US Students' Grammatical Foundations

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Frances Milam, Feb 11, 2020.

  1. Frances Milam

    Frances Milam New Member

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    Feb 11, 2020

    Hello all! I've found there are so many students who get left behind when it comes to forming a foundational grammar understanding. I'm curious about what your perspectives are and if your schools offer any assistance to students who are struggling.

    Thank you so so much for any insight :)
     
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  3. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Feb 13, 2020

    Is there any reason you framed this as a particularly American issue? Just curious...

    I suspect grammatical understanding has degraded for a number of reasons -- everyone will blame social media and Twitter specifically as the obvious culprits, but I think there's also been less focus on grammar at an elementary level and increasing numbers of students and parents whose first language is not English. I don't say that as an anti-immigration statement, just an acknowledgement of the difficulties it presents.

    Most schools (all?)'offer help, of course, but learning grammar takes time and exposure to a lot of correct grammar, either spoken or written or both. In an age of less face-to-face communication, quick text messages, and less time for reading... it becomes a struggle.
     
  4. Frances Milam

    Frances Milam New Member

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    Feb 13, 2020

    Completely agree. I was just wondering if it was something a lot of people had been noticing and if this has always been a problem, or if it's getting worse. These are all very good insights, thank you!
     
  5. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Feb 13, 2020

    I teach first grade, so I don't see purely academic results of grammar issues, but I'm inclined to agree. My own reading and writing curriculum certainly brings up grammar lessons, but I daresay the school/district/community/local culture/what have you doesn't give it the emphasis that it maybe ought to have.

    I'd wager a lot of that has to do with the standards. Grammar is mentioned, but I also realize things sometimes get different priorities. We need this definitely learned, so that get sacrificed.
     
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  6. Frances Milam

    Frances Milam New Member

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    Feb 13, 2020

    Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I think a huge part of it is when a student misses getting a foundational grammatical education, a lot of times there's not another opportunity for them learn it again. So the student tends to get left behind, continuously get lower grades on papers, etc, with not a lot of help offered to them. Kind of a vicious cycle.
     
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  7. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Feb 14, 2020

    When I was teaching 2nd and 3rd grade (back in 2001-2010) I noticed schools began not even teaching grammar. In 2001, our school district "retired" our Silver-Burnett grammar books, and they were never replaced with anything. I remember in about 2003, the language arts series we were required to use stopped using the words "noun" and "verb" and instead we had to call it "the naming part" and "the telling part" of a sentence. This was a part of the writing curriculum, because there was no specific grammar portion any more. It was all included "holistically." The language arts series was supposed to provide reading, phonics, spelling, grammar, and writing -- all mixed together.

    By the end of 3rd grade, if you followed the series the way we were supposed to do, students had not yet even heard the words "noun" or "verb." (Now as a teacher, I at least mentioned that these naming and telling parts were really called nouns and verbs, but most teachers didn't -- it wasn't in the curriculum.)

    Fourth grade was the first time students were exposed to the terms noun and verb. Then "the describing part" of sentences were added. No clear differentiation between adjectives and adverbs was ever made that year -- they were just referred to as "the describing part" of a sentence, and students were told to add "descriptors" to their sentences as they wrote. Describe the size, the shape, the color, the speed, etc -- those were all called "descriptors."

    Finally, all the correct terms where loaded-on in fifth grade, which confused the students who had spent 3 years calling nouns "the naming part of a sentence." State testing used the traditional terms, and all of the sudden, students had to use them and within months were tested on them. It is no wonder they were confused. They confused nouns and verbs. They confused adjectives and adverbs. They didn't know what a conjuction was. They had no idea when to use -er or -est. They had never been exposed to neither/nor or either/or. At this point, they still didn't understand why a run-on sentence was a problem.

    Now add to that -- our population was incredibly low income. 99% free lunch, most of our student body lived in the public housing project, and very few of their parents (usually parent, singular) had completed high school, or if they did, they received the "certificate of completion" rather than an actual diploma. Improper verb tenses, impoverished vocabulary, and hearing and using "street language" meant that these students couldn't "hear" if a sentence sounded correct in formal English. They never heard correct spoken English, so how on earth could they recognize it in writing?

    "Street language' has its own rules -- "He sick" and "He be sick" mean two entirely different things in street language. "He sick" means he is ill, but he'll be better soon. "He be sick" means he is very ill, chronically ill, or dying. Of course formal written English did not make sense to these kids.

    Yet they had to pass a statewide exam that asked grammar questions (as a part of the writing exam) using four multiple choice sentences, and they had to choose the one that sounded correct (or the one that sounded incorrect). Of course they couldn't do it. It would be like me taking a m/c test in Norwegian. I might recognize some of the letters, but the rest wouldn't make sense.

    Grammar (like correct -- non-invented -- spelling) requires direct instruction, practice, and drill. None of these things happen on a regular basis in public elementary schools anymore. By the time these kids get to middle school, they are already so far behind when it comes to grammar that they will never be able to catch-up. For those students who come from home environments where correct grammar isn't used, they need extra direct instruction. This just doesn't happen anymore.

    And it isn't just the kids, anymore. Young teachers often struggle with teaching grammar, because it wasn't taught specifically when they were in elementary school. Teacher certification programs don't teach you how to teach grammar anymore. They don't teach you how to teach handwriting (both print and cursive.) No teacher instinctively knows how to teach printing unless they were taught systematic and directional writing as a child -- and this generation wasn't taught that. It isn't their fault -- they don't know what they were never taught or required to learn on their own.

    I mentored a young 1st grade teacher who had no idea printed letters have a specific starting place, go in a very particular direction, and have a very specific stopping place. She had learned as a child using tracer sheets with no direct supervisor, so she never learned that. How was she going to be able to teach it correctly to her students? Have you ever wondered why 80% of elementary school students make their printed letters incorrectly or illegibly? This is why.

    A 3rd grade teacher I mentored was tasked with teaching her class cursive (it was a part of the 3rd grade curriculum.) She came to me in tears one afternoon. She said "I can't do this." I told her I'd help her, to which she replied "You don't understand. I don't know how to write in cursive myself. I can't even read cursive writing." She was a certified teacher!! (and a very good one, too.) She (like so many people nowadays) had never been exposed to cursive.

    Grammar is the same way. Our new teachers weren't taught it directly when they were young students, so they don't know what they don't know. Their personal use of formal English has to be good enough to pass the writing Praxis, but many couldn't tell you what an adverb is. They don't know what they don't know.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
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