Why We Should Teach Grammar

I hope I ruffle quite a few feathers today. I hope people become upset. I hope people take a moment to think about what we are teaching our children.

As an English teacher, of course I support teaching grammar in language arts. As a future mother, I support teaching grammar in language arts. As an English speaking citizen of the United States of America, who hopes to work closely with all kinds of people — no matter age, race, background, or livelihood — I support teaching grammar in language arts.

Here’s why!

Grammar includes sentence structure, parts of speech, different types of phrases, punctuation, and spelling. Yes, spelling.

While many things about our language have changed through time, and are continuing to change, I am a prescriptivist with descriptivist tendencies. English is a fluid language, adding words daily, changing the ability of an adverb to be in a certain place by simply popularizing the new way in a TV show (thanks, “Star Trek”). However, there are rules; and there are a lot of them. There are rules that need to be followed.

I was recently teaching my kids principal parts of verbs and the difference between the singular helping verb has and the plural helping verb had. The principle parts of verbs, while accompanied by rules, are sometimes broken. Rarely, but sometimes they are broken! With the helping verb has, I would never, ever say “I has a question;” however, I is singular and so is has! I breaks the rules. So does you.

We could move on even further into the “i before e, except after c” rule that is only followed by about 30 words in the English language.

We have rules for how words work, but not every word follows every rule all of the time. However, we would not know the difference if we didn’t first know the rule itself.

Now let’s pause and think how this affects our kids — because it does. While I may never, in common conversation, analyze a sentence and find the predicate noun or the appositive phrase, and I may never be quizzed on what an independent clause looks like or whether or not I should use a semi-colon or start a new sentence. However, I am expected to speak and write like an intelligible human being. I am expected, not merely as an English teacher, but as a professional. Over half of our lives are spent communicating, either with our loved ones or with authorities, with new people and old acquaintances, with commoners and VIPS. We cannot call ourselves good communicators until we have mastered our given language of communication.

My creative writing professor, Dr. Myers, told me that he did not want to see any of our poetry or short stories until we had mastered and understood the proper ways to write both genres. He said we had no ability to add to the culture unless we understood the culture. I was a little hurt by his words, but since then I have analyzed my pre-CW class poetry with post-CW poetry and let me tell you… It’s a world of difference. Since then I have played with form and broken some rules, but I was not allowed to do so, and I could not effectively do so, until I had mastered the forms, the rules, the guidelines.

The same is true for our children and students: we cannot let them play with conversational speech until they understand how it’s purest form is to be written and spoken. We cannot let them say, “Well, it doesn’t matter; that’s just how I do it.” We cannot let them throw out the rules because they seem archaic, because mainstream ignorance has changed them and deemed them out-of-fashion. I myself throw in a perf (perfect) and totes (totally) now and then. I myself may type “c u latr” in a text (that’s a lie, but you get the point) but understand that in a formal essay, an email to my boss, or a work application: THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

We must know the rules before we can break them. We must understand how to write and communicate formally before we endeavor to do so informally. The same is true with friendship, is it not? When I met my Sophomore roommate, I wouldn’t have dreamed of calling her names for fun or “letting my hair down” — I wanted her to like me, to see me as intelligent and adult-ish. As time wore on in that Taylor suite, we became familiar and thus the names started being called, the hair started to be let down. From formal to informal. From picking up our dirty clothes to forgetting how to clean our room, we started formally and ended informally. The same is true for writing and communicating: we cannot break the rules until they know what the rules are.

Now, spelling. I have heard many elementary teachers protest spelling by saying it is unimportant in light of the fact that we have spell check; it’s too stressful on kids to learn vocabulary or have spelling tests. Try typing in colonel when you don’t know how to spell it. “cernal?” “cornel?” “cernel?” Sorry. No dice. How about the difference between saying there instead of their. Both are spelled correctly. Spell check won’t catch that. Spelling exists for a reason. Without consistency of spelling, our language would fall apart. We wouldn’t be able to communicate. Webster figured this out and thus we have the dictionary! Without consistency of spelling, the language wouldn’t exist.

I know many ignorant people who would say “Well, this is how I do it so who cares?” This kind of thinking, this blatant disregard for the rules is a creeping weed that will soon destroy a whole green, beautiful lawn.  Say y’all. Say ain’t. Speak in ebonics or deep southern drawl: I don’t care. What I do care about is that we acknowledge, understand, and can aptly apply the rules when necessary.

I am not trying to exclude certain ethnicities, cultural differences, or people groups. I am not trying to stand on my Puritanical soap-box of English teacher-y-ness. I am, however, trying to save my language. I am, however, dying to create competent, intelligent students who can effectively communicate.

