Assorted Writings and Musings from English 600
Tentative MATW Unbound Project Proposal
Submitted to Professor David Stacey
Fall 2007, Humboldt State University
Stylistic Grammar Instruction in the Community College Composition Classroom
For my final project for the Master of Arts in the Teaching of Writing at Humboldt State University, I propose to develop a grammar instruction curriculum for students in community college English composition classrooms. My project will be composed of a condensed history of grammar instruction, a study of the grammar instruction debate, and sample lesson plans designed to teach students using relevant, descriptive exercises. Grammar exercises using students’ own writing will be emphasized.
My research into the decades-old grammar instruction debate suggests that disagreements between pro and anti-grammarians are not based on questions of whether or not to teach grammar, but which grammar to teach. Anti-grammarians generally base their argument on older models of instruction: teacher-centered rote memorization and drill exercises that separate students from their own text. New models of grammar instruction, however, utilize students’ own text to teach syntax, punctuation and style. Instead of presenting grammar as a hard and fast, rule-based subject, new pedagogical approaches treat grammar as an artistic, expressive tool necessary for communication across all disciplines.
Furthermore, progressive educators recognize the power of grammar instruction to define student success or failure. In a society that places a premium on communication skills, good writing matters both in school and in the workplace. Non-native speakers who struggle with their writing will face more difficulties in school and beyond than will native speakers.
In today’s increasingly multicultural classroom, stylistic grammar instruction can help non-native English speakers improve their writing skills, and will allow them to compete on a level playing field with native speakers. I use the work of progressive scholars such as Angela Petit, Stephen Tchudi and Lee Thomas to demonstrate how grammar instruction can work as a creative agent in the composition classroom. Arguments of the anti-grammarian camp, including essays by Patrick Hartwell and Richard Braddock, are examined and shown to address outdated, prescriptive teaching methods.
These anti-grammarian scholars argue against a prescriptive grammar curriculum, but they do not address the importance of grammar in the creative process. I also describe how M.M. Bakhtin’s research in the field of linguistic studies provides concrete examples of the value of stylistic grammar in the classroom. Students who are taught prescriptive grammar rules may shy away from using creative sentences in their texts. Concerned with staying within prescribed grammatical limits of correctness, these students may write in a dry, pedantic style, emulating the style of teaching they have been exposed to.
Progressive grammar instruction can show students how to breathe life into their writing by creating possibilities for experimentation in their texts. When students discover new syntactical possibilities, they “[learn to write] in a more vivid, emotional style” (Bazerman 337). My proposed curriculum will promote close attention to students’ own texts: students will work on texts of their own choosing, and will examine the structure of their writing by studying how different grammatical choices affect the clarity and artistic value of writing. A series of exercises interspersed throughout the semester will insure that grammar instruction is part of a progressive, creative pedagogical method.
While grammar is generally taught today as an afterthought to student writing, and is relegated almost exclusively to the revision process, my proposed curriculum will treat grammatical instruction as an inherent part of the creative process. For example, instead of merely correcting grammar errors in student papers, instructors will offer individual classes throughout the designed to teach basic and stylistic grammatical concepts. Based on my research, I conclude that a stylistic grammar instruction model can help students increase their composition skills by encouraging artistic, expressive texts that don’t adhere to traditional “win or lose” prescriptive methodologies. By encouraging the exploration of grammar as part of the creative process, students learn that they can play with sentence structures; grammar thus becomes just another part of students’ set of writing skills, instead of a dry, boring subject.
Progressive grammar instruction creates a community of equals, one where all students in a classroom—native or non-native English speakers—learn key grammatical concepts necessary for clear, concise communication.
Reflections, Mikhail Bakhtin and the Revolutionary Power of Student-Centered Teaching