Is "correctness" the only way to judge whether students are learning to write and to think? Teacher Talk's Erica Jacobs argues that it shouldn't be. She's been in the classroom for 30 years, and says it's true that, in this age of text messaging and IM, students seem to care less about commas and apostrophes. But:

Because we were taught that “correctness” was the most visible signal of a good education, we continue to impose that standard. Once we give up these preconceptions, we can measure the education of our youth more accurately.

Jacobs developed this viewpoint after working with learning-disabled students, for whom "correctness" of spelling, punctuation, and other grammar points wasn't even on the radar. But these students were equally capable as their non-LD peers, she says, of thinking critically. So while Jacobs isn't in favor of giving up on correctness, she does think it's time to expand what counts as correct. She suggests one measure might be how critically students can question the information they receive:

They want the reassurance that there are answers out there in the world, but are intrigued by the notion that some questions do not have answers—or at least not easy ones...It’s time for society to ask better questions in assessing learning, to give up correctness as the standard, and to concede that maybe the old measure isn’t the only measure.

Seems like a worthwhile exercise to us.


As a former newspaper editor and now a third grade ESE teacher, I wholeheartedly agree that "correctness" should only be one piece of our standard for achievement.

While in the professional, adult world "correctness" is necessary and appropriate, and absolutely should be taught, in the classroom focusing primarily on correctness is doing some students a disservice.

When they know that they won't be penalized for spelling, punctuation errors, etc., my students are free to express their thoughts without the frustration of not being "correct." They love to write and work through ideas when they are free to focus on just that -- the ideas.

They also know that when spelling and punctuation are the goal, that's when they really need to double their efforts and focus on those areas.

I would like to add that one way to integrate the freedom of ideas with the correctness of spelling and punctuation would be to offer writing workshops. By going through the stages of brainstorming (no spelling/punctuation focus) all the way to publishing, students can go through the process of fine-tuning their ideas and expressing them effectively.

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