Monday, May 11, 2015

Where does grammar belong in the 21st century ELA classroom?



I grew up having two English classes every day, from third grade through eighth grade. In "reading," we read, discussed, and wrote, while in "language" class we wrote, learned spelling words, and, most heavily, learned and practiced grammar rules. These were my two favorite classes every day! Many of my classmates enjoyed reading class, but few of them had the zeal for grammar I did. It just made sense to me; I loved dissecting the sentences we diagrammed, especially when they were so long and complex that we had to do it in chalk on the parking lot, for the sentences were too big to put on a paper. Even grammar worksheets seemed fun, for they seemed like logic puzzles. Being able to explain and debate a word's usage afterward was a bonus, and I loved the challenge of it all. When I got to high school, my English classes rarely focused on grammar separately, but I found the joy of grammar in my Latin and French classes.

compound-complex sentence diagram

However, I'm pretty sure these sentiments identify me as some type of warped, sadistic person destined to become a language teacher. It is not "normal" to think grammar is fun. My first year teaching high school English, the entirety of my grammar lessons was a bomb! While I didn't focus on it, any time I asked students to consider grammar was like pulling teeth! Students had a completely fixed mindset about their grammar skills, and they saw no reason to try to improve their understanding. Activities resulted in large numbers of As and Fs, with barely a grade between them. I was frustrated, half of the students were frustrated, and the other half was bored! I backed off on grammar completely for a couple of years after an evaluation where I tried a ten minute grammar lesson and was criticized for it; that administrator was of the opinion that teaching grammar at high school was pointless.

Now, I do incorporate some grammar in my lessons, but usually just focus on usage rather than explaining or learning rules. As I reflect on a very low grammar school year this year, our first year with 1:1 technology, I wonder: What is the place of grammar in the 21st century, collaborative classroom? Does it have a place? Let's discuss this week, #slowchatela friends!

Q 5/11: What are your personal feelings and experiences related to grammar?

Q5/12:  Has a supervisor or administrator ever pressured you about grammar one way or another?

Q 5/13:  How do you approach teaching grammar in your ELA classroom? What's your philosophy?

Q 5/14: How can we shift the student perception of grammar as boring and useless?

Q 5/15: How can we bring grammar into the modern classroom? What are your ideas for the future of grammar instruction?