Grammar Night!

Our agenda: 

Time to think about grammar…

Thanks to Diana for really moving “grammar night” into high gear with her thorough presentation on The Erasure of the Sentence by Robert Connor.  With this article, we delved into new territory encompassing the science of language (or linguistics), and a deeper dive into the significance of syntax in writing.  This article examined the sentence-based pedagogies that arose in composition during the 1960s and 1970s, the “generative rhetoric” of Francis Christensen, “imitation exercises”, and sentence-combining.  Diana shared this bit of composition studies history, revealing that these three pedagogies have been completely elided within contemporary writing studies.  The usefulness of these sentence-based and syntax-based approaches was never disproved.  Yet, a growing wave of anti-formalism and anti-empiricism within composition studies after 1980 doomed them to the margins of the field (a place in which these methodologies – in all honesty – remain today). The result of this erasure of sentence pedagogies is a culture of writing instruction that has very little to do with, or to say about, the sentence (outside of a purely grammatical discourse).  I especially enjoyed Diana’s “warm-up” grammar exercises which had us all wondering what mistakes we might make.  And I am so glad that Diana selected this article for us to grapple with, because I think it is rather telling when it comes to understanding the trends and influences of the field overall.

Next up Maura did not disappoint with a smart and engaging discussion Grammar, Grammars, and Teaching Grammar (Hartwell).  
Scholars have been arguing for decades whether grammar should be taught formally in schools.  Some research suggests that teaching grammar does nothing to improve composition. Other scholars insist that grammar is basic and necessary, and that we face a literacy crisis today partly because of poor grammar instruction. But one thing the article does make clear is that much research has been done on this topic. 75 years’ worth of research, and yet, the issue of whether grammar is foundational to writing instruction still remains unresolved.  I love how Maura had us consider the constraints/limits of grammar instruction by having us think “outside of the box” regarding language acquisition.  Her video example, which included an immersive approach and playful/interactive experimentation, was clearly the antithesis of the traditional dry grammar lesson.  No doubt, as we read Hartwell together, we have come to apprehend that the complexities of linguistic tradition(s) and language acquisition makes it difficult to pinpoint a “perfect formula” for the role grammar must play in writing pedagogy.  Perhaps formal grammar instruction pedagogy should be overhauled (and served in small digestible doses) instead of scrapped altogether.  But it is clear that effective writing instructors know there is not just one way to learn, and we shouls strive to accommodate different learners in schools and universities with various classroom procedures and pedagogies.  I am pleased we finished our evening discussion by thinking further about what is at stake in upholding the primacy of grammar as a set of universal rules that must always be followed in order to be understood.  By acknowledging the implicit politics embedded in language use and acquisition, we must also apprehend how grammar instruction has served as a gatekeeping mechanism in education.  How has an emphasis on grammar in writing (above all else) failed to account for the emotional harm and internalized shame that comes from being a linguistic “outsider”?  And how has traditional grammar instruction played a role in certain kinds of linguistic violence?  These are difficult yet important questions to consider.

Another #unboundeq event you are invited to this week!

Your to do list for next week:

Read: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries by Peter Elbow (Bailey’s selection)

Read: The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit (Kefah’s selection)

Blog #9:  Reflection on the Elbow & Delpit readings 

Have a wonderful week and weekend.  Remember to pace yourself.  Thanksgiving is right around the corner!



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