Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Grammar Anyone?

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?


Anonymous said...

Hi there. First, thanks for the email. Your plan makes total sense. For the life of me it didn't seem like I could do that on my own; but then I read what you do for grammar teaching and it's not hard at all.

I really like your grammar workbook. You present the material quite easily. Now if only I had the answer sheets to the exercises :) And the tests ;) (sort of kidding, I mean, I should do some work myself).

Anyway, I think it's a good topic of conversation because like you said, many so called professionals say not to teach grammar. You know, even if our students don't memorize every rule, the exposure to well written sentences will help them I think.

Again, thank you for the discussion. It's been one of the most valuable discussions I've had regarding education in a while.

Jennifer Ward said...


Thank you! You've really got me reflecting on my own practices in regards to grammar and mechanics.

To elaborate for others, this is sort of the general break down for how I currently teach grammar:

1) Students come into class each day and find a daily sentence on the board. Together we use proof reading marks to correct the sentence. Each week we focus on a particular type of problem. At the end of the week, students take home a paragraph to make revise (taken from the Great Source Daily Language Workout books).

2) In addition to the daily sentences, each Monday during the first quarter I do a mini-lesson on a particular grammar idea. We first go through the parts of speech, then sentence types, followed my mechanics and construction problems. The particular area we focus on is highlighted in the daily sentences. So for example, the first week I teach noun and pronouns, and then we work on pronoun/antecedent issues in our daily sentences.

3) Each Friday during the first quarter, the students have a short quiz over the mini-lesson. The students can re-take this quizzes (I have multiple versions) as many times as they would like before the next quiz. I don't penalize students for re-taking the quiz because some students need a bit more practice before a concept clicks.

4) Finally, we use whatever the particular grammar issue we are working on in our weekly writing. If the mini-lesson and daily sentences are focusing on active vs. passive voice, then that is one of the areas that we work on in our graded writing that week.

I'm happy to pass along quizzes. I'll need to go through and create an answer key, but I'll email them along to any interested person. Sorry, I can't really post them to my website - though I'm sure my students would be very happy if I did =)

Anonymous said...

I'll take any answer keys/quizzes/info that you have. I am going to be using your grammar workbook. Instead of giving the entire book to each student though (since I've not used it before), I'm just copying each section as I use them. I also shared them with a couple other teachers. We all seem to agree that we "want" to work on some grammar but can never find good sources.

Hey, perhaps you should publish your grammar workbook :)

Jennifer Ward said...

I'll start putting those answer keys together and forward them along to you early next week.

Actually, I need to thank one of the fellow teachers I work with. Kristen B. is a fellow tenth grade teacher in my building who put together the original grammar book. I went through and edited it, adding some of my own pages and exercises. She's the true grammar guru. =)

I did see that NCTE published a couple of new grammar books recently. Check out the publications section of the website here.

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