Archive for the ‘Grammar’ Category

Grammar ain’t everything

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-proofreading-its-error-school-paper-image35290763Studies don’t show that grammar instruction is bad or wrong—only that the systems of grammar instruction used in traditional education have had a deleterious effect on the freedom of self-expression children feel when asked to write (from scratch- original writing).

A grasp of grammar can be fascinating and useful to anyone interested in the systems of language. Knowing how your language functions is fabulous! It’s like knowing the mechanics of a sport—talent gets you a good distance, but mastering the mechanics takes you further, still.

But if you started teaching sports through mechanical perfection, and never let your kids play the game until they showed mastery of the mechanics for any given position, you’d not see much interest in athletics.

Mechanics in sports enhance talent and contribute to skill, but they do not replace hunger to play, commitment, the willingness to risk, and the energy to win!

Likewise, in writing, creative story-telling, inspired vision, quality vocabulary, and masterful recreation of facts does not come from understanding the structure of a sentence. Native speakers are already quite skilled in sentence construction. Enhancing that skill through an understanding of grammar is fine (good, necessary at some point) , but it is no substitute for the writing voice.

The worst side of grammar instruction, though, is the way it creates snobbery in/condescension toward writing. When people prioritize grammar and pride themselves on a flawless understanding of the system, however, their corrections can produce feelings of insecurity, fear, and even anger which work against the free flow of ideas needed to write well. When we put presentation of the writing ahead of the content, we are paying attention to manners ahead of the person. This attitude is the one from which kids shrink. This is the attitude that curbs risk-taking in writing.

It’s great that any of us can identify typos and mistakes in published writing, but that skill doesn’t make anyone inherently superior as a human being. Some of the best writing in history is by individuals who cater to their spoken dialects, giving voice to grammatically “incorrect” usage deliberately, and powerfully.

Accuracy is not more critical than power in writing. It matters to see/read/hear the content ahead of the mistakes in spelling or sentence structure. No one reads a book and says, “What a satisfying read—every comma in its right location, perfectly placed modifiers, lovely use of capitalization, not a single sentence ending in a preposition. I hope there’s a sequel!”

Accurate grammar and punctuation serves a purpose—the proper use of mechanics is invisible, supporting the communication intentions of the writer. But mechanics can’t tell a story by themselves. The original thought lives of writers must be free to explore and express their creative impulses, first. From there, we can help enhance the communication power through a gentle, compassionate, supportive use of grammar instruction.

Power in writing comes from the ability to use, command, and manipulate language. Knowing grammar well enough to surprise, compel, and impact readers ought to be the goal of good grammar instruction, not just accuracy. Accuracy matters, but it’s a subset of power in writing.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Guest Post: Six Proofreading Tips for Homeschoolers

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Proofreading
Image by Julia Manzerova

The following post is by Nikolas Baron

(Note: this guest post is in line with Brave Writer principles, but we don’t necessarily endorse all of the author’s views or associations.)

‘I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn’d) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand.’

Those are the words of 17th century playwright, Ben Jonson, about his friend, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, famously, did not proofread his work, and Jonson was saying that if he had he would have been a much better writer!

All writers make mistakes, but they can’t all get away with them like Shakespeare did. So, though clear and colorful content come first, it’s important for students to know that correcting mistakes is part of the process and that successful writers have trained themselves to edit and proofread their work.

Young writers don’t need to polish every piece of writing they produce, but when they do want to take a story or an essay to completion, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Use a dictionary. Maybe that sounds a bit old-fashioned today, what with all the online help available, but a good dictionary is invaluable and can greatly improve spelling and vocabulary. The same can be said for a thesaurus. The English language is rich in synonyms and using a thesaurus can improve children’s writing immeasurably, as well as increase their awareness of the different ways of saying the same thing.

2. Cheat a little. If children write on the computer, encourage them to use a spellchecker or other online programs that highlight grammatical errors. There’s nothing wrong with a little outside help, and kids can learn from the suggested corrections (emphasis on “suggested,” because it’s okay to break the rules, sometimes).

3. Print it out. Instead of reading a computer screen, print the text. Mistakes can be seen much better that way.

4. Read out loud. Students should read through their work, and the best method is not a silent read through. Our brains tend to see what we think is written rather than what is actually on the page, so the most effective method is to have budding writers read their work aloud. This helps them concentrate on their words in a way that a silent read-through never can. If a sentence runs on and on, children will literally run out of breath when it’s verbalized! They will also hear where those all-important full stops and commas go. Misspelled words will stand out, too. Plus if students have missed a word, or the word order is wrong then they will be able to hear that. English is a highly rhythmic language, so as well as spotting errors more easily, reading out loud helps students decide if their writing “sounds right.”

5. Pick one thing. Proofread for certain features: one read through for spelling, one for full stops, one for commas, and so on.

6. Leave it alone. After finishing a piece of writing have children put it away for a day or two then have them go back and read it through once more. They’ll spot mistakes they missed the first time round, and they’ll also be able to decide if the structure of the piece needs altering.

Using some or all of these techniques will help students polish their writing, and pretty soon they’ll be using them automatically every time they put fingers to keyboard or pick up a pen.

Happy proofreading!

Nikolas Baron is a freelance writer. He works for Grammarly.com –an online program that not only checks spelling but also gives useful advice about commas, full stops, and other tricky punctuation features.

Capitals, periods, and commas, oh my!

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

punctuation_capitalization

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Julie.
Any way to get my 11 y.o. to remember capitals and periods? He can remember when we do dictation (because that and neatness are my main emphasis with dictation) but when he is doing his own writing he can’t seem to remember, and when I ask him to go back over his writing he gets stressed. Oddly enough he sometimes throws commas in, often in the right place; and will sometimes use commas where there should be a period. Any ideas?

