How much do you focus on conventions when teaching writing?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by waterfall, Aug 2, 2011.

  1. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    I'm just curious. I did a lot of practicums in college so I saw writing done a lot of different ways. I thought it was interesting that most teachers I worked with didn't focus on conventions at all- they wanted the students to "get their ideas out" and they seemed concerned that focusing on every little mistake would make the student hate writing. I definitely understand that focusing on re-writing the same piece 10 times to fix every single error would be frustrating for students (I did work with one teacher who made them rewrite the entire paper if there was one tiny mistake- often up to 10-15 times- what a nightmare), but I also find it a little concerning how little they know about writing conventions when they aren't a focus at all in lessons. One semester of practicums I was in a 3rd grade class in the morning and a 7th grade class in the afternoon. Both were general ed classes with 4-6 special education students and about 20 general education students. I couldn't believe how similar my 7th graders writing was to my 3rd graders. They were still making the exact same simple mistakes like forgetting capitals or periods. We had to spend a lot of time in the 7th grade room reviewing concepts that the students should have mastered years ago! I spent a lot of time on basic conventions in my writing interventions and I felt it helped the students improve SO much. In many cases, I can honestly can their writing looked better than a lot of their gen ed peers. The one thing I wasn't a total stickler on was spelling. I expected students to spell sight words correctly, but I didn't want to focus too much on spelling every single thing right because I didn't want them to be afraid to use bigger words that they might not know how to spell exactly. I helped a lot with spelling (or at times let them use inventive spelling) but I completely expected them to know to start with a capital, not capitalize in the middle, use punctuation, and not write run on sentences. How much do you work on conventions in your classroom? Do you feel it helps or hurts your students?
     
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  3. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    Texas just adopted a new test. There is definitely going to be more of an emphasis on conventions now than has been placed on it in the past. Learning conventions at early ages will be vital in creating short concise writings. I don't think that I would skill and drill conventions with worksheet after worksheet or go back to the days where kids had to "fix" sentences daily that were presented to them incorrectly. But I would discuss it daily within the natural context of your lessons and during the editing phase of the writing process.
     
  4. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    FL is changing the FCAT Writes so that conventions have greater weight.

    I see the same mistakes over and over when they get to me - no capitalization, run-on sentences, no apostrophes, and - oddly - commas after the coordinating conjunction.

    I know they get taught these things in elem. I just wonder if the teachers simply don't have time to focus on it b/c they're practicing reading & math for the FCAT.
     
  5. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    My gosh, waterfal, do you teach in my district?

    Same here. It is astounding how little the students are taught all in the name of getting ideas out, using bigger words, don't want to stiffle creativity. Worse yet for our kiddos, they do very little if any content writing. Essay about comparing reasons for the Civil War? No, how about write a fiction piece of work about what it might be like to live in the time without running water.

    No, grammar and mechanics have been abandoned. Sure there is a worksheet or two but when kids don't kow the rules they are told to choose what looks or sounds right. Nothing like telling students to guess instead of doing real assessments.

    This method starts in K and goes to HS where they meet a bear of a teacher that is the other extreme where 1 mistake gives you a 50% on the paper.

    I truly feel sorry for kids. They aren't given proper instruction.
     
  6. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    I may give a whole group mini lesson on ONE convention during a writing session. When conferring, I'll choose one most important teaching point for each writer...it might be a convention, it might be craft. In editing, any unaddressed conventions are cleaned up.
     
  7. historynut

    historynut Rookie

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    I start off the year teaching conventions and grammar. Then I move to the writing process. I find that it helps nip some of the simpler problems in the bud and the students can focus on the story a bit more.
     
  8. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    This is what I do with my students as well.
     
  9. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    I do something very similar to czacza and MrsC.
     
  10. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    We focused quite a bit on writing conventions in my student teaching placement where I had juniors. Because of our weird program, we had 1/2 the kids one Thursday and the other 1/2 the next so we always did a grammar/writing lesson that day. We would usually focus on one, maybe two things.
     
  11. WaterfallLady

    WaterfallLady Enthusiast

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    I usually teach conventions, we practice, practice, practice, and then we keep practicing once I've moved on to other stuff.

    A really good way to practice this is Daily Oral Language.

    My kids have a hard time transferring things they do into real life, even when we have real life practice.
     
  12. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    My kids get their ideas out in their pre-writing and drafting stages. When it comes to a final draft, I do look for conventional writing. Always.
     
  13. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Editing is much harder than learning how to do something correctly the first time.

    With the writing problems I have seen, I honestly believe we moved far to far away from teaching students how to do smaller steps properly before trying to put the pieces together. We have put the cart before the horse. That is not to say there isn't a place in teaching students to get their thoughts out, but often kids are producing "paragraphs" before they really know how to write a cohesive sentence correctly.

    Having students learn by doing things incorrectly first causes them to develop a BIG, BAD HABIT of doing it incorrectly.

    I know many will disagree with me because the current methods of teaching writing is all about getting those ideas and worrying about mechanics on the back end, but the process of editing is extremely complex. While you may focus on one convention, the students practice doing 5 other things wrong without being corrected.

