Friday, June 12, 2009

Topic: Grammar, Composition and Research (2)

10-second review: Base the teaching of grammar on problems that can be predictably expected in compositions. These problems involve sentence structure, punctuation and usage. Composition should be taught at the same time as grammar so that students can apply their knowledge of grammar to their compositions. The purpose for a knowledge of grammar in composition? To polish writing.

Title: “Grammar and Composition.” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 164-206.

Why does research show that grammar and composition are not related?

To me, it is common sense that grammar and composition should really have little effect on each other. They deal with different emphases in writing.

Composition deals with ideas, unity, coherence and paragraphs; grammar deals with sentence structure and related problems in usage and punctuation.

Composition in exposition deals with the arrangement of ideas, with making those ideas interesting and clear, with unity, summarized in an early thesis sentence, with introductory paragraphs, with paragraphs that develop topic sentences and with summary concluding paragraphs. Extend the writing from the essay to the chapter to the book—the arrangement is the same in expository writing.

Grammar, on the other hand, deals with the structure of sentences, with punctuation of sentences, and with usage—the last concern of the writer, after composing is almost completed—the editing stage of the writing process. Still, the editing is important to successful composition, especially since mistakes will distract the reader from following the writer’s ideas.

Most tests of composition today use holistic scoring (the SAT’s 25-minute essay, for example, that provides almost no time for editing), and requires raters not to pay undue attention to grammatical, punctuation or usage mistakes. Raters focus on ideas, clarity, development of those ideas in a five-paragraph arrangement, with the introduction, including a thesis sentence, topic sentences for middle paragraphs and a final, summarizing paragraph. Unless the composition is loaded with mistakes, grammatical mistake here or there will be little noticed in holistic scoring.

But what does grammar do to make writing effective?

A knowledge of grammar helps students to polish writing, especially in style and correctness. Mistakes in writing, unless intentionally made as a point of style, distract the reader. Good writing causes readers to begin at the beginning, to move quickly from point to point, from beginning to end, without distractions and concludes with a memorable thought that leaves the reader in complete command of the writer’s ideas.

In my opinion, the problem with teaching grammar is that it has been taught without clear purpose, which is the application to writing—and speaking.

In the next few blogs, I am going to tell you the story of how I discovered that grammar was not writing and how I learned to teach grammar with clear purpose so that students applied their knowledge of grammar to writing, thus eliminating the reader’s distractions because of mistakes.

To be continued: Why Teach Grammar?

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