Formal style, proper grammar and good spelling ARE important in student posts and comments! Do you agree?

We’ve been having  interesting conversations in the comments on Kathleen McGeady’s guest post  Teaching Commenting Skills on ‘is a formal structure or style for writing comments necessary?’

There’s always differing opinions on this type of topic.

So I’d love us to debate it in more detail while expanding the conversation to include blogs posts.

That way we’ll all gain for learning more about why we each take a different approach.

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts on any or all of the following:

  1. Should teachers be correcting grammar and spelling in student posts and comments?  If you are correcting, how are you doing this?
  2. Is a formal structure or style for writing posts and comments necessary? Refer to Kathleen McGeady’s guest post  Teaching Commenting Skills to see what we mean by formal structure.
    • Is student age an important consideration?
    • And, how do you communicate to your students what is required?
  3. How do you balance structure, developing writing skills while empowering student learning and motivating them to want to write?
  4. What other advice would you give educators who have just started to blog with their students?

Perhaps you might like to invite your students to share their thoughts?

  • Would be interesting to know to what extent they do/don’t want structure?
  • How do they feel about their grammar and spelling being corrected in posts and comments?

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48 thoughts on “Formal style, proper grammar and good spelling ARE important in student posts and comments! Do you agree?

  1. Pingback: | gapesy
  2. An interesting area. I’ve just started a class blog with my students, for the specific purpose of discussing health issues ( I’ve set out quite explicit guidelines (see ‘Guidelines’ page) due to the age of my students (16-18y/o) and the specific requirements of their course in terms of content and assessment. Even so, their first posts show flexibility, originality and depth of thought far beyond what I was hoping for! I imagine that without these pre-existing course requirements, it would be much harder to establish what it is you actually want from your students.

    I’ve said to my students that before they post, they need to proof read what they’ve written and use the spell check button. So far I’ve found myself co-correcting, but mainly when meaning is unclear e.g. “Steph, could we go through your last post, this part is unclear. What did you mean by….”. I do find myself fixing small grammar and spelling errors though! It’s quite time consuming, so I hope that as they get better at blogging I’ll do less correcting. The posts are written by students after all, so it’s unrealistic to expect adult writing from them. The blogging format is a perfect example of visual thinking and the improvement in student thinking and writing over time, so it would actually be counter-productive to correct every post because you wouldn’t be able to see where their skills are at currently, or how far they have come.

    I think that a blog has its own unique ‘text type’, which by its very nature, is less formal than other forms of writing. So, while I don’t think traditional formal structure and style is necessary, each blog will have a structure and style of post and comments that depends on the actual purpose of the blog. No matter what the purpose of the blog, students need clear scaffolding and examples of what their posts and comments might looks like, especially during the initial stages of learning blogging as a ‘text type’ and a distinct form of communication.

    For educators who have just started to blog, I would highly recommend reading The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks (see for the book and companion site). His book was my bible for teaching students about the language and process of blogging (not the technical ‘how to’) and for creating formative and summative assessment rubrics. It was also invaluable for being able to see through the technical ‘how to’ aspects of blogging and to really focus on the pedagogy – i.e. collaborative writing, real writing for real audiences, student-led discussion etc.

    I’ll have to ask my students for some feedback and post another comment with their answers!

  3. I am a parent of a year 10 boy in a selective class. He doesn’t have his own blog and is yet to be in a class that has a class blog. Recently he needed to contact an executive and wasn’t getting any response. Three weeks after emailing and phoning them I asked him to forward the email to me so I could follow up. I was horrified to see that he had not used one single uppercase letter – even in his name, and had several spelling mistakes. I hit the roof and wondered out loud, more that once, how he got this far without being able to write. He became very defensive saying he sends emails like that all the time and no wonder he never shows me his work.

    In various subjects they have written formal letters (the old fashioned variety) so he does know the difference between formal and casual writing and when I told him to rewrite he did so successfully (phew). The thing he didn’t seem to see was that email could be used formally. When I first read this post my thoughts were, absolutely, students need to be encouraged to proofread and correct their post and comments all the time, but after reading the comments I see that is not necesarily so. I think Mrs K is right on the ball when she talks about knowing your audience, that is the missing piece for him.

  4. Thanks everyone so far for taking your time to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

    I feel the need to apologize and here’s why — it’s is very common for me to respond back to all comments, and often I’ll respond to each comment individually.

    I do this for quite a few reasons including:
    1) when I respond back and especially when I respond back with my own thoughts and ask questions it helps me more reflect on the topic, I learn more and I gain a longer term memory of what was discussed
    2) As a blogger it also shows that I value the comments readers leave. Some times when bloggers rarely respond back to comments it can make readers feel like the blogger doesn’t value their input
    3) It helps create a vibrant community in comments where readers and the blogger interact with each other.

