Conventionally Speaking

Just a little list of some things that are on my mind about conventions and teaching conventions and using (or not using) conventions.

  1. Conventions are important. Learning to use them in Standard English is even more important. Conventions are power. If you write with conventions, you are more likely to influence others.
  2. You should use your best conventions all of the time. Not just on final drafts. Not only on homework assignments. Always. My daughter was writing a rough draft tonight. She misspelled where, other, their, these, women, and should. I asked her about her misspellings. “It doesn’t matter, Mom,” she snapped. You’re a fifth grader, I said with my eyes. I kept my mouth quiet. Sometimes it’s better that way. She wrote, whare. Then she stopped. Erased. W-h-e-a-r. Stopped. Looked. Erased. W-h-e-r-e. “Good job,” I said. “You should always fix things when you notice them.”
  3. Sometimes I break conventional rules. Because I can. You’ll find capitals in the middle of words in my notebook. You’ll find proper nouns starting with lowercase letters on my scrapbook pages. I like the way it adds a little artistic flair to my life. To the people who are closest to me, I’ll email without caps. It’s faster, and I like how it makes me feel like I’m sharing a secret part of myself with them.  I often start sentences with a conjunction. I love using single sentence paragraphs. Sometimes I join words with hyphens for the craft of it.
  4. Showing students sentences filled with errors does not help them write more conventionally. We are visual beings. This means the things we see stick with us. If we see wrong, we remember wrong.
  5. “Learning” that happens during drill and practice grammar exercises does not transfer to independent writing. There is no evidence that rote practice helps students write more conventionally. None.  I’ve been looking for years.
  6. Common core expects students to use conventions “when writing and speaking.” This is very different than finding errors when given a wrong sentence.
  7. As long as we are growing as writers, there will be errors in conventions. I’m constantly learning rules I didn’t know. This happens because of necessity. The more I write, the more I need the specifics of grammar and conventions. As teachers, we must train ourselves to see the misuse of conventions as indicators of what students are ready to learn.
  8. Everyone can learn to write with Standard English. It is possible. I promise.
  9. I strive to never-not-ever allow conventions to usurp the joy of writing. Sharing your story, influencing decisions, and teaching others will always be more important than getting it right.

Just a little side note…I’ve been asked to lead a series of three sessions about teaching conventions. I’m guessing you’ll be hearing more of my thinking as I begin to dream up how to facilitate a conversation about conventions with joy and grace.