We know that writers need opportunities to write. They write lists; they write responses to what they read; they write drafts; they try strategies out in their writer’s notebooks. They write not only during writing workshop but also throughout the day. All of this writing helps them to become more fluent writers and builds their confidence as writers.
When we confer with students who are writing drafts that are going to be published and/or evaluated, we confer first about content and clarity. Even in the drafting stage, though, it is important to point out to students issues that interfere with intended meaning. Asking pointed questions: “What did you mean to say here?” “Can you tell me more about what you said here?” may be what is needed. Sometimes, i might need to get specific. If a writer is explaining how to play hockey, and spells “hockey” several different ways in the draft, I need to know whether the writer really knows how to spell “hockey” because that’s the topic of the piece. Similarly, if I’m noticing during conferring that many of the student writers are writing without the benefit of paragraphing, that is a cue to me that instruction about paragraphing is needed.
Nancie Atwell talks about editing (which can begin in the drafting stage) as steps that are done for the reader. We want our student writers to spell, capitalize, paragraph, and use punctuation even in their drafts because that’s what writers do. If a published piece is riddled with errors, the reader will be distracted by those errors and concentrate on them rather than the writer’s message. We owe it to our students not to let that happen to their messages.
We do not want our student writers to be paralyzed by indecision or to take the easy way to express something because they fear they might not be saying it “the right way.” However, we do want our student writers to be open to all of the many and glorious ways they can express themselves. We want our student writers to know that they can rely on all of the members of the writing community to help them make their writing clear and readable.