Camila – Teaching College Writing

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Beyond Grammar

Filed under: Uncategorized — camilamsantos at 11:46 pm on Sunday, November 6, 2011

I found Evan’s “Beyond Grammar” an insightful and simple approach to teaching grammar in the classroom. After reading my students’ papers, I identified many grammatical sentences that didn’t add much meaning to their thesis, while some of their most original ideas had been expressed in completely ungrammatical sentences (Evans, 294). I’ve been asking myself how I can help bridge this gap in their writing development. How can I help them articulate their thoughts with language that is clear and logical–without actually spending half of our class time on a grammar lesson?

I currently teach Portuguese to American students and I have also taught ESL to young adults. The difference between a student that is learning another language and a student that is in a composition class is that foreign language students are quite obsessed with learning grammar.  So if I were to give a grammar lesson, it would REALLY be a grammar lesson (for example, when would they use the present perfect progressive?). I have no experience teaching English grammar to native speakers, let alone to a mix of native and non-native speakers. Also, I was in the non-native speakers’ shoes throughout my childhood and after 25 years, I still get in, on, and at mixed up. So when I read Evan’s article, I realized that my approach to grammar (that of a foreign language teacher and let’s face it, a foreigner) does not really apply in my current classroom. If I am to tackle the grammar question in a college class, I need to simplify my approach and help them “understand the way sentences are constructed and manipulated. This will not guarantee good writing, but there is no reason to withhold this information, and for the motivated student, a grasp of sentence structure will make revision easier” (Evans, 293).

I think one way of gauging what needs to be worked on is helping students identify the main SVO structure in English. It might be a great way to pull in the ESL students into the discussion and it could also serve as a review for the native speakers who really do want to improve their writing. I intend to use the exercise on modifying simple sentences as a way to help my students become more aware of the language they are using and how they can improve it. Hopefully, it will at least, make them a little bit more aware.

Evans, Ann. “Beyond Grammar: Linguistics in Language and Writing Courses.” Pedagogy 11:2 (2011): 285-300.

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November 7, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

Thanks for your insights Camila! I also found Evan’s essay immensely helpful, filled with practical advice that we could apply to our classroom, unless most of the readings we’ve been doing thus far. I appreciate that various possible exercises that she outlines and her references to multiple writing guides/texts (which I’ll be looking into further in preparation for next term). I am not quite sure about conducting exercises on morphemes, though I can see their usefulness. Specific exercises on semantics might be secondary may me. I do agree, Camila, that syntax and the basic SVO should become a priority. I learned this one day when my entire class were missing key components of a thesis statement when they tried to paraphrase it. It wasn’t until I find explained SVO and asked the class to identify them that the argument truly came to be understood. As Evan states: “If students see this skeleton clearly, methods of decorating it with modifiers are more easily grasped” (293). I look forward to teaching syntax more closely next term. More importantly, I will tie it with the importance of how language shaped thought (as one of our readings claims). I could possibly see an assignment based on the notion of sociolinguistics as well.


   Yair Solan

November 8, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

Like Camila and Chris, I also found Evans’s article to be among the more helpful readings from this week, particularly because it suggested a number of activities for the classroom which tackle grammar issues as well as the productive way she connected grammar and usage to ideas and not simply as an end in itself. Though there are elements of Evans’s piece that I am less likely to incorporate into my classes (like its discussion of morphology, as Chris mentioned), one of the more interesting points discussed in the article is the section on sociolinguistics which explores “language communities” (296) and nonstandard English practices. I can see this as a potentially useful topic to examine in respect to certain course readings, particularly fiction which might demonstrate both standard and nonstandard English. Even with academic texts, however, it would be quite useful to use this concept to discuss what Evans refers to as “the boundaries between written and spoken language” (297). At one point this semester, my class had briefly discussed the concept of the writerly voice (as opposed to one’s conversational voice), so Evans’s discussion of this subject certainly piqued my interest – and again, this brings us back to the question of how to enable students to develop their own individual, writerly voices, a topic we seem to be constantly grappling with.

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