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Am I a teacher or a proofreader?

favicon My students’ skills in grammar and mechanics aren’t improving fast enough.

I’m not sure what to do. I’m convinced the problem has three parts:

  1. I’m good at identifying grammar problems but not good at teaching grammar so that students improve their skills,
  2. My students don’t spend enough time proofreading, and when they do, their approach is not meticulous enough,
  3. Despite my efforts, my students haven’t built a network of peers and adults to help them proofread.

My problem is not that students struggle with grammar. After all, I understand that learning is a process. But it’s worrisome that there are so many errors that don’t seem to go away.

Right now, in a short, five-paragraph essay, my students average 20-30 errors. That’s after a week of revision and proofreading. Many of these errors fall into these popular categories: possessive apostrophes, tenses, run-ons, subject-verb agreement, and commas after introductory clauses.

But then there are the bizarre errors: double periods, quotation marks that go the wrong way, misspelled names from the prompt, titles that are italicized and underlined, and uncapitalized names of characters.

When I read my students’ essays, I have an otherworldly experience. A few reactions emerge simultaneously.

  • Did they even proofread this?
  • They know this grammar rule. Why isn’t it automatic yet?
  • What am I supposed to do about this?

Really, I’m at a loss. All students have an online writing mentor who offers comments every week. I look at their essays every week and teach a grammar lesson based on patterns I see. Then each student has a peer reviewer. I even make them listen to Grammar Girl. Finally, 10 students have in-person grammar coaches, and eight other students have completed Grammar Camp, a small-group intervention I lead during Lunch.

Ideas, please? favicon


  1. Heidi Guibord

    You are doing quite a lot of work already. I wonder if there is a link to your other blog entry on increasing reading. Could building up reading skills lead to better writing? I know it’s not a quick fix.

  2. Laura V

    Those errors also make be wonder – are they using Spell/Grammar Check? Do they know how? It might be too crazy for them to process with a starting point of 50ish errors (and lots of incorrect suggestions as spellcheck tries to figure it out), but that’s certainly how I would make sure I didn’t have two periods or quotation marks facing the wrong way.

    Good luck! You’re doing great work!

  3. Mark Isero

    Heidi and Laura: I spoke to my students today about how proofreading to zero errors is possible and necessary — and that it’s my job to get them to believe those two things. I’ll keep you posted!

Please share your brilliant insights!