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  The Error Hunt





Developing correctness in student writing:
alternatives to the error hunt


I don't understand why good students leave out possessives when I've taught it, reinforced it, quizzed it ... Yet even after all this, there are those errors in the title, in the very first sentence!

Do I read a paper and ignore all punctuation? What good it that for them?

I put 5X on their papers and they have to write it over five times. It's so stupid, obviously. But I can't reinforce this by doing nothing.

We spend hours at night with papers. It's not fun after a while and it gets to you... I'm not sure the students get as much from it as the time I spend on it.

These comments by high school English teachers discussing the process of marking student papers reflect the dissatisfaction and frustration of many teachers over the problem of dealing with errors in student writing - the obvious mistakes in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and usage that often pepper student papers and refuse to disappear despite the teacher's most diligent attention.

Traditionally, teachers have worked to eradicate error in two ways:

  1. by teaching mechanical and grammatical correctness through drill exercises in grammar/usage texts, and
  2. by pointing out all errors when marking student papers, perhaps also expecting students to make corrections when papers are returned.
Although numerous research studies show that there is little or no transfer of learning from isolated drills to actual writing experiences and that the time-intensive practice of the teacher's "error-hunt" does not produce more mechanically perfect papers, this 100-year-old tradition still persists. (See Braddock et al., Haynes, Rosen for discussion of research in this area.) The presence of classroom sets of grammar/usage texts in almost any school attests to this approach to correctness as do the results of several recent studies into teachers' marking procedures.

[Source: Developing correctness in student writing: alternatives to the error hunt Rosen, L.M. (1987) English Journal, 76(2), pp.62-69. ]