Do students need to go through Type Three and Type Four writing in order to reach a Type Five?

Dr. John Collins, Featured Blogger

By John Collins, Ed.D, Founder and Managing Director, Collins Education Associates

NOTE: This question was asked by Pennsylvania teachers during a recent Collins Online Conversation. The blog summarizes my answer to their question.

The short answer is “yes.” But let me elaborate and give you some options for taking a piece of writing to Type Five.

My first thought is to ask, “Should I have students produce Type Five (error-free) papers?” Of course, error-free writing is always the goal, but depending on circumstances, that goal may be unrealistic. In my book, The Collins Writing Program: Improving Student Performance Through Writing and Thinking Across the Curriculum, I give the following four guidelines to consider before assigning a Type Five. The writing will be:

  1. Read by critical readers outside the classroom
  2. Produced by students who are sufficiently motivated to produce multiple drafts
  3. Produced by students who are sufficiently skilled to produce multiple drafts
  4. Created under conditions that make publishable writing possible with enough time for self- and peer review, oral reading, teacher feedback, and multiple revisions

For more information and detail on these guidelines, see pages 37-38 of Improving Student Performance.

Assuming that the class under consideration meets at least some of the criteria in the four guidelines above, I would follow these steps.

  • Assign an advanced organizer or outline to help students create content in an organized form, such as a compare-and-contrast grid, two-column notes, thesis statement and reasons, or topic sentence and details.
  • Assign a Type Three assignment with three content and/or organizational Focus Correction Areas (FCAs). Student will self-edit their essay and then peer edit (Type Four) a classmate’s essay. Collect the papers and assess for FCAs.
  • Once the papers have reasonable content and organization, I would try to diagnose common problems with conventions or style and do a mini-lesson on these areas. Then, assign a revision of the paper written during step two with new FCAs based on the diagnosed convention or style errors. Examples of common issues are lack of sentence variety, incorrect punctuation of literary work, possessive errors, and tense shifts.
  • Have students self- and peer edit their papers for the convention and/or style FCAs.
  • Collect and assess the papers with the hope that they are good enough to merit individual conferences. At this point, I would have two assessments for one paper.
  • If the papers have adequate content, organization, style, and conventions, conference with each student to provide feedback and suggestions to bring the paper, or a section of the paper, to Type Five, error-free status.

Conferences will be different depending upon the grade level. For primary students, papers are shorter and the errors are less complex; therefore, conference on the whole paper to bring it to Type Five. As grade levels go up, papers become longer and the problems become more complex; therefore, I might select a section of the paper rather than the whole paper. This decision is based simply on time issues. Many middle and high school teachers see more than 100 students; when those students write a relatively short 250-word paper, the teacher would be conferencing on more than 25,000 words!

For longer papers, I might focus on the longest paragraph each student wrote. Review it with the student, making suggestions or edits, and then ask the student to incorporate these suggestions into the section. At the end, I might display some of the best sections and discuss the qualities that made them worthwhile to provide realistic examples and give hardworking students praise.