High School English - Grammar or not?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by newengltchr, Dec 23, 2014.

  1. newengltchr

    newengltchr Rookie

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    Hello,

    I have been debating whether or not I should teach grammar on a more regular basis to my high school students. There are many teachers who incorporate it on a regular basis; however, there are teachers that don't touch upon it at all. At this point in time, I have fallen in the middle. I don't think that it is beneficial to completely eliminate grammar from the curriculum, but I don't think it should take a significant amount of class time either.

    I've been browsing through the grammar sections in the textbooks for my classes and there are things that I haven't heard of before (e.g. resultative adjective, apodosis, epiceuxis, etc.). Yes, these are interesting (to me) and I might take the time to look them up; however, are these necessary for 21st century learners?

    I once read a post on A to Z from a teacher that said English teachers should only cover the basics. If students know commonly misspelled words and correct use of punctuation, we've done our job. Do you agree?

    This is what he said students need to know:
    "1. The parts of speech. (Kids will say they know them, but they really don't.) They need to know what kinds of words perform what functions, and they need to be able to show evidence of this knowledge in their writing.
    2. The suffixes that denote the different parts of speech (-ion, etc.)
    3. The difference between a phrase and a clause.
    4. The basic sentence patterns (simple, compound, complex, compound/complex)
    5. The fifteen or twenty most common errors in spelling, punctuation, and usage and how to fix them."

    In a time when teachers are constantly struggling with student engagement and buy-in, is it absolutely necessary for students to know complex parts of grammar? Heck, I don't even think English teachers know half of this stuff! What do you do in your classroom?

    Happy holidays, everyone!
     
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  3. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I have mixed feelings on grammar.
    - I don't and wouldn't teach it in chunks, for example I wouldn't spend weeks or a unit on it
    - I would (but haven't) include it as warm up, so this way it's covered on the regular bases. Our classes are 48 minutes so I want to use the warm up for the related to the current lesson activities, but if we had 60 minutes, I'd spend 10-15 min on grammar 4 times / week.
    - I wouldn't focus on parts of speech. I have done it, and found that students still often don't know the difference between an adverb or an adjective, but honestly, how is that going to help them get better jobs or even with testing? I don't think there are questions on CAHSEE, etc on identifying parts of speech.
    - instead of identifying parts of speech, I'd focus on regular and irregular word conjugations and using prefix/suffix/ word root to decode unknown words. Also context clues, and ways to ensure they can clearly express themselves.
    - they however need sentence structure, integrating vocabulary, common spelling errors that are becoming worse with today's technology, etc. Also evaluating and revising chunks of text, paragraphs, or short essays.
     
  4. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    How well do your students write?
     
  5. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    What do your standards say?

    Are your students strong writers?
     
  6. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    One interesting way to look closely at and teach grammar is from studying passages in novels and informational text. This might increase student engagment because they will see first hand how grammar can be used and manipulated by writers. If they see that grammar impacts the reader, they might feel more motivated to learn how to use it effectively.

    If, as a high school teacher,you choose not to teach grammar, you are limiting your students to what they learned in middle school. Is that sufficient depth for the students who want to go to college?
     
  7. newengltchr

    newengltchr Rookie

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    Thanks for the feedback. I completely agree with you, Linguist. I'm in Massachusetts, but we don't have questions about grammar on our state test (MCAS) either.

    Special-t, I like your approach. I recently started doing this with vocabulary; however, I think I will try to do this with grammar, too. I found that it was better to teach vocabulary that students would encounter regularly in a novel that we were reading, rather than selecting 5-7 random words per week. By the way, I usually select 5 vocab words per week because of the recent research suggesting that students will not internalize any amount above that.

    What do you mean by teaching grammar, Special-t? Are you referring to the more complex grammar that I mentioned, or are you referring to the basics? Overall, they're not terrible writers, but they're not great either. In all honesty, I only had grammar classes in middle school; my high school never incorporated it into their curriculum. In the 21st century, is it necessary for students to label every part of speech in a sentence?