    So I’m apologizing because this is one of the few occasions except off course on the class blog list and want to connect with other classroom posts — where I haven’t done exactly that.

    The reason why is because this is an occasion where I feel this is a really important conversation where there is a wide range of differing opinions and I wanted to encourage readers to share their thoughts, and interact with each other — without me directing and influencing the conversation based on my own personal views.

    Now chuckling and hoping that what I have just said made total sense?

  5. I have 2 classroom blogs.
    This one, I write as a modeled/shared writing exercise in the last 15 minutes of the day. We brainstorm on the board, I begin writing, whilst reading aloud to my students (grade twos) and they are very quick to pick up on any typing errors I make. They see me editing and we proofread together. Student works goes onto this blog, but only when it’s been completely corrected.
    My other blog is just for students to post on. I write no posts there at all. I correct nothing. This is a blog whose main audience is parents. One of my purposes for creating this blog is to show writing progress throughout the year. My other purpose is for my students to WANT to write. All of their other work in class is edited to death. They love writing on their blog, where they can just focus on writing. The tools for correct spelling and punctuation are all around the classroom for them to use, if they remember to use them. I do my best to comment on every post they make, to give them some feedback and to let them know that someone is reading what they write, as well as to model the correct spelling of some of the words they misspelled in their post.

    So, my answer to the original question about correcting spelling and grammar is that it depends on the purpose of the blog.


  6. I never correct spelling or grammar as comments on my students’ blogs. And since they are 18years or older they post on their blog when they are ready to. If they have many mistakes I copy the post into Word, correct it and send it to them via our learning management system. I then ask them to correct the mistakes and say I will comment it when it is corrected. They are usually very quick to do so, since they want it to be perfect. All my comments are about content, and that is the most important aspects of bloging in my class.

  7. I always think it’s important to emphasize grammatical correctness and readability, but I think these areas could be addressed without drawing specific attention to them (and risk alienating the fledgling writer).

    After all, the writer should always be thinking about his or her audience, so perhaps making that the focus of the discussion – as opposed to getting into the finicky elements of grammar – might make it more enjoyable for the student. After all, this is one of the rare opportunities that students can publicly publish their writing! If they’re addressed as authors as opposed to students, they might find the editing process more enjoyable.

  8. I agree with many of you; I focus more on the posts than the comments. If something strikes me in a student’s comment I’ll ask, “Did you mean to say this?” As for the posts, I teach my middle school kiddos to pay attention to those red underlines and correct their spelling. If I have time I’ll edit it right after they post, and most are very willing to correct– they understand that it’s a public document and they want to look good! If a student is a reluctant writer, I’ll ask, “Would you like me to edit with you?” Usually it’s a yes, and we can discuss and clarify what the student wanted to say. I try not to change the entire piece, but respect what the student has written and edit within it. Please understand the vast majority of my students are second language learners so they often need a little edit to get across their ideas.

  9. I ask students to use correct grammar and spelling in posts and comments, but I don’t correct their work before posting. If a students’ work is very poor I might offer them some ideas – either through a comment or one on one – on how to improve their writing without calling attention to their mistakes. I tell students to read their posts/comments out loud before hitting the publish button – or to have someone else read their work out loud to them before posting. I also suggest that students save their work as a draft and return to it later. Correcting student work online could be very tricky and I think you’d really have to know your students before doing so online. Abbey from the earlier comments seems like a very bright young lady who could take online comments on her work, online grading and corrections could cause less confident students to shy away from writing all together.

    While I want kids to write properly, I am a music teacher, so I do not grade them on their writing details and technique as much as I look for their content. I give comments to try and help them improve their writing, but I don’t hold their mistakes against them when it comes to grading. For me it’s all about what they’re trying to say about the music, not as much on how they’re saying it. Are they connecting to the music they are writing about? Do they understand what it is they are doing while performing a specific piece? Does their writing show evidence of an understanding of musical vocabulary and deeper ensemble concepts?

    My other problem is that as a band director I have honors kids blogging in the same class as students with severe learning disabilities. I have great writers and students who really have trouble expressing themselves in writing – so any little improvements they can make as far as grammar and form is a great leap forward in my opinion – especially since I don’t teach writing or grammar!

    I’ve also just started using blogs for my music classes so this is all new – still in experiment stages here. We do really use the JiTT (Just in Time Teaching) method for getting feedback from the students. It’s very difficult to know exactly what little Susie playing third clarinet back in the third row is having trouble with when there are 100 kids in the room all performing with her at the same time! Blogging helps the students get a one-on-one with the conductor after a rehearsal – I can find out exactly what each student is thinking and having trouble with.

