Teaching/Learning Writing/Grammar

Subject: Teaching/Learning Writing/Grammar
From: Al Rubottom <aer -at- PCSI -dot- CIRRUS -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 1995 18:22:00 PST

Most of you seem to miss the rather obvious point
that learning and teaching styles vary enormously,
and that presentation of information depends to a
rather astounding degree on the HOW of teaching
[or of presentation, as the same principle applies
equally to speaking, business presentations, etc.].

Now I don't mean to go off on a rant here, but...

As a former teacher, I can claim I know whereof I
speak [or write]. I also know intuitively [and feel
vindicated by having seen it born out in practice]
that just as there many more forms of intelligence
than we used to imagine [or than the experts used to,
at any rate...], there are also many forms of making
sense of out "book learning" -- all that academic
stuff, like diagramming & so on, that can help some
students a lot, but for others amounts purely & simply
to obstacles in the road, or worse, potholes from which
they may never extricate themselves, given an
unsympathetic or inflexible teacher.

The best kind of teaching, IMHO, always connects the
seemingly abstract exercise [diagramming is the perfect
example of this, as amost of you have testified!]
to a more practical, applied, reasonable real-world use;
this is harder to accomplish with sentence diagramming,
but it can be done! Having studied linguistics, wherein
we diagram in many ways far more obtuse and obscure
than any Warriner's granmmar text ever could attain,
I submit that the utility of diagramming stems directly
from its usefulness in making clear the sense of how
all the words work. When you recognize what part of
speech a word is, what it does in the sentence, how the
other words work with it [modify or serve as complements,
etc.], THEN you can say, "Ahhh, now I know how that
fershlugginer sentence really works!" That is how I
justified making kids do diagramming -- and it's most
dramatic when you take common utterances, which often
omit lots of formal elements, and show how they have
hidden subjects, lost conjunctions, implied comparatives,
and so on, to get at the intuitively obvious or perhaps
NOT-so-obvious meaning [assuming you're a native
speaker], because those elements are there, in the
structure, even if they're not explicitly spoken aloud.

Same thing goes for diagramming Deep Structure [a
Chomskyian or Transformational/Generative Grammar
concept], or whatever. It's gotta earn you something!

Some people just love to read [I'm a printoholic].
Some just love to write, while for others it's like
opening a vein... [creative writing, I mean, not tech!].
Some can learn to love writing, and need no extra
injection of grammar or extraneous nit-picking detail.
And so on...

Good tech writing should ALSO strive to make the
material clear by connecting it to what it's about in
the most practical, applied, hands-on fashion... if you can.

Al Rubottom /\ tel: 619.535.9505, x1737
aer -at- pcsi -dot- cirrus -dot- com /\ fax: 619.541.2260

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