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  Weekly Feature: (December 3, 2000)
 

 
 

Learning the Edits: 
The history of an English 10 class exercise.

by Brad Hyde
Link to Class Notes on exercise.

     It all began with the death of a friend. In January, a week or two later, I decided to write a "Lives Lived" in honour of John Hewitt, my good friend and hiking partner of many years. I wrote a 750 word piece, taking a full two months on the many drafts, and sent it off to The Globe and Mail, Canada's largest circulation national newspaper, late in March.

     Of course, a month passed first without a word. Then, in response to my email request, the editor, Moira Dann, let me know that she had accepted the piece for publication. A few weeks later it was a phone call: "Your piece is going in, tomorrow, April 18," she had said. As published.

    When reading the piece the first time, I noted her edits with some interest; they were substantial in some cases, and in others, quite minor. The idea came to me to ask her for permission to use those edits as an exercise for learning formal written composition. Moira, editor of the Facts and Arguments page, graciously accepted and promised to answer the students' questions regarding her editing decisions.

     The two pieces of writing provided a good opportunity for study. My final edit was the last of many drafts. John's wife, a writer herself, helped a great deal, adding details of their life I had never known; my own gave advice and support for a lengthy writing project. The edits were major enough to be interesting and, because of the constraints of space in a newspaper, she had made many to save words.

    I read the final piece aloud to them to start, then handed them the two versions. Students worked in groups of 4 or 5 to check for the editing changes and to formulate a question about that editing. Neither class took a break that day, working a solid two hours. The questions were challenging, thoughtful, and precise. I sent the twelve best off to Moira.

    You may know that an editor's life is a full one. The day before the following week's class, where we hoped to hear Moira's answers, I still had not heard from her. I was ready to make a new lesson when, in the early evening hours, I received her reply. Each question was carefully, sometimes humourously, answered in full. View the questions and answers.

    With her reply in hand, the lesson really began for the class. Each student had a copy. This time, the whole class worked together, often challenging her decisions in the finer details of grammar. They even sided with my original last sentence. See if you agree with me and my two classes, or with Moira!

     Students agreed that they had learned valuable lessons and saw for themselves the struggle a writer endures to get the words right, understanding that there is no one answer to many writing problems.

Have a look at the exercise in editing. Feel free to comment.

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Nagasaki Journey

 

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