What could be a better way to make sure we did all the readings and understood the theories and argument than this assignment? My SO exclaimed, "What a brilliant assignment!" (well if one is creative).
Of course, my dialogue was about grammar teaching. Here is my best shot if you are interested and feel free to continue the dialogue with your new character!
English 651 Professor Wexler
March 28, 2014Mid-term
What is Grammar Anyway and How to Teach It?
Patrick Hartwell and Kay Clarkson are faculty members of the Institute of Standard English, a government funded educational institution established to teach standard American English especially to the culturally and linguistically disadvantaged segment of the nation’s population – people of color, immigrants’ children, foreign born adolescents and adults, and the poor. Once again, as usual, Hartwell and Clarkson dominate their weekly Friday meeting regularly attended by Aristotle and Peter Elbow with a guest appearance by John Lock.
Clarkson: I am not sure if I want to correct my students’ papers anymore. I am so overwhelmed. There are tons of grammatical errors almost as if they had never gone to school. Put it more accurately, I consider this the direct result of neglect in grammar instruction. I am at my wits’ end.
Hartwell: Do you actually think grammar instruction has merit? I tell you again and again that “seventy-years of experimental research has for all practical purposes told us nothing” (206). In fact, there has been no concrete evidence that proves grammar instruction improves students’ composition. That is the truth! Besides, you know and I know that all of those years of grammar teaching and learning are nothing but a pain in the neck for both us instructors and the students.
Aristotle: You think it is the truth. Is it logically sound and correct? Do you so claim based on the absence of proof or inconclusive evidence. I’d say it is probable that grammar instruction has no bearings on students’ composition skills.
Clarkson: Fair enough. But seriously and tell me as a composition teacher, could you possibly ignore gross grammatical errors? Even if ideas or arguments are presented so incredibly well. Tell me, would you say to a man who is always unkempt but extremely good looking that come to your wedding donned in torn jeans, a worn out T-shirt with a faded cartoon character from his childhood because it would not matter if he’s got natural good looks and so good that they could take the place of the formal black-tie attire? That is in essence what it is to accept a piece of writing with bad grammar. I’d be really interested in your refuting this very point.
Hartwell: OK. I’ll give it to you right now. The formal attire is ornament - the language of frills. Grammar is not an ornament.
Lock: Rhetoric is.
Hartwell: Let’s define what grammar is. Here just let me read what Martha Kolin – one of your circle of friends, mentor and pro grammar instruction. There are three kinds of grammars, she says:
Grammar 1: “The System of rules in our heads… [A] subconscious internalized system of rules is your ‘Language Competence.’” Grammar 2: “The formal description of the rules. This definition describes the form and structure, the syntax, of sentences” (Kolin 5). Grammar 3: The social implication of usage, also known as ‘linguistic etiquette,’ This is the definition that people have in mind when they use terms like ‘poor grammar’ or ‘good grammar’” (6).
Clarkson: Exactly. As in “ain’t got nothing” or something like that.
Hartwell: That is actually usage (210). Usage is not rule driven.
Elbow: Right. It is an accepted way of speech and nothing to do with one’s grammatical knowledge.
Clarkson: So what is your point?
Hartwell: The point is that I don’t consider usage belonging to the grammatical issue.
Elbow: I agree. As much as I hate it, it sounds more natural to say “bad English” rather than bad grammar.
Hartwell: I am adding two other categories. Now the kind of grammar you learned in our elementary years, that is Grammar 4. Then, finally, the stylistic grammar, which I’d interpret something to do with prose teaching (211).
Clarkson: Thanks for bringing Kolin up.
Hartwell: Only because she calls us anti grammarians names like “Alchemist.”
Clarkson: I will take over quoting her more. The great philosopher/teachers of Ancient Greece and
Lock: Right. If you want to be understood correctly that is.
Hartwell: Speech and writing are not the same thing.
