Personal Editing Checklists: Scaffolding Editing for Struggling Writers
As a fourth grade teacher, I remember reading a lot of student writing and wondering why they still hadn’t grasped the idea of capitalizing the first word in a sentence, or even the word “I”.
Why were there no periods? Why was it a new idea that they should spell sight words correctly WHEN THEY WERE ON THE WORD WALL?
After I became a coach for K-5 classrooms, I realized that a lot of things were going on to create this issue. One of them is that, when we ask students to edit, we often tell them exactly what to do.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: a student brings a piece of writing up to their teacher. The teacher says, “What goes at the end of a sentence?” and points to the end of the sentence. The student says, sheepishly, “A period…” and adds a period right where the teacher is pointing. This continues with capitalizing “I” or first words of sentences, using the word wall, reading for missing words, etc. It’s heavily prompted and guided.
Here’s the issue with this approach:
The student never learns to edit on their own.
We have to gradually release the responsibility to the students. If not, they depend on us for their cues forever. Which is why fourth graders are still writing “i love go to my grandmas house”
But how do you release responsibility to students without leaving them high and dry? Because if they don’t know how to edit, they still won’t know how to edit when we ask them to do it on their own!
Here are a few steps to building independence in editing. At the bottom of this post, you can get a free download that includes a printable personal editing checklist for students. Read more to learn how I use them!
1. Teach editing in context.
Don’t just teach students how to edit passages. It’s proven that this kind of editing does not transfer to students’ own writing. Instead, we need to model editing our own writing and thinking aloud, and we can even ask students if we can “borrow” their writing to project for the class and edit as well.
2. Good writing makes sense.
The conventions of language help the reader understand the message we are trying to convey.
If we ask kids to edit their writing in writing time, why wouldn’t we ask them to edit their writing throughout the day?
It shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out process, but students need to know that good writing makes sense.
This is a chart you can make with students early in the year to help them build the habit of consistently rereading their writing and editing briefly before they consider their writing “done”.
This can be done in any subject -because kids should be writing all day!
3. Build independence.
Once students have learned the basic editing skills, transfer responsibility. Here’s the good part: I use personal editing checklists with students who are struggling to gain independence in editing. For those specific students. I identify 3-5 things that, if done consistently, could really change the quality of their writing. In order to build a habit, I create a little checklist on a tent card. When it’s time to edit, they pull out the card and get to work.
This was the first Personal editing checklist I ever made. You can see it’s well-worn. We used it a lot!
The first few times they do this, we do it together, so they can learn exactly what is expected. Instead of asking “What goes at the end of a sentence?” the card has actionable steps that they can take with a visual cue to help them remember what that sort of editing looks like. Each step is framed in a direction rather than a general skill like “capitalization.”
These checklists have really supported my struggling writers, and it’s a great way to differentiate for those kids who need it! You don’t need any specific download or printable to use this strategy – you can make them from a piece of cardstock and a pencil. Learn how in the video below!