If we cease to communicate, we cease to exist. If we must use the rules on the road, if we must use the grammar rules in foreign language classes, then I implore this generation of teachers, students, citizens, parents, kids, math-majors, and English-majors alike that if we do not follow the rules of our given language, we will soon become relics in a tomb where no one will be able to make sense of us.

That is why we should teach grammar in schools, K-12. I cannot wait to have children so I can teach them how cool and confusing this language is. And I cannot wait until they discover its nuances, its puns, its figurative language, its idioms. I cannot wait until they discover that there is an apostrophe with their name when they are speaking of their own items; that dependent clauses are joined to independent clauses with commas, thus giving clarity to a sentence; that when there are other commas in a sentence, we must then use semi-colons to separate the different parts.

If our land is beautiful and we must respect it, so should we do to our language. If our people and cultures are beautiful and we must respect them, so should we do to our language.

We must teach grammar. We must.

How Rubrics Saved My Life

If we are being honest, Jesus saved my life. But the use of rubrics in my classroom has been a huge blessing.

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I teach English II, which is an End of Instruction tested subject in the State of Oklahoma. I have a lot of material to cover and a limited amount of time in which to do it. With the implementation of Common Core, I make it a priority that writing be a part of the curriculum as much as possible. But, in the world of an English teacher, more writing, which equals more learning and hands-on-experience, also means more grading.

Blech.

This year, I took the basics from the state writing rubric and only included what a score of 4 would earn. I average the five components together (on a scale from 4-1, like the state test) and that’s the grade I give the student (all of my essays are out of 100%).

I have had these English II Writing Rubricsmade up for awhile, but I never really used them. I have specialized rubrics that I use for other essays, but for general writing — I was lost. In one of my classes, I’m guinea-pigging the use of Interactive Notebooks. While students have a very organized notebook, I have a hard time grading their writing from the notebook! I’m currently halfway through grading the essays from my 3rd hour with these rubrics. There’s space to write notes and I highlight the areas students need the most work.

It’s going so fast, having this guide, and it’ll be a really quick and easy way for me to organize and post their grades.

In short, the use of the rubric has saved my jam-packed weekend from being “bleh I have to grade essays.” Instead it’s more of, “now I can hangout with my boyfriend and not have a worry on my mind!” Thanks, rubrics!

Ms. K

Arguing the Inarguable

Blah Blah Blah is usually how students interpret an argument. Even better: most students believe that an argument involves a problem where the arguer is mad at someone and is taking out their angst on that person. With the implementation of Common Core, there is a need to explain that arguing is simply making a claim and supporting it. We use it all the time, from our first Interpretive Essay to our last assignment of building a Knight’s resume.

In my 1st and 4th hour, we have begun a 4-5 week unit on Argument and Persuasion. In the Unit we will peruse the joy of persuasion as we read Sagan’s “On Nuclear Disarmament” and two articles about animal rights and animal testing. The articles are meant to encourage discussion and expand students’ minds in these controversial areas. At the end of the unit, we will research for an editorial.

Last week I had the privilege of being observed by my principal (observation 3 of 4 of the 2013-2014 school year). I don’t pull out the dog-and-pony show when he comes because (with the exception of a few low-key days) every day is a crazy-fun day (not just my words). On this particular day, I planned for him to see a type of lesson I’d never done before. We had already introduced the concepts of an argument the day before, taking notes from the textbook and coming up with examples from media on different types of persuasion, but on the day of my observation we were going to concretely put those ideas into practice.

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I love copy paper and markers.We folded a piece of copy paper into thirds so we’d have a pretty good outline for our graphic aid. I stole the aid from my textbook (And should have done so AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER) to help explain and identify the Claim and Support (also helpful when teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details). We took markers and outlined our roof and pillars. You’ll notice that the roof is marked as the “claim” and then we have two supporting reasons and a counterargument.

The claim, for this exercise, had to be a simple sentence presenting a the existence of something that doesn’t actually exist. For instance, one boy claimed that Bigfoot is real, another that snow was just angels’ dandruff. One girl claimed that running was actually bad for your health. A bright young man claimed that there are no other countries besides America, it’s all a Hollywood facade.

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For each claim, the students had to give two reasons why the claim was true. They could only use ONE testimonial, the others had to be “facts” (made up details from scientists, experts, the news, etc). The counterargument had to be different than the reasons they had previously given. Each supporting detail had to be explain in at least five sentences.

It took them awhile to begin; making up a topic and claiming its existence proved a bigger challenge than they expected. But the results were phenomenal. I prefaced the lesson by explaining that we would use this model to do an editorial later in the unit, but for today they would just have to make something up. They were engaged, they understood what a claim and counterargument were, and what they came up with truly was genius.

