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Posts Tagged ‘daily oral language’

Daily Paragraph Editing

Evan-More’s Daily Editing is certainly an improvement over the publisher’s Daily Language Review or the popular Daily Oral Language (from many different publishers). The instructional scope and sequence of Daily Paragraph Editing is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and most other state Standards in grammar, usage, and mechanics. This being said, most of the same criticisms detailed in my previous article still apply. Editing in the context of a paragraph does not solve the issue of teaching skills in isolation. Requiring a student to write a similar article is not the same as requiring students to apply specific skills learned in a lesson in the context of their own writing.

Additionally, Daily Paragraph Editing really only tests students’ previously acquired skills. Testing is not the same as teaching. Direct instruction in the language conventions of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling is what the Common Core Language Strand authors envisioned, not endless practice without effective instruction.

Yes, kids need lots of practice, but we teachers need to remember what we learned in our teacher training programs about effective lesson design: Explicit Behavioral Objectives, Connection to Prior Learning and Lesson Transitions, Pre-teaching, Direct Instruction in the Content or Skill Standard with Multi-modality Examples and Language Support, Checking for Understanding, Guided Practice (which certainly could include some editing, but why not decision-making between what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of error-only scavenger hunts?), Formative Assessment, Re-teaching, Individualized Instruction, and Independent Practice. Of course, teachers are accustomed to different names for the essentially the same lesson components. Essentially, the teacher uses comprehensible input to introduce new learning, the students practice with the teacher’s help, the teacher assesses students’ mastery of the lesson content and skills and uses the data to re-teach or individualize instruction, and assigns independent practice in which the students’ apply what they have learned. Basic lesson design.

The Daily Paragraph Editing program suffers from the same false assumptions that some teachers, administrators, and parents frequently share: All students are alike and need the same instruction. We know better. Kids are snowflakes: each is different and has different needs and different levels of content and skills mastery, particularly in the disciplines of the Language Strand: grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of use.

A cookie-cutter approach to instruction such as Daily Paragraph Editing, Daily Oral Language, and Daily Language Review winds up re-teaching what some students already know (a waste of time), not building upon previous grade-level instruction, and short-changing instruction for those students, such as our ELL, Special Education, and below grade level students who need assessment-based practice. Students need effectively designed grade-level instruction, using all of the elements of direct instruction; plus, they need assessment-based individualized instruction for additional remedial practice so they can “catch up” while they “keep up” with rigorous writing instruction.

Teaching that helps students actually learn and retain skills and concepts requires something more than just a writing opener used only a few minutes each day. We teachers can do better than piecemeal and ineffective instruction. Good teachers don’t just want to address Standards, they want their students to learn, retain, and be able to apply them in the reading and writing contexts.

Bottom line? The Daily Paragraph Editing program is a short-cut to “teach” Language Strand Standards that can’t possibly transfer to long term content and skills acquisition. It has many of the same issues as Daily Language Review and Daily Oral Language. Teachers wind up “teaching” the same content and skills year after year. Clearly, we have better alternatives for effective instruction in the the Language Strand Standards.

Here is the most effective alternative…teachguide-6th

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons.The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards.

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Why Grammar Doesn’t Stick

Last Wednesday, one of my favorite eighth grade English-language Arts colleagues burst into my fifth period seventh grade class. Herding ten of my previous students through the door to stand in front of my class, my clearly frustrated friend said, “My students can’t identify is as a linking verb in this practice sentence. I asked which students had you last year, and here they are.”

Now, you’ve got to understand my colleague. She did not interrupt my class to challenge my inadequate instruction in grammar and usage. She did not force students into a setting of public humiliation as a matter of punishment. She was not asking the question: Of what use is grammar and usage instruction?

She was simply asking the question: Why can’t students retain knowledge and application of simple grammar and usage from grade to grade? By the way… she knows that I taught is as a linking verb to those students.

You see, my colleague is not convinced by the research that purportedly indicates that direct grammar instruction has no impact on student acquisition of language skills. She recognizes the value of teaching language and wants her students to learn how to speak and write well. I share her views and her commitment to changing how she teaches to accommodate how her students learn. So do most English-language Arts teachers. So do the writers of the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards.

So, what’s the answer to her question?

Why Doesn’t Grammar Stick?

No pat answers here; however, a few points should be considered. I’ll let the writers of the Common Core State Standards make these points regarding the recursive nature of instruction in grammar and usage:

“Grammar and usage development in children and in adults rarely follows a linear path.”

“Native speakers and language learners often begin making new errors and seem to lose their mastery of particular grammatical structures or print conventions as they learn new, more complex grammatical structures or new usages of English.”

(Bardovi-Harlig, 2000; Bartholomae, 1980; DeVilliers & DeVilliers, 1973; Shaughnessy, 1979).

“These errors are often signs of language development as learners synthesize new grammatical and usage knowledge with their current knowledge. Thus, students will often need to return to the same grammar topic in greater complexity as they move through K–12 schooling and as they increase the range and complexity of the texts and communicative contexts in which they read and write.”

“The Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge in two ways. First, the Standards return to certain important language topics in higher grades at greater levels of sophistication… Second, the Standards identify with an asterisk (*) certain skills and understandings that students are to be introduced to in basic ways at lower grades but that are likely in need of being retaught and relearned in subsequent grades as students’ writing and speaking matures and grows more complex.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. The lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Why D.O.L. Does Not Transfer to Writing

“I greatly prefer D.O.L. over isolated study because it addresses all the issues at once, not just commas or just capitalization or just subject-verb agreement.  Kids have to consider all those, just as they do when they are writing.”

On the surface, this teacher response sounds reasonable and the practice seems authentic. Students do need to multi-task throughout the writing process. However, does the Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) instructional practice lead to transfer in student writing? After all, the chief reason why we teach grammar and mechanics is to improve writing.

The short answer is “No. D.O.L. does not transfer to writing.”

But first, for the uninitiated, here are the basic Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Procedures:

  1. Teachers write or project two sentences on the board, each with four errors in mechanics and/or grammar. *
  2. Students come up to the board and correct the errors or identify the errors with proofreading marks, one sentence at a time.
  3. The teacher and students discuss the corrections. Some teachers require students to write out the corrected sentences on binder paper or in a composition notebook.

*A variation has the teacher pass out a D.O.L. worksheet with the error-filled sentences to each student. Each student writes the corrections and proofreading marks on the worksheet.

Learning Theories Explain Why D.O.L. Does Not Transfer to Writing

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Psychologists and educational theorists have developed learning theories to explain how new learning and skills are most efficiently mastered and best transfer to other academic activities. Teachers studied many of these in their post-graduate teacher-training coursework. Although many of these learning theories would suggest different pedagogical approaches, each would exclude D.O.L. as a viable instructional approach to teaching grammar and mechanics, if transfer to writing is the indeed the instructional goal. Let’s examine the most influential of these learning theories to explain why D.O.L. does not transfer to writing.

Behaviorism

Behaviorists stress practice and reinforcement of skills in a controlled environment. The conditioner is front and center in this theory. Behaviorism has fostered the direct instruction movement with its carefully crafted lesson design and measurable behavioral objectives. Teachers isolate learning variables and provide extensive guided and independent practice.

In contrast, the instructional design of D.O.L. does not isolate or control learning variables. A D.O.L. lesson may include a serial comma error, a subject-verb error, a usage error, and a quotation marks error. The focus is on review, not instruction.  Practice of the skill is minimal, just one per lesson. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the behaviorist theory has merit.

Cognitivism

Cognitivists stress the importance of learning through patterns and not isolated events. The content is front and center in this theory. The learner develops new skills within the context of previously learned patterns and the “rules” which define them. Cognitivism has largely shaped the standards-based movement with its carefully designed instructional scopes and sequences.

In contrast, D.O.L. does not teach from patterns or rules. Each skill is practiced in isolation with little generalization. For example, “Titles of movies are to be underlined (italicized), not placed with quotation marks” is taught on its own without connection to the rule: “Titles of whole things are underlined (italicized).” The D.O.L. approach is somewhat akin to teaching reading by learning isolated sight words (a generally discredited instructional practice), rather than through an explicit, systematic phonics program. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the cognitivist theory has merit.

Constructivism

Constructivists view learning as a process in which learners actively construct new ideas or concepts based upon their own prior knowledge or experience. The learner is front and center in this theory. Establishing the relevance of the learning to the individual’s intrinsic needs is emphasized to motivate learning.

In contrast, because D.O.L. is simply oral, error analysis, students do not practice the skills in context of their own writing. D.O.L. provides no personal connection to the student’s own expression of ideas. In essence, teachers using D.O.L. purport to teach writing without writing. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the constructivist theory has merit.

