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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

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers looking at a stand-alone grammar, mechanics, and spelling curriculum that is aligned to the language strand of Common Core State Standards, please check out the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. Throw away the ineffective D.O.L. or D.L.R. “openers” and get 64 no-prep, interactive Sentence Lifting lessons-each designed with basic and advanced skills. Each of the 64 lessons has Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged, simple sentence diagrams, sentence modeling, grammar cartoons, and dictations. Also get 72 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets to differentiate instruction, according to the results of the Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments.

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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

…..

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.

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers looking at a stand-alone grammar, mechanics, and spelling curriculum that is aligned to the language strand of Common Core State Standards, please check out the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. Throw away the ineffective D.O.L. or D.L.R. “openers” and get 64 no-prep, interactive Sentence Lifting lessons-each designed with basic and advanced skills. Each of the 64 lessons has Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged, simple sentence diagrams, sentence modeling, grammar cartoons, and dictations. Also get 72 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets to differentiate instruction, according to the results of the Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments.

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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

…..

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 the Sentence Lifting 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. As the 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. 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.”
  6. 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.

Further Note: I add on a simple sentence diagram, a student model, and a related cartoon to the instructional mix. Teaching (note use of gerund :)) one mechanics, one spelling, and one grammar “rule” with this Sentence Lifting approach takes me 15-20 minutes. I teach Sentence Lifting twice per week to my seventh graders. I use an instructional scope and sequence derived from the new Common Core State Standard Language Strand.

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers looking for a comprehensive grammar, mechanics, and spelling curriculum that is aligned to the language strand of Common Core State Standards, please see the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. This no more than one hour per week program provides 64 no-prep and no-correct, interactive Sentence Lifting lessons-each designed with basic and advanced skills. Each of the 64 lessons has Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged, simple sentence diagrams, sentence modeling, grammar cartoons, and dictations. Also get 72 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets to differentiate instruction, according to the results of the Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments.

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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 Language Strand does not advocate an instructional approach and the Common Core 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 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 just don’t like it.

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, if the economy would only allow). 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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. For example, sentence dictations, sentence revision, and sentence combining during the Grammar Openers, paragraph practice using the mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills taught in the Grammar Openers lesson, analytical rubrics which provide specific feedback in these skills rather than a simplistic lumped score on a holistic rubric. A balance of contrived and authentic writing practice/application makes sense.
  • 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.

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers looking for a comprehensive grammar, mechanics, and spelling curriculum that is aligned to the language strand of Common Core State Standards, please see the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. This no more than one hour per week program provides 64 no-prep and no-correct, interactive Sentence Lifting lessons-each designed with basic and advanced skills. Each of the 64 lessons has Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged, simple sentence diagrams, sentence modeling, grammar cartoons, and dictations. Also get 72 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets to differentiate instruction, according to the results of the Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments.

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Free Grammar and Mechanics Resources

How do most teachers teach grammar and mechanics? Frankly, many of us just are not teaching these subjects, except as a few weeks of drill and kill worksheets prior to the standardized test. Teachers either perceive grammar and mechanics instruction as too boring or as too difficult to teach, so they avoid it like the plague. Some teachers may rationalize why they don’t teach these subjects. You’ve heard the comments: “I didn’t learn grammar and mechanics, and I turned out all right” or “I teach grammar and mechanics through the Writing Process” or “The students should already know these skills—these are not my grade level standards” or “I once heard that grammar is acquired naturally through oral language development.”

