During yoga class, my instructor Michelle guided the group into a pose. She had several cues as we moved into half moon and she’d give a cue, repeat a cue, give a different cue, repeat a cue, give another, repeat… and I realized that I needed those repeated cues! As I tried to implement something different, my foot would unflex until I consciously heard her remind me to flex. Maybe someday my foot will just know to stay flexed without the conscious effort (and then maybe I’ll go for MORE flex), but until then, I need the reminders for my best practice.
Just as I need them in yoga practice, students benefit from revisiting, reviewing, and reminding when it comes to conventions. Writing involves the integration of so many skills and cognitive processing that it’s understandable. Here are some ideas that I hope you can use in your instruction right as the year starts– and then any time thereafter.
- Take the time to remind students of what they’ve learned in previous years.
This is a great way to introduce the concept of inquiry for students and to practice an inquiry lesson with the question: What do you know about conventions when it comes to capitalization and punctuation? The chart below is one I’ve used with individual students, and you could also use it as a whole class chart, inviting students to contribute to the various categories.
- Create a progression of charts.
It’s powerful to remind students of when they may have first been introduced to various skills. You can customize chart progressions by talking to your colleagues, and you can also look through your curriculum if you work in a system that has a scope and sequence for language skills.
The charts below are ones that I created by sitting in front of the Common Core Language Standards and trying to name out the skills by grade level in order to make the overall chart of expectations less overwhelming for both teachers and students. When I think of conventions as a relay race where someone completes their lap and passes the baton, it’s much less daunting. Maybe first-graders won’t master capital letters for names and dates, but if it’s not brand new information for them, then second graders don’t have quite so much to learn.
- Isolate skills as necessary.
Whenever I talk about this idea, I use a sports analogy, but you can use whatever analogy that works for you. When I coached soccer, I had the players practice dribbling with tops of garbage cans; they had to dribble the ball around the tops, keeping the ball close enough to be able to turn. Three steps was their goal in between taps, but the more authentic goal was to be able to dribble successfully during a game, swerving around other players the way they’d maneuvered the garbage can tops. Many of the players were much better dribblers in the controlled situation than on game day. That being said, the better they got at the tops, the better they generally were in the game.
If a writing piece is the equivalent to a soccer game, then the goal is to have convention skills show up in that authentic writing. Convention stations have become my equivalent for athletically-oriented drills. I can design “stations” that specifically address and give extra practice for whatever skill I want to see showing up more in authentic writing.
The station below is one I’ve used for students working on capitalization, and the digital version of it is here.
Some other stations I’ve set up successfully are digitally linked below:
Remember: the most effective centers are ones that you make in response to the students in your classroom, so consider these centers as prototypes for ones that you design based on the learning you are seeing in the day to day work.
TIP: Whenever you are setting up centers, try to avoid having students correct work that is done with mistakes. It’s better for them to see the work done right and then notice and name the skill and rationale. This way their developing brains focus on how the right way looks instead of the fact that it’s confusing.
Other Quick Practices for Building Convention Awareness:
- Get silly with the power of talk and speak in sentences during times of the day when it works. You can play the audio for an example of me doing it. Kids think it’s pretty funny, but it’s also powerful for them to hear conventions and it helps some kids to visualize it.
- Spend a couple of days doing what I call “obsessing” during writing workshop, and interrupt students every few minutes to ask if the sentence they just wrote has all of the capitals and conventions they know. Start your reminder with the same few words so those few words become students’ cue to check their previous sentence.
- Make sure conventions are showing up in ALL the writing students are doing. “Is there a reason you left the period off of your sentence?” is one of my favorite questions when students are working on something outside of writing workshop.
Michelle’s voice is in my thoughts as I practice poses on my own without her in the room reminding me of all that my body should be remembering. And the truth is that my body has internalized many of the cues. This unconscious element of practice is a powerful way for me to think about my hopes for students when it comes to the use of conventions; names just get capitalized, and periods just happen at the ends of sentences. This shift from conscious competence to unconscious competence is a great goal when it comes to students and conventions.
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