Monday, July 10, 2006

Grammar For Smarties

A couple years back I decided to buy Grammar For Dummies and read it cover to cover as part of a self-improvement strategy I had going at the time.

I’ve always been pretty good with writing; however, even when I was starting college I could not identify an infinitive, an adverb or a preposition in a sentence.

I didn’t know the terminology, but I did know the usage. I could string a decent sentence together, which enabled me to get an “A” in College English. And later, get paid to write. And later still, start my own blog.

When I got the book, rather than use it as a reference tool (as I do now), I read the whole thing with the intention of brushing up on my skills. My hope was that it would help me write good. Well, gooder.

It worked. The book cleared up many issues I had just never bothered to look up, for example, the use of further vs. farther. (If you have some of these lingering issues, it ain’t a bad read. Well, you know what I mean.)

What occurred to me while reading the book was, if there is an easier way to learn this grammar stuff (i.e. a book for “dummies”), why aren’t we using it in schools? Why is it merely a supplement to our educational diet and not the main course? Isn’t it sensible to teach a subject in a way that people can understand and apply in their lives?

Some educators in particular may think these books “teach down” to students. But that may just be old-fashioned thinking. I say if it works, it works.

It’s not akin to Cliffs Notes, for example, where you just get the gist of a book; you can actually learn a good cross-section of grammar skills with the Dummies book. Certainly to a level most people would call sufficient for everyday life.

A functionally literate society is the objective of education, correct? If there’s a better way to teach grammar (or any other subject), we shouldn’t shy away from it. Hell, we still see enough your/you’re transpositions alone to suggest our grammar curricula aren't quite doing the trick.


talkytalk said...

Fantastic post, bogs.

More power to you.

Bird said...

oh hell bogs, you know i have to respond to this one.

my thoughts:

grammar schmammer!

further/farther , toward/towards, even who/whom are not grammar concerns - that's useage - and useage changes over time (and often marks class and education level). but, these are issues i never deal with in my courses - i am teaching bigger ticket issues - like overall organization, developing a thesis statement and supporting points, fleshing out those points with appropriate details and analysis, and use of subordinators, coordinators, and transitional words to show the logical relationship of ideas between clauses and sentences (and hence paragraphs) - mind you, some folks would say that knowing when and wny to use for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so as well as subordinators and transitional wors IS grammar - but it's not - knowing when and how to use those words is about expressing ideas. i don't even deal with comma errors when joining two independent clauses with a coordinator - I don't care - not with my students. that kind of stuff can wait for advanced comp, or students who are excelling in first-year comp - but even then - i'm focused on the expression of ideas.

in short - i don't deal with grammar unless it impedes meaning, or students have a pattern of error (they repeatedly make the same kind of error over and over again).

but i'll have to check this grammar for dummies book out - maybe it's more student friendly than the handbooks some of us teachers use - maybe we kin teach them kids better with it. hahaha - now - was that last part of the sentence grammactically incorrect, or just sytlistically weak? is spelling grammar - or just spelling? hahahaha!

this is not to say i don't teach grammar - i sneak it in as i need it (students hate grammar - gotta sugar-coat it a bit) - as students need it, but i don't teach grammar for grammar's sake.

but i must say - well-written post and i didn't spot any grammar errors - hahaha - i will have to go over it again with a keener eye and my red pencil in hand!


fatty ~ said...

yer i agree totally!

i mean like, isnt it totally sumone elses fault da skools today like aint teaching gramma lioke dey used 2? its like all there fault of corse!

But seriously, i think more people in my generation than i give credit to know how to use language properly, and i notice it most when looking at essays in english courses in year 12. But then i have no idea what the english course is like in the States.

When i use shorten words or use slang in my writing like 'sorta' or 'kinda', it's usually because thats how i actually talk and it adds personality or emphasis to what i am saying.

I would however have trouble with some of the terminology of words and sentence structure, but that is less important than actually having the right word as in the case of then/than, who/whom, etc.
And then there is spelling...