    I recently graduated from college with a degree in English and I am currently pursuing my master's degree in English. At both levels of my academic career, we've never discussed grammar, and I consider myself very successful. Other students, too, who have not majored in English have been successful with a very limited knowledge of grammar.

    In regards to the state standards, they only touch upon the basics (i.e. sentence variety, parts of speech, etc.). The grammar in my textbook is far beyond anything I have ever been taught.
     
  8. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    Maybe teaching grammar lost popularity since my high school days. I was taught grammar in high school. Regarding which grammar to teach (basic vs. obscure) I would take the temperature of each class and teach them what they need to be proficient and then teach them how to use grammar effectively.

    If your students are struggling writers, they are probably struggling readers too. Truly, reason that some of us needed less direct grammar instruction is that we were/are avid readers. Reading with deep comprehension almost magically infuses the brain with a knowledge of spelling and grammar.
     
  9. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Of course high-school exit exams don't explicitly test identification of parts of speech. By the end of high school, I devoutly hope, students should be able not merely to name parts of speech but to reason based on knowing them. A question about the best synonym for a given word, for example, can assess grammar knowledge implicitly rather than explicitly.

    The reason to teach grammar is not that a test contains a question to which the correct answer is "noun". It's so that we all have common vocabulary about the inner workings of the language that we speak and hear and that students are learning to read and write. If I can depend on someone to understand parts of speech, phrases and clauses, and derivational morphology (e.g., the suffixes "-ize" and -"tion), I can spend less time defining "run-on sentence" or "nominalization" and more time exploring on the one hand how to avoid run-on sentences or grasp what a run-on sentence may connote in a particular place in a work of literature, and on the other hand what presuppositions may be lurking in a nominalization that need to be dragged out into the light so that the writer can be held accountable for them. If I can't depend on that knowledge, however, I'm going to have to teach it before those concepts - and dozens more in language - are going to make sense.
     
  10. newengltchr

    newengltchr Rookie

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    As a teacher, do you find that you need to review these concepts and terminology yourself? For example, I had to look up nominalization (even thought I remember studying this); however, I know that I use this in my writing. I think, for me, I need to build more confidence with teaching grammar and just do it.
     
  11. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    My SpEd co-teacher and I assess the grammar / syntax / mechanics issues that pop up the most, and she runs a "Mad Skills" workshop on Fridays. It's a break from the Common Core lessons and a break from me, so the students usually get into it. My co-teacher does an excellent job creating drills that really seem to stick with the students.
     
  12. Glühwürmchen

    Glühwürmchen Rookie

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    You've graduated from college with a degree in English without needing to explicitly study the specialized grammar. Why would your students? If the teacher doesn't know something, then it's usually safe to assume that it's not critical knowledge for HS students.

    They most likely need a stronger knowledge of basic grammar and correcting basic grammar mistakes in their writing.
     
  13. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Many of us had to take at least one course in Linguistics, much of which explains the reasoning and structure of grammar.
     
  14. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    I don't do much teaching of grammar. I can't seem to find a way that sticks.

    The best thing I've found so far is just a lot of graded writing assignments. We go over common errors I see as I feel is necessary. My kids can't identify the parts of speech to save their lives so we usually have to start there. My problem with teaching grammar is they don't retain it. They memorized all the prepositions in junior high, but now they can't identify a preposition if it bit them on the nose. I saw a second grade teacher who was working on lesson about nouns. It's getting a bit ridiculous.

    As a department, we talk about this often.
     
  15. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    I was just an English minor and had these courses.
     
  16. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Connoisseur

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    In my high school English classes, we didn't cover grammar except for a few lessons in 9th grade. In my class on Teaching English Language Learners, we learned that grammar instruction is not very beneficial for English Language Learners.
     
  17. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Explicitly drilling parts of speech with a primary-grade English learner, if that's not what's already going on in the classroom, is indeed usually not a very good use of time. When one's working with a literate adult English learner, however, brushing up on parts of speech can be useful: the adult is in a position, with that help, to be able to consider similarities and differences between the first language and English, not to mention consciously and mindfully taking advantage of patterns in syntax and spelling.
     
