conferences · conventions · editing · publishing

Does “Published” Need to be “Perfect?”

Recently, one of our readers wrote to us, asking, “My colleagues and I have been “arguing” over ideas about published work. When displaying students’ published work, should it be edited until there are no mistakes or is it okay to display work that has some flaws, but has been completed 100% by the student??? We have been going back and forth for a few days on the topic and I’m curious to see what you all have to say.”

Well, first of all, a lot depends on the writing curriculum you and your colleagues have decided upon, and of course there isn’t one “right” answer. However, if you teach writing workshop, and kids’ independence is one of your top priorities, here are some thoughts:

Publishing in the classroom is very close to the real world of adult publishing, isn’t it? Kids generate ideas, plan, rehearse, draft, revise, and edit—just like real grown-up authors. However, many of those steps are often modified slightly for young kids within a unit of study. For example, do I really use a separate color for revision, like I teach children to do—no, not always. But the separate color does help make it concrete and engaging for young kids. Do I really use post-its and flaps to insert revisions into my work? Well, sometimes…but not every time. Mostly, I use a computer.

Publishing, like all the steps of the writing process can be adapted slightly to meet the needs of the kids you teach. Publishing in the kindergarten, first, second grade, or even fifth grade classroom is not always the same as publishing in the adult world.

Here are some handy guidelines to make publishing something your kids can do independently, sticking as close to the “real life” process, while keeping in mind the age, experience, and needs of the age groups you teach.

1. Editing: My number one assumption: this is the kids’ INDEPENDENT writing we’re talking about here. That means that adults do not take it home, correct it, mark on it, or fix it for kids, no matter their age or writing stage. If you correct it, you’re doing all the work! How will kids learn to edit and proofread if they think that you’ll be there to clean it up in the end? This means having conferences and small groups at the end of your unit where you can coach kids to do what they can to make their writing as easy to read, as neat and polished as they can. The key words being “as best as they can.” This might look very different for each one of your students. In a fourth grade classroom you might be working on run-on sentences with one small group, while another small group is still using a mix of capitals and lower-case letters, and yet another group is working on using commas appropriately in compound sentences. Ultimately, the important thing is that your kids’ work will probably not be as perfect and polished as a full grown adult. You can only expect them to edit and correct so many things per unit (usually three or four familiar things along with one or two newer items is plenty). And, yes, I do recommend you display their own work, as is.

2. “Messy” Revision: Yes, if you’ve taught revision well, that means that your kids’ work looks pretty messy (to the untrained eye) by the end of the unit. There will be parts crossed out, flaps or post-its added on, possibly writing in different colors. I consider this beautiful, probably the most beautiful part of the writing process–not messy–and I have no problem displaying that hard work proudly. In fact, when I do Glory Walks with administrators one of the first things we look for is evidence of revision in kids’ published writing on display! Why hide all the great work your kids have done—celebrate it! Highlight it even. If your school is newer to this work, try creating a title for your work on display that reads, “WE ARE LEARNING TO REVISE!” and then use post-its or arrows to point out all the crossed out work, revised leads, new endings, and other great revisions your kids have worked on. Here’s an example of a student with a strong understanding of revision. This teacher did something really cool, and displayed the before/after pieces right next to each other on her bulletin board.










3. Recopying: Having said all that, as kids gain experience as writers, some of them (not all) do begin to appreciate a nice clean, easy-to-read final draft. Often around the middle to end of second grade, kids might start requesting to copy over their work. It’s completely fine for kids to recopy a particularly messy page or two, or even the whole draft when it’s presented as a choice, and more importantly, when it doesn’t eat up too much instructional time. I think it’s safe to say the majority of fourth graders and older can easily recopy a draft (depending on the length of the draft, and the fluency of your writers). A good guideline is no more than one writing workshop period for recopying. Chances are, if it’s taking longer than a 45-50 minute period to recopy a piece of writing, it means the student is going very slowly and may be making brand new mistakes along the way, or getting frustrated with the process. Remember, they’ve just spent days, maybe even weeks on this one piece of writing. Also, more than one period is simply using up too much time that could be used for more important things. If you teach six to eight units of study per year, that’s six to eight days of just recopying. Now double that if it takes two days, triple it for three. You could have taught another unit with the time spent recopying at the end of each unit. You and your students will feel a huge weight lifted when you allow each student to recopy or not recopy as much as they can reasonably do on their own in one period.

