Dr. John Collins, Featured Blogger
By John Collins, Ed.D, Founder and Managing Director, Collins Education Associates
Selecting Focus Correction Areas is part of the art of teaching—a careful mix of high standards, clear expectations, and knowledge of individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. These are the decisions that make teaching frustrating and fun. Here are some helpful guidelines:
- Always begin with a content FCA; that is, an FCA that specifies the “what” of the writing. For example, a range of (eight to twelve) facts about a topic, reasons with support, specific details, quotes from the text, and a specific number of comparisons and contrasts are all great content FCAs.
- Consider a convention FCA (spelling, punctuation, capitalization) to encourage close reading and editing of the paper. The Essential Conventions Check Mate™ was created to help teachers communicate clear, specific standards about conventions.
- If possible, give FCAs with a numerical range. For example: a four to six paragraph essay (better than a five paragraph essay—less formulaic); three to four reasons with support; or a short, five to ten word concluding sentence. Just make sure that the low number is a reasonable standard for the assignment.
- Repeat FCAs to encourage mastery. Just because students can write a compelling thesis statement once does not mean they will write it again. Most FCAs need to be repeated to become embedded in the students’ skill sets.
- Ask students to underline, circle, bracket, highlight or, in some way, indicate where the FCAs are in the paper. Have students underline their thesis statements, circle and number their content vocabulary words, and bracket their reasons with support. These markings help you become a more accurate evaluator, and they also show that the students understand what they have done.
- Change or differentiate the FCAs for students at different skill levels.
- For more advanced writers, let the students select one FCA to work on. Here are some FCAs that every writer, no matter how skilled, needs to consider at all times:
- Eliminate unnecessary words (try to take out ten percent of your words).
- Vary the length of your sentences.
- Use specific words (Honda Accord) rather than general (the car).
- Use the technical vocabulary of the subject.
- The less mature the writer, the more specific the FCA should be. Vary sentence beginnings, lengths and types is a great FCA for a mature writer, but two to three correctly punctuated compound sentences underlined, may be more appropriate for a less mature or motivated writer.
[Note: The book titled Selecting and Teaching Focus Correction Areas extends these guidelines with greater detail and information.]