Other teachers borrowed a well-used copy of Daily Oral Language activities from another teacher years ago and have faithfully used the same lessons as “openers” ever since. The advantage of such “programs” is that they require no teacher preparation. Unfortunately, these collections of grammar and mechanics mistakes provide no diagnostic information, have few teaching resources, and fail to establish a sensible instructional scope and sequence. Students simply rehearse errors. This ineffective practice rarely translates to mastery learning. Learning grammar and mechanics out of the context of meaningful writing may help students get a few questions correct on the standardized test, but this knowledge just won’t transfer to their writing.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach grammar and mechanics in the context of writing from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Oh, and don’t forget to copy down the 10% discount code found only on this blog to purchase the quality curricula and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Grammar and Mechanics

Grammar Diagnostic Assessment and Recording Matrix

http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/Grammar%20Assessment.pdf

http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/Grammar%20Assessment%20Matrix.pdf

The TGM Grammar Diagnostic Assessment tests all of the basic grammar, parts of speech, and usage skills in an efficient multiple choice format. Students complete the assessment in 15-20 minutes. Record the data on the TGM Grammar Mastery Matrix and differentiate instruction according to student needs. Note: the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum provides worksheets with formative assessments that correspond with each item on this assessment.

Mechanics Diagnostic Assessment and Recording Matrix

http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/Mechanics%20Assessment.pdf

http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/5TGM%20Mechanics%20Assessment%20Matrix.pdf

The TGM Mechanics Diagnostic Assessment is a whole class assessment that tests all of the basic punctuation and capitalization skills. Students complete the assessment in 10-15 minutes. Record the data on the TGM Mechanics Mastery Matrix and differentiate instruction according to student needs. Note: the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum provides worksheets with formative assessments that correspond with each item on this assessment.

How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs in Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-eliminate-to-be-verbs-in-writing/

Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves eliminating the “to-be-verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Learn the four strategies to revise these “writing crutches.”

Teaching the Language Strand

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/teaching-the-language-strand/

Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/overview-of-the-common-core-language-strand/

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest? For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful.

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ccss-language-progressive-skills-standards/

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. One of these components stirring up heated debate has been the Language Progressive Skills document.

How to Teach Helping Verbs

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-teach-helping-verbs/

English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns. Learn when to use and when not to use helping verbs and how to eliminate them to improve writing.

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/why-daily-oral-language-d-o-l-doesnt-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 article is the latter technique, and why D.O.L. does not work.

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/why-d-o-l-does-not-transfer-to-writing/

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. Let’s examine the most influential of these learning theories to explain why D.O.L. does not transfer to writing.

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/problems-with-daily-oral-language-d-o-l/

Daily Oral Language is built upon oral review. Lack of instructional depth and the methodology of oral practice are key reasons 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.

Common Core Grammar Standards

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The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

Grammar Research and Balanced Instruction

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A balanced approach to grammatical instruction just makes the best sense of the grammar research. An approach that involves direct grammatical instruction in partnership with plenty of connected reading (sentence modeling) and writing (sentence manipulation). Here’s the summary of grammar research and practical instructional implications for teachers committed to differentiated instruction.

Why We Don’t Teach Grammar

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Teachers de-emphasize grammar instruction for six key reasons. Learn these reasons and re-prioritize your instruction to include teaching grammar in the context of meaningful writing.

How to Teach Grammar

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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 grammar. Here are 21 assumptions about grammatical instruction and four simple steps to teach grammar, mechanics, and spelling to your students.

The Great Grammar Debate

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The Great Grammar Debate between those favoring part to whole and those favoring whole to part grammar instruction is still relevant.

How to Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction

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Balanced grammar instruction includes four components: 1. Differentiated instruction based upon diagnostic assessments 2. Direct instruction in grammar and mechanics 3. Writing strategies practice and 4. Writing process revision and editing.

How to Identify Subjects and Predicates

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The complete sentence is, undoubtedly, the most important benchmark of conventional writing. Subjects and predicates are the best identifiers of the complete sentence and the best checks to identify sentence fragments and run-ons. This article helps students to identify sentence subjects and predicates with clear definitions and examples.

How to Fix Sentence Fragments

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Writing in complete sentences is the essential writing skill. Even sophisticated writers sometimes struggle with sentence fragments. Learn how to identify sentence fragments in your own writing and, more importantly, fix these to create mature and complete sentences.

