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Writer’s Handbook | The Pennington Manual of Style

Lately, I’ve received more than my fair share of compliments about my writing. Yesterday, I posted a brief comment on a teacher’s post on the seller’s forum on Teachers Pay Teachers. The author of the post labeled my response as “eloquent.”

Now, I read enough to know that I’m a decent, but not great, writer. However, this is the first time I’ve been accused of being eloquent. My take is that educators have been so acclimated to Facebook, Twitter, and texting writing style, that heretofore normal discourse would, indeed, seem eloquent.

Fortunately, I’ve noticed a new and developing interest in writing style and I don’t think it’s a nostalgic homage to Strunk and White’s The Elements of StyleIndeed, our collective writing craft has diminished over the years, but when I see twenty-something teachers driving a return to grammar handbooks and style manuals I see more than a glimpse of hope. The bright and talented ELA teachers who have recently joined our English staff at the middle school I recently left are looking for a rule of thumb. That search can be frustrating.

Recently, I got tired of answering questions and talking about the serial comma. I decided to take the lazy approach and write the definitive article in favor of retaining the traditional Oxford comma for this, that, and various reasons. My thought was that in the future I will be able to respond to any discourse on this subject with a simple link. In doing a bit of research for the article I looked at various style guides: Modern Language Association, Turabian, Chicago, Associated Press, American Psychological Association, the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual, and the go-to web resources of the Purdue Writing Lab (OWL) and Grammar GirlSuch discrepancies and no unanimity! And not just regarding the serial comma. No wonder teachers want a simple and workable set of writing rules.

But which writing rules? Newer ELA teachers are pragmatists. Unlike boomers, they like rules; they want to make sense out of ambiguity. Newer ELA teachers tend to prioritize writing issues. They choose their battles. It reminds me of the writing research at the beginning of my teaching career regarding status errors.

Hairston (1981) suggests that certain errors are perceived as higher status than others. Hairston found that these errors were seen to be more egregious by most teachers: nonstandard verb forms, lack of subject-verb agreement, double negatives, objective pronoun as subject. Other errors are perceived as low status and may not warrant marking: unnecessary or inaccurate modifiers, use of a singular verb with data, use of a colon after a linking verb.

Specifically, teachers wishing to return to some common ground of teaching writing focus on these categories:

  • Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion)
  • Coherence
  • Word Choice
  • Sentence Variety
  • Writing Style
  • Format and Citations
  • Parts of Speech
  • Grammatical Forms
  • Usage
  • Sentence Structure
  • Types of Sentences
  • Mechanics
  • Conventional Spelling Rules.

As the author of the Teaching Essay Strategies program, I decided to include a writer’s handbook within the program: The Pennington Manual of Style. The goal was to create a student-centered handbook which identifies writing problems with clear examples and to provide the applicable solutions. Take a look at a sample preview of the manual including the e-comments on Essay Writing Rules and Style. If interested, navigate back to the following product description:

The Pennington Manual of Style (eBook) sold on its own and also as a slice of the Teaching Essay Strategies program has been designed to serve as a writer’s reference guide for both students and teachers.

The Pennington Manual of Style provides concise definitions, explanations, and clear examples to help developing writers learn what is good writing and why it is good writing. Students also learn what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how to fix errors. The manual is organized as follows: Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion), Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format and Citations, Parts of Speech, Grammatical Forms, Usage, Sentence Structure, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules.

For teachers, this guide provides a common language of writing instruction and discourse to use when students submit essays online. The Pennington Manual of Style enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

Using Google docs? Simply batch download your students’ essays into Microsoft Word®. Then open up the essays as Microsoft Word® documents and make your e-Comments. You can then upload them back as Google docs, share the Word® documents in a dropbox, email, or network folder… or print. Quite easy!

Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense     

Essay Response: The Pennington Manual of Style

The Pennington Manual of Style

*Manually responding to essays in red ink can be time-consuming and frustrating. Teachers find themselves using the same comments over and over again, while most students barely glance at their final grade or rubric score and maybe skim the comments before cramming their papers into the depths of their backpacks. Using the computer to respond to student writing solves these problems.

*Having students submit their essays on the computer allows the teacher to insert comprehensive and prescriptive comments in half the time. Students can be held accountable to respond to these comments through revisions and edits.

*Using the 438 e-comments enhances the interactive writing process. The teacher-student interaction changes from static summative evaluation to dynamic formative assessment. This is not an “automatic” grading program. Teachers choose which comments to insert, according to the needs of their students.

*Teachers can edit the 438 e-comments and add in their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Imagine… inserting a quick audio comment to summarize relative strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Unlike other e-grading programs, teachers can save their custom comments.

*Teachers can link to resource sites to provide additional practice or reference.

*Teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes.” Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors!

*Students can use the Essay e-Comments and add their own for peer response.

*Essay e-Comments can be added onto all teacher and student computers at school and at home, enhancing the social nature of writing response.

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