    I’m also currently doing research on how to grade their work online, and trying to create a rubric that will encourage them to write more and with better quality, but I’m not there yet. Any ideas or suggestions in this area would be appreciated. I also haven’t found any other bands or music classes that are blogging with their students – so as a music teacher I feel a bit isolated amongst my “regular ed” colleagues. Are there any other band directors out there!?

  10. I would agree in principal. However, if your objective is to actually encourage students to write, particularly for those who struggle to put pen to paper, then I’d most definitely ease up on conventions. There must be some opportunities for blogs to be a personal & free expression, even student blogs, so I’d say just ‘let em cut loose’. However, if a teacher has set an explicit task, then absolutely encourage drafts prior to clicking publish.

    1. @Leesa Watego, I am totally a fan of free writing. My students have the opportunity to select their topics and their genre, and I encourage them to tap their inner wells of creativity. However, other than poetry that has its own conventions, why can’t we teach our kids to free write using proper mechanics? I look forward to the day when we conquer the stigma of the dreaded Revise & Edit, and GUMPS (Thanks, Abbey!) becomes second-nature.

      1. @Mrs. K, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “the stigma of the dreaded Revise & Edit”… could you elaborate? I’m not an English teacher, so maybe I’m missing something really obvious!

  11. I like to balance between writing for an audience who is expecting readable text and the writing abilities of the grade or age level blogging. It also changes if the post is a class assignment with expectations described on a rubric as opposed to a free choice writing post. If a blog is not ready to be published due to many problems, the author has… See More to edit and/or revise because the blog is a reflection on the class, teacher, school, and district. BTW – peer editing is one way to check for spelling and convention errors and fix them.

  12. My name is Abbey and I’m in seventh grade. I think that grammar, usage, mechanics, punctuation, and spelling (GUMPS) are super important in posts and comments. You get more respect from your peers if you spell out words and try your hardest to be grammatically correct. I know that I am more likely to respond back to comments if they are fluent and proper English.

    I would appreciate teachers correcting posts and comments. It might be slightly embarrassing if it is done through comments, but maybe devoting a part of class every week to go over things that the teacher has found looking through posts and comments could improve the student’s grammar skills.

    Another way that this could be done is through peer editing. This allows learning as students write and edit.

    But what do I know? I’m just a seventh grader. All you teachers out there who went to school for four years to learn how to teach us probably know best. That’s just my opinion.

    ~Abbey =) <3

    1. @Abbey, I appreciated your comment re:GUMPS. Do you mind if I use this acronym with my students? I must say that I think my kids would agree with you 100%. I will share your comment with them. If you would like to read some of our posts and offer your thoughts, log onto Mrs. K’s blog @

      P.S. I think being “just a seventh grader” is pretty cool. 🙂

      1. @Mrs. K, The acronym is actually from my teacher from last, Mrs. Plantan. ( I learned a ton about grammar from her last year. I don’t she would mind if it was used elsewhere, but I’d give her a comment just to see!

        Right after I click “Submit Comment”, I’m headed to your blog to read and comment!


    2. @Abbey, I agree with you entirely, well said. I actually do correct comments before I publish, as I don’t want my students looking and incorrect spelling, punctuation etc. I am not pedantic but I think there does need to be at least a basic standard. I actually state in my commenting guidelines that I reserve the right to proof comments. Not sure if that makes students lazy! I do gather up errors and class teach, hoping that students will practise then, when commenting.

      Love your acronym.

    3. @Abbey, I like the idea about devoting some time afterward to go over both posts and comments. I think it’s especially helpful for understanding how to start conversations. Thank you!

  13. Yes! Style, proper grammar, and good spelling are important in student posts and comments, and I do insist on editing before I post/approve their work. I teach language arts to middle school grades 6-8 and feel compelled to help them become better communicators. We just started blogging 2 mos. ago. That said, I’d like to qualify some of my criteria for blogging.
    * Appropriate style vs. formal style. @drhammond I agree wholeheartedly with you when you state:
    “Writers need to know their audience, and they need to know the best way to address their audience …It’s the teacher’s role to help students understand who they’re writing for when they blog. If the blog is of academic nature and is going to be read by other students/parents/teachers, then it’s our job to show them why conventions like spelling and grammar matter.”

    Our classroom blog is an academic blog. My students are encouraged to use netiquette when posting and to leave thoughtful responses when commenting. Before even beginning to post, they had to read other classrooms’ blogs and weigh in on what they felt was appropriate for us. Note that our blog’s readership has gone international – another reason that conventions matter, as ‘textspeak’ and slang often do not translate.

    * Conversation vs. social comments. I use structure to teach my students the difference between social “facebook-like” comments and conversation. Conversation requires the skill of active listening. Prior to commenting on a post, I encourage my students to discern “listen to” what the blogger is trying to communicate; then, to respond on topic with viewpoints and questions of their own. When new ideas are introduced, additional responses are called for, and conversation continues. “I agree.” “Good job.” “Luved it! :-)” Comments like these kill conversation.

