Editing

Teaching children at primary school how to edit their work is not an easy process. For them, the first draft is the only draft.

“You asked me to write a story about a mythical creature, Miss. So I did. Now it’s done. Is it break time yet?”

Something happens quite early on in children’s learning which I saw time and time again with children who arrived in my classroom. By the age of 7 (and often long before) children have categorised themselves into two camps – good at maths and bad at maths. It happens much sooner with maths than writing.

Why? Because when you look at a page of maths working it has been marked one of two ways – right or wrong. As a young child you are not interested in the process, the method or the working. It is irrelevant to you whether or not you got the first step right because you are looking for one thing and one thing only – did the teacher give me a tick or not?

Ticks equal confidence and once children lose confidence in themselves it can be very hard to rebuild. Some schools have abolished ticks and crosses in a bid to ease pressure on children, but guess what – highlighting in two colours or using dots and lines creates the same problem. The symbol might be different but the outcome is the same.

So we work hard to build resilience and teach children that it’s okay to make mistakes; it’s okay to be wrong. We praise the journey and not just the finished product. Learning to edit work celebrates this process. Children should learn that the first draft is exactly that – not right or wrong, just the starting place.

The natural editors in the classroom tend to, in my experience, be the confident mathematicians. The children who don’t mind the crosses or the orange highlighter, the ones who can bounce back and have another go.

I was not a confident mathematician. When I was at school my nose itched for most of my maths lessons, especially the double period on Friday afternoons. Itch. Itch. Itch.

When I don’t understand something my nose itches. I am told it is a displacement technique my brain has invented to distract me from the fact that I can’t work something out. The same thing happens when I try and read maps. Thank you World for the wonder that is Satnav.

So when I started writing, editing my work became a bit like solving a maths problem. I didn’t really know where to start. It turned out I was one of the, “Work’s done: Playtime now,” children. I couldn’t see past the first draft.

Was the second draft meant to be a proof reading exercise? Or should I put the end of the story at the beginning and see if it’s better that way around? Maybe I needed to start again completely and rework the entire thing so it’s a farm story set in space.

Suddenly my nose was in itch-overdrive.

So I did what I encouraged the children to do when I taught them how to edit their writing…

I showed someone else. Actually, I showed a few people. They say it’s best not to show your work to friends and family because they won’t be objective; good manners and social kindness etiquette will replace productive and useful criticism.

So you need to show the right people. My husband is one of my biggest fans but he cannot let a grammatical error, spelling or punctuation mistake go unannounced. I could write a truly terrible story and he would tell me it was wonderful but I know I can trust him to tell me when a comma has lingered too long or an ellipsis has overstepped the mark.

He didn’t disappoint. But once the fundamentals were in place that left me with the story. The big bit. How would I start editing that?

Time helped. Leave your writing for long enough and you can come back to it with fresh eyes all of your own. I left some of my stories for 8 months this year and when I came back to them I saw them in new and interesting ways.

Time helps most things – wine, cheese and apparently picture books. I had to overcome my usual impatience and need to “just get it done” and the pay off was the magical second draft.

The wine and cheese have long gone but I persevered with the picture books and let time do its magic. The third draft, well, that’s a whole other story. Literally.

Published by Charlie Bown

Children's Author

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