How to Fix Run-On Sentences

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Writing in complete sentences is the essential writing skill. Even sophisticated writers sometimes struggle with run-on sentences. Learn how to identify run-ons in your own writing and, more importantly, fix these to create mature and complete sentences.

Grammar Instruction: Establishing Common Ground

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Perhaps no instructional issue in English-language arts produces more contentious debate than the issue of how best to teach grammar. All too often we bog down in our discussion over the issue of instructional strategies. 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.

Sentence Lifting: D.O.L. That Makes Sense

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Unlike traditional Daily Oral Language (DOL), Sentence Lifting uses both sentence modeling and error analysis to teach grammar and mechanics. Using exemplary literature, teacher, and student writing, students will practice emulating these texts and also practice editing sentence errors. Using current writing samples from both literary and student work teaches grammar and mechanics in the context of authentic writing.

Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves

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Here is the list of the Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves that irritate most Americans. Learn what’s wrong, what’s write, and the tips to avoid these common grammatical mistakes.

The Parts of Speech Rap

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Students love to rap with the parts of speech. The key definitions are included in concise form. An MP3 file makes it easy to teach and learn.

The Ten Parts of Speech with Clear Examples

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Knowing the parts of speech is key to the grammatical language of instruction. Writers need to be able to accurately identify and apply each of these ten parts of speech. This concise reference clearly defines all ten parts of speech and provides clear examples of each.

The Most Useful Punctuation and Capitalization Rules

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Proper punctuation and capitalization are marks of an educated and careful writer. Here is everything you need to know about proper punctuation and capitalization in one concise reference. Clear examples make this tool a must for every writer.

How to Teach Verbs

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches adverbs in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching verbs that makes sense. Get all the definitions, examples, and writing style resources for how to teach verbs in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool verbs cartoon.

How and When to Teach Adjectives

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches adjectives in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching adjectives from primary elementary to high school. Get all the definitions, examples, and writing style resources re: how to teach adjectives in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool adjectives cartoon.

How and When to Teach Pronouns

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches pronouns in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching pronouns from primary elementary to high school. Get all the pronoun definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool pronouns cartoon.

How and When to Teach Nouns

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches nouns in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching nouns from primary elementary to high school. Get all the noun definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool nouns cartoon.

How and When to Teach Adverbs

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches adverbs in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching adverbs from primary elementary to high school. Most importantly, get adverbial definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool adverbs cartoon.

How to Teach Conjunctions

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“Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches conjunctions in the context of writing and reading. Get all the conjunction definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool conjunctions cartoon.

How to Teach Prepositional Phrases

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Wouldn’t it make sense to spend instructional time on the part of speech that constitutes 30% of all writing? Prepositional phrases are used that much. Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches prepositional phrases in the context of writing and reading. Get all the preposition definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool prepositions cartoon.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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Why not make sense of grammar instruction with a curriculum that efficiently integrates grammar and writing instruction? Throw away your ineffective D.O.L. openers or last-minute grammar test-prep practice and teach the grammar, mechanics, and spelling that your students need with the standards-based Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. This comprehensive grammar, usage, spelling, and mechanics curriculum  provides a coherent scope and sequence of 64 no-prep Sentence Lifting lessons, each with Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged. Complement this direct instruction with 72 grammar and mechanics worksheets that specifically target the diagnostic needs of each of your students as indicated by the whole-class TGM Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments. Truly differentiate instruction with the user-friendly resources found in this large three-ring binder. 314 pages

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How to Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction

In my last article, I classified the chief divisions in grammatical instruction* as follows: 1. those who favor part to whole instruction and 2. those who prefer whole to part instruction. I argued that teachers need not accept an “either-or” philosophy of instruction, but can certainly be eclectic in their instructional strategies. Of course, kind and persistent readers of the Pennington Publishing Blog are naturally putting me to the test to flesh out how I balance instruction, using both forms of  those inductive and deductive instructional strategies.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

Teachers too often teach what some students do not know at the expense of some students who already know what is being taught. For example, students learn the definition and identification of a sentence subject over and over again from third through twelfth grade. Teachers legitimize this repeated instruction by arguing that learning is recursive and, thus, reviewing is necessary.

