Monday, September 24, 2012

Technology Takes the Bite Out of Grammar!

One of my pet peeves about the teaching of grammar is hearing educators complain year after year that students can't spell, punctuate, distinguish a verb from a noun, write a sentence...
yada, yada, yada. Educators pass the blame from grade to grade, yet many students reach the 12th grade with below average grammar skills unable to write or speak coherently.    

The truth is if students don't have plenty of opportunities to practice and apply a particular grammar skill in context, a million grammar handouts or workbook exercises will not help them retain the basic grammar skills necessary to be an effective writer, speaker, reader, and listener.

If even above average readers who often exhibit an innate ability to decipher language rules struggle with grammar, many of our below average readers just give up on ever learning proper conventions and mechanics because grammar is often presented as a BORING, futile exercise with no real world application. When teachers use grammar as busy work in their emergency substitute plans, or even express their own fears about teaching grammar or writing, we send the message to kids that grammar just bites! 

We can't avoid teaching grammar! We must learn to teach it through writers' workshop, mini lessons, and every chance we get for students to connect the fact that grammar is part of writing, speaking, reading and even listening. We have to find ways to show kids how proper grammar is essential for communication, and how society perceives those who don't speak properly. We must teach students how to carefully analyze written and spoken language in search of those incidental "Teachable Grammar Moments" which exist all around us if we pay attention. Take the AllState insurance commercial slogan with the dangling modifier: "Dollar for dollar, nobody protects you from mayhem, like AllState!" and their older slogan,"You're in good hands". Both of these slogans are real life examples of grammar gone good and bad, and present the perfect occasion to discuss the confusion caused by dangling modifiers, and the most commonly confused contraction and adjective in the English language. Discussions about slang are also a great way to analyze the social stigma improper grammar can create for a job seeker. Students can keep a slang book and find more fitting synonyms, or grammatically correct expressions. Role playing scenarios, such as filling out a job application and interviewing for a job using slang vs. proper grammar help students see that there's a time and place for different types of proper and improper language, and someday their livelihood will be affected by their use of grammar.

Texting and Twitter do not have to undermine grammar instruction. Instead educators can leverage the power of both to reinforce grammar skills since they require students use written language. If anything, I think in some ways students' writing skills have benefitted from the texting craze because they are forced to write, albeit, the writing may not always be correct, but it's our job to help students hone their skills using a technology they enjoy. Assigning students to send grammatically correct texts to each other in class, or translate text language is an excellent way to quash once for all the stereotype that grammar is BORING.    

If we ask students to pay close attention to how grammar is used accurately and inaccurately all around us in signs, ads, commercials, songs, conversation, basically whenever we use language, it's pretty neat to see how kids enjoy the job of becoming grammar police!  We just have to find and present these opportunities for them. Technology makes it easier for us to do so, and for students to create content so they can apply what they learn.

Grammar has been the victim of a smear campaign for decades because it's not taught properly. Students are not always taught to create original content so they can exercise their ability to use a particular grammar skill, but technology can change that. Whenever students create original content using a tech tool, there should always be a written component affording students grammar practice, editing, revision and ultimately, demonstration of mastery of the grammar skill in the final presentation/publication of the content.

Here are some excellent grammar sites for students. But remember, we want students to create content where they apply the grammar skills they are learning. Some sites offering grammar practice can become glorified substitutes of the routine handouts or workbooks, so we must be careful not to trade one for the other.

Grammar has had lots of positive publicity thanks to sites like:
Grammar Girl  
Roxy from North Carolina follows us! 
Please follow @grammardogs on Twitter, and have students, parents, teachers and administrators tweet a picture of a pet(s) with a sentence showing application of a particular grammar skill. For example, here's Roxie from North Carolina showing us how to use state of being and action verbs.   

The goal is to create a gallery of pet photos, organize them by grammar skill, and share them so students can have fun reading and creating original sentences, applying grammar in a real life context! 

Buster, from Virginia follows us!  

Cats are welcomed!
Throw us a bone at @grammardogs 
because grammar doesn't have to bite! 

Check out our Picasa photo gallery!

Here is also an iPad app which allows students to create content and teach their peers.  Check out my "showme" on sentence types! 


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