#89th TCRWP Saturday Reunion and a Bit of Grammar

grammar one

Yes! You Can Teach Grammar In Workshop – Three Essential Methods to Tuck In Grammar Effectively

Session #3 = Mary Ehrenworth

Mary began this session, packed to the gills, with folks sitting on the floor EVERYWHERE, with the following two questions for participants to discuss:

  • What do you think of when you think of grammar?
  • What is the “it” – you are trying to fit in!

What exactly are we talking about?

  • Spelling – when?
  • Spelling – In writing?
  • Spelling – Magically on students’ own time?
  • Subject / verb agreement?
  • Academic English?
  • Editing – how do I help students “fix up” their writing?

Keep in mind, dear readers, that English has its own particular challenges.  Our irregular verbs are harder than Spanish or Chinese. For those learning English, they will need a long period of approximation and growth.  For some natives, they will also need a long period of approximation and growth.

What should we do in our schools?

Just know that random small groups will not do cure the issue with weak grammar.  You will need a systemic approach. One isolated teacher in one year will not get growth.  You need to become the “Grammar Ambassador” for your building.  Pilot some methods. Encourage others to pilot some more methods.  Ask questions.  “What will we teach across each unit of study? Each year?”

The answer is not in teaching an isolated unit on “apostrophes” but instead in considering how punctuation changes the meaning in written work.

Check this out. What’s the difference between the first and second example?

grammar two

Quality grammar instruction includes the “art” not just the “skill and drill methods”.

How do we teach the art?

  • Demonstration regular lesson – art and craft
  • Inquiry – punctuation or dialogue –  What are the rules?  Malcolm Gladwell researched the stickiness factor with Blues Clues and inquiry.  We have to make sure students see different levels of dialogue so they experience a wide variety. This is not a task to be done in writing workshop. Instead, do a two day grammar study after the end of a unit that doesn’t fit into writing workshop. (Days before Thanksgiving!)
  • Interludes and Extravaganzas – Not pretending it’s writing workshop!

Some thoughts about Decoding/Encoding –

  • Natural spellers – brain has a graphic – you literally see the word
  • You will use spell check.
  • You will ask others to check your work.
  • IF you are a teacher who is not a natural speller, you will be more sympathetic!
  • 5th graders now write more than they have ever written in the past.
  • But for our young writers using digital spelling, they won’t spell words accurately.

What are the Stages of Acquisition?

  • Recognition
  • Approximation
  • Mastery
  • Slippage
  • Code Switching

Consider where you are on this list of stages?  Where are your students?  Are there a few students who are still stuck back in those earlier stages?  How can you get them to move on to higher levels?  The best answer would be MORE reading and MORE writing!

  • Most kids learn 80% of words they will use from lap reading – the way they have been speaking and been read to!!!
  • When you see students do something – run on sentences is not all bad. Some would consider those students “lucky” because they have a lot to write about. Then they need to work on writing long for internal punctuation. The more they read, the more control they will get over it.
  • Mastery – ending punctuation 1st grade
  • Ending punctuation is often still an issue  – 8th grade teachers!
  • Students drop control when get to something hard. Spend cognitive energy on completing task not spelling. Need more practice – more scrimmage time for students.
  • Just know that as fast as we teach, students are still in slippage stage!
  • Code Switching – switching from formal to digital – many students don’t notice when this happens
  • Coping strategies – proof reading – Students need to know when this is necessary
  • Intellectually and professionally difficult to proofread and edit own writing – don’t see the errors! How do you compensate for this?

Lynne Truss’s book, Eats Shoots & Leaves (Profile Books 2003), has a wonderful Dear Jack letter.

Dear Jack,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?
Jill

How could changing the punctuation change the meaning of this letter?

Without moving ANY words around!

You try it!

punctuation

Here was Lynne Truss’s version with the exact same words but different punctuation.

Dear Jack,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yours,
Jill

What if?

What if students created these?

What if students “played” with punctuation?

What if teachers REALLY quit correcting and fixing?

What if students were asked to think deeply about changing the meaning?

What are the components of quality grammar lessons?

Connection – Why?

Teaching Demo – How do we do this?

Active Engagement – We try it!

Link – When?

Would it maybe sound like . . . “Writers are considerate to their readers. When there is a new character, new setting,  or a time change, a writer begins a new paragraph.  The reader needs the white spaces.  (Read aloud with demo.) Let’s go to the story I’m writing here. Where do I need a paragraph?  Work with a partner and be prepared to explain both “where” a paragraph should begin and why. . . Now choose one page in your notebook and think about how paragraphs (white spaces) could help your reader.”

Would a lesson like this be more likely to transfer to student writing?

The old way of “doing grammar” has not succeeded in transferring to writing, so maybe this is worth a shot!

Conversation with a partner could possibly result in a more powerful lesson  and return some power to the students!  The teacher could share that England actually has a position known as the “Defender of the English Language”.  Who (and not the teacher) could be that person in our classroom?

If you decide to use an inquiry method, here are a few tips!

  • Have 1 question – not 10
  • Plan strategically.  The Inquiry activity should be no longer than 20 minutes.
  • Then give students 10 minutes to figure out one or two things to try.
  • The final 10 minutes of class provide time for the students to go try the skill in their own writing – ACTUALLY doing it!
  • Immediate application makes the skill more likely to STICK!

What are qualities of mentor texts to use for grammar?

Engaging and does a few things really well!

What else could you use for grammar instruction?

We exited to the Schoolhouse Rock Video:Schoolhouse Rock Xavier Sarsaparilla.  Hmm. .  .   multi-media to build up knowledge, power, and a bit of fun.

How do you think grammar fits into writing workshop?

For another view of Mary’s workshop, please go to Jenn’s blog post here.

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  1. […] #89th TCRWP Saturday Reunion and a Bit of Grammar […]

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