Informal Learning

Informal learning theorists, such as Robert Marzano, advocate building upon prior knowledge to help students refine and adjust their understanding of previously developed big ideas or concepts. The big idea or concept is front and center in this theory. New learning is only acquired and mastered in the meaningful context of the old and will frequently challenge the construct and understanding of the big idea or concept.

In contrast, D.O.L. does not build or refine the big idea of how grammar and mechanics affect writing. For example, how comma placement affects meaning, how sentence variety emphasizes words and their meanings and not others, how language derivations affect usage or spelling. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the informal learning theory has merit.

Connectivism

Connectivists place high importance on developing meaningful connections between ideas and concepts. Connections to other similar learning and skills are front and center in this theory. Much of the brain-based learning, pioneered by neuroscientific research emphasizes the importance of these analogous connections.

In contrast, D.O.L. does not emphasize these skill connections. For example, “Titles of movies are to be underlined (italicized), not placed within quotation marks” is taught on its own without connection to other similar examples, such as “Titles of television shows are to be underlined (italicized), not placed within quotation marks.” No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the connectivist theory has merit.

Now, good teachers use discussion to make D.O.L. instruction more useful. Some even have added on a writing component to extend the practice, motivation, and personal connection. But, these band-aides simply hide the wounds inflicted by this instructional practice. Our students deserve better grammar and mechanics instruction that will meaningfully transfer to student writing.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Problems with Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.)

I’ve already detailed sixteen reasons Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work in a related article; however, readers of my blog have added “fuel to the fire” by identifying two more problems with Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) that merit attention.

Although teachers modify the Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.), to suit their tastes, here are the three basic Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Procedures:

  1. The teacher displays or writes two error-filled sentences on the board. Next, the teacher calls upon students to come up to the board and write corrections and proofreading marks.
  2. The teacher displays or writes two error-filled sentences on the board. The teacher passes out a D.O.L. worksheet with the error-filled sentences. Each student writes the corrections and proofreading marks on the worksheet. Next, the teacher calls upon students to come up to the board and write corrections and proofreading marks.
  3. The teacher displays or writes two error-filled sentences on the board. Students write out the corrected sentences on binder paper or in a composition notebook. Next, the teacher calls upon students to come up to the board and write corrections and proofreading marks.

With each of the three approaches, as the students mark the board, the teacher orally reviews the relevant mechanics, spelling, and grammar rules and verifies the accuracy of the sentence edits. With Procedures #2 and #3, students self-edit their own corrections and proofreading marks during this review.

Problems with the Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Instructional Approaches

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1. With Procedures #2 and #3, students are required to multitask their own sentence edits while watching the board edits and listening to the teacher review the relevant rules.

Analysis: Doing two things at once is not good instructional pedagogy. My take is that none of us can chew gum and walk at the same time as well as we can do one isolated activity. Listening is a full time job; discussion is as well.

2. Procedures #1, 2, and 3 review the “rules” orally and not in written form.

Analysis: Oral review is just not effective instruction and is a key reason why teachers complain that students do not retain the skills reviewed in Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.). After all, the reason we bother teaching mechanics, spelling, and grammar is to help students improve their writing. It makes sense that students should write down relevant rules and examples and then apply these rules to both to authentic writing, such as mentor texts (What’s right?), as well as to edit error text designed with specific mistakes connected to the rules for the purposes of error analysis (What’s wrong?).

Instead of Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.), I prefer an analytical approach in which students write down (or are provided) the mechanics, spelling, and grammar  “rules” and then discuss these in the context of both exemplary mentor text and text that requires error analysis and/or sentence manipulation. Next, the student applies the content and/or skill in the context of a short writing application. Finally, as a formative assessment, the teacher dictates sentences which require students to apply each “rule.” Students then correct and self-edit their sentences.

For example, if teaching a lesson on gerunds:

  1. Students copy down (or are provided) this “rule”: A gerund is an “____ing verb” that is used as a noun.
  2. Teacher reads the “rule” and elicits examples from students: “Running is good exercise. ” “Listening to Mr. Pennington makes me sleepy.” “Smoking cigarettes causes cancer.” Notice the variety of sentence constructions in the examples.
  3. Discuss the use of the gerund in this literary model (a quote by Dave Barry displayed or written on the board): “Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face.” Identify the gerund, discuss the use of the gerund in terms of syntax, meaning, and style. “What makes this so funny?” Elicit and discuss possible revisions.
  4. Discuss this sentence (displayed or written on the board): “A necessary skill has become driving.” Identify the gerund, discuss the use/misuse of the gerund in terms of syntax, meaning, and style. Elicit and discuss possible revisions.
  5. Have students complete a short sentence diagram of “A necessary skill has become driving.” Model on the board and discuss.
  6. Instruct students to apply a gerund to respond to “A necessary skill has become driving.” Call on students to share their writing applications.
  7. Dictate this sentence and refer students to look at their “rule” for assistance: “Revise this sentence by placing a gerund at the beginning of the sentence: The product 28 results when you multiply 4 times 7.”
  8. Display this answer and require students to correct and self-edit: “Multiplying 4 times 7 results in the product 28.” Discuss any other possible revisions and set expectations for students to use and highlight gerunds in their writing assignment today.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , ,

Grammar Openers

District administrators and teachers are digging into the newly adopted Common Core State Standards and finding some unexpected buried treasure: the Language Strand. Of course, one’s pirate’s treasure can be another’s curse; nonetheless, this particular treasure seems here to stay, so we might as well figure out how to invest its resources into the lives of our students.

This treasure is English grammar. Now, by grammar we have lumped together a whole slew of things about how our language works: words and their component parts, rules, usage, word order, sentence structure, parts of speech, mechanics, and even spelling. Yes, language is probably a better catch-all term.

Specifically, the writers of the Common Core Language Strand do not advocate a specific instructional approach and I would argue that the writers go out of their way to affirm teacher autonomy with respect to the hows of instruction. “By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached…” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf (Introduction).

However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that many of us are going to have to teach grammar differently, given the Standards levels of rigor and specificity. For example, Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2. How many of us knew or taught coordinate adjectives before these Standards?

Much of the burden of grammar instruction is now in the hands of elementary teachers. However, secondary teachers do not get off easily. Although the number of language standards decreases in middle school and high school, the Standards clearly mandate recursive instruction (review), as well as differentiated instruction. “Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf (Introduction). Review has always been a given in grammar instruction, but differentiated instruction will be a new approach for many teachers.

Following is a brief analysis of the four most common means of current grammar instruction. Teachers will tend to agree with my summary and analysis of the three instructional approaches that they do not employ, yet disagree wholeheartedly with my characterizations of the one approach that they favor. Afterwards, I will identify and offer a rationale for the one approach that seems most conducive to helping students master the new grammar standards.

1. Do Nothing

Many teachers simply do not teach grammar. Some play the blame game and argue that previous teachers should have done the job. Some do not see the importance of grammar to reading, writing, listening, and speaking and argue that grammar instruction takes away time from more important instruction. Some are simply afraid of the unknown: they never learned it, don’t know how to teach it, and argue that they “turned out alright.” Some teachers just don’t like grammar.

2. Writers Workshop/Writing Process

Many teachers went “whole hog” after the whole language movement and constructivism in the 1980s and have remained loosely committed (although many are about to retire). These veteran teachers wield some influence; however, most will honestly admit that their cherished notions that grammar should best be relegated to a mere editing skill in the last stage of the Writing Process or to a small collection of mini-lessons (should the needs of their student writers so indicate) have simply been pipe dreams. Results of state standard exams and the SAT/ACT clearly attest to this failure. Freshman college writing instructors bemoan the lack of writing skills exhibited by students exposed to this whole to part instructional philosophy.

3. Drill and Kill

Some teachers do have the set of grammar handbooks, the four file-drawer collection of grammar worksheets pulled from an old copy of Warriner’s, or the online resources of Grammar Girl and OWL (the Purdue University Online Writing Lab) saved in their Favorites. These teachers teach the grammar skills via definition and identification and then drill and kill. “Tonight’s homework is to complete all the odd problems on pages 234-235.” These teachers do “cover” the subject’ however, student writing generally indicates little transfer of learning and test scores reflect only minimal gains.

4. Grammar Openers

Most teachers have adopted the Grammar Openers approach. Widely known as Daily Oral Language, there are many instructional variations. However, the basics are the following: a quick lesson targeting review of previously “learned” language skills (usually grammar and mechanics) in which students examine short examples of writing riddled with errors. Students practice error identification and the teacher interactively helps students analyze these errors via brief discussion and “reminders” of the rules. Clearly, this approach has significant problems: grammar instruction can’t be relegated to “error fix-a-thons” (Jeff Anderson), review without deep-level instruction is ineffective, the hodge-podge lack of an instructional scope and sequence reflects a shotgun approach that is incongruous with standards-based instruction, the lack of application of these skills in the contexts of reading and writing, and more… See Why Daily Oral Language Doesn’t Work.

So which of the four is most conducive to helping students master the Common Core State Standards in grammar? The Grammar Openers instructional model seems to offer the most promise. Teachers teach from what they know. Teachers are by nature eclectic and prefer tweaking, rather than starting over. And since the predominant means of grammar instruction is the Grammar Openers model, it seems practical to build on this foundation and encourage such tweaking.

Here are the positives of the Grammar Openers model:

  • It’s consistent. Many teachers cram in huge chunks of ineffective grammar instruction before standardized tests or as intensive grammar units of instruction. Any chance of transfer to writing or oral language developments is doomed by such an inconsistent approach. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Grammar Openers offers the little-at-a-time instructional approach, which does happen to have the best research-base.
  • It’s quick. Drill and Kill teachers get so wrapped up in the grammatical complexities, that grammar instruction consumes an inordinate amount of instructional time. All instruction is reductive. We do have other Standards to teach. Grammar Openers provide quick-paced instruction, two or three days per week.
  • It’s interactive. Teachers can help students access prior knowledge and teachers can assess levels of whole-class competence through the back-and-forth design of Grammar Openers. The interactive approach can be engaging and does require some levels of accountability. Also, the interactive process can promote exploration, not just practice.
  • It involves direct instruction. Writers Workshop/Writing Process purists will simply have to admit that the rigor and specificity of these Common Core State Standards necessitates some of this approach. Whole to part instruction just won’t do this job.
  • It does involve review. Teachers have long recognized the recursive nature of instruction, particularly in grammar and mechanics. Those teachers who only teach grade-level standards have their heads firmly planted in the sand. Grammar is especially dependent upon scaffolded skills. Students will not learn what an adverbial clause is and how to use it in the writing context without first mastering adverbs and adverbial phrases.

Necessary Tweaks to the Grammar Openers Model

  • Establish a meaningful scope and sequence of instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, including a comprehensive review of the asterisked review mandates.
  • Move beyond the definition and error identification approach (essential ingredients, by the way) of Grammar Openers to include identification of effective writing skills via Sentence Modeling. There is no doubt that constant exposure to incorrect grammar, mechanics, and spelling reproduces the same in student writing. For example, how many teachers have found themselves questioning how to spell their after years of seeing this spelling mistake in student writing?
  • Change the focus of Grammar Openers to interactive discussion and writing application. For example, try using simple sentence diagrams, sentence revision, sentence combining, and writing openers during the Grammar Openers, with sentence dictations as formative assessments. A balance of contrived and authentic writing practice/application makes sense.
  • Require systematic application of the grammar skills learned in Grammar Openers within the writing context. Students should be required to use what they have learned in their own writing during the Grammar Openers lesson and should be held accountable for applying these skills in short writing strategy practice, as well as on writing process papers.
  • Provide connected reading resources that demonstrate how mastery of the specific grammar skills adds depth and meaning to what the author has to say. Identification of the grammar is not sufficient. Recognition of how the grammar affects meaning is necessary and provides a meaningful purpose for grammar instruction.
  • Establish formative assessments to inform and adjust instruction.In addition to the direct instruction provided in Grammar Openers, teach to specific diagnostic data and differentiate instruction accordingly. Rather than relying upon solely implicit assessment of what students know and do not know, add on explicit, whole-class diagnostic assessments and teach relative weaknesses via small group or individualized instruction. Here, targeted grammar handbook, online, or worksheet practice (Drill and Kill) in conjunction with writers mini-conferences (Writers Workshop) certainly does make sense.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons.  The lessons include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

 

 

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , ,

How and When to Teach Pronouns

“No part of speech causes more problems for my students than pronouns.” True. And no part of speech requires as much prior knowledge about our language. Adults misuse pronouns frequently and no wonder. Proper pronoun usage can be complicated and often our oral language filter misguides us.

We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to pronouns. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. We do need to learn how to use pronouns correctly. Even the die-hard “only-teach-grammar-in-the-context-of-writing” folk, who too-often relegate direct grammar instruction to the garbage heap, would agree that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is a must. Ask any English-language arts teacher what they wish their students knew about grammar. Parts of speech would be the response.

But why can’t students retain what they already have “learned” about pronouns? Is it bad teaching? Is it the nature of grammatical instruction? How can we change the forgetting cycle and ensure mastery? Read on and learn an effective and memorable instructional approach that will help your students master and remember pronoun rules and proper usage. At the end of this article, I share an instructional scope and sequence for pronouns with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Not the best mnemonic, but effective. Perhaps a comment on the popular Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Students should memorize the definitions of the key pronoun definitions and proper usage. Rote memory is key to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Your students will love it. Test and re-test to lead students to mastery.

IDENTIFY Students should identify pronouns in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry provides model sentences and identification practice.

EDIT Students should practice error analysis for each pronoun definition by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help us understand what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master pronouns. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing transfers to long-term memory and correct application.

APPLY Students should apply pronouns correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for the he/him/his/himself pronouns…

________________ gave ________________ ________________ old fishing rod, but ________________ ________________ kept the new one.

Correct response: He gave him his old fishing rod, but he himself kept the new one.

REVISE Students should understand the importance and relevance of learning pronouns by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about pronouns to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share student revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessment

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, including pronouns, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery in subject case pronouns, but has weaknesses in object case pronouns. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Diagnostic assessments inform instruction.  Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is important. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of noun components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only proves that the teacher has covered the subject, such as pronoun definitions, rules, and proper usage. Good teachers re-teach as needed and differentiate instruction according to formative test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses and eliminate repetitive instruction on what students have already mastered. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery re: pronouns and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design with targeted worksheets, monitored practice, and mini-conferences to assess mastery will ensure effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to involve impossible planning and impossible instructional implementation.

Pronouns Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

  • A pronoun is a word used in place of a proper noun or common noun.
  • First person pronouns take the place of the one speaking. These pronouns include the singulars I and me and the plurals we and us.
  • Second person pronouns take the place of the one spoken to. The singular and plural pronouns use the same word: you.
  • Third person pronouns take the place of the one spoken about. These pronouns include the singulars he, she, it, him, and her and the plurals they and them.
  • Possessive pronouns placed before a noun show ownership. These pronouns include my, your, his, her, its, our, and their.
  • Possessive pronouns with no connection to nouns also show ownership. These include mine, yours, his, hers, ours, and theirs.

Pronoun Tip: Make sure the possessive pronouns his and their are not combined with self or selves.

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

Subject Case Pronouns

Use the subject case pronouns, which include the singulars I, you, he, she, and it and the plurals we, you, and they in these grammatical forms:

  • when the pronoun is the sentence subject. The sentence subject is the “do-er” of the sentence.

Example: She and I attended the concert.

  • when the pronoun is a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative follows a “to be” verb (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) and identifies or refers to the subject.

Example: The students who got into trouble are they.

  • when the pronoun is part of an appositive, such as after than or as. An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun or pronoun to identify or explain it.

Example: Marty is smarter than I.

Pronoun Tip: When compound subjects are joined by or or nor, the pronoun that refers to the subjects agrees in number with the antecedent closer to the pronoun. Example: Neither water nor sodas did their jobs quenching my thirst.

Pronoun Tips: To test whether the pronoun is in the nominative case, try these tricks:

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

Example: The last one to arrive was he. Rephrase—He was the last one to arrive.

  • Drop other nouns or pronouns when there is a compound subject and check if the remaining pronoun sounds right. Remember that English is a polite language; the first person pronouns (I, me, ours, mine) are always placed last when combined with other nouns or pronouns.

Example: John and I play video games. Drop and check—I play video games.

Object Case Pronouns

Use the object case pronouns, which include the singulars me, you, him, her, it and the plurals us, you, and them in these grammatical forms:

  • when the pronoun is the direct object. The direct object receives the action of the verb.

Example: The challenge excited him.

  • when the direct object is described by an appositive phrase (a phrase that identifies or explains another noun or pronoun placed next to it).

Example: The teacher yelled at two students, Rachel and me.

  • when the pronoun is an indirect object of a verb. The indirect object is placed between a verb and its direct object. It tells to what, to whom, for what, or for whom.

Example: Robert gave him a king-size candy bar.

  • when the pronoun is an object of a preposition. A preposition shows some relationship or position between a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun and its object. The preposition asks “What?” and the object provides the answer.

Example: The fly buzzed around her and past them by me.

  • when the pronoun is connected to an infinitive. An infinitive has a to + the base form of a verb.

Example: I want him to give the speech.

Pronoun Tips:

To test whether the pronoun is in the object case, try these tricks:

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

Example: Joe smiled at all of them. Rephrase—At all of them Joe smiled.

