Too Many Rules

Too many explanations, unclear diagrams, and grammar: too many rules. For this week’s readings, I found it difficult to really comprehend what was being said by the end of the articles. However, I can fairly said that I was able to get some information from Grammar, Grammers, and the Teaching of Grammar. Yet, throughout the article, I was only able to understand very few points. It seemed very overwhelming in all that had to be said. There was no sense of straightforwardness and my head felt like it was spinning. But, I will still mention the “very few points” for this week’s blog.

Primarily, there is the “prime example of ‘magical thinking’: the assumption that students will learn only what we teach and only because we teach.” The only thing students will learn is what they get from teachers. Nothing more, nothing less. That doesn’t seem right. Does that mean that children’s’ minds (or even older) are so limited and restricted that information has to be spoon-fed? Is there no autonomy, no desire to learn more that what is being taught to them? But in terms of grammars, that’s what is being said. The lack of teaching grammar is considered a “presumed literacy crisis.” But what is grammar, actually? Why the fuss behind it? This article gave multiple definitions of grammar, a couple of which are the following: “the set of formal patterns in which the worlds of a language are arranged in order to convey larger meanings” and “linguistic etiquette.” The first definition sat well with me, but the latter? Not so much. I understand they are attempting to say that grammar creates a style in language, a sense of sophistication. But who defines that? One person might think that saying “We ain’t go no money” is more sophisticated than the way they talk, more “grammared.” But the word choice of etiquette sort of irks me. It makes me feel that it should be proper, otherwise if not, you are considered illiterate or deficient. It goes back to the whole idea of using the English language as a standard to judge someone’s intellect…nonsense.

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Students doubts themselves for this reason. They claim that they don’t know the rule of grammar but yet they “show productive control over the rule they have denied knowing.” Let the students be, stop hammering their heads with all these rules. If the students are learning free-flow only then will anything be retained. Interestingly, grammar doesn’t change anything really though. In fact, grammar rules change when spoken compared to written and both groups make the same mistakes: native English speakers and non-native. So does speaking English change anything, especially in terms of knowing grammar? Absolutely not. These errors will only be picked up when students read their writing out loud, a practice that always worked for me too. For some strange reason, writing doesn’t send of signals of warning and danger when the grammar is wrong. I personally kept getting Bs on my essays during my sophomore year of college. It was a first time for me, but I kept asking myself why? Because….my grammar overshadowed my content. Was I ever taught it? No. Did I learn it eventually? Yes, during my junior year of college. But before taking that class, my professor’s comments and red-penned underlines on my mistakes made me noticed grammar problems that I had never noticed before. Now, I read my papers out loud, letting my voice pick up the red flags as I go. But still…it doesn’t change my quality of writing. My content was well done but my grammar threw me off. After all the charts and diagrams used, the theory predicts that formal grammar instruction would have little to do with control…with quality of writing. I mean, what can I say? Too many rules…

Understanding Sentence Structure

For this week, we are to read Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching o Grammar by Patrick Hartwell and The Erasure of the Sentence by Robert J. Connors, who both discuss different aspects of sentence structure. With the former article, the main point is focused on grammar usage and how it is being used today, as the latter talks about pedagogies (something we picked up on last week’s readings) from years ago and how they relate to today’s understandings of them (well, as far as I can understand). In this blog, I want to talk more about Partick Hartwell’s readings because I feel like I resonated with this one a bit more.

In Patrick Hartwell’s article, being honest again, I felt myself lost in the many data/numerical information provided and what they meant in the grand scheme of things. That being said, I enjoyed the parts I understood because it relates back to another course I’m taking this semester – general linguistics.

General linguistics talks about how we as a society operate in language usage and education, and studies the underlying power of what this innate knowledge brings. One particular aspect is grammar, which is a set of governing rules on how a sentence can be formed by language. It requires knowledge of language to understand where words fall into place in a sentence, which is why I was surprised when I read “In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms; the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on improvement in writing.”

Why is that? Why is grammar a controversial topic in teaching? I remember in elementary school being taught grammar, but I never stopped to think they correlated in some way. I felt learning to speak felt natural in a way, and in school I was taught the writing aspect of it. Two of the same topics but taught in different ways. This passage made me want to think more about what the word means and what it means to the academic world. Grammar is “the internalized system that native speakers of a language share”, so would that not mean that there is a universal truth aspect to it, something that cannot be unique to an individual? Then again, language is arbitrary, so perhaps its random nature it the reason for it?

