Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blogging mistakes

I love to blog. 

I've come to experience blogging as one of the best ways to support my learning, and so I've dedicated myself to publishing one piece of content almost everyday for the last year and a half. 

While I can't say that it hasn't taken the time and effort that some work requires, I also can't say it hasn't been fun.

It's been fun.

Learning via blogging has become a passion of mine.

But to do this, there are times when I make errors. These errors can come as content and/or grammatical. While I do work hard to make sure that all errors are kept to a minimum, I have only so much time and effort to expend and so by definition, there will be lapses in what I can catch or proofread.

Sometimes I have to decide whether to focus more on what I say versus how I say it. You won't catch me writing about the glory of rewards and punishments or how grading can be better used to garnish compliance from kids, but you will find the odd spellng mistake, type-o, or run-on sentence.

Don't get me wrong, I do proofread my blogs. I almost always read and re-read out loud so I can both see and hear what I have written. I work diligently to get the big ideas right, but I won't lose a wink of sleep over a spelling error, missing word or sloppy apostrophe.

One incident in regards to this topic comes to mind.

On June 29, 2010, I wrote a post for the second last day of school titled Made to Learn, and the first comment was left by anonymous:

You have to do better job proofing your work.

That was the whole comment. One sentence in response to my entire post. Guess how I felt. How would you feel? How would your students feel if this was the comment you left them? I'll be honest, this petty comment angered me, but then I took that anger and turned it into a teachable moment.

Here was my response to this anonymous comment:

@anonymous: Do you provide the same, cold, short, indifferent, and utterly unhelpful comments to your students or do you reserve such unproductive, ignorant one liners to only bloggers who try and publish one peice of thoughtful content every day? 
The words we say are important, but often the words we don't say are even more important. Think about that. 
Can you imagine how it might feel to be a child who works his tail off on a peice of writing only to get a response that takes the form of an uninspiring, one sentence critique?
If you feel the need to say such things, please feel free to dispense them on me. I will take them gladly if it means your students or children are not subjected to such thoughtless judgments.
After putting so much time and effort into writing day in and day out, this anonymous commenter's brevity came across as nothing but judgement that took infinitely less time and effort than what I put forward.

I swear, I will do my best to never do this to my students or children. And if/when I do, I'll make damn sure to apologize.


18 comments:

  1. I don't proofread my blog posts. Never. It's a fault of mine, I realize. Some see a blog as a polished end-product. Some see it as a flexible dialogue. I'd rather keep it as a dialogue. If someone gently reminds me about a mistake (and it happens quite frequently) then I'll fix the mistake.

    There's nothing wrong with corrections. There's nothing wrong with brevity in corrections. For example, saying, "Hey Joe, it's piece rather than peice" would lead to a quick correction. What makes the comment horrible is the tone and the lack of specific help. It's as useful as "great job" or "nice." If you want to give critical input, give specific feedback.

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  2. anonymous is right, you do need to do a better job of proofing your posts. for example, you use "judgments" then later you write "judgement." which is correct? i don't agree with john above either. proofing posts is important, and blogs are finished works -- especially for educators communicating with students and/or other educators. one wouldn't write a journal article without closely proofing the work, for example. maybe it's just me: as a former newspaper copy editor, mistakes like that tend to jump out at me. for me, one troubling aspect of modern students is that their spelling and grammar skills are very poor. as teachers we must show them first-hand how important it is to just do it right. then again, maybe it's all personal taste. many would probably say i am at fault because i don't capitalize when i type this post. true, it's a bad habit. however, if this was my blog i would not be so lazy. just my honest opinion.

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  3. Yeah, I've noticed your typos too but I can't say they made one jot of a difference to me or my view of your work - quite the opposite. Mind you, I did think the mistake with guerillas instead of gorillas was hilarious but that was because it was somehow appropriate. You're obviously not afraid of making mistakes Joe, and that makes all the difference.

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  4. I teach freshman composition and I try to teach my students that it's okay to make mistakes and that I won't penalize them for doing so. At first they don't believe me. That's sad because it says a lot about how they've been treated as writers in the past. It's wonderful how their writing flourishes once they stop being afraid of making mistakes. As Mike Rose says, "Error is where education begins."

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  5. Well said. I will be sharing this with my teacher followers who might appreciate this reminder. Thanks!

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  6. I love this post. I am a new blogger and I am not the best writer. That wasn't the point of this post, however. Although students need to receive constructive criticism/feedback, it is important that we don't make them feel inferior in the process. We all make mistakes.

    Rob,
    If grammatical errors and misspellings bother you, why don't you use capitalization? Just saying....

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  7. I am a copyeditor wannabe who also notices every mistake, except the ones I miss when I proof fread my own work- and then I see it after publishing. Thankfully I can edit my electronically published work- I've actually held print books in hand in which I can circle multiple editing errors.

    My suggestion for serious bloggers is to find a buddy or two, and ask them to proofread for you. It takes a bit more time, but proofreading for each other is profitable in the long run.

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  8. As someone who makes a typo time and again in haste, because I am human, I totally understand the occasional slip. What I appreciate so much is your thoughtful response to the anonymous (cowardly) commentator who didn't use grammar or mechanics in their own comment. You make such a wonderful point of how our feedback to the kids must be reflective/constructive as well as encouraging. Way to call out the coward! Well done.

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  9. @ J. Hamlyn - I remember the guerilla incident. I laughed at myself more than a little on that one. In fact, I'm laughing about it right now. :)

    Thanks for commenting. You are a long time reader and I appreciate that!

    @ Kirsten Bowers - Teachers need to be mindful of the kind of brevity they use in their feedback. Often brevity can come across as abrupt and snappy. Out best intentions aren't good enough sometimes.

    @ Mrs. Gregory - When I encourage others to blog, they often use their perceived lack of writing skills as a major obstacle. I think this is partly fabricated by themselves as an excuse to not engage, but I also think society enforces this fear when we suggest that blogging should be like publishing an article in a journal... such a comparison is as silly as saying that when we speak, we should do so with proper sentence structure absent of error. Such advice can only hinder the dialogue and scare people away.

    Joe

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  10. I think the main point of your post is to get teachers to reflect on how their responses to students' writing can do more harm than good. I immediately thought about Rick Lavoie and his student, Craig. http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/specialneeds/howhard.htm

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  11. I DO work as a copyeditor (it helps pay for my teaching habit), which pretty much ensures that I will have at least one embarrassing typo in this comment. I don't see the point in correcting a blogger's writing mechanics unless they've asked you to do that. It is better to be kind than to be right.

    I was spoiled in high school by a teacher who returned papers *covered* in red ink. About two thirds of the comments he wrote were helpful suggestions (eg, "You might like this book: ____"; "Great thought! What about _____?"). I got my first college paper back with absolutely nothing written on it. On the last page, the prof had written: "Nicely researched and written. B-"

    Huh? I think there should be *some* indication from the teacher that explains the grade! On the rare occasions when I have papers to grade (I'm a music teacher), I cover them with remarks. If I were an English teacher, I'd never get to sleep!

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  12. Without some kind of relationship, feedback is often neither valued or constructive.

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  13. Relationship or motivation. I have a daughter who is an amazing writer, and she *craves* feedback--the more critical the better. She has the thickest skin EVER. She always felt that she couldn't find anyone who would go beyond politeness enough to really tell her what she needed to do to improve. (Part of the problem, truthfully, is that she is excellent--and it is hard to find someone who *could* critique what she does!) She wouldn't need a relationship with her critic--I suppose you could say she creates a relationship ahead of time by inviting and welcoming criticism.

    Most of us (myself included) are more threatened and intimidated by uninvited criticism, so it becomes acceptable only in the setting of a relationship.

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  14. More (sorry, I'm avoiding work on a tedious bit of editing myself!): As a blogger, your focus is SO on the content. While hoping to engage readers with your ideas, your wit, or what have you, having someone criticize your mechanics is at best disappointing. ("I wrote you a passionate love letter, and you sent it back with the misspelled words circled!") The intent of blogging (as I see it) is to communicate ideas about which you are passionate--not to show off your command of the language.

    OK, I'm going back to work now.

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  15. Well said Joe!
    Great article! It always happens to us who try to blog on a regular basis. Same way I'd love people to give me constructive feedback on my posts, I try to do the same with my students. Feedback is an essential part of the learning process, but can also be a barrier for improvement and development.

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  16. This post is fantastic evidence to support the hypothesis that you cannot count quality. Providing a writer with a rubric or checklist that says "fewer than 3 spelling errors" does little to support a writer's focus on quality. It also highlights varying expectations regarding proofreading for different mediums. A journal article should have no errors as it’s been seen by numerous eyes. Errors in a blog post understandably happen as they're seen by only one set of eyes. What I find fascinating is that you gave feedback to commenters that gave you positive or warm feedback.

    As you said yourself, without a relationship, feedback is virtually useless. Perhaps you have a relationship with those three commentators that is unknown to your readers. This is your space. Of course, it’s stating the obvious to say you can write or respond to whatever you want.

    I find myself wondering about we selectively respond to feedback especially given your statement, “the words we say are important, but often the words we don't say are even more important. Think about that.”

    I'm wondering what implications that has for how an author and his or her audience can best negotiate cool feedback or suggestions for improvement.

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  17. I can totally relate to this issue! I often make typos in my blog, too - and it's just a matter of time; I squeeze in blogging with many other things and I don't proofread blogs or discussion board posts or emails with the same care that I do published materials, materials I use in teaching, etc. I'm sure everybody has their own set of standards and expectations, but that's how it works for me. There was a very sweet lady, a retired Latin teacher, who used to read my blog, Bestiaria Latina, and send me emails with corrections to the typos - it was really helpful. She passed away last spring, and I can imagine some readers of the blog might have noticed that the typos are back...
    When I teach, my students publish blogs AND websites. I ask them to proofread the website content carefully by reading it out loud, and there are alternating weeks of writing and revision to make sure everybody learns how to proofread and revise. But that's for their websites; for their blog posts, I hope that some of the proofreading might rub off... but I think it's helpful for them to think about the tradeoffs we all make in terms of the time and effort that we put into any task. If I were 100% careful about 100% of the things I do, well, I would get a lot less done. :-)

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  18. @ Jennifer - As a blogger, I know I don't reply to every commenter on my blog. Perhaps I should, but I'll be honest, I just don't have time... however, if it makes any difference, I read every single comment submitted to my blog - I just don't necessarily reply to everyone.

    If this comes across as selective, I apologize.

    @ Laura Gibbs - now that is a cool story. What a cool relationship to have with a reader. You're last sentence is a post in and of itself. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

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