kitchen table math, the sequel: speaking of grammar to enrich and enhance writing

Thursday, December 22, 2011

speaking of grammar to enrich and enhance writing

re: Stop the multiverse, I want to get off

Why do we have books called Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing?

Seriously. How is "Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing" a sensible title for a book on grammar and writing?

Grammar is writing. Without grammar, you don't have writing; without grammar, you have a list of words, which is not writing. (Not really.) Grammar to enhance writing is like paint to enhance painting or pianos to enhance playing the piano. If you don't have paint, you're not painting. Same thing with writing.

Ordinary people get this. 

That's why ordinary people tend to think schools should just go back to teaching grammar as they once did lo these many years ago and be done with it. Teach grammar in isolation, teach grammar out of isolation, teach grammar in and out of isolation.

Just teach it.

And make sure the kids have actually learned it.

and see:
the rules
David Foster Wallace on the seamy underbelly


Catherine Johnson said...

I blame the multiverse.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm thinking I'll just become a curmudgeon in my old age.

Hainish said...

The single 5-star review for that book is pure gold.

FedUpMom said...

Yes, the review is interesting. The reviewer says there's no point in teaching grammar because there are too many exceptions to the rules. That's the same thing whole-language types say about phonics.

Anonymous said...

Although grammar is very important to writing and I get as irritated as anyone at the bad grammar in some of my students' writing, I think that marketing grammar as a way to "enrich and enhance" is good strategy. Most people (including, I fear, many middle school teachers) think of grammar as some mindless rote exercise that has nothing to do with anything but school. Explaining the connection to the real world is necessary these days.

Catherine Johnson said...

Fed Up Mom --- good point.

Hadn't thought of that.

(I'm trying to remember the great Am Educator article that systematically explains why the notion that English is filled with endless exceptions to the rules is wrong....The reason that claim seems right is that English phonics is (are?) drawn from so many different languages.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Hainish - o.m.g. - I went back and forced myself to read the whole review (on your recommendation!).


"The problem of grammar instruction is that we have been teaching grammar in the same manner as ancient Latin and Greeks."

"The studies indicate that grammar instruction is misleading and detrimental."

"Most language arts instructors are not here to teach grammar as much as they would like to teach or instruct literature of their favorite writers."

Pure gold, for sure.

I'm giving that one 5 stars.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder how Constance Weaver feels about teaching the Canon.

Catherine Johnson said...

gasstation wrote: I fear, many middle school teachers) think of grammar as some mindless rote exercise that has nothing to do with anything but school.

You can say that again.

FedUpMom said...

I think elementary school teachers are just very hostile to any kind of technical subject. Elementary-level math is completely consistent and logical, and they don't do any better teaching that. The claim that there are "too many exceptions to the rule" is just a convenient excuse.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw - and this is something I need to find time to write-up as a post - I've been musing over the whole "grammar taught in isolation" meme.

That's the big effing deal with grammar in public schools: grammar "taught in isolation" doesn't improve student writing.

(I've GOT to find time to tell my Parent Revolt story, which involved an army of parents storming the school board to complain that their kids didn't know any grammar. One of the stories was a stirring rebuttal of the idea that NOT teaching grammar in isolation was somehow going to result in kids learning grammar.)

Anyway, just recently it occurred to me that the "Grammar Taught In Isolation" argument confuses "recall" with "recognition."

I think people who say that grammar taught in isolation doesn't improve writing are probably conflating the activity of sentence PARSING with sentence PRODUCTION.

Having now taught freshman composition (which includes a very heavy dose of grammar) for two years, I frankly don't know what to think about whether grammar 'taught in isolation' (i.e. via sentence diagramming and the like) transfers to writing. It doesn't make sense to me that there would be no transfer at all, but who knows? Given how difficult it is for anyone to generalize knowledge, it's possible.

But parsing and diagramming sentences teaches students to **recognize** grammatical structures.

When you're teaching kids to write sentences, you have them....write sentences.

I flatly reject any claim that sentence combining exercises, another form of grammar taught in isolation, do not improve a student's ability to write grammatically correct sentences.

Recognition is always 'easier' than recall and/or production (and that doesn't mean we **don't** want to be able to recognize correct grammar).

e.g.: It's easier to recognize another person's correct spelling than to spell correctly yourself.

Same thing with grammar.

Recognition memory is great; it's just not enough.

For correct production -- correct spelling, grammatically correct writing -- you need recall, and you teach recall 'In Isolation,' too.