All posts by Michelle Mundt

Writing Good and Why that is Considered “Good but not Great.”

“It’s Thursday! Take out your grammar books.” As the teacher says this, a bystander would probably feel the loud cacophonous student mindset of “Noooo!”, ricocheting off the walls of the classroom (however it is only stated out-loud by the audacious few). Why is grammar today so despised? Geoffrey Numberg offers that perhaps it is because “Imperfect grammar is not much of a stumbling block, even on the road to high office.” In the vernacular, he is saying that one doesn’t need perfect grammar in order to become a success story. This may be the answer as to why there is a lack of motivation among students. However, I believe that the river of detestation for grammar runs much deeper than that. I thoroughly agree with Numberg when he reflects that, “The point of traditional grammar was to demonstrate a way of thinking about grammatical problems that encouraged thoughtful attention to language, not to canonize a set of arbitrary rules and structures.” Traditional grammar reflected ones thinking. It was a way to “Update your facebook status to the world.” Through your speech, you were profiled, judged, and talked about. In the academy awarded movie, My Fair Lady, a cockney flower girl is able to improve her lexicon and her syntax significantly. This enhancement transforms her into a demure Victorian lady complete with an aristocratic accent. By changing the way she spoke, she was able to increase her social rank and hoodwink people into believing she was aristocratic.  This is what traditional grammar was. It was more than a set of rules. It was a mindset—a way of life. People that spoke beautifully were expected to be beautiful high profile members of society.

It seems that today, the point of grammar has changed from showing veneration to a way of life (and at the same time proving one’s intelligence), to a lower subspecies of rules that are followed only when convenient. To me, this reflects the period of our time. Communication is expected to be fast and instantaneous. For someone to put thought into their communication they would need time and effort. This time and effort, in today’s society, would be considered a waste. As for me, I enjoy reading Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. Can thought and effort be put into language without having immaculate grammar? I think so. However, no matter how broad minded one is, reading ,“Ta b or naw ta b dAttt IZZ da quesshuNN” must give us pause (perhaps not for the right reasons). Whether you like it or not, your syntax and your writing is a reflection of who you are.  Correct syntax is the icing to the cake of a cogent ideology.

What Students Benefit Through

When Amy Ivers visited my English 488 class to discuss the logistics of our classroom teaching, she mentioned that her students were very much involved in farming and football. Because of this, I ruminated on a way to make learning a thesis statement more relevant to a student who had this type of background. I decided to draw a parallel between a thesis statement and to a quarterback as well as to a John Deere tractor. In the outline I handed out to the students, I  wrote, “A good thesis is like a quarterback. The team needs him in order to make touchdowns, but he can’t do it without the support of his team. In the same way, in order to answer the question (or make touchdowns), you need to support your answer (the team supports the quarterback).  The other example I used was that “A good thesis is like a John Deere tractor. This powerful tractor can plow a field, but it can’t do it without diesel. In the same way, in order to answer the question (or plow fields, you need to support your answer (the way diesel supports the tractor). These parallels worked very well. When I handed out the outlines, I asked my group of 4 students how many lived on a farm. Two students replied that they did. I then asked how many of the students were involved in football. One student played football, while another two students played soccer (one student was involved in both farming and soccer).  When the students saw the link between thesis writing and an extracurricular that they enjoyed, they seemed to perk an interest in the subject. They readily volunteered to read out loud and were quick to fill out the organizer in a cogent and clear manner. I am very happy in this because the students’ disinterest  in writing was something I worried about.