  18. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    I didn't realize that English teachers don't teach grammar anymore. I suppose that's why my history students are such poor writers. How can this not be standard English education? How are students supposed to be ready for college?
     
  19. newengltchr

    newengltchr Rookie

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    HistoryVA, this should be taught in all content areas, not just English class.
     
  20. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    It's not because English teachers aren't teaching it. It's a much harder battle than some think. My students get the parts of speech and sentence structure every year for example in many different ways. However, they don't retain it. I have sophomores who given the sentence "I ran to the park" would identify park as the subject. Teaching grammar in context seems to be the most effective but there's so much to cover and so little time.

    This.
     
  21. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Connoisseur

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    So how would a math teacher teach grammar?
     
  22. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    My students wouldn't know a third-person pluperfect verb even if they had fallen over it (see what I did there), but I'm fine with that. It's the practical application of grammar rules that concerns me. If the Common Core standard is that students are able to write a narrative, they need to make sure that narrative has proper verb tense and quotation punctuation in that fulfillment. As I am fond of telling my students in feedback, "You have a lot of important things to say, so we need to make sure HOW you say them doesn't get in the way."
     
  23. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Again, they shouldn't be asked to diagram a sentence like they diagram a set of coordinates, but they should be able to properly answer questions in standard English, using their calculations as backup. I've seen full sentences used in standardized math and science tests.
     
  24. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    As a professor of expository writing and as a writer/editor for several business websites, I BEG OF YOU ALL to emphasize grammar, no matter what your actual subject specialty might be.

    Please. Grammar and spelling both, in fact. <- deliberate fragment, for emphasis.

    There is such a huge difference between grammar and spelling glitches done on purpose for effect, and grammar and spelling glitches done because the writer, bless his/her ignorant little heart, just didn't know any better.

    For the sake of the children, please: Grammar and spelling count. They can be the difference between a piece of writing that earns the right to be taken seriously and a piece of writing that is a joke and actually detracts from its purpose.

    Grammar in history, grammar in math, grammar in geography, grammar in science, and spelling in everything under the sun as well.

    If we do not possess the skill to communicate properly, how can we expect the sentient world to take us seriously?

    If there is something misspelled, or if there is a grammar mistake anywhere on the premises, COUNT YOUR CHANGE. Mistakes in the front for people to see = heaven only knows what kind of horrific mistakes are in the back where no one can see them.

    Spelling and grammar mistakes in business, collegiate, and professional levels will be alleviated only by making sure our students learn proper spelling and grammar procedures before they get to those levels.

    P.S. As educators, we, too, must make sure any and every piece of communication coming from us is grammatically sound and has no spelling errors. Proofreading costs nothing and can be the difference between respect and lack of such.
     
  25. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    I can't speak for any state but my own, but writing is in the English standards, not mine. So, it's great if I can work something in, but I do expect it to be covered in the class that the state expects it to be covered in. Isn't asking "should English teachers teach grammar?" Kind of like asking "Should US history teachers teach the Revolutionary War?" or am I misunderstanding the discussion?
     
  26. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Word problems are important in math, aren't they? Without a decent grasp of how written language works, it can be difficult to interpret word problems correctly.
     
  27. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Connoisseur

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    Right, but I would say that explicitly teaching grammar is the responsibility of the English teacher.
     
  28. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Connoisseur

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    I agree that math teachers need to teach students how to read and comprehend word problems as well as mathematical language. I just don't see how explicit grammar instruction would ever come into play.
     
