People are amazed that with 21 of 30 required credits toward my doctorate — yes, I stopped working toward the degree because the university was unrealistic with the real world — that I wasn’t able to comprehend until I was 16 years old. It is a sad reality.
Grammar and sentences were part of that understanding. A few years ago Constance Weaver from Eastern Michigan University came to my attention, and I fell in love with her ideas. They instantly made sense. I had heard so many teachers making students learn all different types of verbs and thought, “WHO CARES, IT’S A VERB!”
Weaver reminded me of the somewhat convoluted but real situation: I had really learned grammar once I learned Spanish. I know that seems like a piece from another puzzle, but it isn’t! Still today, I work to convince educators that students can sometimes better learn English through a world language. It is an amazing puzzle. And sometimes it isn’t true because EVERY ONE LEARNS DIFFERENTLY. We are all pieces in one big puzzle.
If you have not read her book, Teaching Grammar in Context, by Heinemann, 1996, it is timeless and relevant — regardless that it is almost 20 years old. Weaver emphasizes that if students can understand the basics of grammar and punctuation, then they can write. And therefore they improve their reading comprehension. I know this is true for myself and from my work with students.
Her essential ideas to know:
- Comma in compound sentence
- Comma splice
- Sentence fragment
- Subject-verb agreement
- Run-on sentence
- Independent clause
- Dependent clause
- Parallel grammatical constructions
- Active vs. passive voice
- Pronoun-antecedent agreement
- Homophones and homonyms
- Sentence end marks
- Colon and semicolon
- Parentheses and dash
- Quote marks and apostrophe
Aren’t these what GE, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Ford Motor, and other big companies want their employees to know how to use in their writing to represent them well? Grammar doesn’t have to be a puzzle.
Recently, one of my students, let’s call him Jim, kept telling me that he didn’t know how to write a conclusion. By the way, his name has been changed. I tried conferencing — which if you have read this blog — you know I strongly believe in this strategy. However, as with all strategies this time it didn’t work.
When my students chose their topics of what they needed to focus on, several said paragraphs and elaborating. So we broke down the writing as a whole class. Beginning with a mini lesson and then sketching out the intro, body, and conclusion. However, the only way any student can write is to EDIT and REVISE which means including CONSTANCE WEAVER’S Teaching Grammar in Context.
There, conferencing comes in to the puzzle again. Reinforcing, Weaver’s simple ideas, student’s are able to better understand where they need to repair their work. No need for major confusion. “Does this make sense?” “Is this a sentence?” “What is the subject?” “What is the verb?” “This is how you use a colon and this is how we use semicolons.”
After three practices, Jim told me in a writing conference that he was feeling more confident about his conclusions because of how we had broken down the paragraphs. Yeah! The scaffolding had worked. A different piece made it into the puzzle.
Grammar doesn’t have to be complicated. Punctuation doesn’t have to be a mystery. Why do educators go into such detail that no one understands it!