    Now, ask a foreign language teacher how well the students understand English grammar and how this lack of skill makes learning a foreign language much more difficult.

    I know straight A students that don't know tenses, subject verb agreement, etc. They go by what sounds right with no clue why it is right. Hopefully they have wonderful language models who speak proper English. Otherwise, they will be out of luck and not have a clue why their work is incorrect.
     
  14. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    a2z, I didn't mean to imply we only focus on one thing and they can do whatever they want when it comes to the rest of it. I just meant in terms of teaching conventions we focus on one or two things at a time. However, if we're working on commas then I still expect them to use other punctuation correctly, etc... When my students hand in final copies of papers I absolutely grade for all conventions.
     
  15. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Sorry to confuse by not using quotes or names to recognize what I was responding too. I was actually responding to the 1st grade teacher's post that has the kids pre-write and write drafts prior to editing the work. It is perfectly acceptable if the students have had years of solid practice building up their writing skills from the basics to essays.

    I just believe that MS and HS strategies in K-6 is what is failing our students.
     
  16. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    Totally understandable! I also know there's a huge jump from 1st grade to high school lol.

    For what it's worth, all I remember about 5th grade is the conjunction, junction, what's your function video :lol: I remember having to memorize all the prepositions too. And to this day, prepositions are still my favorite part of speech! I will admit to needing to double check when talking about some parts of speech like gerunds and participles. I don't talk about them a lot so I always check before I say something to make sure I'm not the one who's wrong!
     
  17. TXowl

    TXowl Companion

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    I was horrified by the lack of conventional writing my students were capable of this year. I taught 4th and my students took the state writing test. I spent more time than other teachers on grammar because I just couldn't stand one more incomplete sentence. We had to go back to basics and start with nouns, verbs, subjects, predicates, and capital letters. I couldn't believe that the majority of my kids still weren't capitalizing I or their own names!!!

    I'm incredibly excited to be teaching 3rd grade writing this year because I can really spend time on conventions rather than having them guess on editing.

    The district I student taught in barred teachers from using the language textbooks or teaching anything except "whole language writing." I don't think they realized what an issue this is going to cause later on.
     
  18. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I didn't dare utter those words for fear of the barrage of posts supporting "whole language writing". Thank you for being the brave soul. It is frightening how many "programs" are out there doing whole language writing by changing the terminology a bit but keeping the same premise. Doesn't matter what you call it, if it looks like a duck and quacks like one, it probably is a duck. Let's just put a cutsie name on it, and it will fool everyone.

    I wonder why if this method is so superior we have huge numbers of kids (even ones that do their work and have parental support) that are so lacking in the basic mechanics and grammar. Because it doesn't work. Sad part is most can't even write a content essay to show knowledge. Ask them to make up a story that doesn't really have to make much sense, they are good to go.
     
  19. eddygirl

    eddygirl Companion

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    I agree, a2z. I teach mostly freshmen, and am horrified to see how many cannot write a decent sentence, let alone a cohesive paragraph.

    I think we need to get back to basics when it comes to grammar in the elementary schools. It is amazing how many kids in high school can't recognize parts of speech. I find it frustrating when kids come in telling me they've already read our high school novels in elementary school, but they can't point out the nouns and verbs in a sentence.

    Also, we've become a "shortcut" society. We do so much texting and "chatting" using shortcuts instead of proper grammar that kids view this as normal. They don't see why they can't use it while writing; I find myself spending a lot of time stressing the difference between "formal" and "informal" writing.

    Ironically, good grammar skills are probably more important nowadays than in the past. With the advent of e-mailing, professionals are sending more correspondence on their own, without the editing skills of a good secretary. Ever read an e-mail filled with grammatical errors? What assumptions do we make when we see that from a professional?
     
  20. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    What? Whole language? As a friend of mine says, "I thought using the term "whole language" was a hanging offense in at least 27 states."

    What do you teach, please, a2z?
     
  21. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    I do this too.
     
  22. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    This is basically what I do too. Every time we ever wrote anything (in a writing lesson or not) I would start off by saying, "Every sentence in the world starts with a_____" and have the kids answer back "capital letter!" We listed the basic writing rules together every time before doing any writing as well. I taught in our after school program, and I had the "middle-high" kids (so all gen ed) and I could not believe the basic things that they still didn't know. I had 4th-5th graders that actually still thought that a sentence was just whatever fit on one full line of their writing paper.
     
  23. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I don't share such information - Internet Safety Rules and all. However, it is apparently one of the remaining 23 states. The other issue though is although a district or state may say one thing, sometimes in the school or classroom they do another.

    Our schools decided to call what they were doing 'balanced literacy' instead of 'whole language'. While there is a true 'balanced literacy' program with a balance, what was actually being implemented in the classroom was 'whole language'. So, the term 'whole language' is evil, but no one said where the fulcrum needed to be on that balance. In MOST of the elementary schools in our district, the fulcrum is exactly where it sat when doing 'whole language'. Hence my comment about the duck.

    So, in our district 'whole language' isn't used as a term, but it is used as a practice.
     
