I have grammar on the brain. A recent email conversation has me contemplating the role of teaching grammar in the language arts classroom. The NCTE advocates that grammar should not be taught in isolation. However, in talking with some fellow teachers and bloggers, I am questioning the usefulness of the Whole Language approach to teaching grammar and mechanics. Tamara Eden, fellow blogger and teacher recently posted a reflection on our email conversation about teaching grammar to high school students. Should high school students be taught dangling modifiers and shifts in construction?
I am a product of Whole Language education; grammar was never something that I was taught in isolation. I learned phonics and the difference between the subject and predicate as a first grader. I didn’t really learn grammar until I started to teach it to my high school students about six years ago. It was drilled into me while in college that English teachers should be concerned about content over conventions. And, to some extent, I agree.
However, in my last few years of teaching, I have run across students who are not voracious readers, and by extension, they are not well equipped writers. More problematic though, I have this year a number of students who are voracious readers but who cannot construct a paragraph to save their lives! This is where I see grammar as being useful.
I tell my students that if they step out of my room after a semester and can’t tell me what a dangling modifier is but know how to fix it, they will succeed. However, I don’t think that grammar and mechanics are something that we just pick up as we read. I agree with Tamara, they must be taught.
Why teach grammar? I firmly believe that the ability to read and write well grant students access to world of possibilities. Language equals power; therefore, I must find ways to integrate grammar and mechanics education into the teaching of writing. What good is a thought if you cannot express it clearly?