All posts by Julianne DeSilva

The Evolution of Grammar: How Do We Teach It?

Grammar is often considered to be a boring and frustrating part of an English education for many students.  So many times throughout my middle and high school education grammar lessons were difficult to get through, as we often did not see the value in what we were learning.  For myself, going over “there,” “their,” and “they’re” at least twice every year was tedious, and spending entire class periods discussing when not to use contractions such as “don’t” in essay writing was a waste of time.  These were things that seemed obvious to me, and I never understood why we had to discuss it every single year.

However, in Geoffrey Nunberg’s 1997 article “The Decline of Grammar,” there is a major discussion of how the state of English grammar is declining, and what critics think should be done about it.  Almost two decades after Nunberg’s article, the issue of grammar remains an issue for critics of English as well as English teachers.  As a future teacher, I found it interesting to look at some of the reasoning given by Nunberg for the different outlooks on the evolution of grammar, as it will play a role in any future classes I teach.

Nunberg mentions how English is viewed as a “liberal” art, and yet there is a conservative slant to the issue of grammar.  For many English critics, an evolving grammatical structure to the language is a preposterous idea, and one that is harmful for future generations.  Many view the changing dynamics unfavorably, which causes dissent between those who adopt these changes and those who refuse to do so.  This struggle between two ideals can be seen in schools, where some teachers often try to enforce grammar rules and structures that are fading, while others try to adapt local grammatical structures, like vernacular and technological slang, in their classrooms.

For many students, the issue of when to use certain grammatical practices is often not properly explained.  They are not told that the way they speak with parents, friends, and even teachers is not necessarily the way they should respond to essay questions, which can hinder their chances when it comes to applications for colleges, scholarships, or future jobs.  This learning gap in regards to grammar hurts their future, and while teachers are becoming more accepting of the idea of incorporate vernaculars into their classrooms, the continuing struggle to teach proper grammar affects the students who need it most.

While I believe that language is an evolving being, and we should be teaching our students to adapt to these changes and embrace the vernaculars that are part of their cultures, there is still a gap that prevents students who do not understand the “proper” grammatical forms from succeed.  I believe that teachers, and not just the ones who deal with English, should devote class time to showing students when certain grammatical practices are necessary, and when their typical vernacular will suffice.  By creating a school setting with the same grammatical standards in each subject, students will be able to learn these rules while still using the vernaculars that are more comfortable for them.

Service Learning Reflection

After going into York High School today, I really got a sense of what it’s like to be in a classroom.  My experience working with students is fairly limited, and I really enjoyed working in these small groups.  I think that having only three students in my group made my own transition from student to teacher easier, as I wasn’t expected to get up in front of an entire class and lecture them about writing.  Working with these students, I felt that I used a lot of what we discussed in class, not only in terms of teaching them strategies, but our emphasis on learning each other’s names and listening intently about the subjects we discuss.  I think that these interactions were really useful, because the students seemed to want to talk about what they were planning on writing and sharing their work so far because I tried to be more conversational with them.  I tried to pay attention to each of them, and while I couldn’t exactly get a sense of their learning styles, being able to see what they were struggling with in in that first class period gave me a good idea of what to say about writing.

Now, working on giving feedback on the assignment we did in class, I feel that I am developing a much greater understanding of how to respond to students.  Knowing how sensitive teenagers in high school can be, I think it’s important to really take the time to write out the good and the bad in their work, so that they can see what they have done write and feel good about it instead of feeling dejected with the bad marks on their papers.  I want to be as attentive as possible to their development, and make sure that the feedback I am giving them is going to be useful to them not just for this particular paper, but the rest of the year (and further into the future).  I think that working with these students has given me a better perspective on what it means to truly work with a student, and adapt not only to get them to understand your method of thinking, but to look at how they think and use that to help them improve.

Thoughts and Expectations for Tomorrow

Having never been in a classroom as a teacher, I am pretty nervous about going into York tomorrow.  I feel prepared, and I’m happy that we will be working in small groups as opposed to one 488 student in front of the entire class.  I have been tutoring since the summer, and while the groups are three or four students instead of one, I see it more like working with my student as opposed to working with an entire class, which is much more comforting.  I’m expecting that the students will be able to do the assignment, and I really hope that what I plan to say will make sense to them.  I think that’s probably my biggest concern, but I think that the materials we have prepared both individually and as a class are pretty clear.

I’m expecting the period to go by very quickly, just because I have gotten so used to the amount of time we spend in our college classes, and this is almost half the time.  I hope that we will be able to finish the lesson we have planned, so we will be able to give the students constructive criticism when we return on Thursday. I am thinking that when they write their outline, it might make it easier for them to write a paragraph or introduction, and hopefully the will have at least one finished by the time we have to leave.

Whether or not we get everything done tomorrow, I think the experience is a good introduction to working in a classroom.  I think that just having the experience is worthwhile, because we are actually preparing a lesson and applying it, instead of just observing.