kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/4/12 - 11/11/12

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.

a brilliant invention


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Magister Green on students & relative pronouns

Apart from the standard difficulties my students exhibit when I'm working with them on relative clauses in Latin (such as the idea that the relative pronoun has an entire existence within its own clause that is independent of its antecedent), I've noticed something similar with my upper level students in regard to abstract pronouns. We're reading Caesar this year in AP and he uses abstract pronouns "These things", "These men", etc... constantly and I have to stop and ensure that everyone is keeping up with all the "these" and "those" and "them" as we read. Frequently they want to treat these pronouns as true relatives; referring back to a specific word in a preceding clause. The notion that a single pronoun can refer collectively to an entire paragraph, or a single idea encapsulated in a phrase, can stop them at times. It's an interesting problem I'd not given much thought to before now.

fyi: The relative pronouns are that, those, who, whom, whose, which, what, whatever, whoever, whomever, and whichever.

Composition textbooks tell you not to use a relative pronoun to refer to an entire paragraph or thought -- not unless you say "This paragraph" or "That thought" --  but writers do it all the time as far as I can tell. I certainly do.

I was gobsmacked when I learned, just two years ago, that using a naked "this" to refer to an entire idea was forbidden. After Katharine told me that a prohibition on using a naked "this" to refer to an idea or a paragraph was ridiculous, I decided to unforbid the practice and carry on as before.

Don't go by me, though. Until 2 years ago, I had never heard of relative pronouns.

Or relative clauses.

still no

Con Ed restored power to everyone in town but 41 houses (plus another set downtown on one street), and left.

No word from the mayor.

I was thinking he might come tour the neighborhood.

update 11/5/2012: Wrong, wrong, wrong.

700 "customers" in Irvington (population circa 6500) still out of power as of this morning.

Temperature in our bedroom 50 degrees.