I suppose I am a “writing person.” I study it, and teach it, and teach about teaching it pretty regularly. The most common question I get, over and over, no matter what level teachers I am with, is about the best way to teach conventions.
In my experience, teachers have often tried things they don’t feel that great about, and they are looking for new strategies. One tactic I love that is used less often in the upper grades, is to use mentor texts to teach about technical features, which leads me to M. T. Anderson as a punctuation teacher.
I’m not sure how he’d feel about that label, and it certainly isn’t the first thing I want to talk about when discussing his books. But no one is more masterful at punctuating sentences to find a very particular character’s voice. He writes a shifting mix of simply structured, infrequently punctuated sentences mixed with purposeful run-ons here and there to give that fractured feel of being disconnected in Feed. Or he uses long sentences with highly academic uses of punctuation marks to give that classically-trained, high brow feel in the Octavian Nothing books. Each set of punctuation decisions makes you read in a particular way, and each is precisely and perfectly matched to the story being told.
I think too often we give students the idea that there is a right way to punctuate their work or a wrong way, but that feels limiting. With any idea, there are bunches of right ways to use punctuation, as well as a slew that don’t work as well. Part of the fun of writing is making those choices, and I hope students get to have that sort of fun in our classes by learning from great writers. And if we get pulled into reading more M. T. Anderson as a happy side effect, well, so much the better.