4. Typing: The same guideline (one writing workshop period) would apply to simply typing up an already finished draft—however the rules are different, I think, if kids are doing lots of  their drafting and revision work on the computer rather than simply retyping an already finished product. If you must have a typed copy, see if you can coordinate with your technology teacher (if you are lucky enough to have one). She or he may be more than willing to include your kids’ publishing into the plans for technology time, outside your writing workshop. You might also think of some alternatives for kids whose typing is still very slow. Perhaps some kids will simply type a cover, a dedication, and an about the author page, in about the same amount of time that others are typing the entire piece. You can also partner kids up to help each other out as well.

5. Clear Expectations: Lastly, it’s important that your kids understand that their work is their own—but they also need to know exactly what your expectations are for editing and publishing.  Having 3-4 very specific editing requirements displayed clearly on a chart or individual checklist makes it very explicit to kids what you expect them to be able to edit and correct all on their own. Also, why save all the editing for the end of the unit? If you make the last minute of every workshop a quick “Editing Minute” your kids will develop the important habit of rereading their work for at least one thing each time they put it away—something that real writers really do! Get to know the Common Core Standards for Language—this is where you’ll find most of the expectations that relate to editing and proofreading (some are buried within the Reading Foundational skills as well). You can use these to figure out what ought to be on your list of bottom-lines in terms of editing. You can also look to resources like Writing Pathways from the Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing series, where checklists and rubrics aligned to the CCSS are already done for you. 

Last but not least, please keep in mind that in the real, grown-up world of writing and publishing, we writers actually do not submit perfect manuscripts to be published. We have an editor—sometimes a whole team of editors—to work on polishing up our writing, making it easier for others to read. Not only that, but here’s a dirty little secret: even the books that you buy off the shelves sometimes have typos in them. Usually those get fixed up after the second or even third run of a book in print. Also, there’s a reason for second and third editions of  really great books—a writer’s work is never done, and is certainly never, ever perfect. Let kids know this (and parents) about editing and publishing: their job is to make their writing as easy for others to read as possible. Not necessarily perfect or pretty—just their own best work that they can be proud of, and that is easy for others to read.

Happy Publishing Everybody!


PS See if you can find the typos in this post! Even grown-ups aren’t perfect.


7 thoughts on “Does “Published” Need to be “Perfect?”

  1. Graves was fond of the saying “perfection is the enemy of good.” I’d go further and say perfection does not exist, even in math. For instance Godel’s theorem that no theorem can be proven. Kind of like Zeno’s paradox. Anywhoo, don’t think there has ever been a typo free book. And while mechanics, etc are important, they are table manners when what really matters is the food.


  2. Thanks for sharing! This was a big big topic of conversation at our campus recently. Can you clarify the meaning of a “glory walk”? Thank you!


    1. Yes, a “glory walk” is just what Stacey was thinking. It’s when we take a walk through the school looking for great teaching and reasons to celebrate. I’m pretty sure the first person I heard use the words “glory walk” was Lucy Calkins. Thanks for the comments and questions!


  3. Beth, thanks so much for writing this! I just sent the link to some great second grade teachers in WI who are engaged in this very conversation. I am so happy they will be able to read this!


  4. Love this post! So many teachers struggle to keep their own writing off of student writing. I especially worry about this when so much writing is done digitally and it is hard to know who wrote what and when. I recently heard the line “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.” We all need to remember this in our own work and in our students’ work. Thank you.


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