BFTP: Grammar is good for you - relevance and teaching

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OK, I ranted on this same topic not long ago, but I found this old post which is better...
  1. Grammatical errors are distracting.
  2. Grammatical errors interfere with clarity.
  3. Although exceptions abound, there is a correlation between seniority and literacy.
  4. Just as “Loose lips sink ships,” according to the World War II poster, gruesome grammar hurts happiness.
  5. People who don’t like you will point out your errors to attack you and undermine your position.
  6. “Bad writing makes bright people look dumb,” as William Zinsser once observed so succinctly.
  7. Too many little errors will make you seem careless, sloppy and slovenly.
  8. A single big error, such as writing, “My principle concern is …” when it should be “My principal concern is …” will make readers (a least some readers) think you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  9. Errors annoy people, as I annoyed Paula in my last column when I wrongly questioned the use of “secrete” in this sentence: “The offenders range from international banks to small-town mortgage lenders, which together helped secrete more than 10,000 U.S.-related accounts holding more than $10 billion.” (Paula wrote: “I grabbed my trusty Oxford dictionary and there it was as a secondary definition of secrete: ‘conceal, put into hiding.’ I’m used to people who think they’re smarter than everyone else and often show their ignorance by not verifying their facts before blasting others. But for you to join in the bashing on this common of a word was troubling.”)
  10. Good grammar will make people want to go out with you, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, as it made Katy von Kühn want to go out with her future husband, Sam, when she saw his posting on a dating site: “The whole reason I responded to Sam was the way he formulated his e-mail.”

Top 10 reasons you should learn to use proper grammar, Stephen Wilbers, Star Tribune, November 15, 2015

While I am by no means a perfect grammarian, I'm good. (And I know as I write this that I will make a grievous error somewhere in this post.) I did not learn parallel construction, passive voice, subject-verb agreement, and the differences among their, there, and they're as a student. I learned them as I taught the subjects to high school students during my years as a classroom teacher.

Warriner's English Grammar and Composition was my textbook and I used it like crazy, moving chapter by chapter, exercise by exercise. As I remember, this is more or less what the book looked like 40 years ago. A merciful god has since seen to it that the text is now out of publication, but 1946 to 1987 is a pretty good run for a textbook to be in print. I must not have been the only teacher in its thrall.

Despite my primitive and probably ineffective teaching methods and materials, I always liked teaching grammar because I felt it was in my students' best interest that they become proficient in its application. While not being able to articulate as many reasons for its importance as Wilbers does in the quote above, I convinced more than a few of my students that their success in life would rely heavily on being good communicators - and good communicators needed good grammar.

Until teachers understand "why" what they are teaching is in their best students' interest (WIIFM), those in their classrooms or online courses will be bored, tuned out, and quite possibly disruptive. Might lack of relevance be the reason why so many students turn to their electronic devices in the classroom when these "distractions" offer activities of interest?

I'd make a terrible history teacher. I love history but would have a tough time making a case for its importance to students. Same with calculus and coding and physics and Latin. But all of us need to make the case in meaningful ways for the importance of our lessons in kids' lives. If we can't, we should seriously ask just why the hell we're teaching.

Original post 11/20/15


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