Proofreading for language acquisition
Proofreading as a skill to improve writing.
Proofreading is generally considered the last part of the editing process during which students check for errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling. Chris Jay believes it can be so much more.
An important skill
For English Language Acquisition students proofreading is an especially important skill, as it will invariably also include replacing overused or repeated words. The problems with not proofreading or with lazy, ineffective proofreading are many and it can be a significant source of frustration for teachers when they are marking student work.
Assignments that students have invested a lot of time and energy in can be greatly let down by careless mistakes that distract the reader from the ideas being presented.
Just re-reading may help, but it will not significantly improve written work, as at least superficially ‘if your brain has written it then your brain is going to think it is right’. A lot of students will only surrender a few minutes at the end of the writing process to check their work even when they may have spent a number of lessons working on it. Providing them with an effective strategy to proofread their writing and getting them to ‘buy in’ to the process is therefore essential as they progress through Secondary school.
Different teachers will approach proofreading in different ways. However, this straightforward method will undoubtedly help students improve their writing. It is worth mentioning that it is intended to get them thinking and engrain a positive habit rather than be a grammar test!
Stage 1 – read, highlighting the verbs
Stage 2 – read, highlighting the nouns
Stage 3 – read, highlighting the transitions/sentence starters
Stage 4 – read the whole thing out loud
Stage 1 will help with tense issues and overuse of certain verbs (as is common with ELA students). Stage 2 highlights problems with count/non-count and plurals, and encourages substitution from recognising overuse of certain nouns. Stage 3 looks at variety and flow of the writing. Stage 4 is effective because hearing your work and simply reading your work is a different experience, plus some students may have a higher degree of accuracy with their speaking (& listening) than their writing.
The process in practice
How this looks in the classroom will obviously vary and may be adjusted for work done on paper or google docs, as is common in 1:1 laptop schools. The highlighting could take the form of using different colours, circling or underlining for example. Stage 4 could take place inside the classroom or literally outside it depending on the desired noise levels.
Limited contact time or curriculum demands may lead teachers to believe that they just don’t have time to use such a strategy, which in the early stages can be time-intensive. However, what it looks like in a lower Secondary ELA classroom may be quite different from an English B IBDP class. If used consisently, however, things speed up, and using each stage becomes a subconscious part of the writing process. In addition, the time invested is balanced by teachers receiving increasingly error-free work, which ultimately means less marking and more time for developing ideas and concepts.
Opportunities for pair and group work develop organically as students ask each other about synonyms for ‘this’ word and ‘that’ word.
Posters or infographics on the classroom wall detailing the proofreading process serve as good reminders, giving students autonomy and spontaneity when it comes to using it.
Fundamental to the process is creating an atmosphere in which students realise that finding mistakes is a good thing – rather than being disappointed. If they find errors and fix them, then they have improved their work. Over time using the strategy becomes more efficient, students become more independent and its application becomes automatic. The impact ultimately spreads beyond the ELA classroom and improves the quality of written work across the complete programme of study.
Chris Jay teaches at the Independent Schools Foundation (ISF) Academy, Hong Kong