I first asked [Bonniejean] to tell me about the research that her husband, a professor at the University of Southern California, had done that led him to discover the secrets of the world's great authors. She first had me conjure up in my mind an image of the classic English professor's study, lined from floor to ceiling with book shelves containing volumes of all sorts of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. In the middle of the room was a large mahogany table, and on that table stood dozens of glass canning jars, each with a label taped to it displaying the name of a particular grammatical construction and its placement in the sentence: participial phrase in initial position, adverb clause in medial position, absolute phrase in final position. In front of those soldier-like jars was a pile of coffee beans. Whenever he could capture a moment between classes or late at night, Francis would pull a book from the shelf, open to his bookmark, and read -- very carefully. Sentence by sentence. If the sentence began with an adverb clause, he picked up a coffee bean and dropped it into the jar labeled "Adverb Clause in Initial Position." He watched the jars as they filled up with beans, and at the end of each week he would pour out each jar's contents and count. He recorded the results and made charts that showed what types of grammatical elements these authors used, where they placed them, and how often each grammatical unit occurred. And from this most primitive of bean counting he discovered the answer to that most mysterious of questions, How do writers write?Reading this passage, I recalled a Grade 5 data-collection project from Math Trailblazers:
So I'm thinking ... if you want 5th grade students to collect data, which apparently you do, why not have them collect data on number of participial phrases, adverb clauses, and absolute phrases and their positions in the sentences of professional writers? That would be interdisciplinary!
First we'd have to tell them what participial phrases, adverb clauses, and absolute phrases are, of course.
Someone would have to tell the teachers, too. I myself had never heard of these things until two years ago, when I started teaching composition at my local college.
Today I have a reasonably firm grasp of participial phrases and adverb clauses. (Reasonably).
Still working on absolutes.
No idea what contemporary linguistics thinks of these entities. It appears I have to acquire the old, outdated knowledge along with the new, updated knowledge in order to know what I'm doing inside the classroom.