  29. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    There are many Pinterest boards about grammar in mathematics, too. (and in all the other areas of curriculum, too.) Grammar and spelling are essential to the understanding of all the other subjects. We must remember, too, that no subject is isolated unto itself; everything is connected to everything else. There is math in English and history in science and geography in sociology, etc. Never teach a subject in isolation! But without a basic understanding of grammar and spelling, the other subjects will suffer. As for punctuation, what do you think all those signs and symbols in math and music are? Stop here. Pause here. No, no, go back. Now go forward. Raise your voice. Add this. Subtract that. Trill. Softer. Louder. Before this date. After this date. Pause longer. Full stop. Ask a question. Whisper. Tell me a secret. Emphasis. Divide. Multiply. And so many, many more. Punctuation. Talk about THAT in isolation. Hah.

    Not knowing these things? Why, it's enough to lose a principal her job.
    (Which I think is a good thing.)
     
  30. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    There's a difference between emphasizing grammar and teaching it. Every teacher should hold students accountable and correct mistakes when possible, but that is not an acceptable reason for English teachers to simply not teach it in depth. I would also expect a math or science teacher to correct a student that, while in their presence, says "Abraham Lincoln was the first president", but that doesn't mean they should be held accountable for a student knowing their presidents like I should.
     
  31. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    [​IMG]
     
  32. kb90531

    kb90531 Rookie

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    I like the collaborative effort catnfiddle. Wish I had that relationship with my collab teacher but that is besides the point. I believe in teaching (or re-teaching) grammar in high school is necessary to a point. I am all for teaching basic grammar skills through writing and the literature we are reading but I do not do a whole separate grammar unit. I do also work with teachers that do this but I feel it takes up way too much time. Good luck.
     
  33. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    I love being able to work with an entire team of teachers! We often get the chance to collaborate, so I might bring in my Social Studies counterpart to help set the scene for a novel, or I might talk about how learning Algebra is akin to mastering a universal language far beyond English. Last year, I was constantly using pun exchanges with my Physical Science counterpart to enforce those concepts, plus I encouraged my students to write poetry about astronomy and physics.
     
  34. Reality Check

    Reality Check Habitué

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    I thought that grammar in the high school curriculum was going to make a come back when the SAT Exam started including some of on their test.

    But..........it's gone the way of cursive writing, I suppose.
    Part of the "Dumbing Down of America."


    :down:
     
  35. dcollins

    dcollins New Member

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    Okay, so I made an account here just to respond to this one question after I happened ran into it on an internet search today. I teach mathematics full-time at a community college at CUNY, and about half my job is remediation in junior-high level algebra.

    Here's what it says on page 1 of my lecture notes: "Consider the M1/M2 sequence to present the basic 'language of math' (M1: alphabet, M2: grammar), the goal of the course is 'read and write math properly with variables'". That is: after a decade of teaching at this level I've come to understand the basic algebra class as primarily class in grammar.

    The place where this most obviously comes into play is word problems. Lots of our students really can't read English so well, and if that's the case obviously they can't get started in any applications. We spend quite a bit of time on just practicing translations from the English to Algebra languages in isolation (starting with just one fragment or clause at a time). Also I've come to heavily emphasize interpretations, that is, translations from Algebra back to plain English, at the end of any exercise.

    This allows all kinds of opportunities to discuss the grammatical connections between the two languages. My very first mini-exercise the first day is to assess and repair a broken English language sentence, like "The hat large green is"; and inasmuch as English has a certain structure that makes a sentence sensible and correct, so does an equation in Algebra, for all the same reasons. A key question: what part of speech is represented by the equals sign (=)?

    Of course, this attention to structure is required in any language. When my girlfriend takes Chinese classes they wind up talking a lot about grammar, and having that template and understanding available is what makes mature transitioning to a new language -- be it English, French, Russian, or Math -- possible.

    So my professional opinion these days is that the study of grammar is in some ways the first step to fully understanding how much incompressible detail there is in a mathematical equation or formula. I think that students that never got that study suffer mightily later on, frequently trapped in an endless cycle of math remediation when they attempt college-level courses.
     
  36. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Welcome to A to Z, dcollins, and thanks for the thoughtful contribution to this question. Now I'm curious: what other than "=" (and ">" and "<", of course) do you teach as a 'verb'?
     

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