Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Teaching Grammar...

Ok, ok, I'm sure you're soooo thrilled to hear what I have to say on a topic as interesting as grammar, but just bear with me. I just read an article by Constance Weaver titled "Teaching Grammar in the Context of Writing" and there were a few interesting tidbits I'd like to point out.

Let me take a minute to point out that I was taught grammar in isolation, not in a writing context. I tend to have good instincts when it comes to grammar, but I'm definitely far from pefect (although I'm sure my friends would say that I think I'm pretty close to perfect). I know what sounds and looks correct, and I know basic grammar rules, but I have no idea what a participial phrase is, for example. I used to think that my grammatical (is that the right word?) skill came from the practice I did in elementary school, and from diagraming sentences in high school. Now as I understand the concept of isolation vs. context, I think my instincts come from my voracious reading habit more than they come from endless hours of underlining subjects and verbs in sentences on a worksheet.

Weaver mentions a study of students in fourth through sixth grades. The study found that students used writing mechanics better when they had been taught in the context of their own writing instead of in isolation. This made perfect sense to me, as a person who learns by doing. It was not enough for the students to "do" merely by completing worksheets. They needed to incorporate what they were learning into their own writing for it to make an impression.

Weaver uses real teacher examples in her article. One of these examples is of Sarah, who uses a quote that caught my attention. She says "Disguising my grammar lessons behind the minilesson format in the writer's workshop has prevented me from having to endure a repetion of last year's groans regarding how boring grammar is." I laughed a little when I read that sentence. Why does grammar have such a negative connotation? It's probably the 'scariest' part of English according to most people. I think people hate grammar because of the way it is taught. Most people were probably taught nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs through dittos and workbooks, like I was. However, most people probably aren't freaks like me, a person who doesn't mind the mindless repetition of worksheets. Sarah's clever way of 'disguising' the grammar lessons transformed her student's view of learning grammar, and made it a more enjoyable experience for all parties involved.

I also read an article by Susan Rowe titled "Using Minilessons to Promote Student Revision." Rowe explains how she uses a shared experience of collective revision to enhance her students' understanding of how to be better writers. The class brainstorms better ways to write a sentence that Rowe puts on the board. Together they talk about what they like and don't like about the suggestions. She writes, "But the entire class has been exposed to myriad examples and has discussed the pros and cons of each." I really liked this technique because it is a physical representation of what should be happening in a writer's mind. By going through this process as a class, students are better prepared to critique drafts of their own writing.

That's all I'll share about grammar today! And you thought I was going to drone on and on about comma splices and prepositional phrases....

1 comment:

lindsay said...

It is very hard, isn't it, to trace the trail of cause and effect. You are a very skilled writer, and I'm never distracted by grammatical errors as I read your posts. You not only did lots of "grammar worksheets" in school but also read a ton. Additionally, you had a personality and learning style that felt engaged by worksheets--which you acknowlege is rare. It seems that you are thinking well about the diverse needs of your future students for engaging readings and contextual grammar instruction.