Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Grammar grows on educators

Do phrases like "dangling modifier" and "split infinitive" give you the heeby-jeebies? Do you break into a cold sweat just thinking about sentence diagramming?

While anyone over 40 (or all those who've studied a foreign language) may remember the blood, sweat, and tears involved with learning grammar, chances are, your children would stare blankly if you asked them to define a compound sentence or dependent clause. And that's not a good thing, according to a growing group of educators who are reintroducing grammar instruction into their practice.

Washington Post writer Daniel de Vise explores this trend in last week's article, "Clauses and Commas Make A Comeback" (via the Education Gadfly), noting that even the US National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) "has quietly reversed its long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as 'a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing....A 2002 council publication reasserted the importance of 'knowing about grammar' and encouraged teachers to 'experiment with different approaches,' including traditional drills and diagrams."

De Vise notes that "Grammar lessons vanished from public schools in the 1970s, supplanted by a more holistic view of English instruction. A generation of teachers and students learned grammar through the act of writing, not in isolated drills and diagrams."

Apparently, that approach hasn't worked very well, judging by the record-high number of college students enrolled in remedial English classes and plummeting scores on the verbal section of the SAT. In fact, the situation is so dire that the College Board, creator of the SAT, added a third section to the test: "The new section introduced a long-form essay and -- less publicized -- a series of multiple-choice responses that test how well students can assemble and disassemble sentences." Ought-oh!

Tonight I'm going to ask my eighth-grade daughter a few grammar questions. Then I'm going to show her this very cool website on sentence diagramming, which includes a great PowerPoint presentation that shows how it works. Gertrude Stein said it best: "I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences." Woo-hoo!


At 3:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a swinger that Gertrude must have been!

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Maybe not in the traditional sense... but she hung out with a pretty wild crowd. Clearly her knowledge of grammar didn't hinder her social life -- she was one of the original "cool-to-be-a-geek" representatives!

Thanks so much for your comment...


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