  • Drop other nouns or pronouns when there is a compound subject and check if the remaining pronoun sounds right. Remember that English is a polite language; the first person pronouns (I, me, ours, mine) are always placed last when combined with other nouns or pronouns.

Example: She gave Kathy and me a gift. Drop and check—She gave me a gift.

The pronoun who is in the subject case. The who takes the role of the subject.

Example: Who is the best teacher?

Who and Whom

The pronoun who is in the subject case. In other words, it takes the place of a noun acting as the subject of a sentence.

Examples: Who did this?

Who is the best teacher?

Pronoun Tip: Try substituting he for who and rephrase, if necessary. If it sounds right, use who.

The pronoun whom is in the objective case. In other words, it is takes the place of the direct object, the indirect object of the verb, or the object of the preposition.

Examples: Whom did Joan love?

I like whom you gave the award.

To whom does this letter concern?

Pronoun Tip: Try substituting him for whom and rephrase, if necessary. If it sounds right, use whom.

Relative Pronouns

The pronoun that can refer to people or things; the pronoun which can only refer to things.

Use the pronoun that when the clause is needed to understand the rest of the sentence.

Example: The movie that we watched was entertaining.

Use the pronoun which in clauses that provide additional, but not necessary information.

Example: That dog, which is friendly, was easy to train.

Don’t restate the subject with a pronoun.

Example: That dog, which is friendly, he was easy to train. Problem—The he is unnecessary and grammatically incorrect.

Middle School

Indefinite Pronouns

An indefinite personal pronoun does not specifically reference a common noun or proper noun and so can act as a singular or plural to match the verb. These pronouns include: anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, someone, somebody, and something.

Pronoun Tip: Look at surrounding words for singular and plural clues.

An indefinite numerical pronoun does not indicate an exact amount and can act as a singular or plural depending upon the surrounding words. These indefinite numerical pronouns include all, any, half, more, most, none, other, and some.

Examples: in All of the food is wonderful, all is a singular pronoun. In All girls know best, all is a plural pronoun.

Pronoun Tip: When the object of the preposition is uncountable, use a singular pronoun to refer to the object. Example: All of the salt fell out of its bag. When it is countable, use a plural pronoun to refer to the object.

Example: All of the coffee beans fell out of their bag.

Pronoun Tip: The ending word parts body, one, and thing indicate a singular indefinite pronoun.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer to the subject, and intensive pronouns emphasize a noun or pronoun. Both are object case pronouns and include myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, and themselves.

A reflexive pronoun is essential to the sentence. You could not understand the sentence without the pronoun.

Example: He gave himself a pat on the back.

Intensive pronouns are not essential to the sentence. You could understand the sentence without the pronoun.

Example: I, myself, happen to love eating pizza.

Pronoun Tip: Notice that each has self or selves as the second syllable.

Pronoun Tips: A pronoun that refers to or replaces a previous common noun, proper noun, or pronoun is called an antecedent.

  • Make sure antecedents are specific. Otherwise, the pronoun reference may be confusing.

Example: When Bobby asked for help, they asked why.

Problem-Who is they? Get more specific. When Bobby asked for help from his teachers, they asked why.

  • Don’t have a pronoun refer to the object in a prepositional phrase.

Example: In Twain’s The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County, he uses political humor. Problem—Who, or what, is he?

  • Make sure that the singular pronouns this and that and the plural pronouns these and those specifically refer to what is intended. Keep these pronouns close to their references.

Example: He made an egg, put the dog food in its bowl, and put this on his toast to eat. Problem—What is this?

  • Don’t have a pronoun refer to a possessive antecedent. A possessive is a common noun, proper noun, or pronoun that shows ownership.

Example: In San Diego’s famous zoo, they treat their zoo-keepers well. Problem—Who are the they and their?

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns refer to nouns close to or away from the speaker. These pronouns include this, that, these, and those. The words this (singular) and these (plural) refer to nouns and pronouns close to the writer (speaker). The words that (singular) and those (plural) refer to nouns and pronouns away from the writer (speaker).

High School

Possessive pronouns can connect to gerunds (verb forms ending in “ing” that serve as a sentence subject).

Examples: His cooking is not the best. Their cooking the dinner is not the best idea.

Pronouns and Writing Style

English is a polite language. Place others before yourself. For example, She and I enjoy a walk in the park, not I and she enjoy a walk in the park.

When use of a pronoun will create confusion, repeat the noun and omit the pronoun. For example, Eating their dessert caused the boys to lose their focus is more clear than Eating their dessert caused them to lose their focus.

Don’t use first and second person pronouns in essays. Focus on the subject, not the author or reader in essays.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How and When to Teach Nouns

“A noun is a person, place, or thing.” Well… partially right, but there is much more. And knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to nouns. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, who relegated direct grammar instruction to the pedagogical garbage heap in the 1980s, always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is an essential. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar coming into their classes in the fall. Parts of speech will be their first, and perhaps only, answer.

But why do teachers have to re-teach nouns every year? Is it the previous teacher’s fault? Is it the cyclical nature of instruction? Is it something in the water? Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle. At the end of this article, I will share an instructional scope and sequence for noun components with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Admittedly a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps a subconscious wish re: the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key noun components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify noun components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each noun component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their noun components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students the noun components correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for common nouns…

It takes a lot of (idea) ________________ for a (person) ________________ to drive a (thing) ________________ to their (place) ________________.

Possible response: It takes a lot of SELF-CONTROL for a TEENAGER to drive a SPORTS CAR to their (place) to their HIGH SCHOOL.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning the noun components by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about noun components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share brilliant revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessment

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as noun components, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: proper nouns, common nouns, and noun phrases but weaknesses in abstract nouns, concrete nouns, and noun clauses. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? One of the mysteries of life. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is vital. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of noun components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching the noun components. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which noun components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

Noun Components Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

  • Common Nouns, such as teenager, high school, sports car, freedom
  • Proper Nouns, such as Mary, Pinewood Elementary School, Microsoft Word®
  • Compound Nouns, such as baseball, playground, cartwheel
  • Single Nouns, such as desk, Ms. Brady, group
  • Plural Nouns (with spelling rules), such as books, churches, lives

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

  • Abstract Nouns (nouns that cannot be sensed), such as freedom, patience, thoughts
  • Concrete Nouns (nouns that can be sensed), such as ice cream, velvet, movie
  • Nouns as Simple Subjects, such as George left town.
  • Nouns as Compound Subjects, such as George and Sam left town.
  • Nouns in Compound Sentences, such as George left town, and Sam left, too.
  • Complete Nouns/Noun Phrases, such as Crazy George and his best friend left town.
  • Nouns as Objects of Prepositional Phrases, such as George and Sam left town for the vacation of a lifetime.
  • Collective Nouns (nouns that refer to groups with members), such as That herd of sheep was in the pasture.
  • Nouns to Avoid (things, stuff, etc.), such as The thing is… I already have that stuff.
  • Nouns as Abbreviations, such as I love the U.S.A.
  • Nouns as Acronyms, such as We had a guest speaker from N.A.S.A.
  • Hyphenated Nouns, such as English-language arts is my favorite subject.
  • Irregular Plural Nouns, such as deer-deer, child-children, foot-feet

Middle School

  • Noun Clauses, such as Whenever I studied, I passed my tests.
  • Greek and Latin Noun Plural Formations, such as cactus-cacti, crisis-crises, appendix-appendices
  • Nouns as Direct Objects, such as I left my wallet.
  • Nouns as Indirect Objects, such as I gave John my wallet.
  • Nouns as Gerunds, such as Smoking is hazardous to one’s health.
  • Nouns as Appositives, such as That nice couple, Juan and Tasha, brought us cookies.
  • Mass (non-count) Nouns (These nouns don’t form plurals and are usually abstract), such as mud, insurance, music

High School

  • Nouns as Nominative Absolutes (a separate phrase or clause that modifies the main noun and verb), such as “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed (Second Amendment to the United States Constitution).”
  • Nouns as Predicate Nominatives (a noun or pronoun following a noun and a linking verb that defines or re-names the noun), such as Joe is a murder suspect.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Essay Strategies

What first pops into your mind when I mention essay strategies? Fair to say that many of us would think of the the characteristics and/or structure of a particular genre (domain), say a persuasive essay.

What first pops into your mind when I mention football? Fair to say that many of us would think of a big game such as the Super Bowl for the pros or the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for college.

Fine. We are all product-centered. We need to have the culminating event in mind, be it the final draft of a response to literature composition or the big football game. However, ask any football coach the question above and you are more likely to get practice as the answer. Football coaches live for the conditioning, the blocking sled, the tackle practice, and the omnipresent videotape. Perhaps we ELA teachers should take a page from our coaches’ playbooks and be a bit more process-centered. Now, I’m not talking about the writing process; I’m talking about teaching the essay strategies that will prepare students for the big game.

