“Playful, when it comes to discussing grammar and good writing, is helpful.”
~Rachel Toor, “How Do You Learn to Edit Yourself?”
I teach English 1010 and English 2010 at Salt Lake Community College, usually at the Jordan campus, where I’ve been since 2008. 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 self-deprecating sort, like when a lesson is flopping: “Well, this isn’t working, so we better scrap it and try something else.”
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 wiki website is the best way to have them encounter, analyze, and practice grammar concepts, then I construct a wiki website. That’s my teaching philosophy. I don’t do anything solely to entertain or have fun or whatever. I try to do what will work best to 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. The nice thing is that most of them do appreciate it, so our relationship is usually good by the end of the course, despite the work load.
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. I have yet to find an aspect of writing that doesn’t fit into one of the six traits, and so I think they appeal to me for that reason and also because they help students (and writers!) start with what’s most important and work their way through so that all sides of the writing are polished — not just the grammar.
To see what I mean and to get an idea of what my teaching style is like, check out this three-part post series I did on the six traits:
I believe that teaching written conventions is a crucial piece in a composition classroom that has been omitted too often 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 choices for more effective rhetoric.
These are links to presentations, essays, and websites I’ve created for the purpose of sharing the idea of rhetorical grammar with teachers and teaching it to students:
- Real Grammar at the College Level
- Effective Grammar Mastery in the First-year Composition Class
- The Grammar Project
- Sample Grammar Portfolio
(Teachers, feel free to copy and paste from The Grammar Project or my Grammar Portfolio to use these ideas with your classes. Also, my English 1010 and English 2010 pages have pdf copies of my syllabus/calendar that show how I stagger the grammar concepts throughout the semester.)
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”