I hear this question all the time. It usually comes from teachers who have adopted a workshop approach to teaching writing but are struggling to get students to use proper conventions in their writing. Other teachers are skeptical about using a workshop approach because they are under the assumption that we don’t teach grammar and language conventions anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In a previous post I summarized the “big three” goals of writing instruction. One of those three is Conventions. I shared an analogy that helps me prioritize when I am conferring with writers: When building a new house, first we dig the foundation and put up the frame and drywall. In other words, we focus on the structure of the house. After the house is built, we decorate the house. Finally, we have a housewarming party, so we tidy up for company. In the same way, we teach students to plan and structure (build) their writing, develop their writing (decorate with details and author’s craft), and to edit their writing (tidy up for company).
As I shared in the Big 3 post, there is a hierarchy to these skills and after I learned this, I realized that when I was conferring with students, I was spending too much time asking students to “tidy” when they didn’t even have a house that had been built and decorated yet. It completely shifted my focus!
But “tidying” or editing is only one part of our conventions teaching. Using conventions and editing for them are completely different skills. As Jeff Anderson points out in Patterns of Power, students shouldn’t be asked to edit for conventions that they haven’t yet learned how to use. So how do we go about teaching students to use proper writing conventions in the first place. In the series of blogpost listed below, I explore a variety of topics related to teaching students to use conventions without allowing that teaching to become the only focus or to sabotage engagement or the other qualities of strong writing: