Controversies in Grammar (blog post #1: 250 word comment due Jan 18)

In our reading for Jan. 18, from the book Teaching Grammar in Context, Constance Weaver summarizes a lot of research on the teaching of grammar. She (and many others) conclude that teaching traditional school grammar is not productive, and does not generally help students write or communicate more effectively.

In a comment to this post, outline just one of the debates that Weaver introduces (for instance, teaching transformational grammar vs. traditional school grammar) and share your thoughts on the debate. You MUST refer to at least one study or piece of research that she introduces (there are many to choose from, including Hillocks 1986, DeBoer 1959, Macauley 1947, McQuade 1980, etc.).

Your ~250 word comment is due Jan 18. (I’m giving a 1-day extension from the deadline listed in the syllabus because the reading wasn’t available to you until Friday, Jan 13.) The objective here is to have a conversation about the issues introduced by Weaver. That means that I don’t want to see a bunch of monologued, individual responses below. The best comments will refer to the text AND will reference ideas from earlier comments AND will add new information, rather than repeating what earlier commenters have said already.

Good luck!

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31 Responses to Controversies in Grammar (blog post #1: 250 word comment due Jan 18)

  1. Osprey says:

    I was admittedly quite surprised at the claims made in the indicated chapters of Teaching Grammar in Context. Weaver gives ample support in the move to not teach compulsory grammar to students. While a number of reasons are outlined, such as the fact that children already have an understanding of grammar (not so much “correct” grammar, but the basic meaning behind it) through simple acquisition at a young age and that research has shown the study of grammar yields negligible increased reading comprehension, I would not abandon traditional grammar altogether. Sure, children generally begin to absorb language impulsively, especially through the judgments made toward their environment, and will eventually assume what are considered adult syntactic structures in their sentences (Perera, 1984, 1986). However, the summary also concludes that neither natural acquisition nor straight instruction is sufficient in facilitating a true grasp of one’s language. I believe a combination of semi-conventional tutelage and intuitive comprehension should continue to be used. If we relied solely on textbook grammar to teach students the structures of sentences, etc., then, as shown by the research, very little would actually be achieved; though, sentence-combining seems to generate more positive results ( English Review Group 37-39). Furthermore, if the foundation of our communication was built on the assumption that adults generally speak “correctly”, then that sole method would also not be beneficial. While the understanding of a language should not be dictated by the mechanical accuracy of one’s speech or writing, correctness should still play a significant role when taking into account the breadth of language. I know many adults (whose children must model their own speech from) who speak and write with no regard to formal standards, which distracts from the meaning and, sometimes, the weight of their statements. Principles should be upheld be it through drills or otherwise. Once certain criteria are dismissed as ineffective, that innate sense of the essence of – and the essential – “correct” may fade as well.

  2. mmmk says:

    I am one who has always struggled with English grammar. My whole life even through this post grammar is not my strong point. I feel that I could go on about each and every point in these three chapters and their implications but I will use these 250 words to focus in and elaborate on one of the points made in Traditional School Grammar in Historical Perspective.
    Traditional grammar as pointed out is largely about class and inferiority and superiority. Grammar was taught at different levels and used by “upper classes as an excuse for considering themselves superior to others” (Noguchi,1991) I find that not only in class, as in societal class, but even within a classroom students try and one up students who may not fully understand all grammatical concepts and uses. As pointed out by Woods 1986 what counted as learning grammar for so much of history was really just about memorizing. Knowing and applying the rules learned was considered different.
    For me this is very personal, I consider myself to be smart to be intelligent and to know language well but because of my uses of grammar I find that I am often frowned upon or looked down to by my peers and educators because I have not simply memorized a set of rules that are then applied to language. I cannot make assumptions as to whether people judge my class or see me as inferior but I can say that I am looked at differently for not having mastered the traditional prescriptions of grammar.

  3. KateG says:

    I agree that some combination of methods of teaching grammar has to be implemented rather than just one. Traditional grammar shouldn’t be completely abandoned because it will be valuable on the occasions that formal language is necessary such as during an interview, writing a paper for class, or speaking to your boss and coworkers. Like we said in class, languages are dying at a fast rate and if we stop teaching traditional grammar in classrooms we will just be supporting this. Although research largely supports the notion that traditional grammar does not help students with sentence combining, groups who were taught traditional grammar did perform better on English usage tests (Elley 1976). For this reason, I definitely think it should still be utilized, but with a goal other than ensuring correctness and improving writing in mind. Perhaps using sentence combining strategies like O’Hare talks about in conjunction with traditional grammar may be a good solution. With the constant pressure from standardized tests to perform well, sentence combining strategies will help students write at a higher grade level which will also help their scores on tests. In essence though, many people have many different ideas about why grammar should be taught and how students should acquire the skills. Regardless I think the structural linguists in the 50s and 60s were on the right path in analyzing English of the time because our language is always changing, thus how we teach it needs to change as well.

  4. MM24 says:

    I too was surprised, like Osprey, by one case study in particular which is referenced by Constance Weaver and contributes to her debate that teaching traditional grammar is unproductive. When reading the study done by Finlay McQuade, I was sure that the students enrolled in this voluntary elective class would improve in their grammar skills and on the College Entrance Examination Board’s Achievement Test in Composition (McQuade 1980). So, I was shocked to see that the class average on the pre-test was actually higher than on the post-test and the students showed as much gain on the test during the years they hadn’t been in the class as in the ones they had been in the class (McQuade 28). Nevertheless, I think that this was an excellent use of an example in showing why these types of grammar should not be taught. If teaching traditional grammar cannot even help a passionate group of individuals doing something they love, then when will it help?
    On the other hand, I completely agree with KateG who says that a combination of methods to teach grammar must be used. For example, Constance Weaver writes, “even toddlers use grammatical constructions that are precursors of the mature syntax that they will gradually acquire” (Weaver 2). I believe that teachers (even I someday) should take this into account and not wait until the later years to force difficult syntax and structure onto students. I remember being one of those students and learning little; I was more confused than anything else. But, in certain circumstances I do think that learning grammar is beneficial. For instance, in jobs such as editing and writing in general, a sense of “correct” grammar is essential. I believe that to get to the point to be able to do this type of job and despite reasons why grammar should not be taught, it should be taught gradually and introduced at an early age.

  5. TwentyThree says:

    According to Weaver, grammar which was once “considered a form of mental discipline and a means of social refinement” is now emphasized as a way of improving an individual’s writing. Even though this is now the purpose and the common defense of supporters of grammar in schools, few studies found a correlation between the teaching of grammar and the student’s composition skills. In 1969 the John Mellon study, which was meant to test traditional vs. transformational grammar, hypothesized that greater knowledge of transformational grammar and practice in sentence combining would increase writing skills. This technique worked to improve the student’s abilities on some of the factors analyzed during the study, but did not improve their overall quality of writing. Although Weaver’s arguments and research are very believable and even mind changing when it comes to the teaching of grammar, it is difficult for me as a future elementary teacher and past elementary student to agree that it is unproductive and should no longer be taught. Like everyone else, I was very surprised by Weaver’s claims. Grammar is a topic that I have taken for granted and made the now unsupported assumption that it furthered my composition skills. I agree with MM24, having a “correct” sense of grammar is essential. Being able to read and comprehend why certain words or punctuations are used is a necessary skill for many activities related to everyday life. Without teaching one may be able to produce and understand basic concepts of grammar, but just knowing the basics is not always sufficient.

  6. KT@Pitt says:

    Along with Osprey, I was surprised that Weaver used research to argue that formal grammar instruction may be unnecessary for students. As future teachers, I think it is really important to constantly, critically reflect not only on how we will teach, but what we will teach. If teaching grammar is irrelevant, maybe it is time for teachers to steer away from traditional grammar instruction. Educators should not remain “unaware of the research” and ‘simply assume that “of course” teaching grammar improves reading and writing’ (d’Eloia 1981). I was also surprised, like MM24, that the results of the McQuade study showed higher pre-test scores than post-test scores when a class on grammar skills was taught to the subjects in the study. But, this research just proves that we must continually reassess what we teach our students. Just because we have been teaching grammar for decades and decades does not necessarily mean it is still pertinent to our students’ academic growth. With all that being said, there is still some opposing research suggesting formal grammar instruction is beneficial to language learners. In my opinion, even though teaching grammar may not be as effective as we once thought, mastering correct grammar skills is definitely still essential for all students. During difficult economic times, we want to make sure we are enabling students to be competitive job applicants, which means they must have competent skills in both oral and written communication. After reading, I now realize grammar is much more controversial than I originally thought, especially pertaining to how grammatical skills are acquired.

  7. Sushi says:

    One of the focuses of Constance Weaver’s article is on the debate between whether prescriptive grammar (traditional school grammar) should continue to be taught in schools or whether a new form of grammar (transformational grammar) should be put into action in school curriculums. After reading through all of the evidence and research that Weaver provides for both sides of the debate, I find myself agreeing with KateG in that a combination of grammar-teaching methods would probably be the most successful approach in schools. I am fully aware of what prescriptive grammar is, because this is the type of grammar I was taught. I am a future elementary teacher, and I completely see TwentyThree’s point in that it is hard to imagine not teaching the traditional grammar way, especially since it was the method through which I learned, and I actually feel as though I have a strong grammar background because of it. Although Weaver provides evidence detailing that this type of grammar teaching is ineffective, I need more evidence to believe those statements completely. Therefore, I can’t agree that prescriptive grammar should be thrown out of the curriculum fully but rather combined with something like transformational grammar. I was unaware of the existence and meaning of transformational grammar before reading Weaver’s article, but I have a slight grasp on its meaning. I became convinced of its potential after reading about the study by Bateman and Zidonis (1966) in which the group studying transformational grammar “wrote with a lower incidence of errors than the control group that studied no grammar.” John Mellon’s study also helped to convince me that transformational grammar could be beneficial. In conclusion, I feel that a mixture the old way (traditional) and a new way (transformational) of grammar teaching would be the best approach.

  8. shmannybumbah says:

    I was taken by surprise when I read Constance Weaver’s “Grammar in Context.” I expected something much different. When reading this article, I expected Weaver to applaud the study and teaching of grammar, then I came across the “Reasons for, Evidence Against” section. I was eager to see how it could possibly be bad to teach grammar in schools. In the 50’s and 60’s, they began to teach structural linguistics rather than traditional. This was more objective and scientific than the traditional grammarians. This seemed bizarre, until I realized [as we discussed in class] that all language is constantly evolving. Two years ago, the slang terms thrown around our city were completely different then the terms today. Actually, they would probably be considered “outdated” to the general population. In the 60’s and 70’s they showed how one sentence could be transformed into a different stylistic variant, but mean the same thing. Ex: “Mom accidentally burnt the cookies.” vs. “The cookies were accidentally burnt by mom.” Both of these sentences have the same meaning, just from a different approach. There is no necessity to have one correct form for everything. Hillocks did a study in 1986 that proved there was no support for teaching grammar as a means to improve composition skill. His study showed that those who studied grammar weren’t any better at writing than those who hadn’t studied grammar. He even claimed those who are imposing the teachings of traditional school grammar are doing a “gross disservice” to their students. I understand where Hillocks comes from, because language is constantly evolving and there is more than one way to get a point across. The world needs leniency when it comes to these things. Yes, general sentence structure and linguistic principles should be taught. However, they do not need to be so black and white. Our language, as well as all others, is constantly evolving. Props to Hillocks for realizing that grammar isn’t the only characteristic our society needs to write and express themselves.

