Why Kids Can’t Write

Some say English instruction must get back to basics, with a focus on grammar. But won’t that stifle a student’s personal voice?

Comments: 233

  1. It's important to strike a balance between traditional and unstructured approaches to writing. Students benefit from having their ideas articulated grammatically by an instructor or peer, just as we rephrase the sentences of someone learning to speak English. At the same time, I tell the teachers in my workshop, "Using Writing in the Classroom to Develop Creative Thinking" to guide students to take a "creative free fall" with no wrong answers. Once they have generated an original idea that has value, they become much more engaged in writing more and well. I give similar advice to my college essay students, to help them avoid overused topics and platitude ridden prose. Those who spent time on creative writing are more able to access stronger personal stories for their college applications.

  2. **Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature.**

    Why can't an educator do both? You, Cathy, sounds as if you might agree.

  3. Of course. Learning many things in a variety of ways is vital.

  4. The pedagogy referred to in this article is typically confusing. You cannot begin with the premise of writing an essay meant for a college audience (the admissions committee), then tell the student to write whatever they want in their own "unique voice." The assumption that the student *has* a "unique voice," is based on the movement in writing pedagogy known as "expressivism," based on Romantic and Enlightenment idea(l)s about the primacy of "self" in all its iterations. Expressivism was a response to an earlier style (still taught) called "Current Traditional." Not surprisingly, Current Traditional came up against the ideals of the 1960s and 1970s, which promoted expression of "self" over ideals of correctness and form. It is my opinion that society has paid the price of trying to teach these two, mutually-exclusive and confusing, ideals at the same time. You can't do both, not unless you use both consciously and explain what it is you're talking about, and since most of the people who teach writing do not have a formal background in the history of writing pedagogy, you're not likely to see a cogent pedagogy forming around the mixed messages of "voice" and "coherence." "Voice" develops as the writer develops, and that takes years of practice, and is only really appropriate in fiction. Till then, focus on coherence and academic writing style. That will get your essay read and appreciated by admissions staff.

  5. That makes a lot of sense to me. I remember always being told to "just be myself" which was supposed to be supportive and encouraging but it felt like a to of pressure because I didn't know who I was. Perhaps a better exercise would be to write in someone else's voice--like another person, an imaginary person, a dog.

  6. My kids' high school taught them a nice rigid structure that works very well to make a persuasive argument. Five paragraphs. One introductory paragraph, three topics / aspects of one topic, each in its own paragraph, and a closing paragraph. Four to five sentences in each paragraph. A topic sentence first, then 3-4 supporting sentences. A short title, preferably with a number: "Three reasons why I eat bananas." People in the US want to be persuaded, sold on something; it's a great format for anything you want to convey.

  7. You have a point, but I do believe it is important to write in your own voice when composing s college essay. It does need to be grammatically correct, but college admissions tend to favor unique experiences and voice.

  8. Sloppy thinking, sloppy writing. Learning and using proper grammar is, for human communication, the equivalent of how to code effectively or properly. There's no getting around it.

  9. I disagree with your premise of sloppy thinking, sloppy writing. There are many examples of people who can construct complex mathematical and logical arguments who are not particularly good writers.

  10. No one, no employer or other decider, is ever going to tell you that you won't get hired or get the contract simply because you come across as ignorant. No one will tell you: "Hey, your email sounded ignorant. I don't trust you to do a good job." Get a friend to look things over. Use spell check. And while in school, do your work faithfully with a willing heart, practicing to learn. To the organized, smart and pleasant go the spoils. This century will not have enough to go around.

  11. Logic and structure is a prerequisite for good writing, but it doesn't guarantee good writing by itself. Writing marries logical structure and art. Both are needed.

  12. Grammar is the architecture of language. In order to write well, it is essential to understand that architecture. Every art - writing, visual art, music, dance, acting- has structural underpinnings that give it coherence. Understanding these underpinnings in no way impinges on a person's artistic freedom - in fact, that understanding provides the tools that are essential to anyone trying to expresd their thoughts, feelings, and creative drives in artistic ways via pictures, music, dance, or dramatic performance. Please give our children the tools they need to become literate citizens and true creative artists - and that means teaching grammar!!!

