“I just don’t understand it,” muttered David, a fourth-grade teacher, as he sat frowning down at some student writing. “The daily editing exercises have emphasized commas in a series almost every other day for the past six weeks. Yet my kids still aren’t using this punctuation feature in their own writing when it is appropriate.”
I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Daily editing is a go-to morning bell-ringer activity in many elementary classrooms. It’s quick, easy, and inexpensive, and it fits nicely into the allotted time slot. Teachers also perceive it to be a good way to practice and reinforce writing conventions. Although many students are able to find and correct the errors in the two practice sentences, teachers like David are noticing that students are not necessarily transferring the daily editing lessons to their own writing. In fact, Whittingham (2007) conducted a research study on the use of daily editing and found that it does not result in a statistically significant improvement in the students’ editing and writing skills.
The truth is that there is no shortcut to learning how to write conventionally. Writing conventions cannot be learned in 10 minutes a day through isolated exercises. They are best addressed through intentional, explicit minilessons and writing conferences.
If students are not going to start their day with daily editing exercises, what can teachers offer to keep them meaningfully engaged during the first 10-15 minutes of the school day? Here are five alternatives to consider.
Recent studies report that the average American student spends only 12 minutes reading during the school day (Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010). Even if you are thinking, Not the students in my classroom, why not take advantage of these untapped minutes of the school day to double the national average? Invite students to read the next chapter in their book club book, some poems in an anthology by their favorite poet, a comic book, or an interesting article in a student news magazine or newsletter—or even to reread something that they’ve already read, such as a book in their book baggie. It really doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read.
To make this work, set the stage at the end of the school day. To avoid having kids poking through the classroom library in the morning instead of reading, make sure they have put their morning reading materials on their desks before leaving school the previous day. Then when they arrive in the morning, they’ll be ready to go.
Pressure from high-stakes testing has resulted in a shift in elementary writing workshops. Many classrooms are now using writing curriculums focused on specific writing genres. Students have limited opportunities to select their own topics for writing. Although 15 minutes of writing is certainly not ideal for developing polished essays, it is suitable for quick-writes and entries in a writing notebook or journal. The limited time might even work in favor of those students who tend to become overwhelmed by the blank page and the prospect of a whole 45-minute writing period ahead of them. Journalists and notebook users often write in short bursts. The writers in your class will appreciate this mini-oasis for getting down their thoughts and trying out something new at the beginning of the day.
Question of the Day
When students enter the classroom in the morning, their eyes immediately go to the whiteboard or Smartboard in the front of the room to find out what the Question of the Day is. Then the buzz begins. A well-developed question offers students an opportunity to think critically, organize and express their thoughts, listen to the ideas of others, and present their ideas to the class as a whole.
Good questions of the day go beyond “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” They are thought-provoking, not so black and white, and sometimes even a little edgy. There is no single right answer. One of my favorite resources for the Question of the Day is The Kids’ Book of Questions.
Question of the Day can be either loosely structured or highly organized. The low-key approach has each student find a partner and share talk with the partner about the answer to the question. The highly organized approach has each student take some time to jot down the answer in his “Question of the Day” notebook before sharing it with his “three o’clock buddy.” In both approaches, the teacher can use “pick sticks” to select one or two students to share their answers with the class.
When Rachel’s third graders reach their desks at the beginning of the school day, they find a comic strip with an unusual twist: the speech bubbles in the final panel are blank. The students’ job is to complete the comic strip. When Rachel is finished with her morning tasks and is ready to start the day’s lessons, she selects a few students to read their final panel aloud to the class. This nonthreatening reading-writing activity is such a big hit with this class that the students are creating their own comic strips using resources available at www.donnayoung.org/art/comics.htm and https://www.pixton.com. Some of the student-authored comic strips have found their way into the morning bellâ€‘ringer activity.
After a couple of weeks of daily comics or Question of the Day, the daily editing exercise will become just a distant memory. Then, just maybe, we can get editing back where it really belongs—in a writing workshop, with a piece of real student writing, polishing the text for an authentic audience.