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Is Grammar Important and Should It Be Taught in Grade Schools?

All through schooling, since third grade, we have been taught grammar. Grammar is defined at dictionary.com as the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed. By the time I was a senior in high school and had to memorize the 17 comma rules, plus all the other punctuation rules, it was no surprise to me that I barely remembered two rules from all the years of my schooling. By having to memorize over 40 rules in about three weeks, it is still no shock to me that I barely learned them or how to apply them still to this day. I usually understood where to place certain punctuation marks but I couldnt explain the exact rule for it like I was asked to know. Most teachers and professors believe that grammar is important and that the grammar handbook should be known and memorized. In contrast, there is reason to believe that the use of grammar and importance of the handbook is not as useful as it is made out to be. Why do we use grammar? How many of us have been given a handbook of grammar rules and everything we wrote was right or wrong because of the lucky chance of following a rule or unfortunate chance of violating a rule? Do these rules really make our writing better/ correct as most teachers and professors claim, or can we just throw them aside? John Dawkins describes the use of Grammar as a rhetorical tool used to place emphasis on certain parts of a sentence. He uses a principal called raising and lowering in which clauses are more or less separated by the use of punctuation. If emphasis should maximum, a period or a semi- colon would be used. If the emphasis should be medium, a colon or dash would be used and a comma or nothing for minimum emphasis (Dawkins 147). The higher or more abrupt punctuation like a period causes more separation, more of a pause than a lower mark like a comma. For example, compare these two sentences: She wanted to go to the store- until she lost her money. And She wanted to go to the store until she lost her money. Until she lost her money was emphasized because of the dash. The second sentence, which had no pronunciation, was given much less emphasis. Dawkins describes grammar as a use of how we want readers to read our writing instead of using a bunch of rules so that we are handbook correct. He says Learning to punctuate effectively requires only a little knowledge of grammar, much less than most English teachers will grant (WAW 150). He goes on to say that we need to understand what independent and dependent clauses are but we know this based on everyday speaking, reading and writing. I agree. If my English teachers had me focus on content and challenged me to read and write more instead of memorizing the entire grammar handbook, my effectiveness of grammar in my writing would have been much better. If I am writing for someone else to read, dont I want to put the emphasis on what I want to reader to read rather than write for a stupid handbook? Now we see that the grammar handbook doesnt have to be followed rule to rule so what should be taught? It is also questioned that teachers shouldnt teach grammar until later in high school or have other methods than teaching directly out of the handbook. Three authors of the book To Grammar or Not To Grammar, have an opinion about the way grammar is taught. The writers of this edition said Both our personal teaching experiences and the findings of research studies support the conclusion that most students do not benefit from grammar study in isolation from writing, if indeed

our purpose in teaching grammar is to help students improve their writing (e.g., Hillocks and Smith, 1991) (Weaver, McNally, and Moerman 18). These teachers have experienced the ways that kids work and respond to the teaching of grammar and they believe it is clear that kids do not respond to grammar well if it is taken out of context of actual writing. They believe that the study of grammar can be very helpful though. The choice and placement of these grammatical options join with word use and other features to create a distinctive style and voice in a piece of writing. Thus, guiding students in sentence expansion and revision is critical to helping them become more effective, not just more correct, as writers (Weaver, McNally, and Moerman 18). This is a true point. When we are taught how to connect clauses, we are able to longer choppy sentences and make them more efficient and flow better. But what 6th, 7th, or even high school student is ready to understand the entire handbook like they are taught? Grammar was a big mess of confusion for me and I tried hard to learn the rules. It was so hard to remember all the parts of a sentence and all else that came with it. That didnt help me write. I was learning the basic concepts of writing- I didnt need a group of rules trying to govern the concept that I was still learning. In the English Journal by Jean Sanborn, she also reiterates this point. She says, What is important in school is not grammatical analysis or the teaching of as yet undeveloped forms but continuing performance in all aspects of language- reading writing, speaking, listening-which will encourage, not teach, syntactic maturity. Language continues to develop through the use of language, not through exercises in the naming of parts (Sanborn 74). Jean describes young people learning grammar as a process where they have to step outside of themselves to examine a process. He goes on to explain that this results in frustration and confusion of the kids and they take a step backward educationally (Sanborn 76). A way I think about this concept is learning to play basketball or any sport. You have to learn how to dribble, pass and shoot before you learn plays. It may take years of rec basketball before you can learn really complicated plays if you are willing to go to that level. If you are taught plays before you get the fundamentals down, then you will be so frustrated and overwhelmed that you will probably quit. The same is with writing. If you are trying to write well rhetorically for the reader, and you know some basic concepts of how to use grammar, is it really necessary that you are drilled with a million techniques that are not essential to the reader? I think that the writers of To Grammar or Not to Grammar put it best. For us, the question is not a simple dichotomy, To grammar or not to grammar? Rather, the question is, What aspects of grammar can we teach to enhance and improve students writing, and when and how can we best teach them? In the context of writing is our short answer, but we keep learning more ways as we keep taking risks as teachers. (Weaver, McNally, and Moerman 19). This makes sense. If we learn plays slowly as we learn the mechanics of the game, then we will grow in wisdom towards the game as our coordination grows. In other words, students will be able to take on outside grammar as they continue using common sense grammar. The use of grammar can be effective in punctuation in making sentences efficient and rhetorical. But, the handbook should not be the bible of all writing. It should merely be a guideline that writers can refer to. When younger, kids can learn the ideas of certain punctuation but they live in a world where they talk, read and write all the time. Grammar

is common sense to them. They know how to connect words to make effective sentences without the confusion of adding in some grammar rules. At the very end of the writing process when language, concepts, and rhetoric have been understood, then the rules can be looked at but some thing should not be considered a grammatical error for not being identical to the handbook. Students should learn grammar from the handbook as a referral when they are in late stages of high school. It should not be forced on to Children when they are young. Grammar is a tool to help our writing but for rhetorical purposes.

Works Cited Dawkins, John. Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool. College Composition and Communication 46.4 (1995): 533-48 print. Sanborn, Jean. "Good Wine before Its Time." National Council of Teachers of English. 75.3 (1986): 72-80. Print. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/818870>. Weaver, Constance, Carol McNally, and Sharon Moerman. "To Grammar or Not to Grammar: That is Not the Question!." Voices from the Middle. 8.3 (2001): 17-33. Print. <http://www.learner.org/workshops/middlewriting/images/pdf/W8ReadGrammar.pdf>.