Thursday, April 30, 2009

Topic: The NCTE on Grammar

10-second review: For a number of years, the NCTE’s position on grammar was that grammar had nothing to do with improving writing. At least this 2005 position paper defined grammar as enabling students to talk about how to build sentences and paragraphs that are clear and that teachers show students how to apply a knowledge of grammar to writing, reading and all other language activities.

Title: “Some Questions and Answers about Grammar.” Brock Haussamen, et al. NCTE. 2005.

Summary/Quotes: “Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences….”

“…to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentence—that is knowing about grammar….”

“People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”

“Teaching grammar will not make errors go away…. But knowing basic grammatical terminology does provide students with a tool for thinking about and discussing sentences.”

“…whatever approach you take to grammar, show students how to apply it not only to their writing but also to their other language arts activities.”

Comment: I don’t know where to begin. I started teaching when grammar was taught as a prelude to writing. Students had to know grammar before they could learn to write. And because there was so much grammar to teach—all those exercises and all that diagramming—only some teachers taught the paragraph and almost none taught writing or composition.I know it is hard to believe today, but that was the thinking in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.

Then in 1966 or thereabouts, a research study was published concluding that research study after research study showed teaching grammar to improve writing was a complete waste of time. And most teachers stopped teaching grammar and taught the writing process instead, which was more important than the final product.

That was all right so far as it went, but people who believed in “back to the basics” said that students could not produce a correct sentence. They also said that the product was more important than the writing process.

Then came the word processor and revising and writing, in general, became easier and almost fun. So now we should have a pretty good balance between teaching writing and grammar—except that all those students who missed out on learning grammar don’t know it now that they are English teachers. And so it goes.

Next blog: Ray S.’s principles of teaching grammar and writing.

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