If you're on my mailing list, you already know about the grammar unit Jennifer Williams (@jennwillteach), a fellow Oklahoma teacher, guest blogger here at reThink ELA, and #FierceWomanofOklahoma, and I are working on this summer. (If not, you really should be!) I wrote about this a few days ago, and wanted to share it here with you.
I met with Jennifer on Saturday to discuss a comprehensive grammar-in-context, 6-12 grade unit that we are constructing this summer. (We are not afraid of a huge project!) While thinking about our conversation on the way home, I started getting mad.
During my first year of teaching, one of the other English teachers told me that when she graded essays, she counted off one point for every grammatical error she found. She proudly told me that some students ended up with a negative score as a result of this.
I didn't like that idea then — at least not the tediousness of it — but I especially don't like it now.
I have taught students with a brilliant ear for creating metaphor, parallel structure, or emotionally relevant details in their works — but who didn't think they could write because they couldn't spell, didn't remember to capitalize, and didn't know how to use a semi-colon.
I am a former newspaper reporter who has won awards at the interscholastic, collegiate and professional levels, and I'm pretty sure I never used a semi-colon in that career. I also had editors to help correct grammar and mechanics — though I've won awards on writing in high school in which the judge corrected corrected a few grammatical issues.
You can see my awards in the picture of my classroom below. The awards from my newspaper career are on the wall to the left.
We should be encouraging students to write rough drafts that we evaluate for content, organization and voice. We should be encouraging students to discover their voices and provide feedback that helps them through this process.
Then, once they are done revising, we should be encouraging them work on the grammar, usage, and mechanics. Show them those are two separate processes and help them understand why grammar matters.
My kids are winning writing awards under this system.
All that said…
Some English teachers are a bit… ahem… cranky about being sticklers for grammar no matter what…
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I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my Master's of Education in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students' voices and choices.