  9. lmwb53013 says:

    One debate that I found particularly interesting was Weaver’s section about second language acquisition. I was already aware that immersion is considered one of the best ways to learn a language, which is one of the reasons why study abroad programs are so popular and pertinent. However, I was not aware that when trying to learn English as a second language, such as the students in the CUNY Experiment, emphasis on fluency, then clarity, then finally correctness could be more effective than focusing on grammar and correctness first (MacGowan-Gilhooly 1991a). I was very surprised by not only the increased rates of test passing and decreased rates of class repetition in the MacGowan-Gilhooly study, but also by all of the skills that the students gained during the whole language approach, such as “more confidence, better ability to work in groups, [and] more tolerance for divergent views” (Weaver, 28). The students also reported enjoying reading more and being more likely to step out of their comfort zone when it came to vocabulary (Weaver, 28). I could imagine that reading 70 pages per week plus writing a journal would be very challenging when first trying to learn a new language. I believe that possibly my own knowledge of Spanish, which I studied in high school, would be stronger and would have lasted longer had I been able to focus on fluency and clarity first rather than doing endless worksheets about grammar and spelling rules. However, I do believe that a combination of fluency, clarity, and grammar is important, much like Osprey, KateG, MM24, and Sushi believe that a combination of methods must be used when teaching grammar in schools. One method of teaching may or may not be better than another, but at the same time some methods may not work well for everyone. Offering a combination of methods in the classroom would be most beneficial for the students.

  10. lauren16 says:

    One debate of Weaver’s article that I found particularly interesting was his insistence that teaching grammar is unnecessary. Like my classmates, I thought that this was very surprising. I went to an elementary school that put a lot of attention on grammar and this article made me think about whether it actually helped me to become a better writer. Weaver backs his argument with both history and research evidence. He evaluates modern aspects of grammar and their historical contexts. When describing the eighteenth century Weaver explains the reasoning behind grammar as “based upon the early Latin Grammars and the structure of Latin” (Weaver 4 ). He goes on to say “the eighteenth-century English grammarians concluded that because Latin infinitives could not be split, English infinitives should not be split” (Weaver 4). At this point, I began to buy into Weaver’s argument and realized that the meaning behind some rules in English may be based solely off the fact that they are rules in Latin. Weaver then goes on to further supports his argument with research examples. One that I found particularly interesting was The Study by McQuade. (1980). I found it odd that McQuade concluded “no reduction of the number of errors could be significant, I reasoned, when the post-course essays are inferior in every other way to the pre-course essays”(McQuade 1980). The fact that students did better on tests that they took before learning grammar than that tests they took after really shocked me. Overall, I agree with Weaver that less emphasis should be put on grammar and more on learning about the ways people speak.

  11. Supernova says:

    As stated by the previous posts, I was very surprised at Weaver’s evidence against teaching grammar to students. After I gave some thought to her claim, I agree that there is not much to gain from the tedious exercise of diagramming sentences or painfully drilling grammatical rules into student’s brains. Please do not misunderstand me, I completely agree with KateG that we need to teach basic traditional grammar to the extent that students can confidently write and understand how sentences are formed. This should be done at an early age, since as Weaver said, “toddlers use grammatical constructions that are reductions and precursors of the mature syntax they will gradually acquire,” (Weaver 2). Then again, in The Study by Macauley (1947), elementary students were tested on their ability to identify specific parts of a sentence (such as verb, noun, adjective, etc.) and only one out of 131 scored a 50 percent, which was considered passing, (Weaver 9). I believe there is no reason to continue to teach grammar at higher levels of education, and it is very frustrating to think this research has been available but nothing has been done to update the teaching system. Along with KT@Pitt, I also feel school administrations and teachers need to update the curriculum to include grammar in lower level classes and gradually diminish teaching it in the higher grades. In closing, I realize that I am being very assertive about the idea of not teaching grammar in schools at the higher grade levels. However, please do not mistake this assertion as one against the necessity of teaching grammar at all. I just realize that the world is changing very quickly, and there is more and more to teach and learn every day. As prospecting teachers, we need to show leadership by utilizing the studies we have so that they support our curriculum design and the time spent on each subject. In this way, we would then be able to produce well educated and enthusiastic students that will thrive in the world of tomorrow.

  12. Pitt88 says:

    Of the many reasons that teachers continue to teach grammar in their classrooms, I think it is most important to focus on the writing benefits. Grammar in speech is not always proper, but writing generally is. We write with proper grammar so that our elders portray us in a good light and comment on our writing skills. Personally, I consider myself very good at using proper grammar, especially when writing papers. However, I did not acquire my knowledge of grammar from a grammar class in school.

