The Importance of Grammar

Scholars have been debating the role grammar should play in writing instruction since the 1960's when Braddock said 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 actual composition even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing (Warner 76). Here we have one of the first arguments relating to the importance of grammar and the way that it is being taught. The grammar construct has been questioned and argued about by many writers such as Jean Sanborn, Anne L. Warner, Kenneth Lindblom and Patricia A. Dunn, Constance Weaver, and Martha Kolln, but not much has been changed. So where do we go from here? Is grammar really that important and do we need it to be perceived as intelligent individuals? If so, should we learn it through the use of handbooks or is there a more efficient way? If we should teach it, what age is appropriate? These are all questions that have influenced the ongoing conversation about Grammar. I argue that there is a specific time to teach grammar and that there are specific times and places when the importance of grammar should be raised or lowered.

Why do we teach Grammar if the students don t get it ? From at least the 19th century up until the latter end of the 20th, students in English classes were taught grammar through precise instructions and rules of the grammar handbooks. I

personally envision children in the 50 s being slapped on the wrist for forgetting a comma wrong here or an apostrophe there. The strict use of the handbook has been stressed year after year through generations, condemning kids for their errors. Back in the early 1900 s, students had hard lives where they had to walk miles to school in crappy weather, go to school while working on farms, or were apart of a wealthy family who demanded importance of success from school. All these types of students were disciplined to do well in school to help out the family or to keep the high status name of the family. If disciplined students from the early 1900 s, whose circumstances demanded a hard work ethic in school, were always punished for misusing grammar, wouldn t that motivate them to study harder? This means that its not just a boring subject, which to many it still is, but, I believe that the problem is, that no matter what era we are in, students until at least late years of high school, just don t comprehend the skill and drill of grammar. If this were not true, then why do students learn the same thing year after year in school? As Warner says, It seems the educational establishment doesn't expect students to "get it." Can any of us imagine a math or science curriculum where the same material is presented and drilled year after year as is the case in grammar textbooks? (Warner 77). Weather someone argues for or against teaching grammar for whatever reason, they cannot deny this argument. The number of students that don t understand is far too high when teaching the rules of grammar. Warner, in her article, If the Shoe No Longer Fits , also includes research from psychologists Jean Piaget and Laurence Kohlberg among others, that suggests individuals develop cognitive reasoning at different times in their life. In her research, she found that only some adults and adolescents

reach the highest levels of formal operational thinking. This level of thinking could be the level of thinking needed to understand the fundamentals of grammar (Warner 77). If this is true then why, at such young ages, does the education system INSIST on teaching grammar? If this research is true, then it seems ridiculous to teach grammar at these ages. Rather, grammar should be taught at a much later age such as the last year of high school and through college. In these latter years, students will have the conceptual ideas and skills of how to write, therefore, can move onto how to perfect their writing. In these later years, students will begin to understand the importance of grammar because they are getting closer to the time when they need jobs. If we scare off and discourage students from writing with more correct grammar when they are young, then we are only hurting them for their life in the real world.

In Analyzing Grammar Rants , by Kenneth Lindblom and Patricia A. Dunn, they also argue that there is a certain time to teach grammar even if that isn t during adolescence. They state, Whether we like it or not, powerful people make value judgments about other people s intelligence based on language use. Young writers and speakers must learn that the forms of language they choose will be judged, sometimes harshly, by their audiences, and their ability to appear intelligent will be affected by their audiences opinions of their language choices (Lindblom and Dunn 72). As explained above, the desired result expected from teaching grammar is that students can become better writers so that they accumulate good and proper communication skills in hopes that they can be accepted into the real adult world. On the other hand, if students do not recognize error, as stated, they will not be seen

as professionals or even educated in the eyes of their employers and it can hurt their credibility. If we are to look at grammar in this way, we must take into consideration the importance of grammar. Larry Beason, in his article, Ethos and Error , describes the importance of error outside of the handbook use of the classroom. He says, Errors must be defined not just as textual features breaking handbook rules but as mental events taking place outside the immediate text (35). Beason conducted a study of 14 business people, both men and women, who have positions such as vice presidents, Regional Managers, Managers of offices, and such. He asked a series of questions to see how these subjects reacted to certain errors. His research concluded that errors usually range from somewhat bothersome to extremely bothersome to these individuals. He says, The interviews suggest that the extent to which errors harm the writer s image is more serious and far-reaching than many students and teachers might realize (Beason 48). If the students can t be seen as credible and effective employers, then they cannot be successful in the business world.

From this point, we have seen that younger education students do not understand grammar because their cognitive understanding just wont allow it. We have also seen that grammar and the elimination of error is very important in the business world and that and individual will have a very hard time surviving in it if they cannot recognize their error. So what do we do? We must find a way to teach students the importance of productive writing in the English language in a way that they can learn to recognize error that is bothersome to their future bosses. What

has been stated and proven by evidence is that teaching grammar from the handbook has a very low improvement rate in the writing of students. In Jean Sanborn s article, Good Wine Before It s Time , she states her ideas on how the understanding of grammar should be acquired. She states, What is important in school is not grammatical analysis or the teaching of as yet undeveloped forms but continuing performance in all aspects of language reading writing, speaking, listening-which will encourage, not teach, syntactic maturity. Language continues to develop through the use of language, not through exercises in the naming of parts (Sanborn 74). Students are just not getting it, but that doesn t mean that we can just get rid of grammar and leave our students and future world without knowing any since of writing. My thought is this: the people in the world can effectively perform well enough without having understood the proper use of grammar that was taught to them while they were in school, so what is it that the teachers could be doing now that portray how to write effectively? It is exactly what Sanborn says; the students learn through the use of language! What if teachers spent more time teaching and using the language through reading books, essays, poems, etc., creative writing, and speaking? In To Grammar or Not To Grammar , Constance Weaver et al. say Both our personal teaching experiences and the findings of research studies support the conclusion that most students do not benefit from grammar study in isolation from writing, if indeed our purpose in teaching grammar is to help students improve their writing (e.g., Hillocks and Smith, 1991) (18). Teachers can teach grammar through the use of language in a rhetorical way.

