By Adrienne Lanier
They’re, their, there…Two, to, too! These are common homophones I see misused on social media by even the brightest of professionals. As a professional, do I pause when I notice these errors? Yes! Does this inability to write effectively make me stop to think about their experience with writing at a young age? Definitely! Do I understand their overall message? Absolutely!
You see, as the world has evolved, so has writing. I can remember, not so fondly, the standard 5-paragraph essay, with 5 sentences in each. Ensuring I was using appropriate indentation, spacing, etc. You know, the technical aspects of writing. The writing that was so rigid, it was borderline depressing. Once I became an educator, I realized the purpose of this writing was for the mechanics- THE GRAMMAR! Well, fast forward to the 21st century of writing and non-conventional can be considered conventional, non-standard is standard, and abnormal is, well, normal! Now don’t get me wrong, we still need the BIG “B” ( the basics) but we also need another “B”- balance!
In today’s classroom, writing instruction may look exceptionally different than a decade or two ago. Increased emphasis is being placed on a student’s ideas and organization and a little less attention is being placed on grammar. So, how does a teacher fit grammar into effective instruction? Relying on the old adage, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water”, I would recommend merging the old with the new, but with a twist.
Just as with any profession requiring a diagnosis, have students write daily to determine which grammatical needs they have versus diving in to all of the parts of speech. As we know, we write the same way we speak in most cases. If a student has control over their conventions verbally, chances are very likely the basics are not an area of weakness. They would benefit greatly by learning to use increasingly complex sentence structures. Whereas, students struggling with the basics would need small-group intensive support with learning to correctly use grammar both verbally and in their writing. This method inherently lends itself to differentiation by content.
Often times, in my early years of education, I felt it to be taboo when students copied, with a few changes, my work we completed together. However, I later learned that it was far better for them to copy exemplary models than to muddle through and never really get the lesson. So, I became very intentional in modeling correct grammar for my students. Again, this was verbally as well as written modeling. Children mimic what they see us doing, so we have to be sure to make every attempt to hit the mark as often as possible. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your stance, as educators we must bring our “A” game every day regardless of what our personal lives hold.
All too frequently, educators are plagued with the looming concern of state-mandated standardized assessments and educators are stressed focusing on ensuring their students are successful on these paper-pencils exams. This is where, as professionals, we have to offer a good balance. When discussing grammatical concerns with students, it is a good practice to ensure the lesson is both valid and realistic, meeting student and curricular needs. At the beginning of each lesson, spend a few minutes (10-15 minutes) discussing the conventions as well as its importance when writing. Some teachers like the set-up of Daily Oral Language while others prefer Daily Grammar Practice. No matter which program teachers favor, a best practice is to ensure the lesson is both timely and appropriate. By this I mean, don’t spend extended time on identifying nouns or verbs if either most of your students are capable of identifying these parts of speech or your curriculum calls for using nouns and verbs, not identifying them.
All in all, grammar is an intricate part of the human language but the English Language has so many exceptions to the rule, teaching students to apply grammar in their speaking and writing will allow for the most effective instruction and results.