“The controversy over the value of grammar instruction, then, is inseparable from two other issues: the issues of sequence in the teaching of composition and of the role of the composition teacher.” I added this small passage thinking about how it relates to my question about the issues with grammar. I honestly cannot relate to it to much because I have no teaching ability (aside from art workshops, but that is a different topic), but thinking about the sentence in of itself, I wonder about the issues of teaching it. What does it mean by role of the teacher, that they must understand the rules of composition beyond of what they know, or that there isn’t enough material/resources to teach it?

“Students can learn to organize their papers if teachers do not accept papers that are disorganized. Perhaps composition teachers can teach those two abilities before they begin the more difficult tasks of developing syntactic sophistication and a winning style.” I think back to an earlier class and how one paper argues that giving students more agency in evaluating/going over their own papers provides needed independence and skills so that they can focus on more complicated aspects of writing a paper. It’s interesting that there is a sort of connection between both writings, so perhaps it is important to think about treating student writers as writers instead of students. By giving them more freedom to think about their work maybe the stagnation of school writing can develop.

“I have never seen a native speaker of English who did not immediately produce the natural order, ‘the four young French girls.’ The rule is that in English the order of adjectives is first, number, second, age, and third, nationality.” While I can understand this at first glance, it’s important to stress that it relates to the English language only. Growing up and reading last weeks’ articles, I’m aware of ESL writers and their struggles to understand different concepts. Thinking back to some sentences in Spanish, not every sentence follows the same core principal as English. Perhaps this is where the difficulty of grammar can come from? Going back to the arbitrary nature of language, I can’t help but wonder as to how many people can interpret this rule realistically.

The rest of the article talks about the 5 formal rules of grammar, and they help provide further insight in how this works compositionally. I feel some aspects help me understood the main thesis of this article, but others require further inspection and rereads to fully understood.

As much as I want to really dissect Hartwell’s readings, I found myself lost and my brain fried reading it. Not necessarily because of its content, but a lot has been clouding my mind these past few weeks (politics, the future of my job, family issues, etc) and so I’ve digested as much as I can. I hope that I can find extra time to reread and write (and maybe I’ll be able to edit at a future date) but I’m hoping that by the end of next week’s class, after having read everything again and interacting with my colleagues, that I can have a better grasp of this material.0

The Erasure of Grammar

The 1960s certainly was a time when must discovery into the world of literacy was conducted.  My own piece goes back even further.  Diana’s piece touches on literacy ideas presented in the 1890s.  At some point during both of these readings I felt like I was looking over Frankenstein’s notes. I know that I must sound like a broken record when I keep mentioning how old some of these pieces are.  In my legal case, my ability to be a teacher and move forward as a teacher in my career is being judged by a test that is twenty-two years old.  My life and my career are on the line over a test that is older than some in this class.  That’s why I’m so critical of WHEN information is presented or created and how that information is relevant to me currently.  These pieces that we have discussed lately, including my own, have long shelf lives already.  I found many similarities to my own piece presented in this class.  Both pieces do in fact introduce a metalanguage into the course of study. After my own research, I believe that if we can all speak one language in regards to learning, more leaning will get done.  My final thought is that some of the methods described in both pieces have no place in modern society, yet offer some sound advice for a modern REMIXING.

The idea that “you could be a good writer if you could learn to write a good sentence,” is one line that stood out to me from Diana’s piece.  Part of me wants so much to believe that to be true.  But what if the student is a one hit wonder? What if the student becomes so happy with that style of sentence that that’s all he or she ever writes again? Then Erasure of a Sentence goes off on an idea promoting students imitating writing.  Isn’t that plagiarism?  To me, having that many students copy the work of others writers in the hopes of producing great writers sounds too close to the entire cloning process there’s been so much debate about.  Cloning works best with sheep.

Erasure of a Sentence also has the cloning process dialed down a bit where there’s not so much cloning as there is paraphrasing.  I happen to like the paraphrasing idea the authors presented.  I have used paraphrasing techniques in the classroom on numerous occasions. They really help a student develop a talent for writing.  At the very least the teacher can see that a lower performing writer at least has a grasp of the intended materials.  And that’s a start.  Whereas Grammar, Grammar…, revealed nothing but study and results after study and results – Frankenstein’s notes.

At least my own research can advance forward on the use of Metalanguages in the classroom.  Again, the concern I expressed during my own presentation about having so many terms out there that learning becomes confusing is evident within this piece.  The authors of Grammar, Grammar …, introduce five meanings for the word GRAMMAR.  FIVE.  How would anyone know which definition one would be referring to during the discourse of a discussion?  I would find that type of thought process maddening.  However, each one of those definitions was related to by a metalanguage for the sake of having the reader understand the author’s point.  Huge takeaway right there: have one language and all learning can be achieved. Both pieces did use a healthy helping of metalanguage.  Erasure of a Sentence had elements of learning referred to as T-Units.  There was also talk of things call FREE MODIFIERS.  With my sense of humor I immediately went to the idea of free-range chickens.  I felt like one running around with out its head trying to formulate a plan for using all of this information in some way.