    McQuade’s study showed that students who were enrolled in the Editorial Skills class did not perform better than they had in previous years without having had the course. In fact, “students who hadn’t taken the course showed just as much difference between the SAT and the late Achievement Test as students who had taken the course” (McQuade 29). Although this is only an example of one study, I think that the fault may be on the structure of the course. This course focused on parts of speech, basic sentence structure, finding errors in sentences, proper punctuation, etc. However, the students were given tests, rather than having to write papers. In my opinion, I find this extremely problematic considering the students were never given the opportunity to practice the information they had learned. My high school had a very well known English department, so we were constantly writing papers. I became grateful for the harsh grading and constructive criticism from my teachers. These aspects of my English class made me a better writer and better prepared me for future English courses.

    The twelve reasons that d’Eloia (1981) presented gave the readers a better understanding of why teachers continue to teach grammar. All of the points are, indeed, important, however, it sheds a bad light on the reasons teachers use grammar. If grammar were to be entirely cut out of the curriculum, this may affect students in the long run, which could in return affect their future career opportunities. I believe that instead of teaching grammar from a book, teachers should teach through writing based activities. This would allow for constructive criticism and help students learn through their own pace and at their own interest level. As prospective teachers, it is in our best interest to express our views and ideas to the school board in order to provide our students with the most beneficial learning experience possible.

  13. Tim Tebow says:

    We all have had classes on grammar in school, but no one uses it correctly all the time. We have said in class that there are times when we can use informal writing (text messages) and times when we need to use formal writing (applications or papers). But, even when we write formally, we don’t always write correctly. I agree with the statement that TwentyThree pulled out of the article, that grammar is now a way of improving an individual’s writing. This was something that I would have never thought of if I didn’t read this article. When I was younger, I thought grammar was just a way to understand sentences. In no way did I think it was supposed to be translated to writing. The John Mellon study (1969) showed what kind of role the style in which grammar was taught played in a student’s writing. The 12 groups experienced grammar in different ways: terminology and grammatical explanation (experimental group), traditional grammar (control group) and no grammar and an increased study in literature and composition (placebo group). Although the results for the study showed that the experimental group scored higher in certain areas, the overall writing quality of each group was pretty much the same. As teachers, we need to teach grammar the best way to be translated to students. I do disagree with Supernova’s claim that grammar shouldn’t be taught at the higher grade levels. Maybe it shouldn’t have its own subject, but be worked into the English curriculum. Students of all ages have trouble with writing; we even have the writing center at Pitt to help us with papers. Why should learning how to write correctly screech to a halt in middle school?

  14. tcs32 says:

    Along with many of my classmates, I was surprised to see that Constance Weaver’s argument in Teaching Grammar in Context argued against teaching traditional grammar. The section that surprised me the most was Research on the Effects of Structural and Transformational Grammar. In the studies shown in this section, the teaching of traditional grammar was compared with the teaching of structural or transformational grammar. The results showed little support in favor of teaching traditional grammar as a means to improve quality of writing. In fact, one particular researcher (Hillocks 1986) states, “[Educators] who impose the systematic study of traditional school grammar on their students over lengthy periods of time in the name of teaching writing do them a gross disservice.” I think the reason that this surprises me so much is that traditional grammar is what I have always been taught. I certainly make grammatical mistakes in my writing, and by no means do I consider myself an expert in grammar, but I think that it is very useful to be able to have an understanding of traditional grammar and to be able to call upon what you’ve learned in the subject in different situations. As KT@Pitt says, it is important to be able to use your grammatical knowledge in places such as the job market, and other formal settings. I think that a lot of what Weaver has to say is valid. Times are changing, and so education should change alongside it, but I think that there is definitely still some good in teaching traditional grammar.

  15. Ron Swanson says:

    At the risk of sounding like an echo, I too was surprised by Weaver’s argument. I was also delighted to see grammar, whose baseless importance I feel is more restrictive than anything, take a few needed punches. While I agree with his holiness Tim Tebow’s statement regarding the importance of a strong foundation in grammar, I think that, as Weaver says, “the grammar of our native language is part of what we learn in acquiring that language” (Weaver 2). Unlike Tebow, though, I also agree with Supernova. If, the majority of grammar fundamentals are learned naturally, then grammar instruction in early education serves to fix any mistakes or gaps in one’s knowledge. Any further grammatical instruction is almost useless, based on this evidence, in later education — or should be reserved for remedial classes. After reading Weaver’s article, it seems as if any perceived difficulties or shortcomings in one’s writing are probably not products of substandard grammar, but instead of something else, perhaps lack of practice or a thin vocabulary. To push rules whose highest praise is “there is no conclusive evidence…that grammar has NO transfer value in developing composition skill” on students when language is, as seen in the section on Chomsky, rather more fluid than most of our past grammar lessons would suggest is probably more of a hindrance than a help, adding unnecessary worries and creative constraints to student writers. Perhaps the time normally spent on grammar drills would be better spent simply reading a novel, or freely writing, or playing basketball, all of which will ensure an equal if not greater effect on students’ compositions.

  16. jen-nay. says:

    Before reading Weaver’s article, I was already not looking forward to reading it, based solely on the title of the book: Teaching Grammar in Context. I have never been one to truly appreciate learning the rules of grammar and I expected this article to ramble on about the importance of grammar. However, I found this article to be quite refreshing from the fact that emphasis was taken away from the teachings of traditional grammar and placed more on learning grammar naturally and through experiences. Going along with Ron Swanson, children need to engage and be active in what they are learning rather than just memorizing and reciting the facts and rules (Weaver 5). By focusing more on children’s own discovery of grammar through their engagement in reading, writing, and film, then they will have more time to actually improve these skills while becoming interested and appreciating language more and more (Noguchi, 1991). When focusing on reading, creative writing, and other unconventional outlets for improving grammar, children learn and score better on tests rather than learning it traditionally. Traditional grammar also makes students more inclined to have less positive attitudes towards English studies (Elley, 1976). In agreement with MM24 and KateG, teaching grammar is still important for children and students to learn, but it should be taught differently than it had been taught traditionally. Children have such a natural ability to learn the ways of grammar and sentence structure, so our job as educators should not be to throw a ton of rules at them and expect them to memorize them, but to create opportunities for them to discover the rules themselves.

  17. blogposter2012 says:

    Weaver brings up the question of whether application can be taught without intense grammar lessons. It is my belief that the way lessons are taught need to be constantly changing and updated because every generation is constantly evolving. Lauren16 touched upon the notion that the roots of English are partly from Latin and that this history of English is what builds Weavers argument. I think that the classroom still embraces this way of prescriptive grammar teaching instead of adapting to reality. The reality that English is not the same as it was years ago and that there is a clear distinction between the ways we apply language in speaking and writing, than the list of rules that we are taught to follow. This was shown in the study by Macauley (1947) which I found to be significant enough to conclude that intense lessons of grammar do not create a large improvement on what you actually learn (Weaver 9). The rules of grammar that have been implemented are broken when being applied.

    In past posts the idea came up that teaching grammar at the higher levels should not be done and I definitely agree. I think that at the higher levels learning about the grammar of your native language doesn’t yield tremendous results because you have already been exposed to so many ways of using the language, whereas at the start of learning a foreign language you are immediately instructed to compose and applying it. The different way that Jen-nay introduced above may be that grammar should be taught earlier along with applications. Why do students have to sit in silence and do worksheets? Why can’t grammar be interactive?

  18. mlhuxta says:

    My experience with grammar has been less than satisfactory during my middle and high school years. As one of the students who enjoyed diagramming and dissecting sentences, simply running through the motions of “learning” grammar was frustrating. As Weaver described this trend, “grammarians of English gave little or no evidence of being concerned that students actually understand the grammatical information…” (Weaver 3). Though Weaver claimed this method to be practiced in the 1820s, I have first hand experience with it in the 21st century. Reading this piece was refreshing! I’m glad to see someone with merit debunking the current system of teaching grammar.
    The section that caught my interest was the Process of Language Acquisition. I work with toddlers and have seen children struggle with piecing together the English language. It’s amazing to see how children’s linguistic abilities change. As Supernova quoted Weaver, “toddlers use grammatical constructions that are reductions and precursors of the mature syntax they will gradually acquire” (Weaver 2). The chart that depicts the increasing complexity of utterances applied to this quote perfectly. It laid out the gradual complexities that young kids master in language.
    Pitt88 expresses our obligations as future educators quite well- it is out duty as teachers to look for the best ways in which to educate the future generations. If evidence proves that systematically teaching grammar is a waste of time, there is little reason to continue the practice. Weaver expresses this opinion as number two of D’Eloia’s list of Why Teachers Continue to Teach Grammar. Regardless of Weaver’s evidence, I do agree with KateG to continue teaching some aspects of traditional grammar for the occasions where professionalism is essential. KateG makes another wonderful point when she explains how language is always changing and therefore how we teach must adapt to these changes.

  19. ALS178 says:

    Throughout my schooling, I have noticed that my grammar has taken an awful turn. I find myself question how to structure certain sentences. In day to day life, I text informally just as much as every college student, but now that I have decided to become a teacher I want to improve every aspect of my grammar and writing skills. I strongly agree with the different reasons why teachers still teach grammar stated on page 12 of Weaver’s book by d’Eloia (1981). As a prospected teacher, I believe that studying grammar will most definitely help students be able to edit written work and use what they’ve learned in school to pass standardized tests. I remember when I took the English section of the SAT’s, I felt that I knew very little when it came to grammar because I wasn’t taught it as much as the other subjects. Along with mmmk, I find myself struggling with grammar at age 21. I don’t agree with the research showing that grammar has a lack of practical value in English. As I was taught correct grammar I found it a lot easier to write rough draft papers and had the ability to rewrite it. I want to provide my future students with the ability to use correct grammar so they can strive to become well educated individuals. I feel as though taking out traditional grammarin English class won’t help.

  20. jvdub says:

    After reading through the posts I mostly agree with what seemed to be a better part of the class’s consensus of Weaver’s book, Teaching Grammar in Context. Many of my pupils discussed how they appreciated the book focusing on how non-traditional grammar learning processes can be more beneficial. A lot of the research given also proves that traditional learning may not be the best option. As seen in the Encyclopedia of Educational Research in 1960, no evidence was found that would indicate that formal grammar education would churn out better use of writing or recognizing so-called correct English (Weaver Chp. 2). I agree that students should not have to learn grammar solely based on traditional practices and I also think Weaver has several valid points and resources, but I personally do think that there should be a combination of both traditional and natural learning taking place. Someone above commented on how the teaching of grammar should be used to correct what we may have misunderstood about English before entering schooling. This seems logical because we as teachers, would not be discouraging the natural learning of grammar, but just giving some guidance on previously embedded misinterpretations.

    I also agree with Supernova when him or her stated that the curriculum for older students needs revamped. Once you have learned grammar there is no need to keep reteaching it, especially if it is to students who know how to use it, but would just prefer to write, type, and talk the way they always have. Grammar has become an ongoing lesson that should be taken off of repeat.