My first year of teaching was at a small K-8 school in Sutter Creek, California. Teaching seventh-graders in this isolated “Gold Rush” town was a wake-up call after student teaching the “best and brightest” high school juniors out of my credential program at U.C.L.A. Like most ELA teachers, I had no training nor coursework in how to teach essays. I studied Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and Hemmingway—not how to teach the fundamentals of writing. Like most ELA teachers, I reverted to and mimicked what and how I had been taught. If it worked for me, why wouldn’t it work for my students? And it did work (mostly) for those high school juniors, but it did not work for my seventh-graders.

I remember this debacle well. I began teaching my first seventh-grade class with a scintillating lecture, replete with masterful examples (including my own), on how to teach the five-paragraph essay. The structure, the components, and the unified balance of thought. “Go and do likewise,” I advised.

Of course, you probably already know the results. Most of my students did master the structure and had some sense of what the components were and where they belonged. But that unified balance of thought? I couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t fill in the rest of the blanks. Fortunately, after a few classes with U.C. Davis Area 3 writing mentors (Thank you!), I began to see the value of teaching the part-to-the-whole. I learned that my students needed more practice-more conditioning-to prepare them for their process papers. The following essay strategy tools focus on this conditioning at the sentence level.

Essay Strategies Conditioning

1. Eliminate the crutches

Sometimes removing a writer’s comfort zone is the only strategy that will force the writer to take the necessary risks to learn new tricks of the trade and improve his or her writing craft.

“To-be” Verbs: Restrict students’ usage of is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Nothing forces students to search for concrete nouns and expressive verbs more than this strategy. Nothing makes students alter sentence structure more than this strategy. Nothing teaches students to write in complete sentences more than this strategy. After initial banishment, allow a few of these verbs to trickle into student writing, say one per paragraph. Sometimes the best verb is a “to-be” verb. After all, “To be or not to be. That is the question.” For more, see How to Eliminate To-Be Verbs in Writing.

1st and 2nd Person Pronouns: Essays designed to inform or convince are not written as a direct conversation between the writer and the reader. Instead of using the first person point of view I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, our, ours, or ourselves pronouns or the second person point of view you, your, yours or yourself(ves) pronouns, essays are written in the third person point of view such as in the writing model below. It’s fine to use the third person he, she, it, his, her, its, they, them, their, theirs or themselves pronouns to avoid repeating the same nouns over and over again. Nothing forces students to focus their writing on the subject more than this strategy. Nothing teaches students to rely on objective evidence more than this strategy.

2. Teach and help students practice complex sentences

Some prerequisite direct instruction is required here. Students need to know what an independent clause is. Students need to know what a phrase is. Students need to know what a dependent clause is. Teaching and memorizing the subordinate conjunctions are essentials. See How to Teach Conjunctions for a great memory trick. Students must be able to identify subordinating clauses and create them. Students need to be able to identify complex sentences and use them. Sentence models and analysis works well. I recommend using Sentence Revision, which uses sentence models and requires students to practice sentence combining and sentence manipulation at the sentence level. Using individual student whiteboards for practice and whole class formative assessment works well. You are going to have to differentiate instruction to ensure mastery learning of complex sentences.

3. Teach and help students practice grammatical sentence openers

Students have been trained to write in the subject-verb-complement pattern. Fine. Now we need to revise that writing mindset. We need to teach students that writing style and sentence variety matter. I suggest that you limit your students to composing no more than 50% of their writing in the subject-verb-complement pattern. Teach students to begin their sentences with different grammatical sentence openers. See How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers for a fine list with examples. Nothing forces students to write with greater sentence variety than this strategy. Nothing integrates grammar instruction into writing better than this strategy.

Look for my next article on the Pennington Publishing Blog on helping students learn how to scrimmage. Focusing on the essay writing strategies at the paragraph level, including structure, style, unity, and evidence will further help students prepare for the “big game.”

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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Grammar Instruction: Establishing Common Ground

Perhaps no instructional issue in English-language arts produces more contentious debate than the issue of how best to teach grammar. When most of us refer to grammar we mean the structure of the sentence, the components of the sentence, word choice, the order of words, style, and usage. Some will also include punctuation, capitalization and even, perhaps spelling in the grammar stew.

All too often we bog down in our discussion over the issue of instructional strategies. Should we teach these skills explicitly through direct instruction? Should we teach these skills implicitly at the point of student need? Should we teach these skills in isolation? Should we teach these skills in the context of writing? What are the most efficient and effective means of instruction? Which instructional strategies produce the most retention? How can we differentiate instruction?

It may be that we begin, but quickly end the discussion of how to teach grammar because in posing these questions we are placing the “cart before the horse.” Perhaps a more useful starting point for our discussion would be to come to consensus about what we expect students to know and when. Establishing a common ground on this issue can help us determine what to diagnostically assess in order to determine our students’ relative strengths and weaknesses. Only at this point does it make sense to discuss the instructional strategies that will address the needs of our students.

This goal of consensus can be easier said than done. Teachers are inherently protective of their own instructional sovereignty. We all enter teaching to be “queens and kings of our own castles.” We are, by nature, independent thinkers. Collaboration requires some levels of releasing that sovereignty and replacing some of that independence with dependence. Additionally, we are all afraid of exposing our deficiencies. Many of us have received little grammar instruction and less training in how to teach the skills outlined above. Colleagues can be intimidating. It’s hard to admit our weaknesses. Much easier to keep our ostrich heads in the sand regarding grammar and focus our efforts on what we do know.

However, for the sake of our students we need to acknowledge our “elephants” in the room and begin to trust our colleagues. A climate of collaboration can be nurtured among teaching professionals. This risk-taking climate takes time and requires sensitive leadership. Group norms need to be established and practiced to ensure success. But, the results will be worth the efforts.

What Should Students Know and When?

At first blush, teachers will latch onto to Common Core Language Strand Standards. Fine as a starting point and undoubtedly more rigorous than previous state standards which tended to emphasize grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction only in the writing context; however, standards only offer a basic blueprint for grammatical instruction. The devil is in the details. Defining these issues in meaningful ways that will impact both instruction and learning necessitates detailed conversations. We need to get specific.

It makes sense to establish a set of skills and expectations to be mastered at each grade level. Defining a specific year-to-year instructional scope and sequence (the Common Core Standards are far too generic) with colleagues provides a game plan and also defines the content for assessment. See the following author tag for a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence for Grades 4-8. These skills and expectations need to be hammered out in the context of vertical teaming and articulation. The complexity of English grammar and the recursive nature of grammatical instruction necessitate grade-to-grade level discussion and consensus-building.

At my middle school, we began the conversation with seventh and eighth grade teams. We then got release time to meet with our elementary and high school colleagues. We began the process of building a scope and sequence to help us move students from Point A to Point B to Point C. Our goals were to adopt a common academic language, establish grade-level expectations, and build in review to address the recursive nature of grammatical instruction. We found much more common ground on these goals than many of us had expected, especially because we have not addressed instructional strategies at this point of the conversation.

How Do We Know What They Know and Do Not Know?

Having agreed to 72 skills and expectations for our middle schoolers in our comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, we then began designing diagnostic assessments to inform our grammatical instruction. Our criteria for the diagnostic assessments included the following: The assessments must specifically focus on the 72 “common ground” components of our instructional scope and sequence. The assessments must be whole-class, easy-to-administer, easy-to-grade, and easy-to-record. The assessment components should be “teachable.” One such set of diagnostic assessments, based upon 72 “common ground issues” that we are using as starting points are my own multiple-choice Grammar and Mechanics Assessments.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Having established what students need to know and when, and having developed diagnostic assessments to determine what students do and do not know, the real fun begins. At this point, we are beginning the process of sharing the instructional strategies that seem to best meet the needs of our students. Explicit or implicit instructional strategies? How can we establish benchmarks to formatively assess skill acquisition?  How can we differentiate instruction, according to the results of our assessments?

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” have preoccupied educational researchers and teacher-practitioners for nearly five decades. Much like the soldiers along the Western Front in World War I, we have settled down into our fixed positions and rarely leave our trenches to skirmish anymore. An occasional Krashen or Adams volley may occasionally wake us up, but no one really wants to go back into “No Man’s Land” for extending fighting. In fact, much of where we are today reminds me of the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the opposing German and British soldiers join in the singing of Christmas carols and crawl out of their trenches to exchange gifts and greetings.

Now I may be over-extending my metaphor a bit, but teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching reading and writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness/phonics or reading to learn; no one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process with Writers Workshop. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced reading program makes sense. In this article, I will attempt to make the case that a balanced writing program also makes sense. First, I will list 21 Curricular Assumptions that most of us would accept about writing instruction to build a consensus. Then, I will detail six steps to take to ensure a balanced and effective writing program in any classroom.

