September 18, 2013

Drill and kill won't teach writing skills!

If you've read a decent amount of my blog posts you should hopefully realize a few things about me as a teacher:

1. I don't like drill and kill work
2. I don't like tests - I prefer performance based evaluation
3. If something is not working - I want to find a new way to approach the issue

I can only speak for ,y school, but I am wondering if it is like this in most places. We have an extreme overemphasis on drill and kill, prescriptive grammar instruction. Students in almost every English class are given pages and pages of grammar worksheets as well as test after test on their memorization of the parts of speech and writing conventions.

The problem is that memorization is not internalization - it's not functional knowledge. The students do not become better writers because they can underline the subject of a basic sentence, double underline the predicate, or cross out any
prepositional phrases. They become better writers by writing, then revising, then getting revisions (and explanations for those revisions) from a more skilled and educated writer.

This is really hitting a sore spot for me right now because I have students who will have taken my class in the 6th grade come to me the next year and accuse me of teaching them nothing. Why? Because they have gone to a teacher who believes that learning is the preposition song as opposed to sitting by me - literally - as we pick through their writing to improve it. They are being inundated with worksheets as opposed to doing a research project that is synthesized into a documentary film and then a research paper.

The worst part of it all is that the standardized tests that I HATE back me up on all of this. Our school is the highest performing middle school in our district - I Think our API was a 908 the last 2 years - and the English department has plateaued at 88%. Our biggest area of need? Grammar - across the board - not just my classes.

Obviously something needs to change.

I would love any input on what the world out there thinks about my grammar debate and if you believe that I am right or wrong. Some clarity on the matter is greatly needed.

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