Thursday, April 28, 2011

When the details matter ... eventually

Today I substitute taught for an 8th grade language arts teacher. Part of the day's lesson included the students rewriting a story for variety of sentence style, or to make it more readable. The sentences were short and choppy, and the point of the lesson was to revise the story to make it more interesting to read; something 8th grade students are more than capable of doing.

Except, in each class the kids were hung up about one minor detail, and it's really minor. In the instructions for revising the text they were informed of 5 misspelled words they had to fix. The students spent most of the time allotted for the lesson looking over the sentences for the misspelled words, and never got around to do the rewriting that was the main part of the assignment. They asked me which sentences the misspelled words were in, were there really only 5, what if I'm not sure how to spell the word right either? Can't you just tell us where they are?

After telling them repeatedly don't worry about the misspelled words, just do the rewrite and you will find them and if you're not sure how to spell it correctly use one of the numerous dictionaries in the classroom some of them finished the assignment before the bell rang. I'm still shaking my head at what happened. Why would these kids get hung up with a few misspelled words when the entire story desperately needed a revision? Shouldn't that have been their focus?

It made me reflect on my writing and why it's important to rewrite, which is making the story better so more people will want to read it. I misspell words all the time, but I know the dictionary will help me with that when the time comes. The important thing is to write a story that flows and has a strong voice that makes people sit up and notice. Be wary of getting mired down in little details like spelling and punctuation, and focus on making your story the best it can be first. They invented spell check for the spelling errors.

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