Tagged: teaching grammar

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“The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar”

No more diagramming sentences: Students learn more from simply writing and reading.

Mark Isero‘s insight:

I like The Atlantic, and usually, the magazine gets education matters right, but this article about grammar misses the mark by oversimplifying the issue.

Michelle Navarre Clearly argues that teaching grammar directly doesn’t work and that we should teach grammar “through” writing.

The reply of most English teachers: Duh. Of course. Best practice is to see where your students struggle and then help them.

But then the next step — how to do that — is where it gets complex. It seems like Ms. Clearly would advocate a one-on-one approach, where the teacher conferences with each student. That sounds great but takes too much time to be a teacher’s only strategy.

Whole-group instruction also has its flaws, even when done well (with sentence combining, for instance). My experience suggests that students don’t internalize whole-group grammar lessons.

My colleagues and I are exploring small-group intervention, in which 4-6 students meet with the teacher on a specific grammar concern while the rest of the students work independently on a writing activity. This seems like the best of both worlds. There’s enough personal attention, but the process doesn’t take forever.

See this article on m.theatlantic.com, or see it on Iserotope Extras.

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grmr.me makes essay grading easy for English teachers

gorillasfavicon Most English teachers agree: The worst part of the job is grading students’ essays.

And when I say “grading,” I use that term interchangeably with “assessing,” “giving feedback on,” “reading,” and “evaluating.”

Let me be clear: I love looking at a student’s writing and offering suggestions for improvement. But I don’t like looking at 150 students’ writing. It takes way too long.

Plus, commenting on a student’s essay (whether it’s actually on paper or on Google Docs or even on EssayTagger, which is cool but expensive) doesn’t teach the student anything about writing.

I can correct run-on sentences all day, but that doesn’t mean that my student will magically avoid them in the future. Or I can spend time writing a little note explaining the three ways to fix a run-on sentence. But that takes way too long, and who wants to read weird tidbits about random grammar rules?

This is why I’m really excited about grmr.me, a relatively new service by Kevin Brookhouser, an English teacher in California. Check out the intro video:

See how neat? Instead of making tons of corrections, you focus on your students’ main grammar challenges and direct them to watch a video that actually teaches them how to improve.

Mr. Brookhouser’s videos are short and funny, and students can take a quick quiz to see if they get the concept. Right now, I count 18 videos, including ones covering big-ticket items like subject-verb agreement, literary present tense, its vs. it’s, and comma splices.

It’s possible, of course, that watching a video won’t immediately cause a student to eradicate a longstanding grammar issue (follow-up practice is necessary), but what I love about grmr.me is that it reminds me that I’m a writing teacher, not a copyreader. And it tells students that grammar is actually a thing that can be learned, not just silly little inconsequential red squiggly marks on an essay.

Check out grmr.me and let me know what you think! favicon

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Writing and grammar: The work continues in college

favicon I’m not teaching this year, but several of my students, now in college, have contacted me for help on their writing.

Interesting Point #1: The students seeking my help are those who struggled the most last year in my class. It makes me happy that they view me as a resource.

Interesting Point #2: We do our work on Google Drive. In fact, the students are using the same accounts they received as high school freshmen.

Interesting Point #3: Issues with grammar and mechanics do not go away. Just because you’re enrolled in college doesn’t mean that your longstanding problems with run-on sentences magically disappear.

Out of those three points, I’ve thought the most about the last one. After looking at New Dorp High School’s success with teaching writing, which emphasizes a bottom-up approach of teaching writing as complex thinking, I began to wonder: Was my approach on conventions the wrong way to go?

In other words, is there something wrong with having students write, showing them an error, explaining why it’s wrong, giving them ways to correct it, and encouraging them to be more conscious in the future?

There must be. After all, most of my students with significant grammar and mechanics problems still struggle with them. And they’ve probably wrestled with these concerns since fourth grade.

The students can fix the problem if I identify it, and they can identify it if we read their essay together, but on their own, they have trouble proofreading and revising their own work. They don’t see by themselves what they can see with others.

That’s the hard part for me as a writing teacher. Writing — especially the grammar part — is such a mystery. Why do some students just automatically know how to construct complex sentences? (It’s not just the amount of reading they do.) And then why are others able to improve rapidly, while some grapple with the same grammar obstacle year after year?

A question for loyal Iserotope readers: Let’s say a student habitually writes run-on sentences in the following two ways: (1) sentence and sentence, (2) sentence, conjunction sentence. What ways would you approach this student so that she can, for once, feel confident that she “gets it” and can move on? favicon