Teaching grade 12½

The first year of college has become grade 12½, writes a community college writing instructor. Actually, it’s more like grade 7 1/2: He’s teaching punctuation, grammar, sentence structure and spelling.

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  1. >Their sentences are thickets of misplaced modifiers, vague pronoun
    >references, conflicting tenses, and subjects and verbs that don’t
    >agree?when they remember, that is, that sentences need subjects.

    If I were king, giving these students a high school diploma would be a crime roughly equivalent to grand theft. After all, these kids have had their future stolen…

  2. Is college too late to teach sentence structure and grammar effectively? I would think that it is. These are middle elementary skills – even waiting till junior high seems too late. By that time, many habits are ingrained. Think of all the time wasted when a student spends years writing badly. Gee, how depressing.

    I’m not sure who to blame and all that (as with the reaction piece) but I’m going to take a leap and say that the idea we have that grammar is best taught through osmosis can’t be *helping* anything.

  3. It’s inevitable that trying to get more and more students into college will result in a steady decline in the average ability level of college students. Even if all students could acquire a college education it’s not clear that the economy can actually produce enough jobs requiring a college education to soak them up.

    Trying to increase the percentage of students going to college has increased the cost of college while to the extent that the supply of college graduates is increased the wages for college graduates go down.

    • This is true. Our national failure to pay any attention to vo-tech education and believe that college is a panacea is a disgrace. I’d also add, though, that high school graduates ought to be able to write coherent sentences. If 12 years of education can’t even do that for a solid majority of students, what are they spending all that time doing? Perhaps if high school graduation meant something, we wouldn’t be so obsessed with college?

  4. The decline in the value of a high school diploma is itself related to increasing the percentage of students who graduate from high school. We have done that but at the cost of a reduction in standards so that while more people have high school diplomas the possession of one does not carry the same weight as it did in the past.

  5. He’s teaching punctuation, grammar, sentence structure and spelling- and I am teaching how to add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers, fractions and decimals without a calculator.

    • This. The remedial math classes are FULL of student wannabes who can’t even do multiplication without a times table cheat sheet. Yet the schools continue to foster the fantasy of “college for all.” And, frankly speaking, why would the college do any different? Why kill the goose that laid the golden eggs? A student stuck in remedial purgatory represents $$$ for the school. It’s not about education, and it’s not about job training. All we’ve done is create diploma mills that are slightly more respectable than the traditional variety.

    • College bound students teach themselves from a sat test prep book if their parents didnt provide a tutor. The fully included classroom does not have time for this material.

  6. My school has been transitioning to Common Core for the last two years. (We had a SIG grant.) While undergoing training by a consultant, I was told that as a History teacher, i was not supposed to grade the writing done by my students for grammar, spelling or punctuation. My job was to only grade content. I objected loudly and strongly, and ended up getting called on the carpet by my principal as “uncooperative”. This at a school that is constantly reminding all teachers to check that the students are wearing their ids every period “so the kids will realize that we all think this is important”.

    • Not correcting their errors is not doing them a favor in the long run.

      • When I review a resume, I’ll stop after the third spelling or error in grammar. They’ll find out soon enough how important writing/spelling/grammar is.

        • Me too. Nothing is as annoying as a resume (of all things!) that is full of trivial spelling and grammar errors. I just assume that their communications with our clients would be at about the same level as their resume.

          • Unfortunately, even a well-written resume doesn’t guarantee good writing skills. My DD interned in a big NYC PR firm and she was the only one of the 16 interns allowed to write anything more than phone messages. (who wrote their resumes?) She had a good experience, writing press releases and the like. By then, she had forgiven me for all of the red pencil I put on her k-12 work – because most of her teachers let too many errors slide.

  7. I went to a small-town 1-12 school in the 50s-60s. The ability to write correct prose was mastered by the end of 8th grade, because spelling/vocab, grammar and composition were taught every year, including sentence diagramming in 7th08th. HS still taught grammar and vocab but focused mostly on academic writing for the college-prep track and business writing for the commercial/general tracks. Few kids went on to college (and some of the older people didn’t have HS diplomas but I never saw grammatically incorrect or misspelled notices, signs or posters. (like the “Celebrate and Festive with Us” sign down the street). All work was corrected and graded for grammar, spelling and style, in addition to content. Kids in the secretarial program were workplace-ready and the program’s reputation meant they had their choice of jobs.

    I’m happy to say that my oldest grandkids, who are entering 3rd grade, had weekly work on grammar and spelling. In a one-HS system, parent pressure works – eventually. They also have Singapore Math.

  8. It is a sad statement that these students were even admitted to college in the first place. You should take the placement exams, and if you score below minimums, you tell the student:

    I’m sorry, you have NOT scored well enough to be admitted to this school at the current time. I would advise you to get tutoring in the following areas to bring your skills up to the point where you will be able to succeed in college.

    Most of the students won’t make it past the first year anyways, while racking up a pile of debt to do it (when you have 30 credit hours in remedial coursework, none of which applies towards a degree or certificate, perhaps it’s time to rethink if you have the ability to succeed in college).


    • It’s a community college, right? CCs do a lot of remedial and literacy education. The placement exam just tells you how deep down in the remedial classes you have to start.

      • It’s one thing for CCs to accept those needing remediation because they have been out of HS for several years, but why admit new HS grads who are functioning at MS levels? If they’re accepted, their high schools should be sent the bill – because they’ve already been paid to teach those things and the diploma says the students have learned them. At least, that used to be the case, until the push to give diplomas for attendance.

        • Momof4,

          I’m in agreement the public school system should be sent the bill for allowing the student to slip and slide their way through school. We never had this problem when I was in high school, due to the fact that at 16 you could drop out, and those students who didn’t like school could get a job and learn a trade (if they had the desire and the will to stick it out), or join the military (they took dropouts back then, not today), or a number of other things.

          Most students who have been out of HS for 10 plus years will need some remediation, but coming directly from high school, they shouldn’t be admitted until their placement exams show them ready for college level coursework.