Grammar: Cornerstone of Communication
As the foundation of communication, the presence of grammar in the classroom is fundamental. Author and educator, Kelly Gallagher, states, “Let’s not forget that writing has become much more than a school activity; it has become a cornerstone for living a literate life.” In regards to grammar and conventions, what is our goal in Desoto County Schools? We aim for students to embrace the concepts of grammar as well as how grammar functions within writing and speaking, ultimately moving students towards an appreciation for how it enhances one’s communication skills.
Grammar instruction in today’s classroom may unfold differently than what many of us remember. The delivery of grammar instruction will have an impact on the way students retain the rules. Decades of research have consistently shown that teaching grammar in isolation of reading and writing has never worked well (Writing Next, Research on Written Composition). Sure, kids can successfully circle whether a word is a noun or a verb, but then they turn around and write a fragmented sentence, omitting a noun or a verb. Leaving us to ask: If the traditional method is not effective, then what is?
That was Then, This is Now
We may no longer see a traditional grammar book or worksheet driving grammar instruction in the classroom. Instead, we will likely see students working alongside teachers, analyzing what real writers do in order for students to apply such skills to their writing. For example, when teaching the skill of using commas in a series, teachers will intentionally select texts that show how commas function to separate items. Students notice the pattern, name that pattern, and seek the pattern in other texts. After this mini-lesson, students then imitate the pattern. Essentially, students need to digest how the skill is used in authentic writing, what pattern is followed, and how that pattern is used repeatedly across real-world texts.
True mastery is attained when students can apply the newly taught skill to their own writing, and a crucial step in this road to mastery involves opportunities to talk. During writing conferences, teachers are able to use academic language to help students develop and improve their craft. Grammar provides students and teachers with a means for discussing sentence correctness, the different types of sentences, and ultimately, using sentences to make their writing “clear and interesting and precise” (Haussamen et al, 1998, para. 4). Students’ notebooks become a playground, a place to experiment with words and structures. Students can then apply their knowledge of patterns to editing for specific skills within their own writing.
Support at Home
How can parents support learning at home? First and foremost, reading beyond the classroom is essential. Reading allows students to experience a writer’s craft in action. Additionally, reading expands and develops vocabulary. In-depth conversations also help build patterns of speech. Writing often imitates speech, so by increasing communication skills, writing will likewise improve. Another way to help is through developing an awareness of words – billboards, menus, newspapers, and novels. Paying attention to words helps kids notice how those words function in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. Lastly, encourage writing at home. Younger children often love to draw, so encourage them to write stories about their drawings. When too young to write, children can tell stories behind their drawings. Talking precedes writing, and through conversation, children begin making that connection. Older children can be encouraged to journal and experiment with writing ideas in different ways.
Interested in knowing more? Great! Check out the research for yourself!
Great Professional Books for further research!
Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson
Grammar Matters by Dorfman and Dougherty
Writing Workshop by Ralph Fletcher
Teaching Grammar in Context by Constance Weaver