Writing and Grammar: The Challenge to Integrate
the faculty of the Department of Education
In partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree
Master of Arts in Teaching
Wendy Stutzman Simmons
Dr. Jane Melendez, Chair
Dr. Anne Sherrill
Dr. Rhona Cummings
Keywords: Grammar, Writing, Pedagogy, Integration,
Teaching grammar to students is one of many challenges that an English teacher must face throughout the school year. There are several approaches that an educator can take in order to teach grammar effectively to his/her students.
Problem Statement and Significance
What is the best way to teach grammar in a high school classroom? Is an implicit-traditional approach to the study of grammar a better pedagogical method than an explicit-holistic approach to the subject? Traditional methods of teaching grammar have failed to produce any significant improvement in writing. The causes of this failure may lie not so much in what grammar teaches but in what it does not teach. This is certainly a disappointing reality for many classroom teachers whose students get high marks on grammar tests but are unable to connect and apply what they learn into their writing assignments. With the increasing emphasis on receiving high scores in standardized writing assessments, like the TCAP and SAT, it is important to find the most effective classroom pedagogy that will help students to use correct grammar when they write. The findings of this study will help teachers to find best way to teach grammar to their Language Arts students.
There will be no significant difference in Gateway II English scores for students enrolled in tenth grade English courses at Science Hill High School that are taught using an explicit-traditional approach to grammar and courses that are taught using an implicit-holistic approach for the second grading period of the 2002-03 school year.
Review of Literature
Two Philosophies of Teaching Grammar
During the Twentieth century, there are two competing views of how grammar, should be taught. In one view, an explicit-traditional approach, which could be called an “error based view of grammar” is a methodology that emphasizes the value of a systematic study of grammatical rules that teaches elements of the English language in a linear manner without connection to the student’s writing practice or in context of another type of discourse (Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999; Glenn, 1995; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b). From the paradigm, students are taught to follow rules and to avoid errors.
The second view, an implicit-holistic approach, which could be called a “holistic view of grammar”, is a methodology that emphasizes the value of a systematic study of grammatical structures in a meaningful and comprehensive context in order that the students may acquire the grammar of the English language (Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999; Glenn, 1995; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b). From this paradigm, students are asked to “look for the underlying principles and patterns that make language work” (Einarsson, 1999, p. 1).
The struggle to find an effective grammar pedagogy, one in which a study of grammar affects students’ writing ability, has been ongoing. Since the time of Aristotle, academia has struggled with finding a balance between the teaching correct grammar and producing eloquent discourse (Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999; Glenn, 1995; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b). For centuries, many people believed that grammar was not for improving the acceptableness of one’s discourse or as a creative field of study. Grammar was taught and learned exclusively for the benefits of mental exercise; for training of the mind for rigorous thought (Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999; Glenn, 1995; Weaver, 1996a).
During the Classical era, the educators of the day based their language pedagogy on a philosophical triangulation of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (Glenn, 1995). Although the study of grammar was one part of the prescribed formula, Greek and Roman rhetoricians would have left the job of teaching language correctness to the grammatucus, the low-level instructor who insured that students could speak correctly, understand the meaning of words, and use correct accent and delivery (Connors, 1986; Glenn, 1995). Only then would the rhetoricians take over and teach the pupil to create discourse with eloquence (Connors, 1986; Glenn, 1995).
This view of grammar continued until the Middle Ages, an era in which the fashion had been to modify the classics and classically based liberal educational practices in a fashion that would validate current Christian fundamentalist dogma and ensure that conservative religious thinking would continue (Glenn, 1995). Now, grammar was considered the foundation of all knowledge (Glenn, 1995;Weaver, 1996a). Jeffery Huntsman wrote that, “Grammar was thought to discipline the mind and soul at the same time, honing the intellectual and spiritual abilities that the future cleric would need to read and speak [and write] with discernment” (as cited in Glenn, 1995, p.24).
During the Renaissance, the
intellectual community returned to the practices of the Classical thinking,
using the ancient trivium model as their pedagogical theory (Clawell,
1995; Glenn, 1995). The young boys, fortunate enough to attend school studied
Latin and Greek grammar beside great works of classical literature (Clawell,
1995; Glenn, 1995). This Neo-classical approach to education continued
throughout many years in
Connors (1986) and Einarsson (1999)
reported that three similar pedagogies evolved during the late 1700’s in the
These exercises remained the mainstay until 1847 when Samuel S. Greene published Analysis. Greene was the first grammarian to include the writing of original sentences as part of grammar lessons, usually following a series of modeling and parsing exercises (Connors, 1986). From that time on, methods began to change as inductive pedagogies arrived from Europe and more compositional elements were added to textbooks and classroom activities; although, formal and abstract activity still permeated the material (Boyd, 1995; Clawell, 1995; Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999).