  13. I fully agree, Janet Wikler!

    I would add that the same is true for sports and games. Gym teachers and sports coaches do not hesitate to teach the rules of the game or to make learners drill basic moves over and over until they become automatic. Nobody suggests that this will "stifle" their ability to develop their individual style of playing. We recognize the basic truth that without mastery of form, there can be no mastery of function.

    Why are we Americans so often overly-cautious about applying strong discipline to academics, while we fully accept the need for it in athletics?

  14. This is exactly right. You cannot express yourself in any formal activity (sports included) without having fluent command of the fundamental tools -- in this case grammar and sentence structure. Expression is not separate from the structures of language, it is enabled by them.

    Writing, moreover, is not just about sentences. "Therefore," "although," and "nevertheless," are not just words, but elements that signal logical structures beyond the level of the sentence. Along with grammar, we need rhetoric as well.

    The comment below that states that "voice" is only for fiction is simply mistaken. Good style attracts and pleases readers in any genre.

  15. What I, for one, always have valued most from my 21 years of schooling is what I was taught about English grammar by my eighth and ninth grade English teachers -- Miss Stewart and Mrs. Montgomery. Among other things that training helped me more than all the rest in earning a living and supporting my family.

  16. Inspired writers start out as inspired readers. Sure, one can be taught to write well, but imagine how much easier that lesson would be if the students were avid readers. Reading is a dying art.

    I grew up reading fiction, poetry, and plays (RIP Sam Shepard). The number of works translated from Russian, German, and Italian through which I chewed each year filled book case after book case. The structure, style, and sense of my readings informed my writing. Even when I took on a career in science my early exercise at good reading informed my technical reports and papers.

    We seem to forget that English is a foreign language to almost everyone, even native speakers. Facility with writing in English takes dedication and practice as if it were Spanish, Japanese or Russian.

  17. Bravo. Sadly though, most people will perceive your comment as written by an uppity, educated person showing up how ignorant we are. There's the problem with having a country basically allergic to education, where ignorance is a badge of honor.

  18. Stifle a student's personal voice? Seriously? Quite frankly, I'd only worry about that if said student wanted to spend the rest of their lives talking to themselves.

    Grammar is the pathway by which clear communication flows between interested parties. The misplaced comma can be a killer. (See: "Eats, shoots and leaves" vs. "Eats shoots and leaves", per the book of the same name.)

    Enough with the Me. The only way civilization survives is by a concentration on Us.

  19. I'm sorry to say this, but in your first sentence "student" as the antecedent and is singular. Your use of "their" referring back to that antecedent doesn't work because "their" is plural, not singular. It's disturbing, but I understand also that this basically incorrect usage is now quite common and even acceptable, because of our problem with pronouns: we lack a singular version of the possessive pronoun that covers both or all genders. However, to avoid it, you could have said, "I'd worry if students wanted to spend the rest of their lives..."

  20. Whoops - notice an ungrammatical typo in my own answer. We're all guilty of error, even myself. Too bad NYT doesn't let us edit.

  21. I agree entirely. "Grammar is the pathway by which clear communication flows between interested parties.” Grammar informs a clear rational thought process.

  22. I think there are two reasons many teachers do not want to teach grammar. First, they are lazy. They prefer that the students self express rather than actually learning anything. Second, they do not understand grammar and how to write a complete sentence themselves. How often do you see emails, etc by supposedly educated people. They frequently do not even know the difference between their and there, or your and you're. It is embarrassing. I found that Europeans, who wrote and spoke English as a second or third language, usually understood English grammar better than most young Americans.

  23. Yes, I have noticed the same result. Adult ELLs who know how to write English (and are very well educated in their native language) have a better command of the language than young native learners. We need to get back to teaching the basics.

  24. I know. There are PhDs in my office who can read you a novel about critical whatever, but they can't write grammatically or spell. School of Education, no less.

  25. Teacher bashing as in this comment and this article is not acceptable. I challenge the writer to teach middle school for week to find out for themselves how lazy teachers are!

  26. It is definitely a balancing act. Being older, I value the basics I learned of grammatical structure and phonetics. Studying Latin in High School was also more valuable than you might suspect. Time and experience bring the voice. When that is established, a blossoming takes places wherein, like jazz, you learn to bend the rules toward that expression.

