When it comes to editing in academic writing, we want our ESL students to be able to cope with paragraphs and pages of text and a cornucopia of authentic error types.
That’s a tall order!
We’ve been doing some editing work in the class I’m assisting in right now. Even though I know that editing is hard and confusing, I’m getting a fresh reminder of just what a complex task it is.
With writing, there is more than one “right” answer, so it can be hard for students to know exactly what they’re aiming for.
The sheer number of possible error types just within one sentence is overwhelming.
Each sentence might be great as a stand-alone sentence, but in context they might be constructed too similarly, comprise a flawed argument, be superfluous, etc.
Paragraph- and essay-level organization is also tricky, and to some degree specific expectations are cultural so must be learned through a lot of exposure and practice.
Sometimes, there are errors within errors within errors. It’s difficult for students to identify and label them all, and it’s not always intuitive to them which is the teeny baby problem and which is the big one that encases a bunch of the others.
There can be chains of errors, where fixing one central error makes other elements of the sentence (or paragraph or essay) shift, likely causing more edits. These are especially painful to come across after significant editing has already been done.
Sometimes, it’s best to strike out what’s there and rebuild it. But most textbook exercises are made to be fixed rather than obliterated. With authentic errors, it’s not always reasonable to fix them by bits and pieces. From my observations, I get the sense that students aren’t necessarily comfortable slashing out whole sentences or paragraphs from the piece they’re editing.
My lead teacher and I are working hard to scaffold our students to face these editing challenges.
Next week, I’ll post some strategies we’ve used in class and other strategies that could also be used. [Update: editing strategies post]