Most of us would agree with these… 21 Curricular Assumptions about a Balanced Writing Program

1. Teaching and practicing the stages of the writing process through writing process papers in various genre is important. The writing process is not rigid, however. Writers compose differently. Word processing has certainly reinforced these differences. For example, some revise and edit after drafting; some do so during drafting.

2. Teaching and practicing specific writing strategies/skills in short writing pieces, such as “Quick Writes,” is also valuable.

3. Students vary in their writing abilities and have different writing skill-sets. Simply teaching grade-level standards in writing strategies and applications (process pieces) is not enough. Certainly, we teach content, but we also teach students. We need to both “keep them up” with grade-level expectations and new instruction and also “catch them up” with additional targeted practice in their writing deficiencies. Teachers see the value in diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction and in which writing skills. Yes, we need to differentiate our writing instruction.

4. The reading-writing connection much be taught explicitly. We learn reading from writing, but we also learn writing from reading. For example, teaching expository text structure is both reading comprehension and an essay strategy. Analyzing both good and bad writing is instructive.

5. Good writing instruction is necessarily “recursive.” Students need to review, but also do new. As teachers review, writing foundations are solidified and depth of understanding increases. For example, first graders work on sentence construction, but so should high school seniors.

6. Teaching content is an essential ingredient to teaching writing. Writing is a constructive thinking process, built on prior knowledge. Time spent teaching critical thinking skills, such as errors in reasoning, is time spent teaching writing.

7. Vocabulary development is an important component of writing instruction. Knowing the meanings of words and how to properly use them cannot be confined to a revision task such as substituting boring or over-used words with “cool words” found in a thesaurus. Teaching Greek and Latinates, semantic shades of meaning, idiomatic expressions, etc. are all components of solid writing instruction.

8. Explicit grammatical instruction (sentence components, word choice, usage, word order) should be more than just error analysis or correction. Daily Oral Language is certainly not the answer. Teaching grammar and mechanics rules/proper usage in the context of targeted lessons that integrate this instruction with student writing is appropriate. For example, teaching a prepositional phrase and then following instruction with writing practice in which students use prepositional phrases as grammatical sentence openers makes sense. Grammar and mechanics cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills.

9. Spelling matters and requires direct instruction, even throughout high school. The spelling-vocabulary connection is well-established and needs to be taught in the context of word study (including derivatives and etymological influences), syllabication, and conventional spelling rules. Spell check did not suddenly make orthographical study passé.

10. Revision is the key to writing improvement. Revision requires direct instruction to teach sentence manipulation, sentence combining, sentence variety, and precision of word choice. Revision requires focused tasks in the writing process to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange ideas to afford writers alternative means of expression. Hemingway completely re-wrote the last chapter in For Whom the Bell Tolls in 39 different ways. There must be something to this revision stuff.

11. Authentic writing tasks that are relevant and meaningful to students motivate quality writing, especially when the writing will be published in a venue that students care about.

12. Teaching rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form produces significant writing pay-offs. Writing style can be modeled, mimicked, and developed over time.

13. Degree of oral proficiency in vocabulary and grammar impacts writing ability. ESL students need differentiated instruction to bridge language barriers.

14. Direct instruction is not enough—coaching is necessary to teach students how to write. The “sage on the stage” has to be matched with the “guide on the side.”

15. Teaching structured writing makes sense to focus on writing organization and unity. However, form and purpose dictate structure, so structural straight-jackets can be counter-productive, if pressed into service for every writing task.

16.  There are certain writing rules that are worth teaching.  Of course, rules are specific to each writing form. Indenting paragraphs, writing in complete sentences, and the like add to writing coherency.

17.  Writing coherency should be the ultimate goal of any writing task.

18. Teaching grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and writing strategies are more than just test prep. These skills require teaching and practice, not testing. Fortunately, quality instruction and practice in these writing components will result in higher test scores.

19. What we say shouldn’t always be the way that we write. Good writing instruction helps students learn to distrust their oral language as a grammatical filter. Authentic writing voice is not the same as playground banter.

20. Writing fluency is a worthy goal; however, contrived on-demand writing for the purpose of writing lots of words in a given time does not achieve that end.

21. Teaching writing shouldn’t take up an entire English-language arts course. We have other fish to fry as well.

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program in Six Steps

1. Develop a Writing Plan

Establish a comprehensive writing scope and sequence of instruction with your colleagues, including those who precede and those who follow you. Base your plan on your more general grade-level state standards, but get as specific as possible. I suggest integrating grammar, mechanics, spelling instruction, specific writing strategies, writing genre, and writing process pieces into a multi-year plan. An specific writing scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach.

2. Direct Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the grammar, mechanics, and spelling skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Find resources that will teach both sentence modeling and error analysis. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

3. Differentiated Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Use an effective diagnostic assessment to identify grammatical and mechanical skills that your students should already know. Also, assess students on their spelling skills. Chart their deficits and find brief, targeted instruction that students can independently practice. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Wednesdays and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

4. Do Direct Writing Instruction

Allocate 10 minutes, 3 days per week, to direct instruction, sentence models, and guided writing practice in vocabulary development and sentence revision (sentence manipulation, sentence combining, and sentence variety) say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

5. Do Differentiated Writing Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the writing strategies/skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Design paragraph assignments to keep writing and review time manageable. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 3 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

6. Teach Process Papers

Teach and require students to compose at least one process paper per quarter, as dictated by your scope and sequence and grade-level standards. Not every process paper must include all steps of the Writing Process.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Grammar

Within the field of English-language arts, there is probably no more contentious curricular issue than that of how to teach grammar. The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” get all the press, but teachers are much more unified in their teaching philosophy and instructional practice in those areas, than they are with respect to “The Great Grammar Debate.”

Even those who have decried the direct instruction of grammar believe that the subject needs to be learned.

Some say grammar is best learned through reading. Dr.  Stephen Krashen finds that students learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary most efficiently through free voluntary reading. However, Dr. Krashen does see the value of teaching some usage issues and grammatical terminology, especially at the high school level. And he advocates teaching students how to use language resources, such as language handbooks, to correct errors and improve writing style.

Some say grammar is best learned through writing. Even those who still trot out forty-year-old research studies to argue that explicit, direct instruction in grammar has no statistically significant effect on writing maturity such as the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project, Six Traits, or the Writers Workshop folks trot out their own grammar mini-lessons to fill the gaps when students have egregious errors in the editing state of process papers. I have previously written about why teachers avoid teaching grammar, but plan to boldly advocate how to teach grammar in this article. However, some consensus-building is necessary before I do so.

Definitions

Grammar has come to mean a catch-all term that refers to everything English teachers would prefer to avoid teaching. Essentially, grammar includes the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech), the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, punctuation, and capitalization. Grammar is the study of how our language is used and how it can be manipulated to achieve meaning.

Most of us would agree with these… 21 Curricular Assumptions

1. Good grammar is important. Whether grammar is chiefly taught or caught is beside the point. When it is simply caught by students, “They dint always catched it very good.” Grammar as it is caught must be complemented by a grammar that is taught.

2. Grammar should, as much as is practical, be integrated with authentic writing instruction. Students learn best when instruction is perceived and practiced as being relevant to their needs.

3. Not all students have the same grammatical skill-set. Simply teaching grade-level standards is not enough. We teach content, but we also teach students. We need to both “keep them up” and “catch them up.” It makes sense to develop and administer diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction and in what skill areas. Yes, we need to differentiate our grammar instruction.

4. Both part to whole and whole to part instruction will work. We learn grammar from writing, but we also learn writing from grammar.

5. Grammatical instruction is necessarily “recursive.” Students need both the review and the new. Solid foundations require maintenance as much as does any new construction. You know the teacher(s) before you taught those parts of speech, even though some of your students still don’t know them. I’ll let the writers of the Common Core State Standards make these points regarding the recursive nature of instruction in grammar and usage:

“Grammar and usage development in children and in adults rarely follows a linear path.”

“Native speakers and language learners often begin making new errors and seem to lose their mastery of particular grammatical structures or print conventions as they learn new, more complex grammatical structures or new usages of English.”

(Bardovi-Harlig, 2000; Bartholomae, 1980; DeVilliers & DeVilliers, 1973; Shaughnessy, 1979).

“These errors are often signs of language development as learners synthesize new grammatical and usage knowledge with their current knowledge. Thus, students will often need to return to the same grammar topic in greater complexity as they move through K–12 schooling and as they increase the range and complexity of the texts and communicative contexts in which they read and write.”

