Teaching Grammar (long

Subject: Teaching Grammar (long
From: diane haugen <dhaugen -at- BARNESVILLE -dot- POLARISTEL -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 19:31:29 -0600

John Gear says:

"In my opinion, the reason (not "excuse") for the decline of grammar as a
primary school subject is that there is no research that connects knowledge
of grammar with the ability to write well."


I don't get the feeling from the discussion of grammar here that most of us
were advocating aggressively teaching grammar in the elementary school. My
impression was that we noted two different approaches to teaching writing
and provided, as you so wisely pointed out, _anecdotal_ evidence about
results. That the examples given were anecdotal in no way makes them

The examples seem to illustrate that story writing is encouraged in grade
school, with a de-emphasis on correctness. Donald Graves has demonstrated
the success of this approach for teaching elementary school children to
write and enjoy the process. His research also shows that the ability to
handle story complexity is in part developmental. That is, at a certain
age, children can only handle, for example, the _and=8Aand=8Aand_ constructi=
They are unable to handle the _if this=8Athen that_ construction.

What I hear from the many respondants to this grammar thread is a concern
that students do not get adequate or effective exposure to grammar studies
in the upper grades. I agree. The rule-based study of grammar, epitomized
in the Warriner handbooks mentioned by Al Rubottom in an earlier post, is a
hefty listing of do's and don'ts that even if memorized, do not transfer
well to actual writing practice. A large number of schools plod on with
Warriner handbooks just the same.

My point about research on teaching grammar is that the studies have used
the rule-based, Warriner-type model for teaching grammar. There are other
ways to teach grammar. Analyzing sentences in the manner one does when
learning a foreign language has not, I believe, been studied for
effectiveness as a method of teaching grammar. Is this an area that
linguists who read this post could provide some information about?

And finally, John Gear asserts "there is no research that connects a
knowledge of grammar with the ability to write well." Actually, there is.

The work of John Hayes and Linda Flower, summarized well in Flower, et al.,
"Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision," reflect that the
different activities performed by novice writers as opposed to expert
writers are marked. One of these differences is that expert writers have a
good--but transparent--knowledge of the rules of language, including
grammar. This is one of the primary factors in the difference between
those who struggle with writing and those who do not.

The mystery is how the expert writer acquires this knowledge and the
ability to use it without consciously thinking about grammar rules.

And this, I suggest, is no "excuse."

Diane Haugen * The real history of grammar is
Whiskey Creek Document Design * little known; and many erroneou=

P.O. Box 69 * impressions are entertained
Barnesville, MN 56514 * concerning it=8A. Goold Brown i=

* The Grammar of English
dhaugen -at- barnesville -dot- polaristel -dot- net * 1882

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