    * Student edited, teacher directed vs. teacher corrected. In this instance, student age is an important consideration. Revising and editing are part of the writing process, so I require it of my middle schoolers. I also rely on peer review and peer editing.

  14. I do not correct comments for a few reasons. First, they can be too numerous at times. Secondly, if I always do the editing work for them then students will never do it themselves. Third, I have several reluctant writers who never get a word down on paper but will make an effort if they get to write on our blogs. I fear that correcting their work will cause them to lose enthusiasm and stop writing. It is these students who could most benefit from practicing writing. I am new to blogging but I have set expectations for comments (proper grammar, spelling, makes sense type of stuff) and have brainstormed with students sentence starters for helpful commenting. Also, to reinforce my expectations somewhat I am having students occasionally reflect on their comments and set/review goals for future comments.
    As far as posts are concerned, I am finding that students write better posts than comments. I plan to ask my students more about this after Spring Break, but its my guess that students are taking posting more seriously than commenting. I think they feel that there work is the post and the comments are just an “extra”. I think that if they saw a good conversation going on in the comments (maybe on another classroom’s blog) they may get the idea that comments are as important, if not more important than the post.

    1. @T.Dahlby, have a look at the comments on this post on my students’ class blog. They went to town commenting!! The very purpose of our blog is to discuss health issues, and discuss they did. Discussion is when the learning happens 🙂

  15. I, too, have mixed feelings about this. I teach younger students who have had 3 years of instruction in their 2nd language (sometimes 3rd) and this is their first year of formal instruction in their 1st (sometimes 2nd) language, so spelling and grammar are often in the beginning stages in either language. I feel that correcting everything, all the time, would kill their enthusiasm for using and experimenting with the language. It also depends on the audience they are trying to reach. If they are posting to or commenting on a class blog that has the intention of going no further than their teacher and classmates, I am less apt to want correct everything. If their response has the intention of reaching bigger audiences, I might help them correct/edit. I was reading a grade 1 teacher’s blog, and the teacher left the childrens’ posts as is, but following each, put the correct form in parentheses. This both keeps the sense of ownership for the student, but allows for readers to understand the message clearly. I’m just starting with the web2.0 world and look forward to reading the responses!

  16. Question #1 = No, no, and no.

    Yes = a very schooly answer. Should the child make an effort to correct it? Yes. But if after the corrections there are mistakes just let it go. If I knew someone was going to proof read this before I wrote it, I would not bother to comment. If someone left a comment below mine and told me about my errors, I would be more careful next time. If people were not reading my blog because of my errors, that lesson would get into my head–a real authentic lesson, not a teacher telling me something that I do not want to hear.

    Speaking for all the poor writers out there, having someone always on my back about my grammar would put an end to my writing–it did for 27 years–from the time I graduated from college to the time I started blogging. So for me and all the other poor writers out there like me, would you rather we just stop writing? or is our voice valuable enough that maybe, just maybe, you could look past out inability to use proper grammar.

    The one thing “good” writers can’t do is put themselves into the head of someone who struggles…

    I have also found that I would rather read the blogs of my students who make grammatical mistakes over the ones that are grammatically perfect…hmmmmm.

  17. I do feel it’s important to emphasize grammar and spelling when blogging with students. Writers need to know their audience, and they need to know the best way to address their audience through organizational structures, sentence structure, word choice, yada yada yada…

    It’s the teacher’s role to help students understand who they’re writing for when they blog. If the blog is of academic nature and is going to be read by other students/parents/teachers, then it’s our job to show them why conventions like spelling and grammar matter. If students are posting (or texting, or emailing for that matter) for an audience where conventions won’t interfere with their message then it should be ignored. Again, it’s our job to show students how a writer’s audience affects how they write.

  18. I have mixed feelings about this. Currently I correct most of my student’s spelling and grammar when I approve their comments. I’ve read Kathleen’s post and to a point, agree with what she says. I like structure as it gives high expectations and the children know exactly what is expected of them. And I feel that a degree of structure makes for a better comment.
    But I’d hate to kill enthusiasm by not approving comments by young children who really are doing the best they can, especially since a number of them either don’t have the internet at home, or don’t have the adult support needed to ensure correct spelling and grammar. I’d think it would be a different matter with older children.

  19. well if u dont never use rite gramer an spellin it makes ur shit hardr 2 read and dat mean ppl rn’t gonna read it coz its 2 hard an they cant be bothered so if u want ppl 2 read ur shit u gotta rite it in a way that ppl can understand coz u mite b a deadset genyus but dats no good if no 1 can understand u and anyway how can u be a deaset genyus if u cant even spell

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