“Playful, when it comes to discussing grammar and good writing, is helpful.”
~Rachel Toor, “How Do You Learn to Edit Yourself?”
I’ve been teaching at Salt Lake Community College since 2008, mostly English 1010 (Intro to Writing) and English 2010 (Intermediate Writing) but also Novel Writing, Imaginative Writing, and Grammar & Style. Before that, I taught as a graduate student at Brigham Young University, and before that I majored in English Education as an undergraduate, doing my student teaching at Bingham High School in South Jordan.
What sort of teacher am I?
- The activity-focused sort, who detests and avoids lecturing.
- The overly enthusiastic sort, always asking, “Isn’t that cool?”
- The adjust-on-the-fly sort, where every lesson takes a new spin depending on where the discussion leads us.
Basically, my motto is do what’s effective. If video clips from popular movies make the point of the lesson stick more clearly, then I show video clips. If a group activity will help students solidify their ideas for their writing, then I construct a group activity. If a customized website is the best way to have them encounter, analyze, and practice grammar concepts, then I construct a website. That’s my teaching philosophy. I don’t do anything solely to entertain; I do what will make the concepts stick.
The second half of my motto is to give my students everything that I wish I’d gotten out of the class as a student. I wish that I could have mastered all the punctuation marks as a freshman rather than still picking up the pieces in grad school. I wish that I’d had explicit instruction in style and paragraph cohesion and voice. I try to find the most effective ways to teach them what I think they’ll appreciate knowing.
I encountered the six traits as a student teacher, and my mentor teacher even gave me a nifty stamp for scoring papers. I continued to use the traits as a graduate instructor, and I still use them not only in my community college courses but in my own writing. They help writers/students start with what’s most important and work their way through the process until all sides of the writing are polished — not just the grammar:
- Word Choice
- Sentence Fluency
SLCC’s Open English project published my article about these traits on their Pressbooks site. The article is called “Movies Explain the World (of Writing)” and aims to guide writers through the choices that help any piece of writing really shine all the way through.
I believe that teaching written conventions is a crucial piece that has been omitted too often from curriculum for the wrong reasons. Decades ago studies “proved” that grammar instruction was harmful because it was inefficient and took too much time away from other writing instruction. The trouble is that those studies looked at grammar taught in the traditional sense, with worksheets and memorization of terms, etc.
In recent years the idea of “rhetorical grammar” has been slowly catching on, and I am very much in favor of it. It stresses analysis, discussion, and application in order to help students develop a broader repertoire of structural and stylistic choices for more effective rhetoric.
Using that approach, I created a website called Real Grammar that focuses on punctuation structures. I send my students there every semester to read about each concept before we discuss their examples in class.
I also wrote another article for the Open English project called “Punctuation, Memes, and Choice” that uses humor to help students understand the simple uses of semicolons, em dashes, and even complicated commas.
These are articles about rhetorical grammar from CCC and The English Journal that I’ve found helpful:
- John Dawkins’s “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool”
- Martha Kolln’s “Rhetorical Grammar”
- Laura Micciche’s “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar”
(Updated 28 Mar 2022)