  27. Pardon me, but I see a grammatical error. "...a blossoming takes place..." It was very early in the morning when I wrote this.

  28. Studying Latin in High School was the best way to master grammar imaginable. One will never forget to set off the name of somebody of something being addressed with a comma in English, knowing that this term would be in the vocative case in Latin. "Et tu Brute" and not "Et tu Brutus."

  29. Thank you very much for mentioning the value of Latin in the teaching and learning of English grammar, particularly syntax. Latin may be long dead as a spoken language, but the structural discipline is indispensable. So too the vocabulary, which still enables me to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar terms. I was fortunate to be educated in the 60s -- when mental discipline was still valued as the core of all learning and at least a year of Latin was required by most U.S. high schools, public and private. I've never forgotten struggling to translate the Iliad and the Odyssey in my fourth year of high school Latin and never regretted a moment of it.

  30. I have also read that students who cannot write complex sentences have problems reading complex sentences.

  31. You want complex,? Try some of the sentences in The Federalist Papers.

  32. I think it isimportant to notice that these developments took place BEFORE trump and BEFORE DeVos. Trump and DeVos are hardly the best people to cure the troubles of our educations system. But they ARE right in that it is a mess.

    The energy being used to attack DeVos, I wish SOME of that energy was used to ask, how can our educational system be improved?

  33. Aruna, your comment is highly presumptuous and insulting to teachers. Good and great teachers devote amounts of energy that you cannot even begin to imagine on not only teaching but also inspiring their students and their parents! Why is it that you think that teachers only have the capacity to teach and cannot defend the interests of their students and profession, and advocate for the continued use of evidence based practice in education and justice in education at the same time?

  34. The reason Trump and DeVos are being attacked is exactly because their answers to the question of "What is wrong with the educational system?" are just plain wrong. (From a teacher with 33 yrs of experience.)

  35. Um, I am a teacher myself and one important thing to remember is not to use terms like "highly presumptuous" and "insulting" as part of discussion. A complex problem cannot be solved with the use of such language. If YOU, ATM, don't know how to discuss an issue then how will you teach your students?

  36. A 1994 study in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, conducted by Marsha J. Weil and Susan J. Cunningham Amundson, found that “Visual-Motor Integration [skills]… significantly relates to children in kindergarten’s ability to copy letters.” Put another way, students who learn to write rather than type have higher levels of motor development than those who do not.

  37. Believe it or not, that is what schools teach first. I do think schools tend to start computer learning too early but they don't start with it. I believe computers shouldn't be used in school until basic reading and math skills are learned.

  38. The workshops are a very essential idea. But, from my experience dealing with the written words of students and teachers, I wonder if the teachers are not more in need of the instruction ahead of students.

  39. I learned to write by listening to elders, reading prodigiously and by doing. I was the one that loved words, and got a kick out of putting them together. Some are probably born with this, others an opposite quality. If you haven't the inner desire and don't get goosebumps when hearing real stuff, the knack for writing well, well, may never come.

  40. I am an academic and have published "scholarly" articles in academic journals in two languages. In addition to peer review most articles undergo some type of language or style editing.
    The best writing advice I ever received was from a Hebrew-language editor decades ago who told that after every sentence one should always ask oneself: what did I want to say? Did I actually write that? One does this after each sentence and after each paragraph when one asks if they are connected.
    Beyond that, though, the key is revision. I will tell my students the truth: what I publish is usually revised 6-8 times, maybe more. There is no such thing as from keyboard to screen and finished (with perhaps a quick read-over. I admit to not overly revising comments in the NYT, a matter of time, after all I do this between actual work).
    Finally, if this comment does get published I should like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Leo Taubes, who taught me freshman English Composition, a subject now relegated to the junk-heap of necessary relevance and student coddling.
    Kids and university students and teachers can't write because nobody teaches old-fashioned composition any more. The key is to write and write and write and for a good teacher to revise and correct over and over.

  41. Well observed. Nothing is well written that hasn't been extensively re-written. The author's task is to make his work clear to an informed reader.

