Saturday, July 2, 2016

Russ on Reading: Grammar as Meaningful Work

Russ on Reading: Grammar as Meaningful Work:

Grammar as Meaningful Work



Probably no issue in the teaching of English can fire more debate than grammar instruction. Google, "Should grammar be taught?" and you can find literally thousands of arguments on either side. By the way, notice that I just used "Google" as a verb, which would drive my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. McGarry, up a wall; but I digress. The issue, of course, is not whether grammar should be taught, but how. On this issue the answer is clear: one-hundred years of research has consistently demonstrated that skill and drill, learn the rules, underline the subject and predicate, diagram the sentence, do practice lesson 12 in your Warriner's, type instruction does not improve writing.

Grammar instruction must begin with what students already know about grammar (quite a lot it turns out) and build from there based on the student's own writing. Like most learning, context is everything, and the best context for learning grammar is the student's own writing. Instead of thinking of grammar as a set of rules to be followed, we need to think of grammar as a set of tools to be used by the writer in the process of meaning making.

One of the great things about teaching writing is that evidence of what students know and don't know is constantly available on the page right in front of us. When we see second grade students beginning every sentence with "and", we know we can teach a lesson on sentence variety and have students practice in their own writing. This is so much more effective than decontextualized lessons about the "rule" of not starting a sentence with a conjunction, which by the way is not a rule. There is no rule in English that says we should not start a sentence with a conjunction. It is just that stylistically it is not a good idea to over use that structure.

If our third grade students are using a lot of short choppy sentences in their writing, we know to teach a lesson on sentence combining and coordination. If students are using dialogue in their writing, it is a good idea to teach 
Russ on Reading: Grammar as Meaningful Work:

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