kitchen table math, the sequel: Magister Green on how the Greeks and Romans taught

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Magister Green on how the Greeks and Romans taught

Magister Green on the question of whether you can "pick up" the grammar of writing through reading:
Going back to ancient times, the Greeks and Romans taught their children not rules of traditional grammar but rather the works of the great poets and thinkers who had come before. In particular, emphasis was placed on memorizing and modeling one's own schoolwork on the works of past masters. If we accept that students can learn grammatical rules through exposure as opposed to explicit instruction (which I do accept), the fact that schools in general (public and private) refuse to teach, much less acknowledge, the works of "masters" would go a long way towards explaining why students today know so little of the rules of traditional grammar.
I've been only vaguely aware of the 'copy work' practices of the ancients (and of the Well-Trained Mind people), but I've come to be a fan.

I think Magister Green is right.

One reason students don't write (or punctuate) grammatically today is that they aren't spending enough time reading, studying, and 'mastering' important works under the direct guidance of their teachers.

I think there's probably something missing in terms of fluency training in the early grades, too: possibly just basic fluency practice in writing and punctuating simple Subject+Verb+Object and Subject+Verb+Complement sentences. But I don't know.

I speculate that 'basic fluency training' is missing because C. was reading important works under the direct guidance of teachers in high school (though not before then), yet his writing still had lots of comma splices. I asked him how he finally got rid of them, and he said he thinks his dad just corrected so many of them that he finally started to see them himself.

Which reminds me: I need to get a post up on Morningside and "discrimination training."

Morningside does not seem to teach "grammar" at all, really. They teach writing via sentence combining, and they don't teach sentence parsing or sentence diagramming. Kent Johnson told me he teaches grammar terminology after students have learned to write, and he teaches the terminology at that point because students have to know it for state tests.

I don't know how I feel about that. I gainsay nothing Morningside does; I've seen the results with my own eyes (and in a writing class, too). But the idea of 'withholding' or avoiding the vocabulary of grammar bothers me nevertheless. I wish somebody had taught me how to diagram a sentence back in the day!

On the other hand, I may be looking at it the wrong way. The Morningside program doesn't avoid teaching the vocabulary of grammar so much as it delays formal instruction in grammar.

Maybe that's the right sequence. Reading and writing first, grammar second.

I'm going to come back to this later.

1 comment:

cranberry said...

Any attempt at writing about grammar leads to grammar errors in the post.

"How the Greeks and Romans Taught" not taughts.

Subject-verb agreement.