  42. The hyperbole in these comments is staggering!

    Although a tad too self-congratulatory, your comment was a good one -- highlighting well the importance of revision -- but was undermined by its over-the-top conclusion!

    "Kids and university students and teachers can't write because nobody teaches old-fashioned composition any more."

    So, let's sweepingly condemn kids, college students, AND teachers as being unable to write! Nonsense!

    "Nobody" teaches "old-fashioned" composition "any more"?! Wow! Such exaggerations are demonstrably false.

    Your own story shows that at least one teacher (and there are tens of thousands across the nation) teach basic principles.

    You would do well to review the research on students' writing performance over past generations. Just as with reading achievement, it has been remarkably stable (albeit with more up-and-down fluctuations). But there is simply no nationally representative, respected evidence that demonstrates student writing was once good and is now poor.

    All these arm chair explanations -- the abandonment of diagramming, the elimination of composition courses, etc. -- are

    1) not well substantiated and

    2) even if they happened, as they did to some extent, they cannot explain why performance remained stable as they were dropped!

    Given the dramatically different student populations today compared to a half century ago -- and different social conditions -- stable writing is a testament to the resilience of public schools!

  43. Exactly. I tell my students that the reason I'm no good at video games is because I rarely play video games. And, the reason that I can write well, or read well is because I do it frequently.

    Like anything, we must practice if we want to improve.
    over and over and over.


  44. Absolutely. celebrate grammar as a crucial writing skill. Asking a child to write about her/his experience is lovely, Without a solid grasp of grammar. it is analogous to asking that child to play a competitive sport without doing drills.

  45. "Absolutely. Go ahead. Celebrate grammar as a crucial writing skill. Yet, realize that forcing a child to repeatedly diagram sentences and do drills in English mechanics may leave him or her without an appreciation of language, good books, the sounds of words, and even writing itself. Historically, it accomplished little and harmed greatly. It is analogous to asking that child spend his or her free time doing sports drills rather than playing pick-up games with friends."

    Fixed that for you!

    By the way, we note that your punctuation is incorrect throughout your comment!

  46. Thank-you! Katherine's response was making me queasy!

  47. Learning to write clearly and learning to think are different things - but reading, and reading a lot, contributes to both. Learning one's language deeply by reading gives one the tools to think clearly and in a structured way; that in turns leads one to write clearly.

  48. Some children seem to internalize the rules of spelling and grammar. Many do not. As the wife, mother, and grandmother of dyslexics, I would advocate for explicit instruction at all levels.

    I am not sure when or why parsing sentences went away. We know visual tools work. Worksheets, too.

  49. We "know" they "work"?!


    Worksheets have undermined learning -- and the passion for learning -- for generations.

    Just as learning scales can be done well and blended with actual performance, so can old-fashioned methods such as diagramming sentences be combined with interesting writing. However, for the most part, they never were and interfered with getting students to love languages and literature.

  50. The more you read, the better the chances that you will be able to write. But reading Facebook is not the same thing as reading books. Learning to develop an argument depends on knowing what such an argument looks like! Essays and nonfiction books get you the furthest, also fiction helps, too!

  51. It's analogous to playing an instrument. If you don’t have the technique, you can’t effectively communicate your message. Email and texting have impacted the dismissal of grammar as well. I am continually amazed at the grammar I encounter in emails and resumes.

  52. When email emerged as the primary tool of business communication, I rejoiced. I thought it would inspire people to be more mindful of grammar and spelling in their writing. It turns out I was an idiot for believing such a thing.

  53. Email and texting have AFFECTED the dismissal of grammar. "Impact" is not a transitive verb unless you are using it in a very limited sense (such as an impacted wisdom tooth).

  54. Seabiscute:

    Or as Joseph Williams might have suggested, "email and texting have contributed to dismissing grammar as unimportant." Or, "when we email or text, we often dismiss grammar as unimportant, and sacrifice good grammar to speed." Was that the idea?

    "The dismissal of grammar" doesn't break any prescriptive rules, but this type of nominalization is stylistically mediocre and generally disfavored in English. Worse yet, it is often used to sound smart -- which, in turn, often results in very bad writing that nevertheless gets rewarded.

