Why pirates say arrrrrrrrrr . . . .

Kind of Sketchy on Grammar Pirate:
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Bloomberg: Learn to ‘speak grammar’

“Kids have to learn to speak grammar,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on his weekly radio show. “If you don’t speak good grammar – English with good grammar – you’re not gonna get the kind of jobs that you want,” said the mayor.

That’s usually true, but Bloomberg managed to become a billionaire without learning to speak grammatically.

Grammar is back

A growing number of teachers are “bringing grammar, the forgotten spinster of school subjects, back to the party,” writes Elise Hahl  in Education Next.

In an honors English class at Needham High in Massachusetts, students rip apart a verbose letter by a 15K race coordinators trying to explain why he misdirected racers and forgot to supply water at the finish line.

“‘In trying to formulate what to say in regards to yesterday’s events,’” Max quotes, “‘I realized that what I said over and over to the folks I helped get on returning shuttle buses was exactly what should be said to all.’”

. . . “He just throws in words!” Max says. He goes on to finish the opening paragraph.

“‘While it became repetitive, it was no less from the heart in any one time from the other:’”

“He ended with a colon,” says a boy who didn’t shave that morning.

. . . A stocky kid named David chimes in. “That’s not just bad grammar,” he says, indignant. “That’s, like, bad PR.”

His comment catches the attention of (teacher Andrea) Bassett, who is making rounds to each cluster of students. “David,” she says, “the life lesson here is that bad grammar is bad PR. You guys remember that.”

Needham High English teachers decided to coordinate grammar instruction so their students would no longer graduate “without knowing the parts of speech or parts of a sentence” or the need to capitalize “I.”

Brent Concilio, a young, Dartmouth-educated teacher, says the push to make classes “relevant” meant more time discussing students’ feelings about contemporary novels and less time for “the systematic teaching of grammar.”

Grammar was considered oppressive by some teachers, writes Hahl.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication in 1972 stated that students had a right “to their own patterns and varieties and language.” The resolution, which was adopted in 1974 by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), went so far as to say that correcting language was “immoral” because it was really an attempt by one social group to exert dominance over another.

With colleges complaining about students’ lack of writing skills, the SAT has added grammar questions, Hahl writes. Needham High parents want their kids to learn grammar, even if they didn’t learn much when they were in school. The school’s teachers believe students will benefit from learning how to communicate clearly in what’s considered the “correct” way.

Needham serves students from affluent, educated families. I wonder if grammar is back in schools with disadvantaged students, who have little hope of learning to write clearly unless they’re taught the fundamentals.

2nd graders correct NFL players’ tweets

Second graders at Elmwood Franklin School in Buffalo “applied their lessons in proper sentence structure, noun and verb usage, spelling, and punctuation to correct the tweets of professional football players, posting their corrections on the school’s Facebook page. The most common mistake was the incorrect spelling of “a lot.”

The students corrected a tweet by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, who made headlines this week for an anti-gay remark, reports the Daily Caller.  Students fixed the spelling in “I pray to God I’m never dieing broke,” though they didn’t translate it to standard English: “I pray to God that I don’t die broke.”

Second Graders Correct Tweets From NFL Players And It's Magical

Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young also drew the students’ attention by tweeting: “It’s true I could be alot better, But wit the football.”

New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker erred in a “Merry Christmas” message by adding: “My God bless you all!”

All three players are college graduates, according to the Daily Caller.

Wanted: A geezer with grammar skills

If you’re 70 or older, lucid and literate, there’s an (unpaid) job for you in Portland editing the autobiographical stories of a 79-year-old “geezer.”  Why the age requirement?

. . . I advertised before, received 117 responses. . .and NONE were sufficiently conversant with the English language to achieve an acceptable level of editing. It appears that a preponderance of younger people have not been taught correct grammar and satisfactory writing skills.

In addition to “possessing intimate knowledge and understanding of correct composition, grammar and punctuation,” he’s looking for someone who will work for satisfaction rather than money.

Why should those young punks learn to punctuate if there’s no money in it?

The ad was highlighted by Jim Romenesko, who also spotted Chicago Craigslist ad seeking a ghostwriter:

I would like to write a book, but find myself without the time or expertise to write it.

Age isn’t mentioned. (Neither is pay.) The successful applicant “must possess various abilities, powerful writing skills, knack for putting ideas together, experiences and information into words and can write about any topic.”

How self-expression hurt my students

Liberating students to discover the power of their voice? Sharing personal narratives? Every child an “author” writing for an audience? “Like so many of our earnest and most deeply humane ideas about educating children in general, and poor, urban children in particular, this impulse toward authenticity is profoundly idealistic, seductive, and wrong,” writes Robert Pondiscio in The Atlantic.

