad response is that there is no response. (Insert Debbie Downer music here.) Every student is different and needs a different amount of editing and feedback and it is up to us, as their teachers, to figure out what students need what types of editing and feedback to grow as a writer.

For example, I know that I am far from a perfect speller or grammarian. My amazingly wonderful adviser at Teachers College not only gave me feedback on the content of my dissertation, but she did some light editing for me as well. But I am a decent speller and grammarian, at worst, and good at best. Far from perfect, though, therefore I needed a bit of help.

With that in mind, as a writer I needed something different from what many of my students need. My urban high school students and my community college students are typically quite awful at spelling and grammar, and the content and organization of their writing also needs serious help. These students need guidance to improve their writing–carefully considered guidance. Grading their writing involves a great deal of thinking and choice-making on the part of the teacher. Grading the writing of struggling students is very. hard. work.

This is why I think being a *good* writing teacher might just be the hardest teaching job out there. The  time and thought that goes into grading writing is unbelievable. Last fall I decided to set a timer and limit each student’s essay in my Composition I class at Kingsborough Community College (3-4 page essays, mind you!) to seven minutes. It was IMPOSSIBLE. While timing, I found that each essay needed 15+ minutes for me to read, edit, and give feedback. Multiply that by 75 students = 1,125 minutes of grading for one assignment. That is almost 19 hours of grading. Please tell me why I chose this as my profession?! The work is neverending. No hyperbole there.

I am honestly solution-less in this area. I am hoping to do some online editing through the use of ePortfolio this fall at our new college, and I’ll see if that helps. I will keep you posted if I figure out any magic anwer. Until then, here’s a great list of editing/revision symbols that goes beyond the norm. Maybe they will help. My favorites are the magnifying glass and the infinity symbol!