Thoughts on Grammar

I learned grammar myself by reading voraciously, and remember the long slogging classes of my middle school years diagramming sentences without fondness. I bet I would enjoy it now, as I love word puzzles to distraction, but when I think about those classes all I remember is torpor, droning, and interminable afternoons. I must have doodled and looked out the window through three years of Language Structures, and it wasn’t until years later that I actually committed the rules themselves to memory.

I did learn to love grammar eventually, because I loved playing with syntax as I wrote: the jazz and flow of the sentence, sentences that waddled and skipped through clauses or traversed the light bridge of the semicolon from one idea to the next. Grammar is part of that, and probably shouldn’t be separated so much from the whole of communication, or vilified, or disparaged. Of course, it’s based on convention, and conventions are interesting, both to learn on their own, and to learn how to break most effectively.

I’ve tried many techniques over the years to teach grammar, conventional approaches like worksheets or mini-lessons on specific topics, and felt sometimes like my own enthusiasm might take the students part of the way. Sometimes they loved the grammar best, and we would laugh and talk through the lessons. I don’t know why that is, but it does make it hard to believe that nothing was gained from the old-fashioned grammar lesson. An entirely motivated classroom is something in and of itself, I think.

Meeting one on one in office hours always seemed the most effect way to look at grammar issues, but it doesn’t work as well on Zoom as at a desk in the same room going over a paper together.

I’m going to try sentence combining exercises, as that seems like a fun and interesting assignment, and the practical strategies Harris recommends seem like a helpful way to look at the problem.



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