Instead of making excuses, teachers should address the problems inherent in a diverse classroom. Why not administer diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction in sentence subjects? Then, use the data to inform and differentiate instruction. Targeted worksheets that correspond to the diagnostic assessment, as in my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, with individual one-on-one follow-up conferences or in small group review just makes sense. How often and how much class time do I devote to grammar differentiation? Twice per week, 15 minutes per day.

Direct Instruction

Front-loading grammar and mechanics instruction is efficient and transfers to student writing when a teacher follows a coherent scope and sequence of instruction that builds upon previous instruction and writing practice. For example, here is a scope and sequence for teaching adverbs that builds in year-to-year review, and also helps students deepen their understanding of this part of speech to improve their writing:

  • Primary students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a physical action verb and practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to sentences.
  • Intermediate students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a mental action (e.g. knows) or state of being (e.g. was) verb. They should also practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to various places within sentences.
  • Upper elementary students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? and Where? to describe verbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs, including adverbial phrases, in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbs to various places within sentences and as transitions within paragraphs.
  • Middle school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs and adverbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs.
  • High school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to provide sentence variety to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs. Students should also practice elements of style, such as placing shorter adverbs before longer adverbs and placing general adverbs before specific adverbs within sentences. Students should also contrast comparative adjectives and adverbial phrases, identify dangling modifiers, and practice recognition and revision of these errors for SAT/ACT test preparation practice.

Sentence modeling from exemplary student writing and literature should be examined and emulated in brief student writing exercises with direct instructional feedback. Alongside of sentence models, contrasting sentences with writing errors should also be analyzed, but not in the context of an incoherent, scatter-gun D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) “program.” Download an example of my Sentence Lifting exercise at  Grammar Openers Toolkit Sampler to see how this direct instruction approach integrates grammar and mechanics instruction within the context of real writing. My Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum has 64 Sentence Lifting lessons with multiple instruction layers of instruction (as in the adverb example above) to provide the teacher with resources that reflect leveled degrees of difficulty. How often and how much class time do I devote to direct grammar and mechanics instruction? Three times per week, 15-20 minutes per day.

Writing Strategies

Teachers should practice sentence manipulation and sentence combining. For example, re-writing subject-verb-complement sentence construction to begin with complex sentences, such as with adverbial clause sentence openers is excellent practice. I use Sentence Revision exercises such as in the Writing Openers Toolkit Sampler from my Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum to help students practice sentence construction and revision. Sentence Revision also provides exercises in writing style. How often and how much class time do I devote to Sentence Revision? Three times per week, 10 minutes per day.

Writing Process

I require students to include specific sentence openers that we have practiced within their writing process pieces. Students re-write sentences to reflect their practice within the revision stage of the writing process. Peer editing focuses on the specific grammar and mechanics that we have been learning in our Sentence Lifting and Sentence Revision lessons.

Here are brief overviews of the two curricular sources described above: Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Find whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments with 72 targeted worksheets to differentiate instruction based upon these assessments and a full year of 15-minute Sentence Llifting lessons with standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills in Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. Download free previews or purchase on my website.

*By grammatical instruction, I refer to usage, word choice, grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, spelling rules, and the like, as most teachers tend to lump together these writing skills.

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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 reading have also been drawn between those who favor part to whole instruction and those who prefer whole to part instruction.

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 conclusion to 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 GrammarGirl listed 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.

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.

Need resources for a balanced approach? Find whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments with 72 targeted worksheets to differentiate instruction based upon these assessments and a full year of 15-minute sentence lifting lessons with standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills in Teaching Grammar and Mechanics.

* 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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