An elementary ed major from a local community college spent this last week in my room. Being the opinionated teacher that I am, we covered numerous topics when the children weren't around. I probably gave her more to think about than she had bargained for when assigned 30 hours in a classroom. I brought up this idea of what teachers should focus on the most in their students' writing. I probably sound like a broken record for those who read my blog often, but it was a new one for her and from what I can tell, is a topic that current classroom teachers need to ponder as well.
We talked about how easy it is to notice the surface level stuff. Like Regie says, those things are distracting in a glaring sort of way, beckoning the teacher's attention. It's easy to make a beeline for them. All the while, ideas and content are bypassed. I'll admit it's harder to dig deeper into a piece and find a way to nudge the writer towards expressing their ideas better.
What makes a piece of writing proficient? What makes it something worth reading? I've had discussions with teachers who honestly want to know if the writing in their hands is proficient. Most often, their criteria of proficiency depends on whether they see capitals, periods, and spacing. I want them to raise the level of their expectations, realign their parameters, and consider this question. Who cares if their conventions are perfect if it's not something worth reading?
I told this young future teacher that the writers in my room will focus on what I focus on. If my vision of proficiency hinges on conventions, then that's what they will produce, and most likely at the expense of what makes their writing really worth reading. It's not that the other things aren't important. Like Regie, I believe there's a time and place for them. They are certainly part of what, in the end, will make their writing even more inviting, but without great content, it won't matter.