Martha Kolln writes about the use of rhetorical grammar and says, I use it to designate a purpose that is different from the remedial, error-avoidance or errorcorrection purpose of so many grammar lessons. I use rhetorical as a modifier to identify grammar in the service of rhetoric: grammar knowledge as a tool that enables the writer to make effective choices (29). Rhetorical grammar is used to emphasize whom you are writing for and what parts of the writing you want to be emphasized. Teachers want to point our error after error, but a person in the employment world could write a wordy essay with all perfect grammar and be denied because they did not write in a way that was suitable for the intended audience. Therefore, the concepts of our writing are more important. In the article Why Revitalize Grammar , the authors argue that the students need to understand the complexity of analyzing rhetorical situations so that they can make sophisticated decisions about audience, purpose, and voice. The authors paraphrase Donald Daiker and write, Effective writing is not effective due to an absence of error. Effective writing works because it achieves its purposes with the particular audience for whom it was intended to work (Lindblom and Dunn 44). The students must learn to write in a rhetorical way to try to reach their audience. This concept, I believe, comes before understanding how to understand grammar charts. After understanding this concept, then I think that students can learn to appreciate how the use of grammar can help them to have an even greater rhetorical effect. John Dawkins describes the use of Grammar as a rhetorical tool used to place emphasis on certain parts of a sentence. He uses a principal called raising and

lowering in which clauses are more or less separated by the use of punctuation. If emphasis should maximum, a period or a semi- colon would be used If the emphasis should be medium, a colon or dash would be used and a comma or nothing for minimum emphasis (WAW 147). The higher or more abrupt punctuation like a period causes more separation, more of a pause than a lower mark like a comma. For example, compare these two sentences: She wanted to go to the store- until she lost her money. And She wanted to go to the store until she lost her money. Until she lost her money was emphasized because of the dash. The second sentence, which had no pronunciation, was given much less emphasis. Dawkins describes grammar as a use of how we want readers to read our writing instead of using a bunch of rules so that we are handbook correct. He says Learning to punctuate effectively requires only a little knowledge of grammar, much less than most English teachers will grant (WAW 150). He goes on to say that we need to understand what independent and dependent clauses are but we know this based on everyday speaking, reading and writing. Rhetorical grammar is very useful, but at some point, students will be able to better understand the handbook and use it as a guideline, especially when they are in the business world. The point, is that they just cant understand until that age. Weaver et al., perhaps, explain it best. For us, the question is not a simple dichotomy, To grammar or not to grammar? Rather, the question is, What aspects of grammar can we teach to enhance and improve students writing, and when and how can we best teach them? In the context of writing is our short answer, but we keep learning more ways as we keep taking risks as teachers (Weaver,

McNally, and Moerman 19). In other words, there are certain parts of grammar that students can understand at a certain age and those should be used to enhance their writing but those parts need to be taught in context of using the language. There is more of a process than making students memorize grammar rules. It must come through the students using grammar in their everyday language. The teaching of grammar should come in certain doses at certain times. Conclusion We have seen the argument that grammar is an essential part to the English language. It is, but with in reason. We have seen how it has been taught over and over again to students, taking away the time they get to actually learn and grow in knowledge because they just don t get it . Also, we have seen how important it is in the business world that we can write and speak with very little error so that we can be held credible and seen professional. In between times, teachers have to teach how to put a sentence together in some way; the most effective is to teach rhetoric writing where the emphasis is placed on certain words or phrases to bring awareness to the reader. Finally, we see that there is a problem and that our education system is wasting time teaching grammar to children over and over again. If time is spent teaching the language through reading, writing, and speaking the language, the students will understand better and eventually be in practice of the language where they can come to understand grammar to benefit their future opportunity and credibility. As I have stated, through my research and experience as a previous high school student, I think that grammar should be taught at the very end of high school

and through college. Hopefully at this point, students will have had a long enough experience with the language that they can begin to understand how to more effectively write though the use of grammar. Also, at this point, students will be more concerned with their future and want to eliminate as much error as possible so that they can prepare themselves as credible potential business men and women. The more grammar is pushed at young ages, the more the students will be pushed away. Leave grammar to be taught senior year of high school and through out college when their minds are at the peak where they can truly understand and appreciate how to use grammar.

Works Cited Beason, Larry. "How Business People React to Errors." National Council of Teachers of English. 53.1 (2001): 33-64.

Dawkins, John. Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool. College Composition and communication 46.4 (1995) 533-48. Print.

Kolln, Martha. "Rhetorical Grammar:A Modification Lesson." National Council of Teachers of English. 85.7 (1996): 25-31.

Weaver, Constance; McNally, Carol, and Moerman, Sharon. "To Grammar or Not to Grammar: That is Not the Question!." Voices from the middle. 8.3 (2001): 17-33.

Lindblom, Kenneth, and Dunn Patricia. "Analyzing Grammar Rants: An Alternative to Traditional Grammar Instruction." English Journal. 95.5 (2006): 71-77.

Lindblom, Kenneth, and Dunn Patricia. "Why Revitalize Grammar?." National Council of Teachers of English. 92.3 (2003): 43-50.

Sanborn, Jean. "Good Wine before Its Time." National Council of Teachers of English. 75.3 (1986): 72-80.

Warner, Ann. "If The Shoe No Longer Fits, Wear It Anyway?." National Council of Teachers of English. 82.5 (1993): 76-80.

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