There, I said it. And I feel better.
My college has a sort of formula they follow for the freshman composition curriculum. They have a unified curriculum wherein everyone learns basically the same thing: how to write an academic summary, how to respond to an academic article, a description essay and a synthesis or research paper. There also has to be two editing or grammar tests. The editing/grammar tests are worth a good chunk of the grade, which tells me that I need to hit it kind of hard.
The English department here thinks that teaching students to write well using proper grammar is important. I am not certain why this is, but I have my suspicions. The reference guide is co-written by two faculty members and while not overly fantastic, it is useful. The department also gets a lot of heat from the rest of the university, as students come to classes unprepared for academic writing. Many of those professors forget what their own English 101 papers looked like when they were handed back. If their memory serves, they had excellent critical thinking skills, perfect grammar and good breath when they woke up in the mornings. Ah, the good old days.
Whatever the reason, book sales, university expectations or general lack of curriculum creation creativity, I have to teach editing and grammar skills.
I am used to teaching grammar in context. In many ways, I follow the philosophy that if someone knows how to drive a car, they don't need to know how the drive shaft, clutch or spark plugs work in order to drive. Likewise, if someone's grammar ain't broke, I don't fix it. If I notice that people in a class are globally having a hard time with commas, I teach comma use. If they do not seem to understand subject-verb agreement, I teach a mini-grammar lesson on that using student examples. Oftentimes, I write things on their essays, complimenting (and identifying) compound and complex sentences and structures, turns of phrase and interesting bits of writing. I also make suggestions and diagnose individual problems with grammar and punctuation.
"Hey buddy, you have a real comma addiction. Have that looked at. Here are some ideas... "
"You do a great job of description, but let's address that run-on sentence structure. It's an easy fix..."
And so on. In other words, I don't waste class time, metaphorically, on pointing out the pieces of the engine so much as I focus on how to keep the damn car on the road and get from point A to B.
Even when I taught junior high last year, my grammar lessons were taught in context and in a timely manner.
But now? Now I have to explicitly test for editing skills, which means that I am testing for grammar skills.
I began with asking students to correct a small paragraph and to discuss their answers first in small, then in larger groups. Then I taught the first grammar mini-lesson over the topic of sentence fragments. They occur naturally in our speech but should be eliminated from formal essays. I scaffolded with nouns and verbs and built to the lesson, giving examples and asking students to write and fix sentences on their own. Then I wrote down the pattern for the lesson and broke students into groups to create their own grammar mini-lessons. I directed them to specific parts of the reference book so they could find rules and examples. I pulled examples from the lessons my student gave and made a small study guide. I even broke the test down to four parts- circle the right answer, multiple choice, short answer and sentence punctuation correction (with multiple answers for that part).
Nobody got an "A". A few people got a "B". Mostly though, it was "C" and "D" material. I am going to have to give eah student a blank copy and ask them to do it as a take-home test.
I am going to paste the quiz below. Feel free to comment, give ideas and/or discuss how you have approached this subject. I feel ambivalent. We are not doing a great job of teaching formal writing in school. Somehow, I am supposed to be able to teach explicit grammar in one quarter, around all of the other stuff I do. I am frustrated, and I have to do one more test at the end of the quarter, for even higher stakes. I just don't think explicit grammar instruction goes with my teaching style.
What are your thoughts? Respond in the comments...
English 101 Editing Quiz Name______________