As a fifth-grade teacher at a South Bronx school, “I used to damage children for a living with that idealism,” he writes.

P.S. 277 didn’t teach its low-income students to use correct grammar and sentence structure, or to correct their mistakes.  That sort of literacy instruction rediscovered by New Dorp High School in Peg Tyre’s The Writing Revolution, was considered stifling.

Every day, for two hours a day, I led my young students through Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. I was trained not to address my kids as “students” or “class” but as “authors” and “readers.” We gathered “seed ideas” in our Writer’s Notebooks. We crafted “small moment” stories, personal narratives, and memoirs. We peer edited. We “shared out.” Gathered with them on the rug, I explained to my 10-year-olds that “good writers find ideas from things that happened in their lives.” That stories have “big ideas.” That good writers “add detail,” “stretch their words,” and “spell the best they can.”

Teach grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics? I barely even taught. I “modeled” the habits of good readers and “coached” my students. What I called “teaching,” my staff developer from Teacher’s College dismissed as merely “giving directions.” My job was to demonstrate what good readers and writers do and encourage my students to imitate and adopt those behaviors.

Reading and writing instruction had become a  Cargo Cult, Pondiscio writes. Go through the motions of being a writer to be a writer.

But good writers use their knowledge of the world, their big vocabularies and their command of language conventions to write vividly and persuasively, he points out.  Children growing up in language-rich families may pick up these things by osmosis; everyone else needs to be taught in school.

“When our students resist writing, it is usually because writing has been treated as little more than a place to expose all they do not know about spelling, penmanship and grammar,” observes Lucy Calkins, probably the workshop model’s premier guru. She is almost certainly correct.

This leaves exactly two options: The first is to de-emphasize spelling and grammar. The other is to teach spelling and grammar. But at too many schools, it’s more important for a child to unburden her 10-year-old soul writing personal essays about the day she went to the hospital, dropped an ice cream cone on a sidewalk, or shopped for new sneakers. It’s more important to write a “personal response” to literature than engage with the content.

“The unlived life is not worth examining,” Pondiscio writes.  Furthermore, ”teaching disadvantaged children the mechanics of writing, and emphasizing evidence over anecdote, is liberating not constraining.”

Young people who’ve mastered grammar are more likely to become writers capable of self-expression, he argues.

Also: Great writing comes out of great ideas.

 

Writing revolution: Back to the past

A Staten Island high school with mostly poor and working-class students, New Dorp High was tired of failure. After trying various reforms, such as small learning communities, Principal Deirdre DeAngelis and her faculty set a goal:  Teach students to write clearly.

When students learned to write — in history and science, as well as English — they learned to read, argue and analyze, writes Peg Tyre in The Atlantic. Test scores rose significantly and the graduation rate soared.

Nell Scharff, a lecturer at Baruch College, worked with teachers to figure out why New Dorp students couldn’t write. The poor writers had basic reading skills, but didn’t use “coordinating conjunctions to link and expand on simple ideas—words like forandnorbutoryet, and so.”

Teacher Fran Simmons asked her freshman English students to read Of Mice and Men and answer a prompt in a single sentence:

“Although George …”

. . . More than a few wrote the following: “Although George and Lenny were friends.”

Twenty-five years ago, schools of education began teaching new teachers that writing should be “caught, not taught,” says Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State.

Roughly, it was supposed to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. . . . Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression.

. . . For most of the 1990s, elementary- and middle-­school children kept journals in which they wrote personal narratives, poetry, and memoirs and engaged in “peer editing,” without much attention to formal composition. Middle- and high-school teachers were supposed to provide the expository- and persuasive-writing instruction.

Many kids didn’t “catch” writing, writes Dorp.  Pressured to raise reading scores, secondary school teachers neglected writing instruction.

The principal sent New Dorp teachers for training at Windward, a private school for children with language-related learning disabilities.

Children . . .  are explicitly taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts—butbecause, and so. They are instructed on how to use appositive clauses to vary the way their sentences begin. Later on, they are taught how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own.

In every class but math, New Dorp students wrote.  In chemistry class, Monica DiBella had to describe the elements with subordinating clauses.

Although … “hydrogen is explosive and oxygen supports combustion,” Monica wrote, “a compound of them puts out fires.”

Unless … “hydrogen and oxygen form a compound, they are explosive and dangerous.”

Learning parts of speech improved Monica’s reading comprehension. Before, I could read, sure. But it was like a sea of words,” she says. “The more writing instruction I got, the more I understood which words were important.”

