"Electronic Editing: Taking Advantage of Built-in Tools to Improve Student Writing" by Leigh E. Zoitz
When grading and/or reviewing a student's paper, teachers leave suggestions in the margins and make corrections directly onto the paper. This can get messy and is not the most efficient way to do it. Zoitz offers that if students turn in an electronic copy of their papers, then teachers can used the editing tracking features on word processing programs to comment on student papers. This way students can more easily access the teacher's input and the editing exchange can happen faster because papers can be turned back outside of class. I like this idea but not only for the reasons that Zoitz offers. Yes, it would be neater and more expedient, but it would also be easier for students to keep a record of teacher suggestions. If students have corrections of previous assignments saved directly on their computers, I think they will be more inclined to look over those assignment and be better able to notice and avoid patterns of error. If they keep getting the same comment over and over again, students hopefully will take notice and change it. Likewise, the teacher will have this same collective record so that she can keep track of the student's difficulties, and the problem areas of the class as a whole. If she has to keep writing the same comment over and over again, perhaps on seeing this she will realize the need for a reteaching intervention.
Q1: Could these tools be put to use by the students themselves?
A1: Absolutely! I think that if students learned the potential of these tools it would greatly help their writing in two ways. First, the teacher is often not the only one to read student work; peer-review is an integral step in the writing process. If students used the tools on each other's papers, it would allow them to comment easier and to receive criticism in a more effective format. Peer review could take place outside of the classroom, perhaps, leaving classtime to discuss the problem areas instead of setting aside a large chunk for the reading itself. As the students write their own papers, I think that if they tracked their editing on rough drafts it would help them understand the editing process better and give them a record of their changes, which may help them understand later why those choices were made. Since the editing tools don't erase the first version, students get to view the original and the changes together, which lets them see the effect that those changes have on the work as a whole. Also, once the revisions are done, students have the option of reverting to the original if it would be helpful to do so.
Q2: What is an issue with this method?
A2: I often find that when I read off a computer screen for long periods of time, I become disengaged and begin to skim instead of absorb the material. By actually physically writing on the paper, there is more action involved. Also, handwritten comments feel more personal and weightier. So teachers would have develop an attitude for themselves and in their classroom that emphasized the importance of these tools and how to overcome the ennui that can come from a white screen (quick, frequent breaks, perhaps?). There is a paradigm shift that is taking us from a paper culture into the world of technology and we have got to develop the skills to help us meet this change.