In “Grammar, Grammers, and the Teaching of Grammers,” Patrick Hartwell poses interesting questions about the intentions of educational research. He suggests that the very basis of this discussion is designed to perpetuate the debate, regarding formal grammar., not resolve it. Grammarians and anti-grammarians. Transformational or traditional. Magical thinking or alchemy. Cognitive or linguistic. Many studies are presented in the reading representing different periods of the past century, bouncing back and forth from one side of the argument to the other. In conclusion, Hartwell illustrates that the teaching of formal grammar does not fare very well. At best the evidence is inconclusive, at worst it doesn’t help at all and perhaps inhibits a student’s ability to write well. Hartwell’s intention is to ask what he considers the right questions, with the intention to shed light on issues, terms and maybe most importantly, assumptions.
Grammar based instruction has a model that is rigidly skills based. The formal teaching of grammar (sentence structure, diagramming, etc) is the first step in that sequence and acts as the cornerstone. With that, Hartwell brings the reader’s focus to the key elements of the grammar controversy: sequence in the teaching of composition and the role of the teacher. Traditional sequencing unfolds in the following way: First Grammar followed by an absolute model of organization all controlled by an omnipotent teacher at the center. The idea of style does not enter the picture until much later in this paradigm. Without a doubt, this is the way I learned composition in grade school and high school. Or I should say, this is the way they taught composition. I struggled with grammar lessons, and wrestled with organization in an abstract way. But the whole experience was dominated by the intimidation of the teacher. But I have no question that this form of teaching lead to what Hartwell later refers to as teaching error and nurturing confusion (Thomas Friedman, p.120). After graduating high school, I spent an endless amount of time reading, and developing my own literacy. I was working in an environment where there were a lot of different kinds of people and so I was developing communication skills and by default my own rhetoric. As an adult being back in school, I have finally learned to write. The scarring from those elementary school grammar lessons finally have begun to fade.
I appreciated the breakdown of different categories of grammar. Although, it remains clear as mud I am afraid.
Grammar 1:(P111) Three features include 1) the grammar in our heads. The internalized system of rules. A tacit and unconscious knowledge. 2) The abstract and even counterintuitive nature of these rules, particularly in relation to our ability to express them in terms of grammar 2 rules. 3)The way in which the form of one’s Grammar 1 seems profoundly impacted by the acquisition of literacy.
Grammar 2: (p114) A scientific model of Grammar 1. The branch of linguistic science that is concerned with the description, analysis and formulization of formal language patterns. Not to be confused with the stable entity it is often presented as. It is an attempt to approximate the rules of grammar 1. However, these rules are continuously in flux depending on the dominant research of the time.
Grammar 3: (p121) Linguistic etiquette. This relates specifically to the usage of grammar. Usage issues which tend to be linguistically unnatural departures from the grammar in our heads.
Grammar 4: (p119)Rules of grammar. I am personally not clear on what distinguishes grammar 1 from grammar 4. However, the author refers to grammar 4 as incantations and a complete sham. Perhaps the reader was not supposed to gain clarity?!
Grammar 5:(p120) Stylistic grammar. Grammatical terms used in the interest of prose. Romantic. Classic. Philosophical theory of language as opposed to linguistic.
According to Hartwell, above all, writers need to develop skills at two levels and can be developed in any language activity that enhances awareness of language as language.
1)Broadly rhetorical. Strategies, and procedures for communicating in a meaningful way.
2)The ability to actively manipulate language with conscious attention to surface form.
This seems to dovetail with themes in previous readings. The gem out of this reading for me was the idea of language being “verbal clay….to be molded, and probed, shaped and reshaped, and, above all, enjoyed (Kolln, p 125)”
I was very excited by some themes that Hartwell raised and would like to revisit them:
• Those who dismiss formal grammar instruction as the cornerstone have a model of instruction that is focused around a complex interaction of learner and environment in mastering literacy. (P108) I personally believe that teachers are the guardians of learning threshold. That interaction between learner and educator can be magical.
• Hyperliterate perception of the value of formal rules. Most students reading their writing aloud will self-correct a majority of grammar 2 errors. Hyperliterate is such an interesting way to frame things.
• Mastering codes from top down (issues of voice, tone, register and rhetorical strategy). Not bottom up (grammar usage, to usage, to fixed forms of organization)
Tacit: understood or implied without being stated.
Posit: assume as a fact; put forth as a basis of argument.
Orthography: the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage.