I remember being explicitly taught about pronouns and antecedents -- 8th grade, I think. We had to memorize the rule, "a pronoun refers back to the nearest noun that agrees with it in gender, number and case" (or something like that). Then we had lots of assignments where we had to circle or underline the pronoun, go back and find the noun it referred to and circle that, and then draw an arrow arc connecting the two.Fascinating! I don't remember ever being taught how to understand pronouns in writing.
It seemed tedious at the time but it cleared up a lot of misconceptions, such as why wasn't a noun nearer the pronoun the antecedent, as in examples like, "Phil passed the ball to Anton. Later, he scored the only goal for the team." "He" has to be Phil, not Anton, b/c both are nominative. Of course if you wanted the goal scorer to be Anton you could connect the two sentences with "who" and delete " he."
I think today a writing instructor would probably have to tell students that the "he" in the sentence "Later he scored the only goal..." is unclear. No one teaches the nominative rule today, no one learns it, and no one knows it, including me. I'm pretty sure composition textbooks caution against this kind of reference, and I myself wouldn't use it!
Now that I read palisadesk's comment, I wish I could.
Is this a case of writing conventions changing in reaction to changes in reading instruction?