In the spirit of Common Core, I put learning into their hands. I taught them the structure of an argument, the importance of “real facts” to back up a claim, and the joy of being creative.

It was a good lesson and a good day.

MK

 

The Importance of Being Earnest

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my career is the importance of being earnest. Being earnest includes passion for my craft, love for my students, and patience in ALL things.

Being earnest is difficult.

Under my belt sits one and a half years of teaching. That’s three semesters of whining, crying, punch-dancing, and door slamming. And then there’s my students’ behavior! I would be lying if I said I haven’t wanted to quit — at least 8 times in the last 6 months. HOWEVER, I have not yielded. I have not given up. I have remained in musty room 8 with the crappy ProBoard, the stained carpet, and the mismatched desks.

My, how that sounds so dire, so hopeless. But I will be the first to say: all is not lost. As the semesters have passed, the breaks seem to get shorter and the kids seem to pay less attention and sometimes… on my darkest days… the fire that started my teaching career seems to fizzle and burn out. I experienced this at the end of my first semester, over a year ago. I had some very ornery boys in one class, I’d lost complete control in my last hour, I had messed up the grading, I had a long list of to-don’ts. I left for Christmas break in a proverbial fetal position, ready for a BREAK from the chaos that had become my life.

What I experienced over that break was overwhelming. I slept. I didn’t grade anything. I wasn’t talking for hours on end. I wasn’t having to send kids to the office. I had a break. A real life break. It turns out that the fire did not burn out, it had only dimmed. What God did to my fire over break was kindle it and make it burn a smidge brighter. I headed into the second semester with fresh eyes and a vigor for the subject, which I had never felt before. I had new students and a new heart. I would be lying if I said there weren’t struggles — because there were. But I had a heart for what I was doing; I loved it. And so things got better.

Fast forward through an amazing and much needed summer to the beginning of the 2013 Fall Semester. I was ready and willing and had a new teacher on my team. Within the first two weeks, I got too comfortable and I let a lot slide. My pacing was off. I was sick of the EOI prep. I was upset at the legislation put in place by people who didn’t know my struggle. I was upset with kids who didn’t give a flying fart in space about their grades. I was upset because parents wouldn’t support me in my decisions I made and the natural consequences that had descended upon their children. I was so ready for Christmas Break that I could feel it the MOMENT the first bell rung after Thanksgiving Break.

I desperately searched for the rest and peace that I’d felt last Christmas break, that peace that helped me ease into the second semester.

Empty. Dry. Nothing.

Monday came around and with it came a slew of problems: kids who wouldn’t work, a new mandate for teacher evaluation, an impending head-cold, the list went on. I sprinted through the day prepping for two new classes, making to-do lists the length of the Nile, running around to print my grade verification sheets… As the day closed, three things happened:

1. I realized just how much my administration cares about education and about me as a teacher. Thus, I felt appreciated and a little hopeful.

2. 90% of my kids passed their EOI and over 95% had a C or better (most with A’s or B’s). They’d earned those grades.

3. I love what I do.

At the end of the day, after teaching sentence structure and starting fresh with new students, I remembered that I’m here for a reason: I love teaching literature and writing. My philosophy is that my discipline is crucial to civilization. Literature, what is written and then read, connects us to each other. Writing, which is used for expression, also connects us to each other. The skills I teach in this class are so important in “real life.” Fifty percent of the grade is essentially following instructions, the other 50% is basically just learning how to interpret the world around us and then explain it to each other.

I have quite a few kids this semester that I know are struggling. But I will diligent and forward and we will succeed.

The importance of being earnest is that we can’t succeed without it. Not even a little bit.

MK

Thanksgiving: a walking cliche

It is Thanksgiving, so of course it’s that time of year in which those of us who have forgotten to be thankful dedicate a whole month (well, at least three and a half weeks) and a turkey to be so.

We Insta, we tweet, we #thankful. And none is more guilty than I. But I refused to do the “30 days of Thankfulness.” I refused to do it because I was ashamed.

I was ashamed that I wasn’t already doing this thing called “365 days (or 366 depending on the Leap) of Thankfulness.” I was ashamed that it took a national fad to get to me to realize what I’m thankful for. I was ashamed that a secular world participates in this act of thankfulness during November which is an expression quota that I probably haven’t met with an entire year of blessings. I was ashamed that thankfulness, a simple “thank you,” was not on my lips every moment of every day. It would not be cliche to participate in #thankful or #thirtydaysofthankful, but instead it is hypocritical and grossly deficit in regards to the abounding blessings in my life.

