Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer Blogging

What has me writing today is the thought that school starts in about 6 weeks, and I have a ton of ideas to process before it starts. I'm teaching three different classes next year: in the fall, I will be teaching English I and English II; in the spring, I will be teaching English I and a yet-to-be-titled seminar. This will be my second year as a high-school teacher; I have been reflecting on my experience as a first-year teacher and hope to improve upon last year's performance.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about grammar this summer. I'm working on a grammar manual for the sophomores with one of my colleagues. Our English II grammar program is in desperate need of an overhaul -- the book we have been using is out-of-date and doesn't provide enough explanations. So we've been writing up a bunch of explanations. Now I'm putting off creating practice sentences. From what I understand, the grammar modules of English I and English II at my school were developed independently of the literature components; only later (and long before my arrival at the school) were they coalesced into one course. This combination has left a gap between learning grammar and applying it to writing. I'm thinking about asking my students to look at grammar not as some awful other thing, but as necessary for good writing.

But what other real-world applications can we find for grammar? It is easy to explain in terms of a foreign language: if you do not know the grammar, you will not be able to communicate effectively. Why is this a difficult idea to get across to native speakers (particularly 14-year-old native speakers)?

I'm also spurred to consider these ideas by reading Understanding By Design. Dana Huff's excellent blog turned me on to this book this summer (check out her "reading journal" for UbD here), and while I've been reading only very slowly, I can see that Wiggins and McTighe have a great system. The kinds of questions they ask us to consider are exactly the sorts of things I have been wanting to ask my colleagues over the last year: To what end are we reading the books we're reading? What do we want the kids to get out of our classes? How can we make the readings and assignments relevant?

I'm hoping to join the UbD Educators wiki with some lesson plans, as soon as I finish reading the book. I'm particularly interested in figuring out some grammar-related plans for the freshmen and sophomores.


Clay Burell said...

Hi there,
For what it's worth, I think there's a lot of potential in using Diigo to clip student grammar errors for an "authentic" collection of common mistakes for students to look at.

I played with this when reading my students' blogs last year. See a comma splice? Highlight and save it, tag it "CS" or whatever, and you've got a growing stock of examples for use in a million ways - discussion, correction exercises, quizzes, whatever. (Though I'm skeptical about direct instruction to actually do much to improve grammar, and the research seems to back this up, at least for ESL students.)

I like to frame writing instruction on the sentence level not in terms of grammar, which gives me hives as well as students, but of _style_. There's a book by Barron's called _The Art of Styling Sentences_ that I'm trying to make work in the classroom to get students not to write merely correctly (safe writing is boring writing), but stylishly. It has 20 basic sentence patterns, many with variations (pattern 1a, 1b, etc), that it presents in terms of form and rhetorical purpose.

Want a dramatic pause? Use an em-dash or colon. Want good rhythm? Use balanced serial pairs. Or interrupters - like this one - inside of long dashes mid-sentence. Etc.

The nice thing is, the earlier patterns are _positive_ ways to teach the correct forms that most grammar errors (CS, R-O, frag) violate. So you're covertly teaching grammar without saying the "G-word." *snore*

If you go to the Flat World Tales wiki, there should be a link to "Sentence Patterns" _way_ down at the bottom of the left-column navigation pane. (If it's not there, click "history" and see an earlier version of the page in, say, May or June.) It has student-produced mini-lessons on the first ten patterns or so. Some good, some not, as usual.

But it will give you an idea, if you're interested.

I'm interested in the 1001 Tales teachers developing some multimedia mini-lessons based on 6 Traits writing to create a library of video-on-demand mini-lessons for each stage of the 1001 FWT workshop (each trait, in other words).

I think that would be valuable, fun, and interesting.


I left a note on the Global Cooling Collective, by the way :)

Ms. Metaphor said...

Hi Clay,

Thanks for all the ideas. I'll see if I can incorporate some of them into my plans. I'm not sure I'm up for the multimedia mini-lessons just yet. As I mentioned in my post, I'm still relatively new to teaching at the level I'm teaching. I want to have time to have a life, after all, and I have plenty to do this fall, tech-wise. Thanks for the invitation!