  24. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    It is funny that I just wrote this, because we just got our state test scores back for writing today. I know test scores aren't everything and there are a lot of other ways to measure student achievement, but I was really excited to see that EVERY SINGLE ONE of my students in special ed passed the state writing test. When I got these kids at the beginning of the year, most of them literally couldn't string two words together in writing. I literally had students that were writing one or two random words per line, using no capitals, no punctuation, and no complete thoughts. I couldn't believe how little they knew about writing when I got to this school. I later found out that the last special ed teacher didn't teach writing at all- but I think it is SO important. Everyone is always going on and on about reading and math, which is why I think a lot of special ed teachers just work with those two subjects. However, IMO if you can't write decent sentences, you're really not going to get far in life. Learning how to write in complete sentences was one of the biggest goals I had for all of my students this year. We practiced and practiced and practiced. I also had them writing pen pal letters to my co-op teacher's class from my student teaching so that they would have a "real world" reason for writing and they were motivated to write correctly so that their pen pal could understand their letter. I am SO proud of them and so happy our hard work paid off!
     
  25. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    Amen! We've been following this model of "getting your ideas out and correcting later" in elementary grades for many years now, and the writing ability of our students has steadily declined.

    It's very difficult for me to help them edit when they don't know what a subject and predicate are or how to identify it in a sentence.
     
  26. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    The fact is that there needs to be a balance. A model of composition in which drafting is followed by self-editing properly presupposes a grasp of conventions that makes self-editing possible. At the same time, conventions without content are vacuous: the point of writing is not merely to make grammatical sentences but to communicate content

    If conventions aren't being taught, it's less likely the fault of the theory of whole language than it is of the notorious inability of curriculum writers, whose job it is to package theory for the masses, to resist the temptation to present useful strategies (from which a writer - or teacher - may select as appropriate) as ironclad requirements from which none durst deviate.

    Add to this the shallow grasp of grammar on the part of most curriculum adopters and regrettably many teachers*, and you have a recipe for precisely the disaster that we see here.

    *For instance, it has never been true that a sentence of formal English cannot properly begin with the word "Because". What is true is that one cannot begin a SIMPLEX sentence of English with "Because", but a COMPLEX sentence is perfectly appropriate:

    Because strategies are so often mispackaged as dicta, it behooves teachers to understand both content and practice well enough to resist appropriately.
     
  27. Lysander

    Lysander Companion

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    If it is a convention that we have covered in class already (capitalization, contractions, punctuation, etc.), I hold the students accountable for writing correctly, and grade down if they are incorrect. With conventions that we haven't already covered (commas, parenthetical phrases, etc.) I correct it for them in a teacher edit of their draft. Their edits plus mine must be included in their final draft.
     
  28. juliechsa

    juliechsa Rookie

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    My school separates writing from grammar instruction so we are required to do both. However, I'm still drilling on subject and predicate and complete sentences with my 5th graders.
     
  29. shouldbeasleep

    shouldbeasleep Enthusiast

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    I'm going to have these current students for two years, 4th and 5th. I've decided to really focus on editing this year. Go through the process, but edit as you write so that the child begins to stop and break the bad habits.

    In other words, it no longer is going to be at the end of the writing process. It's going to be through-out, and then final emphasis just before publishing phase.

    I've done it the other way--writing just to get your thoughts out, but I think we've gone to an extreme with that. Sure, get your thoughts out, but watch what you're doing at the same time.
     
  30. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Its hard to watch what you are doing when you have never been taught or expected to do so. I think by grade 4-5 this process of not watching is so ingrained it will be a very tough habit to break.
    Good luck. I really hope you are successful.

    I'd try my best to make it a positive experience for them and make them want to show almost flawless sentences. Positive reinforcement instead of negative because you are trying to undo a bad habit.
     
  31. shouldbeasleep

    shouldbeasleep Enthusiast

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    It is a very tough habit to break. It amazes me that some 5th graders don't just automatically capitalize the beginnings of sentences. I'm sure high school teachers see the same thing. It's only going to get harder the more kids use texting as their main route of written communication.

    I can imagine a world, say in the year 2050, where editing has become a dying art, sort of like cursive writing.
     
  32. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I've seen lots of commercials recently for Dragon software which is a speech to text program. They are selling it as a much easier way to communicate instead of having to type. While this is a geat tool for people with disabilities, it is one of those tools that will kill abilities in those without disabiltiies.
     
  33. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    We haven't spent enough time in the past. We're really trying to work a lot more time for grammar instruction into the schedule this year. Some of my students' published pieces last year were appalling as far as spelling, grammar, capitalization, all of that went. It didn't matter how many times I modeled, edited, etc. They needed more explicit instruction but there just wasn't time, especially with me coming mid-year and the class already being far behind.
     
  34. eddygirl

    eddygirl Companion

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    a2z, I saw one of their commercials that made me want to GAG! I can't remember which one it was (they have a few), but when the person stopped speaking, the software put a period after a subordinate clause! Does anyone even check that the text is actually correct before they air the commercial ?
     
  35. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Nah, no one knows the rules anymore enought TO check.
     

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