  21. Numeroff says:

    After reading this text, I started thinking about the grammatical structure of sentences I use all the time. If I was asked to give the rules for the language I speak on a daily basis, I probably could not do so. My inability to recite rules for every grammar rule I use is due to the fact that most grammar is not given directly from teaching but rather from life. While discussing the points proven by the four provided invitations, Weaver states this as one of the key take aways from the invitations, “Children acquire the grammar of their language without direct instruction (Weaver 38).” As Mlhuxta stated, this part where Weaver discussed language acquisition was really interesting to me. Having worked with pre-school children and toddlers, I have seen the utterances Weaver refers to as “m-units” used very often (Weaver 39). Seeing these m-units used so frequently led me to feel so strongly about the fact that children do indeed learn a lot of English grammar on their own. I feel that it inevitable that a child will learn the majority of grammar rules throughout everyday tasks and interactions with their environments. In my opinion, normal everyday environments are the number one most important place to learn grammar. However, as KateG stated I don’t feel like there is one specific technique that can be used effectively when it comes to teaching grammar. Grammar is constantly changing and therefore teaching methods for grammar need to be constantly changing as well. This constant change would most likely allow for a much better learning environment for grammar.

  22. csmith292 says:

    In the previous comments, someone stated that “Traditional grammar shouldn’t be completely abandoned because it will be valuable on the occasions that formal language is necessary such as during an interview, writing a paper for class, or speaking to your boss and coworkers.” I disagree. I don’t think it is entirely necessary to implement traditional grammar into the classroom. I have saved every packet and bit of information about grammar from my sophomore and senior years in high school⎯seeing as my most prominent experiences with grammar study were in those years under the guidance of a single teacher. In writing papers for college classes, I constantly find myself referring to my sentence pattern notes, as well as a packet enveloping the elements of style⎯twenty prescriptions for engaging phrasing at the sentence and paragraph levels. We were constantly forced to memorize [word for word] the contents of this packet; and if asked today to recite it, I have no doubt that I would rise to the occasion.

    My senior year, we also learned “Traditional Grammar;” and while it may be the case that I’m unconsciously using what I learned in the classroom, I don’t believe it’s all that significant (seeing as I don’t recall actually learning anything). We learned the form and function of grammar⎯the underlining structures that impart meaning; however, I daresay that I have lost all that I had memorized.

    Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that the research backs up my thoughts on grammar. Hillocks’ 1986 study proved that there was no support for teaching grammar as a means to improve composition skill, as he found that those who studied grammar weren’t any better at writing than those who hadn’t. His claim that those who are imposing the teachings of traditional grammar are doing a “gross disservice” to their students holds great significance. So maybe teachers should become aware of the research and not “simply assume that ‘of course’ teaching grammar improves reading and writing” (d’Eloia 1981). So while teaching grammar may be important for children and students to learn, traditional grammar isn’t cutting it: we need to change the way that we teach grammar to our students.

  23. sami says:

    The general debate of the article that I found most apparent and interesting was that teaching traditional grammar has no positive effect on students. I found the results of the many studies cited comforting because I hate grammar with all of my being. If someone asked me to diagram a sentence today I would have an absolute panic attack. Much like cssmith292 I do not remember any of the traditional grammar I was taught in school, nor do I actually remember it being taught before high school. I take part of the blame for my lack of learning grammar; I never put very much effort into it because I never saw a value or practicality in it. I already speak English and learned to read and write without an in-depth understanding of grammatical concepts.
    I found the McQuade study most compelling because the students felt like they were learning a lot and doing better on standardized test, but in reality were doing worse. The students work after taking the class became “awkwardly and I believe self-consciously constructed to honor correctness above all other virtues, including sense” (Weaver, chapter 2). I am now less embarrassed about my lack of grammatical knowledge, especially after reading about this particular study. While I know my writing is not perfect I am glad to know that it is probably not because I did not pay full attention to my grammar lessons.

  24. Fay Mousse says:

    I also found these first three chapters of Weaver’s book surprising and unexpected. I agree with user KT@Pitt when I say that as future educators it is important not to dwell on past traditions and teachings but focus on the current research and findings as to what really benefits our students. We all want to benefit our students and it is impossible to do this by ignoring research findings and just following the ways of past curriculum. I must say I did not find the study by Macauley in 1947 that surprising. Like user MMMK, I also struggle d with grammar throughout my years of grade school and secondary school. The teaching of sentence structure and elements, revision, usage, punctuation, and mechanics were constantly drilled into our heads over and over again. Despite the fact that I was an A’ student and was deemed a “strong writer,” every year I felt as if I was relearning all of the parts of speech and grammatical rules all over again. Macauley’s study strongly suggests that “despite years of grammar study, students do not achieve much ability to identify even the basic parts of speech as these functions in sentences” (Weaver 16). Out of the 131 students tested, only one scored 50 percent or better in all five parts of speech. The average score was an incredibly low 27.9 percent. I can’t say that I think that I could have done much better. So what does this mean for educators? Language is always changing. This means that our teachings need to adapt to these changes as well. I must agree with users KateG and mlhuxta that it is our responsibility to search for the best ways to educate our future generations. We cannot be afraid to have the energy to change the system. We have the knowledge to do so and as Weaver writes, “less formal instruction in grammar will mean more time to develop in students a healthy awareness and appreciation of language and its uses” (Weaver 29).