“The Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge in two ways. First, the Standards return to certain important language topics in higher grades at greater levels of sophistication… Second, the Standards identify with an asterisk (*) certain skills and understandings that students are to be introduced to in basic ways at lower grades but that are likely in need of being retaught and relearned in subsequent grades as students’ writing and speaking matures and grows more complex.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

6. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach. Students need to understand the function of an adverb before they can write adverbial clauses. Check out the instructional scope and sequence from the author’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

7. Teaching grammar is more than test prep. In fact, too much of most teachers’ grammar instruction (not you, of course) is testing, rather than teaching. However, we live in the real world. Consider the timing of your standardized test when planning your instructional scope and sequence.

8. Grammatical instruction is more than just error analysis or correction. Grammar and mechanics instruction cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.” Most of us who have tried Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that this hodgepodge instructional approach does not transfer to student speaking or writing.

9. The fancy names for grammatical constructions are less important than knowing how to use these constructions in one’s own writing. However, memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar provides a common language of instruction. Of course, use of the verbage needs to be age appropriate. A fourth-grade teacher should be able to say, “Notice how the author’s use of the adverb at the start of the verse helps us see how the old woman walks.” A high school teacher should be able to say, “Notice how the author’s use of the past perfect progressive indicates a continuous action completed at some time in the past.”

10. Analyzing both good and bad writing is instructive. Sentence modeling and error analysis in the context of real writing, both by published authors and your own students, can work hand-in-hand to provide inspiration and perspiration.

11. Writers manipulate grammar in different ways and at different points of the writing process. Sentence variety is a component of mature writing. Check out these grammatical sentence openers.

12. One’s knowledge and experience with grammar helps shape one’s writing style and voice.

13. Degree of oral proficiency in grammar impacts writing ability.

14. Direct instruction is not enough—coaching is necessary to teach students how to write. The “sage on the stage” has to be complemented with the “guide on the side.”

15. Identification of grammatical constructions can help students apply these in their own writing, but exclusive practice in identification will not magically translate to correct application. If students can readily identify discrete elements of language, say prepositional phrases, they will more likely be able to replicate and manipulate these grammatical constructions in their own writing. However, students need to practice writing prepositional phrases in the context of real writing to solidify the connection between identification and application.

16.  There are certain grammar rules worth teaching.  If students understand and practice the grammatical rules and their exceptions, they will more likely be able to write with fewer errors. Knowing the rule that a subject case pronoun follows a “to-be” verb will help a student avoid saying or writing “It is me,” instead of the correct construction “It is I.”

17.  Some grammar instruction gets better “bang for the buck” than other. Teaching the most common errors certainly makes sense.

18. The notion that grammar can’t be learned by students with auditory or visual processing disorders or by students with certain learning styles is a myth. 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.

19. What we say shouldn’t always be the way that we write. Students need to learn to distrust one’s own oral language as a grammatical filter. “Whoever John gives the ring to will complain” sounds correct, but “To whomever John gives the ring, he or she will complain” is correct. Knowing pronoun case and the proper use of prepositions will override the colloquialisms of oral language.

20. English grammar can 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. However, teaching English-language learners requires special consideration.

21. Teaching grammar shouldn’t take up an entire English-language arts course. Most of us would say about 20% or less of our instructional time.

How to Teach Grammar in Four Simple Steps

1. Develop a Plan

Establish a coherent scope and sequence of instruction with your colleagues, including those who precede and those who follow you. Base your plan on your more general state standards, but get as specific as possible. I suggest integrating grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction into the plan. Include both “review” and “new” layered skills. Here’s a very workable model: the instructional scope and sequence from the author’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4-8 programs.

2. Do Direct Instruction “Sage on the Stage”

The skills detailed in the above instructional scope and sequence can be taught, modeled, practiced, and assessed in 25 minutes, 2 days per week. Daily Oral Language will not get this done. Grammar instruction need not take up a teacher’s entire class.

3. Individualize Instruction “Guide on the Side”

Use an effective diagnostic assessment to identify grammatical and mechanical skills that your students should already know. Chart their deficits and find brief, targeted instruction that students can independently practice. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Wednesdays and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

4. Do Independent Practice

Require students to practice the grammatical skills introduced in your direct instruction in their writing that very week. For example, if teaching adverbs, on Monday, students can be required to write three adverb sentence openers in the story, letter, essay, or poem they compose on Tuesday.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why We Don’t Teach Grammar

First of all, grammar is a lot like Kleenex®. This brand name has been associated with many other similar products. If I ask my wife to “Please pass a Kleenex®, I would probably get irritated if she responded, “Is a generic tissue okay?” After all, I just want to blow my nose.

So, let’s agree on what we mean by teaching grammar. Grammar has come to mean a catch-all term that refers to everything English teachers would prefer to avoid teaching. This includes the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech), the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, punctuation, and capitalization, and assorted oddities that we think students should know, but wish they learned elsewhere. But, why do most English-language arts teachers detest teaching this collection of instructional essentials that we label as grammar?

1. We fear the unknown. ELA teachers live in the day-to-day fear that one of our colleagues might ask us how we incorporate teaching past perfect participles in our persuasive essays. Teachers naturally tend to avoid teaching things that they do not understand. Most ELA teachers were trained to love literature, poetry, and writing (or at least one of the three). Few were trained in teaching grammar. Some of us have picked up a few tidbits here and there over the years or were educated in Catholic schools.

2. There is not enough time. Teachers have their comprehensive lists of standards and courses of study on their “to-do” lists. There are pressures from administrators, the omnipresent district or state testing, and our own colleagues to check off items on these lists. Of course, we have our  favorite novels and projects. Grammar instruction does not even make our Letterman’s Top Ten. “If I had unlimited time… then, maybe. But to be honest… Socratic Seminars, readers theater, and that Steinbeck novel would probably shove their way into my lesson plans first.”

3. The “research” says not to teach grammar. We trot out a “sound bites” from a study or two as convenient excuses to avoid teaching grammar (most of these research studies from 50 years ago). We gloss over the real language of the research conclusions, i.e., “teaching grammar in isolation outside of the meaningful context of writing is ineffective.” Some teachers do parrot these research conclusions accurately, but few actively address the variables of the research and actually teach grammar in the meaningful context of writing.

4. The fact that students are grammatically-challenged is someone else’s fault. “Students should know this stuff by now. The grade-level standards emphasize review of grammar, not introduction of grammar. I can only teach what I am supposed to teach. I can’t be responsible for other  teachers’ shortcomings. I have my grade-level standards to teach. If I spent all my efforts on what they already should know, students would never learn anything new. Hopefully, they’ll pick it up later, somehow.”

5. Students don’t like grammar and they don’t remember what they are taught. “Grammar is boring. I want to be a fun and interesting teacher. I’m angling for Teacher-of-the-Year and I’m not about to let grammar get in the way. Besides, the pay-offs from teaching grammar seem minimal, anyway. The students have learned the parts of speech every year and they couldn’t define or identify an adverb, if their lives depended on it. An adverbial clause? You’ve got to be kidding. I won’t drill and kill my students.”

6. We don’t know what we don’t know. Teachers teach from personal experience , as much as from professional development. Most teachers in their twenties, thirties, and forties had little grammatical instruction in their school years and few university professors have trained these teachers in grammar for the reasons already discussed. The pervasive “whole language” philosophy of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s de-emphasized grammatical instruction and relegated it to the editing step within the writing process. “I didn’t learn grammar, and I turned out alright” is an often-thought, if not spoken, rationale for ditching grammar instruction.

My response? We need to teach grammar and make time for grammatical instruction and practice. Anything students need to know has to be “taught, not caught.” Students are whom we teach, not ever-changing standards, courses of study, fads, personal preferences, or personal agendas. Therefore, if students don’t know how to define, identify, and use adverbs, we need to teach them (an intentionally ambiguous pronoun reference that indicates both subjects—students and adverbs). We don’t need any more student casualties as a result of any “Great Grammar Debate.” Our ignorance is no excuse. We need to learn how to teach grammar in a meaningful writing context.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar/Mechanics, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Great Grammar Debate

Although not as contentious as the debate on how to teach children to read, the debate on how to teach grammar* has its moments. In fact, elements of the reading and grammar debate do have similarities regarding how language is transmitted.

The lines of division within reading have been drawn between those who favor part to whole graphophonic (phonics-based) instruction and those who prefer whole to part (whole language) instruction. (Check out my blog on the Reading Wars to get up to speed on the current issues in this debate.) Similarly, the divisions within grammar have also been drawn between those who favor part to whole instruction and those who prefer whole to part instruction. By the way the writers of the Common Core State Standards certainly have made up their minds. Guess which side they favor.

Part to Whole

The essence of part to whole grammatical instruction is the inductive approach. Advocates believe that front-loading the discrete parts of language will best enable students to apply these parts to the whole process of writing. Following are the key components of this inductive approach.