Slowly, teachers were beginning to
realize that a formalized, disconnect study of grammar did little to help the
pupils become better writers and speaker (Boyd, 1995; Clawell, 1995; Connors,
1986; Einarsson, 1999). William Wells, credited with being the first person to
include an inductive system of studying grammar in his 1846 textbook stated
that while a student may know “the whole grammar book by heart, and yet not be
able to make a respectable speech…The great object to be obtained is not the
mastery of a text-book [sic] in grammar but the acquisition of language” (as
cited in Connors, 1986, p. 4). This realization began to impact school
curricula all over the country. In some places, like
By 1880, new grammar pedagogy emerged from the works of Samuel Greene and William Swinton (Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999). This methodology, known as “sentence building” was based on striving to use grammatically correct sentences within a student’s writing and remained an important focus in Language Arts classrooms for the next century (Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999). Sentence building activities and the search to find structure within one’s writing opened a new door for supporters of sentence based grammar pedagogies. In 1880, Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg published Higher Lessons in English. This text introduced the practice of sentence diagramming into the classroom (Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999). Connors (1986) noted that diagramming became “essential grammar pedagogy” from 1880-1970 (p.6).
The correctness of discourse became
important to educators following the Civil War, from 1860-1880 (Boyd, 1995;
Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999).
Connors (1986) stated that Harvard English professors noticed that students had trouble writing and decided that grammar had to be revisited again in a young person’s first year college because the previous lessons “hadn’t taken” (p. 10). Eventually, by 1880, composition books had been infiltrated by grammar lessons (Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999). Connors (1986) remarked that many pragmatics, understanding the longstanding debate, decided, “rhetoric was going to have to make peace with grammar one way or another and figured that it might as well be done with dignity” (p. 11). In 1907, Edwin Wooley published a handbook to be used in classrooms that reduced the complicated grammar system to a series of prescriptive error based rules (Boyd, 1995; Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999). This type of textbook, seen by many in academia as the best of both worlds, continues to be used in high school and freshman composition classes today.
Although the handbook approach was widely accepted, many scholars felt that there were more questions that needed to be answered. The field of linguistics grew quickly from the 1920’s through the1960’s. Theorists learned a great deal about psychological aspects of language acquisition and felt this new information could help people to improve their speaking and writing skills (Boyd, 1995; Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999). Attempts were made to teach grammar from a structuralism paradigm and from a transformational-generative stance (Boyd, 1995; Connors, 1986; Edlund, 1995; Einarsson, 1999). Although this material was available, it was very theoretical: hard to learn and harder to share with inexperienced young people. Many teachers “out of ignorance and a willful refusal to abandon traditional grammar and the standards many people thought it represented continued through the 1950’s” (Connors, 1986, p. 18). The debate raged on among the scholars for years; still, the general consensus of the population felt that, although they hated school grammar, they felt that the classroom exercise has been beneficial (Boyd, 1995; Clawell, 1995; Connors, 1986; Einarsson, 1999; Weaver, 1996a).
There are a number of important studies that have been done that give some insight into which pedagogical approach should be taken when teaching grammar in the classroom. It is important to note that the question is never should grammar be taught (Patterson, 2001; Weaver, 1996b) but what is the most effective manner in which to approach the subject.
Harris Study. In 1962, Roland Harris studied writing samples of two groups of students. One of these groups had learned grammar by explicit-traditional pedagogies that included studying grammar through the use of traditional terminologies and planned lessons. The other group addresses whatever grammatical concept formed the lesson at the time (Hassan, 2001; Patterson, 2001; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b). The study found that students in the latter group were able to produce longer pieces of writing. Harris believed that they could write on a higher level because learned to think through the errors so that meaning, not terminology, became the foundation for grammar lessons (Hassan, 2001; Patterson, 2001; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b).
Elley, Barham, Lamb, Wyllie.
Shaughnessy Mina Shaughnessy’s 1977 book Errors and Expectations considers the cause of errors in students’ writing. Her research indicated that coming up with the right answer is not nearly as important as the logic behind that answer (Hassan, 2001; Patterson, 2001). Shaughnessy’s research revealed that teachers could determine the problems students have with grammar by looking at a given student’s writing and discussing the writing with that student. She discovered that there were often patterns in student errors that indicated students had misconceptions and problems with logic (Patterson, 2001). She believed that students were concentrating on more sophisticated kinds of writing; they will probably make mistakes they would not have made previously (Patterson, 2001). She wrote, “It is not unusual for people acquiring a skill to get ‘worse’ before they get better and for writers to err more as they venture more” (as cited in Patterson, 2001, p. 51). Shaughnessy’s study made a distinction between grammatical understanding and correctness. She pointed out that the goal of grammar study should be a “shift in perception which is ultimately more important than the mastery of any individual rule of grammar” (p. 129).
Meta-studies. Two meta-studies, both commissioned by the National Council of Teachers of English, were done in the 1960’s and in the 1980’s to evaluate the plethora of research that had been done on the effectiveness of teaching grammar (Hassan, 2001; Patterson, 2001; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b).
The research group of Braddock, Lloyd, Jones, and Shoer conducted a meta-study in which they concluded that the isolated teaching of school grammar did not result in the outcomes that teachers anticipated (Hassan, 2001; Patterson, 2001; Weaver, 1996a, 1996b). Another important meta-study conducted by George Hillocks (1986), also concluded that there is no evidence that the teaching of grammar improves writing. His Research on Written Composition furthers the previous meta-analysis of research to conclude that isolated grammar lessons could have a negative effect on student writing. Hillocks wrote:
The study of traditional school grammar (i.e., the definition of parts of speech, the parsing of sentences, etc.) has no effect on raising the quality of student writing. Every other focus of instruction examined in this review is stronger. Taught in certain ways, grammar and mechanics instruction has a deleterious effect on student writing. In some studies, a heavy emphasis on mechanics and usage resulted in significant losses in overall quality. (as cited in Patterson, p. 52)
studies have concluded that a traditional approach to teaching grammar can have
a negative effect on student writing, there are educators who believe that
grammar can be taught effectively. Language arts teachers’ “best practice”
reveal methods that connect grammar and usage issues within the context of
writing practice. Educators like Rei Noguchi (1991),
Focus on intuition. Noguchi (1991) and Tchudi and Thomas (1996) stated that teachers should incorporate usage issues into their classroom practice by emphasizing native speakers of English have an intuitive knowledge of the English language. Educators need to understand and to capitalize on this foundation in order to teach grammar more effectively. Noguchi advocated the usage of a prescribed pattern of declarative sentences and their corresponding tag and yes-no questions that capitalizes on a student’s innate linguistic abilities (1991). Noguchi’s approach can be used to help students operationally identify subject, verb (both main and auxiliary), pre-sentence modifier, and sentence (or independent clauses) (1991). This knowledge can aid students in correcting Connors and Lunsford's twenty most frequent formal writing errors and several of Hairston's listed errors (1991). Also, Noguchi prescribed a “given idea and new idea” pattern for the writer to follow that aids in ending the usage of sentence fragments (1991).
Tchudi and Thomas (1996) advocated an exploration of grammar that was done in enjoyable ways. First, the instructors worked on transformational grammar with word play exercises that help to take the fear out of “grammar.” They demonstrated that the students possessed intuitive feelings about the language and encouraged them to trust these instincts. The class used a given word in many contexts, and then figured out how it could be recognized in a sentence as a verb or a noun. They invented new verbs, e.g., “compuflop” for a computer failure (Tchudi & Thomas, 1996). Additionally, a class discussion on Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” “helped them see that their intuitive, native grammar is what allows them to figure out that ‘slithy’ is a description, not an action, that ‘toves’ is a plural something or other, not the present tense of the verb ‘to tive’”(1996, p. 49).
Focus on importance of convention. Noguchi (1991) and Atwell (1987) wrote that grammar should be taught in a way that helps students to understand the importance of the convention of grammar. Noguchi’s (1991) proposal discussed two studies that have important implications for English teachers. The author condensed the Connors-Lunsford Study, conducted in 1988, which ranked twenty of the most frequently occurring stylistic errors from 3000 randomly collected graded college essays. These errors range from 11.5% of the students not using a comma after an introductory element to 1% of the college writers confusing the problematic “its/it’s” usage. The Hairston Study, conducted in 1981, distributed an “attitudinal survey” among professional occupational supervisors and human resource personnel that asked them to rank their reactions to grammatical and usage errors. The findings suggested that these professional people bristled when they read nonstandard verb usage, lack of subject-verb agreement, double negatives, and the usage of objective pronouns as subjects, labeling such errors as status marking. Hairston identified other errors, ranging from very serious to minor. Noguchi combines the findings of these studies to reveal a minimal set of categories that need to be reinforced in the classroom (1991). Likewise, Atwell (1987) stressed the importance of grammar and usage as a part of the convention of writing. She defined this convention as “an agreement made over time between writers and readers about how something will be done in texts” (1987, p.184). If “comma splices and run-ons as errors” are taught from under the same umbrella as “how to format a business letter”, Atwell believed that grammar became less of an isolated subject that was utilized during pop quizzes. She felt that knowledge is more useful to the student when the instructor emphasized that the conventions are important outside of the school walls. The author argued that, “We do our students a big favor by approaching rules and forms not as minutiae to be mastered, but as a means of helping them make their writing look and sound as they wish it to and in order that readers will engage with a text and take it seriously” (1987, p 185).
Focus on the students’ writing Atwell (1987), Christenbury (2000), Dean (2001), Noguchi (1991), Weaver (1996b) argued that writing activities must be integrated into a student’s actual writing practice in order to be effective. Leila Christenbury (2000) “stressed that all such [grammar] lessons must come from student writing, not outside of it. Teaching grammar and usage aspects to students when they need the terms or rules can make grammar instruction effective and more helpful” (p. 236). Dean (2001) requested that students incorporate the previously studied patterns into an assignment revision, including at two imitative sentences within their work. Noguchi (1991) combines the findings of the Hairston and Connors-Lunsford studies to reveal a minimal set of categories that need to be reinforced in the classroom. Atwell (1987) addressed grammar issues in her minilessons that are generated from errors in students’ papers. She feels that this activity emphasizes the production of effective sentences rather than their analysis. According to Atwell, the instructor should decide one or two conventions that need to be addressed individually during writing conferences. Then, frequent errors or misunderstandings of the class should be tallied and addressed during future minilesson presentations. Some of these misunderstandings can be complex. Atwell noted, “Some minilessons about conventions address a small piece of a bigger pie, so we come back to and take slices from throughout the school year” (1987, p 189).
Focus on imitation. Constance Weaver (1996b) and Deborah Dean (2001) believed that teachers should promote the acquisition and use of grammatical constructions through reading various works that are more sophisticated in grammatical structures than the writing that most of the students do. They felt that not only “correct” punctuation should be taught, according to the handbooks, but also effective punctuation, perhaps based upon classroom examination of published texts. Deborah Dean (2001) advocated using sentence imitation as a way to improve writing. She stated that her students’ writing could be improved and “correctness” could be obtained through their imitation of constructions without mentioning the eight parts of speech. Dean advocated frequent classroom exercises in which she asked her students to compose a sentence that mimicked a prescribed example from an experienced writer. She remarked, “My students are writing, and they are trying to write more effectively, and they understand how to look at what they read as a model for what they want to say. They know grammar—they just don’t know that they do” (2001, p.89). Exercises like this allowed students to make a language usage activity meaningful for themselves and connected grammar with writing practice.
Focus on the real world. Kane (1996), Stephan Tchudi and Lee Thomas (1996), Weaver (1996b), advocated that teachers lead students in discussing and investigating questions of usage, not only by completing exercises from a grammar book but also through an exploration of the power of dialects contained in literature and film. As an activity, Weaver (1996b) contrasted the grammatical constructions of different ethnic and community dialects with each other and with the Language of Wider Communication (so-called standard English), and considered the effects that a variety of dialects could have in the real world (Weaver, 1996b). Also, she stated that non-native speakers of English should be engaged in using the language as best they can, knowing that social interaction, reading, and writing to share ideas will promote the functional acquisition of English more than will grammatical study (Weaver, 1996b). Kane (1996) used newspaper headlines to teach grammar lessons. She believed that connecting the study of grammar to “the investigation of the power and usefulness and beauty of language” made a lesson interesting to the students and teachers alike (p.89). It is another non-traditional way to help students discover for themselves that grammar, according to Kane (1996), “is not just something for students to learn for tests, but rather a tool that helps writers to convey various shades of meaning or to evoke desired responses from readers” (p.89). Stephan Tchudi and Lee Thomas (1996) encouraged students to search for and teachers to explore the “applications of grammar in real world usage, including writing, education, literature, and politics” (p. 47).
Focus on limiting definitions. Stephan Tchudi and Lee Thomas (1996) and Weaver (1996a, 1996b) believed that when explaining various aspects of grammar, usage, and punctuation to help students with their writing, instructors should minimize the use of grammatical terminology and maximize the use of examples. Weaver (1996b) stated that minimal terminology should be primarily taught by using it in a functional context and through brief lessons as necessary, rather than through memorization of definitions and the analysis of sentences. Another way to combat the fear of grammar, according to Tchudi and Thomas, was to “adopt a usage item that had given him or her a hard time over the years. . . [They] asked them to study the underlying usage rules and then to develop teaching visuals to present difficult usage items. Our students created posters, mobiles, mock newspaper reports, and even skits to teach about a grammatical menagerie of troublesome items” (1996, p.52).
These studies seem to suggest that an explicit approach to the teaching of grammar has no effect upon students’ writing practice. The reasons for this failure are three-fold according to Noguchi:
The reason formal grammar instruction has generally proved ineffective in improving writing probably lies in several complex and interrelated causes. Although these causes are often difficult to separate from one another, the most likely ones can be conveniently summarized as follows: (1). Formal grammar, being uninteresting or too difficult, is not adequately learned by students. (2) Formal grammar, even if adequately learned, is not transferred to writing situations. (3) Formal grammar, even if adequately learned, is not transferable to writing situations. (1991, p. 4)
The implications of the previously mentioned educators’ attempts at connecting writing with grammar and usage issues should be good news for English instructors. Although their approaches greatly differ, the educators agreed that grammar was more than circling words from disconnected sentences on a standardized test. Also, language arts instructors should heed several of the authors’ insistences that all native speakers possess intuitive knowledge of their language. This should be taken advantage to its fullest extent and integrated into lesson planning whenever possible. If this knowledge base were assumed, grammar and usage would be less scary for students. Insecure young writers may find themselves more confident in their skills because the new information given in class would be built upon what they already know. No matter what approach is used in the classroom, grammar should be seen by educators as means to better writing skills instead of a solitary subject taught separately from literature and composition. Certainly, student composition would improve dramatically.
· An explicit-traditional approach is a methodology that emphasizes the value of a systematic study of grammatical rules that teaches elements of the English language in a linear manner without connection to the student’s writing practice or in context of another type of discourse.
· An implicit-holistic approach is a teaching methodology that emphasizes the value of a systematic study of grammatical structures in a meaningful and comprehensive context in order that the students may acquire the grammar of the English language.
METHODS AND PROCEEDURES
classrooms comprised of eighty-three tenth grade students (51 females and 29
males, mean age=15.2 years) and four teachers volunteered to participate
following a call for participants that was distributed throughout the
Washington County School System and Carter County School Systems.
The students’ progress was measured
by results obtained from the Fall 2002 administration of the Gateway II English
test. The Tennessee State Board of Education designed the Gateway II test in
Following a semester of experimental classes, the Gateway II would be re-administered on a no-fault basis for data gathering purposes only in February 2003 as a means to measure the effects that the implicit-holistic approach to teaching grammar had on the student performance.
During the first semester of the 2002-2003 school year, the Gateway II English exam will be administered. Participating students will take the test for credit at this time. Students will have had no specialized grammar instruction during this semester.
selected as the instructors of the experimental group (implicit-holistic approach) will attend a three day workshop
sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) that focused on
pedagogies of implicit-holistic approaches to teaching grammar with an emphasis
on those aspects dictated by the State of
Teachers selected as instructors in the
control group (explicit-traditional) are not required to attend any workshops.
They are required to use the Holt Handbook as a grammar reference workbook and
must have at least 2 hours per week totally dedicated to drill and practice of
grammar in their classroom with an emphasis on those aspects dictated by the
During the second semester of the 2002-2003 school year, the chosen classes will begin their study of grammar according to the planned curriculum following prescribed pedagogical courses.
Teachers from both groups are required to attend bi-monthly meetings with the researcher to ensure that prescribed pedagogical procedure is being followed.
Data Analysis Procedures
Data analysis will be directed at
identifying the variance between the scores on the two tests given before and
after the semester of specialized instruction: the Evaluation and Assessment Division
of the Tennessee Department of Education authentic Gateway test score analysis
and the no-fault assessment scores analyzed by the researcher. T-test will determine the significance of
difference between the means of the two groups. A two-tailed test analysis will
be done to determine if there is a significant difference. The level of
significance will be set at .05. The results of the t test will be used to
determine if the researcher should fail to reject the null hypothesis.
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