Some Conventional Wisdom About Writing

Conventional Wisdom 
About Writing

Many of us carry scars inflicted by the Grammar Police. Teachers and other adults who could spot an errors from across the room.Much of my childhood was punctuated (sorry, I couldn’t resist that) by zealous red pen people.

They frequently reminded me my efforts to write conventionally clearly fell short. I was in need of correction and their written comments were used to reinforce my grammatical shortcomings, my failure to conform to the adult model of acceptable English. I don’t ever recall receiving written comments regarding the intent of my writing. The focus appeared to be purely on the surface features of the writing. It was a deficit model of teaching writing.

In reality I was practicing conventions every time I wrote. Every time I wrote, I was moving a smidge closer to becoming a writer who understood how conventions assisted me to convey a clearer message to my readers.

Think about it. As we write each letter to form words, as we allow spaces between those words, when we place capital letters at the beginning of a new sentence and full stops at the conclusion of that sentence, we are providing irrefutable evidence and a knowledge of language conventions. We are honouring the worth of such conventions by consistently writing in this manner. The conventions we use act like signposts, assisting the reader to negotiate a text. This use of conventions frees the reader to focus on making meaning from our scribing.

Conventions are designed to assist the writer’s thoughts to emerge on the page in ways that allow them to be understood and appreciated by others. Conventions add a precision to our work as writers.  Teachers, being the most proficient and experienced writers in the classroom should willingly share their knowledge and use of conventions through their own writing.

As teachers you can actively support young writers as they grapple with the use of writing conventions by noticing and reinforcing instances where they are used effectively in the writing they produce.

When the developing writer demonstrates an increasing awareness of language conventions we can support them by providing suitable feedback, such as:

‘As you read your writing to me just then I noticed you had a full stop in exactly the right place. You ended that sentence perfectly.’ 
(Provides an opportunity to reinforce effective use of conventions)

‘I notice you wrote your friend’s name using a capital letter at the start, How do you know about that?
(Provides the writer with an opportunity to articulate their understanding of when to use capital letters)

When teachers highlight such matters in conversations/writing conferences it highlights their significance to being effective as a writer. It shines a light on matters of importance. The young writer grows to appreciate that conventions assist the writer’s message to be convey more clearly. With such a view, the developing writer is more likely to want to build their own proficiency.

The work of Jeff Anderson comes to mind here. Jeff suggests teachers of writing share exemplars of text and issue student writers with an invitation to explore. Discussion could then centre on noticing the writer’s effective use of conventions (commas, dialogue, capitalization, tense agreement, pronouns, specific words, grammar).

What is the author doing with conventions, you want to do in your own writing?

If we aim to make our student writers aspirational, it will be reflected in a greater desire to add conventions to their writing repertoire. When it comes to teaching young writers about language conventions keep asking the question- How does this help the reader to understand the writing?


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