I love all the writing tips and I have learned from you not to nit-pick when he does his own free writing–right now he is into writing music reviews!

~Holly

—–

Hi Holly.

Maybe take the pressure off and tell him you know he knows how to use them because he does them well in dictation. Tell him that you won’t notice whether he remembers them in original writing for the next 4 months. He can think about for himself how to remember but you won’t ask him or correct him. You’ll just leave things be for a semester or so and then you can meet back up and look at all his work from that time and see if there was any improvement or not and if he found any way to help remind himself in that time.

If he wants some ideas for how to remind himself, you can tell him a couple of these to consider:

  1. Keep a notecard of “stuff to remember” for him to look at ahead of writing so it will be uppermost in his mind when he starts.
  2. He can get someone else to correct his work (not him, since that stresses him out) for him until he remembers on his own.
  3. He can wait a week or more to make the corrections so he isn’t faced with them too quickly.
  4. He can use his own original writing as copywork/dictation later in the week/month to practice with.

But only offer these suggestions if he wants them. Don’t help him decide.

I promise, his understanding is there and that knowledge will transfer. Try not to worry about it. He’s only 11.  :)

Julie

Email: What other curricula did I use?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Hi Julie,

Thanks to The Writer’s Jungle, I can now relax and teach writing in a more natural and fun way. Your blog has helped inspire our homeschooling and remind us of what really matters. I like your homeschool style and wonder if I could get your recommendations on any particular materials that you used over the years that you found to be valuable.

murderousmaths

I get the idea that you are probably not the type to use a curriculum – but thought I would ask anyway. I’m sort of a curriculum junkie. I have two daughters, 12 and 10.

For the moment we are using the follow…..

  • Math-U-See
  • Singapore Math
  • Apologia Science
  • History Odyssey
  • Writer’s Jungle and The Arrow
  • Worldly Wise

I’ve wasted a lot of money on plenty of other resources.

Thanks so much,

Susie

——

Hi Susie!

I certainly did use a variety of curricula over the years. Some of it I regret (and cringe to think about now). Some of it I loved and would use again. And then for a period of some years, we unschooled (though the definition of that word varies group to group, but from my perspective, that is who we were).

Some of my favorite resources follow, as well as how I “solved” some of the needs we had where I didn’t purchase curricula. I have omitted choices I regretted.

Math:

  • Miquon Math (For elementary school; combined with Cuisinaire rods—I literally didn’t understand multiplication until these books)
  • Family Math (I loved this book – we did everything in it)
  • Math-It (A game to learn multiplication tables quickly)
  • Keys to… (Fractions, Decimals, Percents)
  • Murderous Maths (Hands-down the most fun we’ve ever had with math; lots of volumes)
  • The I Hate Mathematics Book and Math for Smarty Pants by the Brown Paper School company
  • Saxon Math for Algebra and Geometry
  • Tutoring for math in exchange for writing help between homeschool families
  • Paid tutoring for high school math
  • Parttime enrollment at the local high school

History:

  • Sonlight (back when the Instructor’s Guides weren’t so enormous)
  • Well Trained Mind for a reading list, and Story of the World books
  • Personal rabbit trails and my own interests
  • (My regrets are in this category more than any other so the list appears to be short.)

Science:

  • Charter member of HENSE (Home Educators Neglecting Science Education)
  • Kitchen chemistry experiments from books
  • Ring of Fire Rock Study Kits (These are fabulous!!)
  • DK books
  • A telescope
  • Nature journaling 
  • Bird study through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including their BIG book and course.
  • Biology through our co-op
  • Chemistry through the local high school

Language arts:

Logic:

Art:

  • Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting (Oh My Goddess!! I just googled and all of her “videos” are now online for free. Just the music alone sent me wheeling with memories and happiness. Don’t miss these.)
  • Linnea and Monet’s Garden (Then look at the recommended books and you will see all the others we read and enjoyed!)
  • Any museum in driving distance, regularly visited. Bought the books in the museum shop to review at home.

We also had fun with Ancient Greek, Rosetta Stone Chinese (didn’t get far in it, but it was fun to wet our feet), and Power Glide for French. Still, in the end, it was much easier for my kids to learn foreign languages in school (they attended the local high school for language learning, all except Noah who studied Klingon on his own <g>).

Hope that helps! Would love to hear about other favorite resources in the comments below.

Be gentle with grammar

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

From today’s FB post:

Today’s word advice: Don’t be a grammar Nazi. It’s so much more important to preserve/honor relationships, to receive the intended communication than to enforce proper usage in texting, Facebook, freewrites, message boards, or any quick writing that does not rise to the level of some kind of permanence. Yes, every day people write “your” and mean “you’re” or they write “here” when they meant “hear” or “loose” when they meant “lose.” I “would of come” is hard to read. I admit. But if I say it outloud, I know what it means.

The purpose of all writing and speaking is to convey information, ideas, feelings, thoughts. When someone risks self-expression and fails to get the grammar right, you can be the one who focuses on the content rather than the grammar conventions. If the issue recurs and it’s someone you love, you can point it out in a gentle way days later: “By the way, did you know that it’s ‘would have’ not ‘would of’? Funny how the way we speak has made it hard to hear the original grammatical structure.”

There’s nothing inherently superior about being “right” about grammar. It just means you have that area of information mastered and someone else doesn’t. So be kind. Please. No one likes to be corrected for the errant apostrophe in “it’s” or the mistaken “there.” But all of us like to be heard.

 
 
Also, don’t forget that today is Tuesday—teatime! Take it outside and sit under the pretty green leafy trees. Enjoy a break from the rush-rush of early summer.