kitchen table math, the sequel: Mom of 4 on 'caught, not taught'

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mom of 4 on 'caught, not taught'

from Mom of 4:
A recent post on another website made a good point about the current edworld fad that grammar should be "caught, not taught". The point was that, in the real world, the only students who have any likelihood of sufficient "catching" are very bright kids, from advantaged families, who also read a GREAT DEAL of high-quality fiction and non-fiction. In other words, almost none of today's kids. Bottom line; better go back to teaching it explicitly.

Problem: many, if not most, teachers (particularly ES-MS) probably don't know grammar and compostion well enough to teach it effectively. I recently read that the percentage of teachers with less than 10 years experience has just crossed 50%, and that group I think is less likely to have a strong background in grammar and composition. Even when I was in college in the 60s, English majors (and possibly minors) in Arts & Sciences were required to take Structure of the English Language, and Stylistics, in that order, but secondary-ed majors in the ed school were not required to take either (although some did). They were the two most difficult classes in the department, with an outstanding professor teaching both, but everyone above C level (required) KNEW grammar when they finished.
Structure of the English Language & Stylistics: perfect.

I have been scrambling to learn the Structure of the English Language (Stylistics will have to wait) -- and not just the Structure of the English Language but also, and more importantly, the particulars of the Structure of the English Language that do or do not stump my students. I need content knowledge and I need pedagogical content knowledge, and they're not the same.

For instructors like me who themselves were not taught the Structure of the English Language, the confusing thing about teaching composition is that "basic writers" who are native speakers of English already know English grammar.

They know English grammar, and yet they don't write grammatically.


The answer is simple but by no means obvious unless you have some formal knowledge of grammar. When you 'write by ear,' which is the way I write and always have, it takes a while to figure out that the grammar of academic prose is completely and totally different from the grammar of speech.

(That said, it's not clear to me that people who do have some formal knowledge of grammar recognize the profound differences between talking and writing, either.)

In any event, basic writers who are native speakers of English know English grammar.

What they don't know is the specific grammar of academic prose.

Which brings me to Mom of 4's comment. Given my experience as a writer teaching composition, I think English teachers should study linguistics (and stylistics) in college and graduate school.

English teachers-to-be should study linguistics (and stylistics) because it's pretty hard for a teacher to recognize that relative clauses pose a specific challenge for her students if she's never heard the term "relative clause."

I speak from experience.


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Anonymous said...

Many, many of the educated, American-born, native speakers who I know have trouble with cases in English.

Some will say things like, "She gave the book to Henry and I."

Almost everyone will say, "Who do you trust?"

momof4 said...

I think that, in addition to explicit instruction, kids need to have all of their written work corrected, so mistakes don't become established habit. When I was in school (started in early 50s), this was unquestioned. The advent of journaling (which I think is a terrible idea) also seemed to bring in a disdain for corrections, as if kids' feelings would be hurt by learning to write correctly. I spent a LOT of time doing the corrections on my kids' work and having them re-do as necessary.