Pete Bogs said...

talkytalk - thx...

bird - you talk good... lol...

fatty - American English courses are filled with lots of unnecessary info only a scholar would need to know - as bird points to in her comments...

for me, it is about the meaning... I like to get things right, too (spelling, punctuation), but don't ask me to identify the participle, etc.

I get along ok not knowing that, and I get paid to write professionally, for God's sake!

K9 said...

/bark bark bark


when i come here now i get an alert saying it cant verify file path. whats that, the video thing??


Bird said...

more pontification from the english teach in response to this post -

esl students know more grammar than me (now - should i use "i" or "me" in the previous sentence - if "i" is subjective - yes, if objective - haha - but any solid esl student would know immediately - 'cause they are taught grammar with a capital G).

however, native English speakers (now, should there be a hyphen used with those adjectives and noun - as in native-english speakers or native english-speakers - any good copyeditor would know - yet it would depend on which sytle guide he/she - hmmm...shouldn't i just repeat "copyeditor" so as to avoid a gender-specific pronoun - oh! and there's the question of the hyphen again!) used- but any ways (is that one word or two - with or without the "s"?) native english-speakers know far more grammar than they realize - because we grow up with the lingo - we sorta/kinda/you-know-what-i-mean absorb a fair amount of grammar rules just from speech. of course, we don't, as bogs says, know the terms (until we've tortured by courses which instruct us in terms in order to, in turn, torture our own students).

it has been proven(note the faulty use of "it" as a subject for this sentence which immediately leads the sentence astray, creating a lack of focus and as well as the inappropriate use of the passive voice - the "to be+past particple construction" which effectively hides the agent or actor of the sentence - i.e. the agent is either literally unknown, too complicated to explain, or purposely hidden to deflect responsibility - as in "mistakes were made") that skill/drill grammar instruction does not improve overall writing over the long term.

however, it should be noted (by agents unknown or too complicated to explain)that the use of the passive voice and the it-is or there-is construction are not grammar errors; rather, such useage simply demonstrates a weak style.


off to totally warp young minds!

Jack K. said...

bogs and bird, there is a book entitled Woe is I you might find of interest. At the moment, I cannot log on to Amazon.

I'll get back to you later. The car is done and I will head home now.

The Flabbergasted Heathen said...

Well Bogs, think of it this way.

You were taught grammar in school using the traditional method. Perhaps the grammar for dummies book wouldn't have been as effective if you hadn't been taught the fundamentals beforehand.

Jack K. said...

I was waiting to get maintenance done on the Del Sol and trying to keep up with blogs which is why I didn't get to this part of the comment. When the car is done and lunch is calling, I answer the call.

Anyway, I think you will enjoy this book. It is fantastic. My brother recommended it to me. site for Woe is I.

one critic's viewpoint you will like.

Jack K. said...

k9, I think I may have figured out that message about the computer not being able to load some video. We need to add Windows Media player plugin 9.

I use a Mac computer and both Safari and Firefox. Safari says I can't load and Firefox gives me the option to download the plugin.

I think I will try the download and see how it goes.

Jack K. said...

k9, I just tried to download the plugin and got rebuffed.


Hellpig said...

Bird now say it in English

Pete Bogs said...

bird - I agree most people know more grammar than we give them credit for... they know a functional amount, and that is fine... still, your/you're, Bush's nuke-u-ler and things like that drive me nuts...

the passive voice issue is interesting... as you say, it's not wrong, but more stylistically weak... sometimes while I'm writing I'll realize that a sentence I'm writing is passive, and though I think the wording should stay as it is - it sounds good and feels "organic" - I "correct" myself because I have been trained to...

flab - there is another side to each coin, as you so adeptly point out...

jack and k9 - I have a music video embedded into the page... right now it's Green Day's "Holiday," but I change it every few days...

Aunty Belle said...

Ain't too worried about the HOW of learnin' grammar--jes' learn it --I ain't convinced by Bird's take on the matter--(Grammer schmammer)learn the dern grammar folks and use it...else ya'll be talkin' and writin' worse than ole Aunty Belle!