kitchen table math, the sequel: Hunter Writing System

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hunter Writing System

looks interesting:
Is this a whole-language approach to teaching grammar?

Yes and no. Yes, to the extent that whole-language instruction requires involvement of all the senses in learning. It is my recommendation that teachers have students say their rearranged sentences out loud (or, at least, subvocally) not only to test whether they are meeting the criteria for some grammatical element but also to hear what correctly spoken English sounds like. Of course, they do write and read the sentences as they carry out the exercise material.

No, because this system for immersing students in structure does not--and cannot--teach grammar through literature or through the students' own writing. Students must learn the structure of the sentence systematically, building from the known to the unknown in an experience-based and carefully sequenced way. This ownership of structure cannot be learned in random order nor without "interactive" types of exercises.

How does this way of teaching grammar relate to the process approach to teaching writing?

Nancie Atwell, a chief proponent of the process approach to teaching writing for middle school students, recommends occasional 10-minute mini-lessons in grammar primarily for the purpose of fixing some usage error. (Her reasoning is that the indispensable, if not sole, means to becoming a better writer is to do personally meaningful writing--as opposed to learning grammar as a means.)

Although my program would provide ideal subject matter for 10-minute mini-lessons, the primary instruction would have to be in the fundamentals of grammar (not in rules of usage); it would have to be virtually daily, not occasional, in occurrence; and it would have to be accompanied by extensive practice. It would have to include incrementally developed lessons on how sentences and their parts work and interact and would address usage errors only as sufficient background to understand and consistently apply them have been absorbed.

The philosophy of the proponents of the process approach to writing is that improvement in the mechanics of writing will take place with students' heightened desire to make sure that their message is read and acted upon and without formal instruction in grammar. (There remains the troubling question as to whether such experiences can lead to the remedying of most, let alone all or the most serious, mistakes. Then there is the question of permanency of the error-free writing.) Is it not reasonable to believe, too, that any lasting improvement in the mechanics of writing might occur just for the brightest of students or for those immersed in correct usage of English in their homes?

My philosophy regarding mastery of writing on the part of middle school students--in fact, all students--is entirely different. My philosophy is that immersion in grammar--that is, an experiencing of the roles of the key parts of the sentence by means of hands-on strategies, strategies that initially involve the rearrangement of sentence parts--is a prior and, for many (if not most) students, an indispensable means to self-confidence and competence in writing....

It is in light of this that I recommend that my grammar program--in accompaniment with on-going composition work--be the initial component of any foundational writing program (and, therefore, of any middle school program). My teaching suggestions in the next section offer some insights.

Competing Philosophies

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