December 4, 2012

Teach grammar, expect perfection?

A hot button issue in the English department at my school is the teaching of grammar.

Let me be clear - the issue is on the expectation of prescriptively and directly teaching grammar to students via lecture and worksheets.

To be up front about this - I do not agree with it on any level. There are many reasons why, which would make for another blog post all in itself, a lengthy one at that. But, to sum it up, hopefully, it's because not all students need all grammar and learning it through direct instruction makes no clear connection or transfer to their work.

But, I think there is another huge issue with this. It seems from my perspective, based on the conversations that the department has had surrounding ideas like accountability and expectations, that we are expecting our students to stop making mistakes.

It comes down to the idea that if I've taught my students something, then they are accountable for that knowledge or skill and they are expected to demonstrate or perform it perfectly from now on.

This may or may not be their true and actual expectation, but it has to say something if that's what is coming across to me, at least.

I don't know about the rest of the world, but I make mistakes all of the time. I even make mistakes when I'm doing something that is ridiculously simple and something that I have done over and over already. But, I'm also human.

At the same time though, if I make a mistake, or if any of my students make a mistake, the accountability that they should feel and the expectation that they should have should be that they should look over their work, find their mistakes, and correct them. We need to learn from mistakes and fix mistakes, not be punished for them.

Bottom line - it is my belief that grammar should be taught as needed, when a clear pattern has arisen in a class or in an individual student's writing that necessitates the lesson. It should also be learned on a case by case basis through the student editing and revising their own writing. It should ALSO be learned through the student reading the works of other writers and absorbing through those experiences all that writing has to offer.

If you want students to write and write well then they need to do two things - read and WRITE.

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