Elbow: Speech and writing are different dialects (645). But definitely how one speaks reflects in their writing, which is not a bad thing.
Clarkson: We don’t live in the ancient times when the importance of speech presides over that of writing. In speech, grammatical errors are not that important and accepted. Even more so with the emergence of “multi-culturism.”
Elbow interrupting: Non-standard English is actually grammatically correct.
Clarkson: You always do this [to interrupt]. Let’s stick to composition as the center of discussion. Besides, the same use of grammar won’t apply to speech.
Hartwell: Is that so?
Clarkson: Obvious is not it? When you speak, would you think about rules in your head, like a little voice is saying to you, OK. For this type of circumstance, would I use the past perfect or simple past tense will do? Or am I talking about more than one person, so I should either have to say persons or people? Of course NOT! It’ll come automatically if you have Grammar 1 knowledge in English.
Hartwell: Great point. For this, I will quote Chomsky. “A person who speaks a language has developed a certain system of knowledge, represented somehow in the mind, and ultimately, in the brain in some physical configuration” (3). This is the reason why grammar instruction does not work. Theorizing what one already knows and makes rules out of when you don’t know what really happened in our brain when language is being acquired. Risking my argument undermined, I will hesitantly use this trite cliché. Remember when you learned how to ride a bicycle? Did whoever taught you ever give you the theorized mechanisms of riding a bicycle? Some sort of an illustrated manual? Or let me put it this way: Let’s say you did learn how to keep your equilibrium on bicycle in theory but when you actually tried it, did the “theory” in your head ever work? I bet you did not even think about it.
Clarkson: OK. Put your cliché aside, well, actually, I will throw this back at you then. Not being able to ride a bike has very little impact in one’s life. But writing conventionally grammatical sentences does.
Elbow: I think in a way you are implying that not knowing correct grammar could affect negatively in one’s future.
Clarkson: Have you thought about the time they enter into real life? I mean they write for a specific purpose beyond school assignments. I bet any presentation of writing with grammatical errors you and I see in the students’ paper will definitely reveal more about the writer.
Elbow: I don’t like what I am hearing.
Hartwell: Me neither. Besides, study after study shows that Grammar 2 does not improve students’ writing. In fact, it is has adverse effect. My fellow compositionist stated in her article, “if the writer must devote conscious attention to demands such as spelling and grammar, the task of translating [ideas into language] can interfere with the more global process of planning what one wants to say” (Flower/Hayes 262). It really stifles the pre-writing process.
Clarkson: Please don’t mix up the issues at hand. I’ve read that article myself. She co-wrote the article about the cognitive process in pre-writing. Of course, I don’t care in that stage of writing if one uses the past perfect or the simple past tense, although I believe grammar instruction will definitely help in distinguishing the two. Actually, that is a good example of showing Grammar 2 knowledge being transmitted in Grammar 1.
Hartwell: It is a wrong assumption that teaching Grammar 2 improves the proficiency in Grammar 1 or improve man’s manners in Grammar 3 (the “linguistic etiquette”). Grammar 1 is usable but inaccessible knowledge – “‘cognitively impenetrable’ not available for direct examination ”(212). On the contrary, Grammar 2 is “knowing about knowledge” formal and conscious knowledge linguistically and philosophically (212). I hope the difference between the two clearly demonstrates Grammar 2 instruction has very little bearing on the Grammar 1 “performance.”
Clarkson: The knowledge brings awareness, which helps correcting one’s own mistakes.
Hartwell: “Those who defend the teaching of grammar tend to have a model of composition instruction that is rigidly skills-centered and rigidly sequential. We who dismiss the teaching of formal grammar have a model that “predicts a rich and complex interaction of learner and environment in mastering literacy, an interaction that has little to do with sequences of skills instruction as such” (208).
Aristotle: Hartwell, you say it so eloquently. I like your rhetoric.