The idea presented by the authors of Grammar, Grammar…, that the teaching of grammar cannot be fun is absolutely not true.  I have had some of the most valuable teaching moments in my classroom when students understand how to use grammar.  Whether they have conquered my list of punctuation, or wrote an entire paragraph without a single mistake, the teaching of grammar is like the teaching of anything else: what you put into it comes out with a huge payoff. 

Both of these pieces would do well with a heavy dose of REMIX and get these insightful ideas up to snuff in the 21st century. 

Mutilingualism & Multiliteracies in Writing

This week we took a closer look into both writing instruction for multilingual students, as well as the significance of multiliteracies in 21st century teaching and learning.  Our agenda slides:

Writing instruction for multilingual students

Thanks Jessie for taking up a thorough consideration of Teaching Composition in the Multi Language World (Matsuda).  Your coverage of the article layed the ground work for an important les on the field of writing in general, and the choice to share a video from a vintage ESL class was quite telling in terms of the complex cultural territory we cover when we consider the politics of language instruction in general.  A sense of legitimacy and power conferred in the mastery of language (in writing) requires a certain kind of determination (twice the time!), as well as a ceaseless supply of intellectual curiosity.  Yet Writing Centers, tutors, first year Comp programs often create learning environments where the ELL student is an afterthought.  There is little preparation and even less effective policy that truly supports this vast population of learners.  This is a truth despite the dramatic diversity of our local context.  Our own NJ could very well be more multilingual that the UN (or at least on par).  And still, we have little in place to support this multi-linguistic reality in our shared learning contexts.  Our discussion revealed that the ELL reality is not for the faint of heart.  To learn institutionally under such limited resources while experiencing a  dismissal of any previous global, cultural, multi-linguistic knowledge often becomes part of a sting of stigmatization & “remediation”.  What remains is a profound challenge that is rarely confronted comprehensively (whether by educators or institutions).  I think it is important to acknowledge the psychic truth of ELL experience.  For any academic consideration of these issues (through theory) should always be rooted in a compassionate understanding of that inherent struggle.  What is clear that we need further support from a professional development standpoint.


Thanks to Tom for introducing us to the Cope & Kalantzis article.  Their work is overall a focus on the importance of multiliteracies that should indeed fuel our teaching and learning in this day and age. The term ‘multiliteracies’ refers to two major aspects of language use today – the first is the variability of meaning-making in different cultural, social or domain-specific contexts. These differences are becoming ever more significant in our communications.  The second aspect of language use today arises in part from the characteristics of new media. Meaning is made now in ways that are increasingly multimodal.  This new media environment makes it possible for discourse communities to diverge.  Writers can find and develop voices that are truer to their evolving selves.  For example – identity-speak, academic-speak, profession-speak, peer-speak, diaspora-speak, generation-speak, fad-speak, affinity-speak.  New media (via our multiliteracies) intensifies the logic of “discourse divergence” (our different ways of communicating). In short, the result is that our knowledge and culture(s) become more fluid, contestable and open. Cope & Kalantzis contend that discourses become less mutually intelligible, and we need to put more effort into cross-cultural dialogues in order to get things done, and to understand eachother.  This is an easy-to-see point.  But I think one of the important take aways from this article includes this observation:  One of the great paradoxes of today’s era of globalisation is that we are undoubtedly becoming more closely interconnected in many respects: communications, media, trade, travel, capital flows, knowledge flows and culture flows.  But we are also simultaneously making ourselves more different.  For this reason we need to learn to become discerning, ethical navigators of our new media environment, avoiding the harm to self and others that can also accompany the shift in the balance of agency.


Please remember that there are “scholarships” to attend the conference (available when registering), so the #OpenEd20 conference might be a wonderful way to expand your horizons and learn from many next week!

Your to do list:

Vote!!!  (I know most of you have already done this.  I voted about three or four weeks ago.  Still, just a friendly reminder to participate in our democratic process.

Read: The Erasure of the Sentence by Robert Connors (Diana’s selection)

Read: Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar by Patrick Hartwell (Maura’s selection)

Blog #8 Due- Reflection on the Connors & Hartwell readings

Have a great week, and remember to be patient with your self, with others, and with the processes-in-play.

See you next Monday,

Dr. Zamora