Grammar Should Be Secondary For Composition Teachers

1263 words - 5 pages

I have a knack for creating a series of run-on sentences and calling them an essay. I have a knack for beginning sentences with And or But. I also have a writing degree. I still have not mastered the use of the comma and somehow the Academy granted me that little piece of paper anyway. You, reader, may be wondering my point. My point is this: that despite my ill-formed paragraphs and run-on sentences I have existed and prospered within the formal writing environment. And so, I was elated to read Patrick Hartwell’s essay that contests that teaching grammar has a negligible effect on the development of a student writer (183).

Clearly, there are different types of grammar, which Hartwell distinguishes in his essay. Borrowing from Francis’ “The Three Meanings of Grammar,” and his lengthy definition of grammar in three parts, Hartwell extends to the five categories of grammar. In dissecting grammar, Hartwell divides and conquers the argument that formal grammatical training is of great use to a developing writer. Instead, Hartwell sees grammar as a recognition tool, a way to keep the writer and reader on the same page. It is a tool of orientation rather than a prerequisite for “good writing.”

Harvey Davis, an author I found by way of Hartwell’s end-notes, makes a great distinction between the necessity of grammar texts for educators and students. In his book, Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis Reconsidered, Daniels recognizes that grammar books, “while they may be good for the publishing business, and may comfort anxious teachers, they are unlikely to help students much” (241). Books devoted to the teaching of grammar or the integration of grammar into writing programs simply create names for lessons and rules already used by students. Grammatical terminology does not improve the quality of student writing. For some students there is the possibility that learning the names of the rules may create a more organized way of remembering how to “properly” construct sentences, paragraphs, and on down the line. But knowing these monikers certainly does not change the quality of student writing. The ability to recognize the rule of subject-verb agreement does not create more insightful and intriguing arguments or story lines.

Other than spelling there should be less of a focus on the rules of writing, and more of a concentration on the production of writing. The only way to grow as a writer is to write. The “regularity” of grammar will come by way of recognition of how we speak, rather than how we write. One major goal of writing is to engage both the writer and reader in a topic- leading to a better or new understanding of a field of study or opinion. If we spend time working with the sequential element of grammar, we lose the scattered growth of writing craft. As Hartwell mentions, to remove formal grammar study creates a “rich and complex interaction of learner and environment that has little to so with sequences of skills instruction...

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