In class discussions, students were required to use certain phrases, such as: “I agree/disagree with ___ because …”

In Monica’s fifth-period-English discussion of the opening scene of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, teacher Angelo Caterina asks why Willie Loman is so tired.

“Willie Loman seems tired because he is getting old,” ventured a curly-haired girl who usually sat in the front. “Can you explain your answer?,” Monica called out. The curly-haired girl bit her lip while her eyes searched the book in front of her. “The stage direction says he’s 63. That’s old!”

. . .  “I agree that his age is listed in the stage direction,” said John Feliciano. “But I disagree with your conclusion. I think he is tired because his job is very hard and he has to travel a lot.”

Robert Fawcett, a loose-limbed boy in a white T-shirt, got his turn. Robert had been making money working alongside the school’s janitors. “I disagree with those conclusions,” he said, glancing at the prompts. “The way Willie Loman describes his job suggests that the kind of work he does is making him tired. It is repetitive. It can feel pointless. It can make you feel exhausted.”

New Dorp is now considered a model school, writes Tyre.

Common Core Standards stress expository and analytic writing over personal narratives, she notes. But many writing experts think students will be bored by lessons in grammar, sentence structure and argument. Creative writing will motivate students, they believe.

Meanwhile, Monica DiBella is applying to college. Her Regents scores predict she’s ready.  “I always wanted to go to college, but I never had the confidence that I could say and write the things I know.” She smiles and sweeps the bangs from her eyes. “Then someone showed me how.”

OMG: Txtngz bad fr kidz gramr

Txtngz bad fr kidz gramr, concludes a new study of Pennsylvania middle schoolers, reports Ed Week.

Middle school students who frequently use “tech-speak”—omitting letters to shorten words and using homophone symbols, such as @ for “at” or 2nite for “tonight”—performed worse on a test of basic grammar, according to a new study in New Media & Society.

. . .  the more often students sent text messages using text-speak (shortened words and homophones), the worse their grammar—a concern as 13- to 17-year-olds send more than twice the number of text messages each month than any other age group.

Researcher Drew Cingel started the project after receiving texts from his young nieces “that, for me, were incomprehensible,” he said in a statement. “I had to call them and ask them, ‘What are you trying to tell me?’”

CEO: I won’t hire grammar slobs

If you don’t got no good grammar, you won’t get hired at IFixit or Dozuki, writes CEO Kyle Wiens in the Harvard Business Review. He gives all applicants a grammar test, regardless of whether they’re applying for a job as a writer, programmer or parts clerk.

Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can’t distinguish between “to” and “too,” their applications go into the bin.

Of course, we write for a living. iFixit.com is the world’s largest online repair manual, and Dozuki helps companies write their own technical documentation, like paperless work instructions and step-by-step user manuals. So, it makes sense that we’ve made a preemptive strike against groan-worthy grammar errors.

But grammar is relevant for all companies. . . . Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.

Good grammar predicts good job performance, Wiens believes.

If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.

. . . I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.

In the same vein, programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code.

. . . And just like good writing and good grammar, when it comes to programming, the devil’s in the details. In fact, when it comes to my whole business, details are everything.

“Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important,” Wiens writes.

Via Ed Week Teacher.

Everybody writes a novel

San Jose sixth graders are writing their own novels for National Novel Writing Month, reports the San Jose Mercury News.  They favor “knights, talking dogs, ninjas and children embarking on quests to save their families — or the world.”

. . . Albert Joo is chronicling the adventures of a necromancer, a kind of wizard, told from the viewpoints of a knight, a vampire and a vampire hunter. That may seem complicated, but 11-year-old Albert said, “It’s honestly a pretty basic story.”

. . . While participation in NaNoWriMo has no prerequisites, J.F. Smith students come prepared. All classes at the Evergreen district school emphasize writing. Sixth-graders start the school year writing a personal narrative and learn about including sensory details and scenery. They progress to fiction, but it has to be based on a real problem — like an annoying younger sibling — so they can write in detail. Later they’ll write a speech.

Last month they started planning their novels, ranging from 6,000 to 35,000 words. That’s 24 to 140 pages — short for a novel, long for them, (teacher Linda) Ulleseit said. She has them depict their outlines as a roller coaster, sort of an inverted U, detailing plot, characters and goals.

It’s easy to get ideas,” 11-year-old Sahith Narala said, “but it’s hard to put it into words.”

Ulleseit plans to submit her class’s work to the self-publishing site CreateSpace to print an anthology. Royalties of 56 cents per book — she anticipates sales to “moms and dads and grandmas” — will go back into the classroom budget.