  25. DrSeuss says:

    I found the studies conducted by Elley et al. and McQuade to be the most interesting of them all. Weaver’s debate that the direct study of grammar does not improve students’ writing skills, but actually is detrimental to them is quite apparent in this research. What was most surprising in the Elley et al. study was that the slight advantage of studying direct grammar was outweighed by the negative attitudes that the students acquired during the course. Considering this was a three-year longitudinal study, it only makes sense that after such intense grammar classes many of the students in the transformational group learned to dislike writing. Constantly scrutinizing every aspect of your own writing can certainly make the experience less enjoyable.
    In McQuade’s study, attitudes also played a crucial role, but in a much different way. Everyone was willingly taking this grammar course and assuming that it was improving their writing skills until they realized it was in fact doing the exact opposite. Like MM24 and many other bloggers, I was shocked that the students’ scores were much higher before they took the class. It is clear that grammar isn’t helping the “average” students, but these studies showed that it is not even helpful for the students who are going above and beyond to learn either. So what exactly is the point of teaching grammar if it is having little to no effect on our writing skills? I think that learning grammar is a very important skill to have, but only to a certain extent. It is obvious that the more intensely one studies grammar, the more they are harming their own writing skills. I think that the basics are needed for one to function in an academic environment, but it is up to the teacher to decide where to draw that line.

  26. babetheox says:

    As a writing major and not someone specifically interested in being a future educator, this reading was extremely interesting to me from perhaps a different perspective. My background is with writing and editing, fields I wouldn’t have any desire to enter if it weren’t for my love all things involving the English language—and yes, that includes grammar. When doing the reading, the words of Martha Kolln resonated particularly with me. Weaver summarizes her point as this: “that it should be helpful for students in their writing to bring their unconscious grammatical knowledge to conscious awareness, through the study of the categories and structures and labels of grammar.” To me, this seems inherently true and has proven true in my life, as far as I’m aware. From a young age, I had a good grasp on grammar that stemmed from being taught it in elementary school. I also wrote and read a lot as a child, and as the reading argues, this could have been the reason I excelled at grammar. When I got older, my conscious awareness of grammar greatly facilitated my learning of French as well as improving my writing and editing.
    Therefore, I was very surprised by The Study by Elley et al. (1976), in which researchers found that neither the transformation group studying grammar, rhetoric, and literature, the reading-writing group studying rhetoric and literature curriculum out-performed, nor the traditional grammar group scored significantly better on English usage tests/writing assignments. The study began with students at age thirteen and continued for three years, which makes me wonder whether their age is the reason no improvements were shown.
    I agree with MM24 when she says, “For instance, in jobs such as editing and writing in general, a sense of “correct” grammar is essential. I believe that to get to the point to be able to do this type of job and despite reasons why grammar should not be taught, it should be taught gradually and introduced at an early age.” I think age is the crucial idea here. Children should receive basic grammatical instruction at a young age—basically knowledge of parts of speech and their function in a sentence—and then traditional grammar instruction should stop and be replaced with writing instruction so they can apply the fundamentals to writing, an art that will serve them in a practical sense and not just an abstract sense.

  27. gingersparkle says:

    As shmannybumbah brought to my attention, language, like all other parts of our culture, is an aspect that is constantly changing. There have been countless variations to the way people speak, and there will surely be countless more as the world goes on. For example, in today’s society, much of the way English is spoken varies greatly from the way it was once spoken three hundred years ago. Therefore, it is understandable that structural linguists are striving to teach grammar in the ways that it is used conversationally in the world today, rather than based off of ancient, obsolete rules of the past. These linguists believe that the value of learning conversational, modern grammar will be reflected in written works, whereas traditional grammar does not prove to be as effective in writing. Upon reading this, however, I immediately disagreed with the linguists. I believe that the manner in which I write, and the extend to which I understand what and how I am writing can certainly be attributed to the education I received on traditional grammar. The way in which I write sounds nothing like my spoken English, and I do not think it should. Speaking and writing are clearly two different forms of communication, thus they each need to be approached differently by the user. In my opinion, speaking is significantly less formal than writing. It is a way to convey thoughts as they come to you; it is choppier, and more difficult to sound fluid when discussing heavy topics. Writing, on the other hand, is a sophisticated way to organize, shape, and display thoughts through carefully crafted sentences and paragraphs. In order to succeed in such a formal way of communication it is important to know how to do so; by learning the rules of language (grammar), every writer can correctly craft their thoughts into formally written sentences, rather than choppy, natural lines, like spoken English. Due to the fact that I disagree so heavily with the structural linguists, Hillock’s review of their research in 1986 confused me. Although the linguists overestimated the effectiveness of writing using conversational English, I was still shocked at how effective it and traditional English were. I do not understand how both can play such effective roles in writing; In my opinion, the grammar rules of the past should help writers in a much more effective way than conversational English.

  28. YoungJ says:

    With a few exceptions such as csmith 22 who was “forced” to memorize packets on grammar until late in high school, there is a large amount of posters that believe traditional grammar should stop at an earlier age in school than it does. I have to agree with the majority, especially considering my own experience with learning grammar in school, along with Weaver’s discussion on grammar. An overwhelming number of the studies Weaver discusses suggest that teaching grammar is not effective, most notably mentioned on this blog were studies done by Macauley, McQuade, and Mellon. Weaver really changed my thinking about ways grammar should be taught in the classroom. Blogposter12 asked, “Why can’t grammar being interactive?” mentioning that at higher educational levels, learner grammar about your native language does not produce great results. This reminded me of chapter three of Weaver where he discusses the CUNY experiment as well as the nine studies Warwick Elley reviewed. Both have evidence that with more interactive learning teaching students about grammar is much more effective, such as the shared book experience (Holdaway, 1979) or intensive coursework Adele MacGowan-Gilhooly describes secondary English learners went through at CUNY. I related this to my personal experience with learning Spanish for four years during high school; the teaching method has kept me far from being proficient in the Spanish language. Lmwb53013 posted how he/she would have learned Spanish better by working on fluency and clarity first instead of spending an endless amount of time doing worksheets and I agree. Non-traditional methods of teaching grammar would have been more beneficial to most people including myself, not just because I was learning a second language, but because it was through the continual practice of reading, speaking, and writing that we have all acquired the English language. These principles of learning are applied the same way regardless of the language a person knows or wants to learn.

