Guest Blogger: Linda Stine
Like everyone else, I've been moaning and groaning my way through midterms this week. And, like perhaps at least some of you, I've been wondering if my grammar explanations have been doing more harm than good, as I note fragmented ideas and run-on sentences and commas popping up in locations that just seem to belie any rational explanation.
On a listserv for writing teachers recently, a good conversation has been taking place on the whole issue of grammar instruction, student writing, and transferability of writing skills. We know that learning a new concept causes temporary backsliding as students struggle to fit the new knowledge into their existing sense of language structure and begin questioning everything, even concepts that they had previously mastered. (I like to think that's the reason for all those inexplicable commas...). We know too that the same backsliding occurs when students are asked to write on more complicated issues or in other classes with different content matter. We know too that teaching grammar directly and explicitly does little to improve student writing.
So given that, I was wondering what ways you have found that help your students learn, internalize, master, and transfer effectively to other classes the basic concepts of academic grammar and mechanics? Do you discuss grammar rules and then ask students to practice them in exercises before applying them in their own writing? Do you start with the students' own writing and work mainly on getting them to clarify their thoughts, trusting that grammar issues will clear themselves up without formal instruction simply as a side effect of clearer thinking and wider reading? Do you note grammar errors on papers? How? Where? When? Why? Do you have any techniques that work well for you that you could share with the rest of us? Or do you have questions about the whole pesky "good grammar” issue that you keep wrestling with without finding a good answer?
What should we all be doing, I wonder, to ensure that we are graduating students who can write clear, standard, academic English?