Clarkson: Of course it sounds great. If the phrases like ‘rich and complex interaction, environment in mastering literacy are juxtaposed with the negative ‘rigidly’ whatever, there is no way the likes of us could sound as convincing because of the scientific nature of grammar instruction. Those kinds of talks are basically appealing to ethos that lacks practicality. Many composition teachers I think trapped in the abstract thoughts without a plan of action.
Elbow: That is really a generalization. I’ve practiced my method a number of years with a totally abstract goal – make students feel comfortable with writing and master SWE – grammatically correct composition with “linguistic etiquette.”
Clarkson: I know. You are “the guy” in the composition discourse – and for sure with the last name like yours.
Aristotle: You won’t sound persuasive if you choose to take that path.
Clarkson: Yes. Yes. Good orators move people. Virtue attracts people. Therefore, good orators are virtuous.
Lock: murmuring, The chief end of language in communication being to be understood, words serve not well for that end, neither in civil nor philosophical discourse, when any word does not excite in the hearer the same idea which it stands for in the mind of the speaker” (700). Such a word is virtue – ambiguity, value and culture laden.
Aristotle: True. However, with the proper argument, we can reach the knowledge of virtue.
Lock: No. The days of direct knowledge is available through revelation or perception is long gone (Bizzell 697), “Syllogism relies on established premises, it can convey knowledge but not produce it” (Bizzell 640).
Hartwell: So you are the one who planted the idea of fixing the language with prescriptive grammar and all that followed under the influence of the Cartesian principle of scientific language (Bizzell 645).
Lock: As you wish. My intention is to increase clarity and decrease unclearness in communicating.
Clarkson: You gave me the light bulb moment.
Lock: Interrupting, ‘The’ light bulb moment? If you are to use the definite article, you must assume that you and I have the same knowledge of what the moment is referring to. So please no figurative expression with me unless you are sure how I would interpret what you mean correctly. To me, the words come with the corresponding ideas – not things.
Clarkson: Understood. What I meant to say is that if we don’t know what ideas students have about grammar or what they know, grammar instructions will surely be perceived as useless. Students should come to the awareness of how they come to know grammar. Drawing from your concept of ideas, grammar is a scientific system in which words are arranged to transmit certain ideas internally and externally. “Universal grammar provides a representation of the relationships of human thought” (Bizzell 646). Still, teaching the very system is necessary to express certain universal ideas (does not matter the language one is born to speak) to those who don’t know how to correctly express it in Standard English. The awareness building is the key.
Harwell: I think we are getting close to a mutual understanding of what grammar is. I think the problem lies in the methodology in instruction. We should step away from worshipping grammar and regain confidence in tacit power of unconscious knowledge (223). Mistakes are not happening because of not knowing grammar but caused by “a problem of metacognition and metalinguistic awareness, a matter of accessing knowledge that, to be any use, learners must have already internalized by means of exposure to the problem” (223).
Lock: Yes. Knowledge acquisition is human psychology.
Clarkson: Sounds right. What you are saying is essentially to learn from mistakes and internalize it? For example, many students write: “One of my friends live* in Northridge.” So if we keep correcting the wrong verb-tense agreement, they will be able to internalize the rule without explicitly being explained through the dry and boring terminologies.
Hartwell: Right. I would call it a heuristic way of learning instead of teacher centered and rule oriented.
Elbow: This is exactly the reason why I say to my students to just write, write and write. My method of copy-editing is designed to acquire the knowledge of SWE. I will not present the information in a way to insinuate wrong habits must be corrected.
Clarkson: Would probably work for the ones with Grammar 1 knowledge in English. But for ESL students, I will continue to give them grammar drills as for them, it is learning another scientific subject like mathematics. Chomsky implies that the mind of a speaker of a certain language is different from that of English speakers.
Hartwell: Although we differ in our stance of grammar instruction, I think our goal is mutual; that is to help students identify their own errors and correct them correctly.