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The Four Myths of Grammar Instruction

In the 1980s, a multi-dimensional educational philosophy captured the minds and hearts of American educators. This philosophy developed into the whole language movement. Although widely discredited today, the philosophical rationale has many lingering effects regarding how  students are taught to read, spell, speak, and write. In a nutshell, those adhering to this philosophy found learning to be both constructive and developmental. In other words, students will learn the “parts,” i.e. discreet skills when they deem them to be relevant to their immediate needs to help in their learning of the “whole.”

For the purposes of this article, whole language “taught” that direct grammatical instruction should be avoided as it interferes with priority of meaning-making in writing. In the classroom, grammar books collected dust and grammar was relegated to the editing stage (the last stage) of the writing process. That is, if and when it received attention at all.

The grammar myths that have held over from the whole language movement are summarized, followed by their long overdue “de-bunkings.”

1. Grammar is acquired naturally; it does not need to be taught. There is certainly a strong correlation between oral language skills and written grammar skills. However, oral learning is not always an efficient teacher. In fact, it can be quite a mixed bag. For every proper modeling of the pronoun in the sentence It is I, students hear at least five models of the incorrect It is me. Grammar as it is caught must be complemented by a grammar that is taught.

2. Grammar is a meaningless collection of rules—most of which don’t work half the time. This myth may have developed from mindless “drill and kill” grammatical exercises with no application to student writing. Actually, our English grammar is remarkably flexible and consistent.

3. Grammar cannot be learned by students with some learning styles or disabilities. While it may be true that students learn language differently, at different rates, and vary in proficiency, there has been no research to show that some students cannot learn grammar.

4. English grammar cannot be learned by second language learners. Some teachers think that students who speak other languages get confused between the primary language and English grammars. The research proves otherwise. Intuitively, many of us have significantly increased our own knowledge of English grammar by taking a foreign language.

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