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Yes, teachers should count off for spelling
Correcting mistakes is how we learn.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
Should English teachers take off for missing in student papers? My 5th-grade daughter gets 100s on spelling tests, so I know she can spell. And she gets A’s on her writing assignments, but her spelling on the assignments is atrocious. The teacher sometimes circles the mistakes, but doesn’t mark off for them. I wonder if my daughter doesn’t spell better on the papers because it doesn’t count for the overall grade.
I think you’ve accurately diagnosed the problem. Let’s call it ALDLA: Acute Laziness Due to Lack of Accountability.
Put simply, your daughter tries harder on spelling tests because she’s accountable for mistakes. She doesn’t try as hard on the papers because there are no consequences for doing it wrong.
The solution to this particular strain of ALDLA is simple: not only should English teachers mark off for spelling — all teachers should.
Why don’t they?
Some teachers worry that the profuse red ink spilled in the corrections will hurt the students’ self-esteem and make them hate writing. On the other hand, teachers like me worry that students will one day lose professional esteem (i.e. jobs) because their writing looks like a child’s.
It might help if we got over the modern notion that educators aren’t supposed to correct student mistakes. Yes, we are. That’s what all good teachers do — not to humiliate the students, of course, but to help them grow.
In fact, correcting mistakes is how we learn. One celebrated study compared math instruction in America to instruction in Japan, where students typically outperform American students. It found that American teachers generally ignored their students’ errors in favor of praising correct answers. Japanese teachers, however, rarely extolled students and focused on common errors, discussing with their classes how to avoid mistakes and arrive at accurate answers. That helped the students learn better.
It should be baked into the cake that teachers mark and score all significant mistakes they see (assuming that the information has been taught). When a history teacher sees a student write “recieve” instead of “receive,” she should correct it. Likewise, if an English teacher sees a student refer to Abraham Lincoln as the first president, she should correct that, too. In both cases, the grade should be modified appropriately.
You might be thinking, “Correcting mistakes is fine, but is it necessary to also lower the grade?” Not always, but often, because kids in general don’t pay attention to such correction if the only thing riding on it is their personal, long-range enrichment. They have more urgent leisures to attend to.
Highlighting mistakes in this way is not an act of punishment; it’s an act of love. Teachers who genuinely care about their students want them to learn and become knowledgeable. They want them to succeed in whatever area of life they choose to pursue. But learning, knowledge, and success can’t be conveyed solely through smiles and praise. There are times when you have to be “cruel to be kind” by holding kids accountable for doing things properly.
Imagine a baseball coach who didn’t hold a batter accountable for bad posture at the plate. Imagine a music tutor who didn’t correct wrong notes. Imagine a parent who allowed you to do whatever you wanted.
Well, that last one is, unfortunately, what a lot of parents desire from modern education, and their fear of bruising the child’s ego outweighs their fear of the child becoming an uneducated adult. Those parents aren’t shy about berating teachers who, in their view, are being too harsh in pointing out the child’s errors. That’s another reason many teachers don’t count off for things like spelling.
But let’s be sensible. Correcting mistakes and preserving a child’s self-confidence needn’t be an either/or enterprise. We can have both if teachers will remember that the sole reason for highlighting errors is to produce an educated child, and if parents will remember that this is why they send children to school in the first place. That’s because few things boost our confidence more than knowing we are well-educated and highly prepared for whatever intellectual ventures await us.
Read original column here.
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