I could spout hundreds of verses on being thankful. I could post a million pictures of a million beautiful and blessed things in this blog today but what I haven’t done, what a lot of us haven’t done, is to say “thank you,” in every moment, for every thing — all day, every day. This includes the cuddling with your kids (or your puppy) during a snow day. This includes the love of your life. This includes the beautiful sunset. This includes the great day at work, the new job, the safe travels, the beautiful friends, etc. It also includes that harsh conversation you had with your boss. It includes the oven going out. It includes the car accident, the surgery, the bills, the snow, you name it. In every moment, good and bad, thankfulness should be on our lips.

Paul says, “In everything, give thanks; for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The Man who laid down his life for us is also the God who created us, Who gave us breath, Who gives us great things, and Who also gives us hard-times that we might grow (for what is the beauty of a budding plant if not for the struggle it has to thrive? Yet it does: time after time!). I will be the first to say that life sucks sometimes, that this world has a way of smacking us around to the point of utter hopelessness. But in all of these things, we see the sunsets, we have moments with family and friends, and we continue to draw breath… And with every breath, should we not utter a simple, unadorned, un hashtagged, unprompted by fad “thank you.”

It is not my intention to condemn the actions of everyone who participated in the thirty days of thankfulness or have in someway tried harder than usual to express thankfulness this month. It is not my intention to cause derision but to admonish each of us in the Body of Christ to live according to His will. We have been blessed with much, and thank God for the opportunity to express our thankfulness in so many ways! But may we remember to continue to give thanks not just in November and Christmas, but every day. Every. Single. Day.

I wish you all a very, very happy Thanksgiving. May we remember the gesture of Pilgrims, and more importantly may we continue to give thanks every day. 

MK

 

The Perks of Being a Grown-Up

Today is pay-day. And as per usual on pay-day, I am reminded of the drudgery that is adulthood:

  • In two days, my car and school loan as well as my credit card payments go out.
  • Rent is due.
  • My cupboards are bare.
  • I need to buy dog-food.
  • Christmas is coming up.
  • I should fill up my gas tank. Feenie is hungry.
  • My savings needs a steroid-shot.

Before I know it, 3/4′s of my paycheck is gone out into the wild somewhere, paying my debts and keeping life going in my small corner of the world.

That all to say, I do have a paycheck. I work hard for the money. I pour out my heart and my knowledge for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I prep and grade for countless more hours and days. I enjoy what I do and I’m compensated for it. The budget is tight, and let’s be honest: it’ll never be loose. But, it’s a good life. I have money to enjoy the weekend with friends, to get good gifts for my loved ones, and to enjoy life that is around me.

Being an adult is much harder than I was told it would be (and yes, I was warned). But it’s probably the most rewarding part of my whole life. So, dear soon-to-be-college-grads/my-old-residents-who-are-now-Seniors-at-OBU-and-are-terrified-of-the-thought-of-grown-up-life: relax. Pray for wisdom. Take time to smell the roses. Work hard. Keep up your friendships. Don’t worry that you’re not married and starting alone. Don’t worry too much about how much you don’t have. If you ask my roommate and me about groceries and meals on a budget, well those were the best meals of our lives (even the 4 weeks all we could afford for lunch was slim fast…). It’s actually a pretty amazing time. Life is pretty amazing.

Or should I say, God’s blessings in life are pretty amazing. So glad he takes care of me.

MK

The Posted Paw Volume 1 Issue 3

I was approached about teaching Newspaper at the beginning of the year and I was terrified. I have approximately one semester of News 1 at Independence Community College under my belt. That’s big time news. I did editorials and sports. Ms. Thomas said I was too wordy. I’m sorry I can’t explain things in under 800 words! Get a bigger page!

That to say… I’ve come to enjoy Newspaper. I have a motley crew of good writers and nappers. It’s just how the game is played (so I’m told). I do what I can with what I have. I have an editor who is graduating and doesn’t do anything but help pass out the paper on Fridays (more on my editor). I have a co-editor who makes the paper what it is. I have a handful of writers who like getting down to the nitty-gritty. And then I have those who begrudgingly hand me copy on Wednesdays and slowly type their stories. What we have done, together as a unit, is transform the Bethel newspaper into something people actually look forward to. We have pictures, polls, real news, Bethel goings-ons, and even a coloring page on the back! We will certainly not win any awards any time soon, but our production is neat and tidy.

My editor and co-editor are passing out this edition: Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4

We still have a lot of errors and we need to figure out a template that works a little better. But when the English teachers, the principal, the secretaries, and the librarian all look at you and say “You are doing such a good job with the newspaper,” you just want to sit in that glory for a moment…

MK