In a recent post I compared editing to “tidying up for company” before a housewarming party. In that analogy the tidying comes after building the house and decorating the house (structuring writing and developing writing). That being said, I do not believe that all “tidying” should wait until company is coming! Don’t we also “tidy-as-we-go”? In other words, as we go about our days, we try to keep the dishes out of the sink and clothing from piling up on the floor. If we

There is another reason that I believe we need to teach student writers to tidy-as-they-go and that is to develop automaticity. I have never met an upper grade teacher who says their students consistently use capitalization and ending punctuation. And yet, these are conventions we start teaching in kindergarten. I don’t think the problem is that teachers aren’t teaching conventions. I think the problem is that students aren’t developing automaticity with them.tidy-as-we-go, there is less to do when it’s time to invite company over.

The reason we often tell students “not to worry about spelling” when they are drafting is that we want their attention focused on getting ideas down, and spending too much time focusing on conventions gets in their way of that thinking. BUT I don’t think our message should be that “conventions don’t matter during drafting.” Instead, I think students should gradually develop automaticity using conventions they have previously learned so that, without any conscious attention, they begin to draft using proper conventions. When conventions become automatic, their brains still have the space to focus on their ideas, but they will be able to tidy-as-they-go and have less cleaning to do when they are getting ready to publish.

So in addition to TEACHING students grammar and other language conventions, I think we must also help them develop automaticity with them. Sometimes that might sound like this: “You already know that ‘I’ should be capitalized when it is by itself. Go ahead, fix that right now. Try to remember to capitalize it every time you write, even in a draft.” Then move on with your conference, without dwelling on the error or spending time fixing up every other conventions error. Use encouraging language that helps the student make this a habit.

Below are links to other blogposts where I teach specific tips and tools for focusing on automaticity:

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