  29. muskoka1 says:

    The reading for this week made me realize some things about grammar; specifically, what it may stand for. I haven’t really thought about it before. In the Traditional School Grammar in a Historical Perspective section, it began with an interesting introductory paragraph that stimulated my thoughts. In the past, attending school and achieving a higher education has been linked with social class. Whether people thought school necessary for lower class individuals to attain a higher class status or because it was for the upper class to verify their self-acclaimed superiority, both are suggested in the article. When I think about this, I believe it is a combination of both conditions. I think learning proper grammar, such as sentence structure, is an important tool that will never go out of style. In KateG’s post, she mentioned that these tools are important today for interviews, speaking with bosses, and other formal affairs; however, I think that it infiltrates much more than just the formal occasion. In the past, a well-established, upper-class individual typically acquired a good education in which he or she learned how to speak properly. This helped them later in life when they assimilated into their respective jobs and home lives – in essence, their world. Lower class citizens generally wanted to have a better life; therefore, an education was necessary to achieve that goal. Today, although certain things have changed, the main goal has not. How does one get a job? One must have a well-written resume bragging about his achievements that most likely had a lot to do with his educational background. Today, most jobs require a college degree, and students are accepted into colleges because of their SAT scores, high school GPA, and curricular activities. SATs and GPAs require specific knowledge that students learn in school. The connection between social classes and education is undeniable; in the same vein, grammar is still just as important as it was in the past, only more refined. The acknowledgement that language and grammar is still important today is made by Huntsman when he says, “But the grammar textbooks have not changed much…” (Huntsman, 1983).

  30. darkknight5 says:

    As I was growing up (and still today), my strong spots were never English or grammar. The constant nagging of teachers and red pen marks on my papers never seemed to stop, which caused a me to grow a hatred toward grammar. I could just never “get it,” but after reading this article, I came to realize that I’m not the only one, grammar is hard to learn, and most of us never truly master it. The article also informed me that the way and how vigorously we learn grammar of the English language has very little to no effect on the quality of writing we are able to produce. This fits me perfectly… I’ve been told that I’m a good writer, but it is easy to see that I struggle with grammar and all the rules that come with it. As DeBoew (1959) says, “Surely there is no justification in the available evidence for the great expenditure of time and effort still being devoted to formal grammar in American schools.” In this DeBoew is bringing up the lack of difference that grammar makes on the writing and “intelligence” of our youth. He doesn’t see any reason as to how grammar is useful in schools, as so he sees no point of teaching it. Adding to his point, as students become easily bored with the learning of grammar, the learning lessens, and further failure is endured. This all also stems from the idea that every human has some innate ability and understanding of the knowledge necessary to “get” grammar through learning a language. By growing up hearing, speaking, and writing a language, we are able to pick up on patterns and ideas to strengthen our own grammar. Although I can see where he is coming from, I still believe that grammar should be taught in schools across America due to the importance we put on our writing to look and sound as good as possible. This learning shouldn’t stop in elementary school or middle school, but rather it should never stop. As ‘Tim Tebow’ said, the writing center here at the University of Pittsburgh still helps students with their writing and grammar, therefore the teaching of grammar should never stop until well after the college years. We shouldn’t dedicate an entire class to grammar, but key ideas and concepts about what grammar is, should always be brought up in an English-based classroom. By reading this article by Weaver, I was able to see the ‘other side’ of grammar teaching that our school districts never told us… the side about it not working, but I still believe it is necessary to teach grammar in schools, even if it’s not an abundance of grammar, at least some should be taught.

  31. mnathani says:

    After reading the first three chapters of Weaver’s text, I cannot help but want to cringe. This feeling derives from two completely different reasons. The first reason is that learning conventional grammar has tremendously improved my writing. I can say this statement and have everyone read it on the surface, but there is definitely a background to the sentence. Growing up, I learned grammar the way that everyone else learns, by the book. Literally. Therefore, I understand when Weaver cites Massachusetts legislature from 1789 stating that they instituted a law in which schools were required to teach grammar as well as other studies having to do with the same field along with others (Woods, 1986). I personally feel that it is necessary for teachers to give students the building blocks to become better writers. This might sound pompous, but is there not a reason that some students pick up on English rather than other subjects? I flocked to English because I understood the concepts, but I found Science to be an absolutely horrid subject. Now, I do not mean to say that we should stick to the same general practices that are in place today, but I do not think we should label them obsolete. H. A. Greene stated that, “every scientific attempt to prove that knowledge of grammar is useful has failed.” I agree that teaching grammar is not a science, but I would never completely rule out teaching grammar. YoungJ agreed with others that students should not be taught grammar after a certain age, and, while the majority agrees, I have to say that this was absolutely not the case for myself. After I started tutoring and was forced to really figure out how to not only give examples of grammar but also how to explain each rule, I really found that I became not only a better tutor but a better writer as well.