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Teaching proofreading is not easy

 I know all the tricks: Read your essay out loud. Read it backwards. Have someone else read your essay.

These proofreading tips just aren’t working for several of my students this year.

Is it because they’re lazy? Sloppy? Have low standards? Or is it because they can’t spot their errors — or that they don’t know grammar?

It’s probably all of the above. But in order for me to help them improve their writing, I need to figure out exactly what’s going on.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Ask students about their proofreading process. How do they proofread? For how long? How do they know they’re finished?
  2. Observe students proofreading their essays. Suggest different methods and see which ones yield better results.
  3. Assign a standard proofreading process. Tell them exactly what to do and see if the uniformity works.

That’s just a beginning list. I’m inclined to do all three. In fact, I began today with one student. I asked her about her feelings toward grammar and proofreading. (“I hate grammar!” she said.) She then proofread her essay in three different ways, and we talked about which method worked best for her and why. (The method she liked the best — reading a printed copy out loud — also found the most mistakes.)

I like #3, too. My students benefit from specific directions. One idea is to make all my students do the same exact proofreading process. Another (better) idea is for the students to proofread based on their grammar patterns. I know that other teachers do this, but I haven’t figured out a good way to pull this off. Please let me know if you have ideas! 


  1. Trisha

    I wish we were still teaching together! I appreciate your reflections on proofreading and the library. I’ve been thinking A LOT about proofreading and revising this year too, trying not to get frustrated as students turn in essays with the same mistakes I already corrected once. I’m learning… I met with each student the second time around and conferenced about their errors and revisions. Definitely much more helpful than the first time when I just handed pack their work with a bunch of marks and assumed they could figure it out! Still wondering about marking every error or just focusing on particular ones. It’s just hard for me to let them turn in a final draft that is still riddled with mistakes. I like your idea of sitting down with students and trying different proofreading techniques and seeing which works best for them. Again, the most effective strategies seem to be highly personalized, which means a lot of time and places a necessity on keeping classes small enough to do this.

    On a positive note, independent reading in all of my classes is so AWESOME. Many of my most reluctant readers, who at first gave me the most pained expression when I mentioned independent reading, are now on their second books (and liking it!). A number of these students have even started reading at home. I’m reminded how important it is just to help students find the “right” book for them. Thanks for all your support with recommendations! I’m almost done with A Place to Stand. And a popular one for my girls has been Jumping Off Swings By Jo Knowles.

    • Mark Isero

      Thanks, Trisha! You’re doing great work. Your comment really speaks to the importance of providing personal, individualized support. I know that I need to increase my students’ one-on-one time with me, but I don’t know how to pull it off. Congratuations on your progress with independent reading! It’s crucial.

Please share your brilliant insights!