1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar to provide a common language of instruction. If a teacher says, “Notice how the author’s use of the adverb at the start of the verse emphasizes how the old woman walks.” Some would carry the memorization further than others: “Notice how the author’s use of the past perfect progressive indicates a continuous action completed at some time in the past.”

2. Identification leads to application. If students can readily identify discrete elements of language, say prepositional phrases, they will more likely be able to replicate and manipulate these grammatical constructions in their own writing. A teacher might suggest, “Let’s add to our sentence variety in this essay by re-ordering one of the sentences to begin with a prepositional phrase like this one shown on the LCD projector.”

3. Focus on the rules of grammar leads to application. If students understand and practice the grammatical rules and their exceptions, they will more likely be able to write with fewer errors. Knowing the rule that a subject case pronoun follows a “to-be” verb will help a student avoid saying or writing “It is me,” instead of the correct construction “It is I.” Some advocate teaching to a planned grammatical scope and sequence; others favor a shotgun approach as with D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) instruction.

4. Distrust one’s own oral language as a grammatical filter. “Whoever John gives the ring to will complain” sounds correct, but “To whomever John gives the ring, he or she will complain” is correct. Knowing pronoun case and the proper use of prepositions will override the colloquialisms of oral language.

5. Teaching the components of sentence construction leads to application. If students know, can identify, and can apply key elements of a sentence: subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, and clauses they will better be able to write complete sentences which fit in with others to form unified and coherent paragraphs.

Whole to Part

The essence of whole to part grammatical instruction is the deductive approach. Advocates believe that back-loading the discrete parts of language as is determined by needs of the writing task will best enable students to write fluently and meaningfully. Following are the key components of this deductive approach.

1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar and identification of grammatical components, other than a few basics such as the parts of speech, subjects, and predicates, does not improve writing and speaking. In fact, teaching grammatical terms and indentifying these elements is reductive. The cost-benefit analysis indicates that more time spent on student writing and less time on direct grammatical instruction produces a better pay-off.

2. Connection to oral language is essential to fluent and effective writing. The students’ abilities to translate the voice of oral language to paper help writers to develop a natural and authentic voice that connects with the reader in an unstilted manner that is not perceived as contrived. A teacher might use mini-lessons to discuss how to code-switch from less formal oral language to more formal written language, say in an essay. For example, a teacher might suggest replacing the fragment slang “She always in his business” to “The couple frequently engages in a physical relationship” in an essay on teen dating.

3. Connection to reading and listening provides the models that students need to mimic and revise to develop their own writing style. Reading and listening to a wide variety of exemplary literature, poetry, and speeches will build a natural feel for the language that students place within their own “writing wells.” Students are able to draw from these wells to write effectively (and correctly) for a variety of writing tasks.

4. Minimizing error analysis. Teachers believe most grammatical errors will naturally decrease with  #2 and #3 in place. A teacher might say, “Don’t worry about your grammar, punctuation, or spelling on your rough draft. Focus now on saying what you want to say. We will worry about how you say it in the revision and editing stages.” Teachers are concerned that too much error analysis, such as practiced in D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) will actually rehearse errors.

5. Teaching the whole paragraph with a focus on coherence will best enable students to apply the discreet parts such as subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, clauses, sentences, and transitions to say something meaningful.

Of course, the Great Grammar Debate is not necessarily “either-or.” Most teachers apply bits and pieces of each approach to teaching grammar. Teachers who lean toward the inductive approach are usually identified by their “drill and kill” worksheets, their grammatical terms posters, and Grammar Girl listed and Purdue University’s OWL prominently in their Favorites. Teachers who lean toward the deductive approach are often pegged by their “ignore and write more” writers workshops, mini-lessons (if they ever get to these), and their writing process posters prominently display on the wall, next to their autographed picture of Donald Graves.

My take? I suggest an informed instructional balance of the two approaches is most effective. Using effective diagnostic assessments can narrow the focus and time commitment of the inductive crowd. Well-planned front-loading of key grammatical terms, with identification and application practice can transfer to better student writing without having to wait until the process of writing osmosis magically takes place.

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The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

* For the purposes of this article, I use the term grammar as is colloquially used by most teachers, i.e. to mean syntax, grammar, word choice, usage, punctuation, and even spelling—a catch-all term that most English language-arts teachers use to describe the “stuff” that we “have to , but don’t want to” teach. For the “nuts and bolts” of instruction, knowledge of the above distinctions is useful; however, for the purposes of discussing the two philosophical approaches to teaching grammar, such fine-tuning of terms is not necessitated.

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Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work

Most teachers are familiar with Daily Oral Language, abbreviated as D.O.L. or under the guise of similar acronyms. Teachers like the canned program because it requires no teacher preparation, it provides “bell ringer” busy work so teachers can take attendance, and it seemingly “covers” the subjects of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. D.O.L. is probably the most popular  instructional technique used to teach grammar. The second most often used technique would be the “teach no grammar-nor-mechanics technique” as is frequently employed by writing process purists who save this “instruction” until the last step of a process piece, if they ever get to it at all. However, the subject of this blog is the former technique, and why D.O.L. does not work.

1. D.O.L. is proofreading, not sentence construction. As such, D.O.L. is error-correction, not meaning-making. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.”

2. D.O.L. has no scope and sequence. It is random, repetitive, and hodgepodge. Many D.O.L. programs claim to offer grade level editions. Who determined that parentheses are at third grade instructional level and semi-colons are at the fourth grade instructional level? Check out the author’s Common Core aligned grammar and mechanics scope and sequence for one that does makes sense.

3. D.O.L. is implicit, part to whole instruction, divorced from any meaningful writing context. Correction is not teaching, and no D.O.L. program that I know of has effective teacher prompts to teach the grammatical concepts.

4. D.O.L. aims to teach writing without writing. Would a seamstress teach sewing by having her students spend all their time analyzing stitching errors? No. To sew, you have to practice sewing. To write, you have to practice writing.

5. D.O.L. involves little critical thinking. Writing involves decision-making about why and how sentences should be constructed for different rhetorical purposes. “Grammar is something to be explored, not just edited (Jeff Anderson).”

6. D.O.L. is not diagnostic. D.O.L. has too much repetition of what students already know, and not enough practice in what students do not know. Teachers need to use diagnostic assessments to determine individual student strengths and weaknesses in grammar and mechanics and then use instructional materials to effectively differentiate instruction.

7. D.O.L. rehearses errors and imprints them in the long term memories of students. The more visual and auditory imprints of errors, the more they will be repeated in future student writing.

8. D.O.L. correction does not transfer to student writing. Students fed a steady diet of D.O.L. throughout elementary, middle, and high school repeat the same old comma errors in the university setting. D.O.L. simply does not teach “deep learning.”

9. D.O.L. is bad test prep. Although teachers often advocate use of D.O.L. for this purpose, the multiple choice format of standardized tests is dissimilar. Tests generally ask “which is right?” not “which is wrong?” Check out the PAARC and SBAC tests for more.

10. D.O.L. uses bad writing models to teach good writing. It teaches what is wrong, not what is right. Although some error analysis can certainly be beneficial, at least as much time should be spent analyzing what makes good writing so good. Good “mentor texts” (Jeff Anderson) from both professional authors and student authors can teach what students should aspire to and emulate.

11. D.O.L. teaches from ignorance. “If they don’t become familiar with the concepts they are asked to edit for BEFORE they are asked to edit, of course they won’t do it well. How could they? How can you tell if something like a mark is missing if you don’t know where it is supposed to be in the first place?” and “But do we start history class with all the wrong dates and names on the board and ask kids to fix them? What about learning the concepts first (Jeff Anderson)?” Students cannot show what they do not know.

12. D.O.L. doesn’t teach the whys and hows of grammar and mechanics. Math teachers do not just teach the process of long division; they also teach the concepts behind the process, using examples, manipulatives, etc. to provide the “deep thinking” that students need. Students need to know why commas set apart appositives, for example. Students need to know how position of word choice affects meaning, for example.

13. D.O.L. isolates writing instruction from student writing. Students are invested in their own writing, not in that of pre-packaged print shown on the LCD projector, or SMART board®. Relevance and personal connection motivates student buy-in. “If the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear (Regie Routman).”

14. D.O.L. does not provide enough practice. One isolated error correction does not teach to mastery. Good teaching involves instruction and immediate guided practice, followed by independent practice with teacher feedback. D.O.L. is throw-it-all-against-the-wall-and-hope-some-of-it-sticks instruction, not the targeted practice that students need to learn and retain the grammatical and mechanical concepts.

15. D.O.L. is boring. Ask students. They almost universally characterize D.O.L. as “repetitive, irrelevant, unhelpful, and a waste of time.”

16. D.O.L. has little research base to indicate that it works. Why use what does not work, when workable, effective alternatives are available for effective instruction in grammar and mechanics?

Here is the most effective alternative…

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons.The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,