  55. The New York State ESSA calls for an emphasis on "culturally relevant pedagogy" and says nothing about formal writing instruction.. are we, once again, leading children to failure in order to satisfy our own bias?

  56. Peter, sadly, formal writing instruction shows us up as inept at "expressing" ourselves. Who wants to be told they cannot do something well, especially in this country, where ignorance is a badge of honor.

  57. Sorry, Eddie, I don't see the logic here. In a country where "ignorance is a badge of honor" (with which I agree completely), wouldn't people WANT to be told that they "cannot do something well"? Or did you mean that ignoramuses take pride in their ignorance but at the same time do not want it to be labeled as such?

  58. Diagramming sentences isn't soul-crushing, it's EDUCATION. How can a writer express his/her creativity if the basic mechanics aren't there? Everyday I read online posts from adults who still don't know the difference between "their" and "there" or "too" and "to". As with any skill, mastering the basics is not always fun but it is necessary. Simply reading gorgeous sentences is not enough; how does one know know it is a gorgeous sentence if one doesn't understand basic sentence structure? Spelling and grammar count, people.

  59. Learning the parts of speech and how to use them in writing is NOT the same as learning to diagram sentences.

    Plus, HOW diagramming is taught matters a great deal. All too often, historically, it was taught mechanistically; students did not master it; and they were turned off to language and writing as well.

    That made it a surefire recipe for disasters.

    By the way, there is little national evidence that this past generation students write more poorly than past generations did. Indeed, most national investigations show remarkably stable writing performance for much of the past half century-- and longer!

    We need to set aside the myth of the golden age of learning and teaching!

  60. I thought diagramming sentences was fun, especially when we did it as a class, I do think hearing gorgeous sentences can inspire, maybe not initially, but in time. Teachers and parents should read beautiful prose and poetry to children from elementary school on. Writing particularly beautiful sentences on a board or digital device for all students to see is a good technique for discussing and parsing the sentence. Repetition is necessary for learning, even for adults.

  61. and every day should be two words.

  62. Not drilling the rules of grammar is akin to expecting a child to do long division without first drilling the times tables. At the time I was not a fan of the Sisters of St. Joseph, but there is no arguing that they got results. Every letter carrier, sanitation worker, firefighter and cop in Brooklyn could ace the college essay in their sleep!

  63. @Mel: sorry to break the news to you, but these same wacky educators don't believe in having times table drills either. Rote memorization is out and creativity is in. In math this takes the form of "estimating" rather than finding the exact answer. If you need the exact answer, then you use a calculator.

    The very latest thing is they have stopped teaching cursive handwriting. Sad times indeed.

  64. I'm only 57 but when I hear the word "estimating" I keep repeating the mantra, "Precision is what got us to the moon and back!"

  65. Focusing on students' "voice" is not the only alternative to grammar lessons in teaching writing. I taught first-year writing in colleges for 30 years, and also taught graduate students how to teach writing. My focus was always on having students doing substantive writing about things that mattered to them. I taught them how to join written conversations. This is why reading a lot is so helpful in learning to write. Writers always write in response to what others have written - as shown in one of the writing classes mentioned. Grammar is not the "basics" of writing. Having something to say is the basics.

  66. But you quibble. Having something to say is essential. Grammar is essential. Empowering students to embrace their personal voice may resonate with the humanities faculty but it will still leave students illequipped to succeed or influence the world through written words.

  67. What can be expected when we have a president who does not read, who is practically illiterate, and has jumbled speech that is often incomprehensible? When we have a Sarah Palin who came close to the Office of the Presidency in spite of streaming incoherence bursting from her mouth? A VP candidate who was another one who avoided books as if they were some source of infection? And finally, let's not forget the millions of low-info voters who hoisted Trump into the presidency. By and large uneducated, clearly unable to read the label on candidate Trump: "Exercise extreme caution- will most likely be hazardous to your health and that of our democracy."

  68. How on earth can you pin the blame on Trump for things which happened or did not happen long before he was inaugurated?

    If Trump is not well educated, it is a CONSEQUENCE of the fact that America is not well educated. And that fact was caused by the policies of OTHERS.

    You have to give up this knee jerk habit of blaming everything on Trump. It is just an evasion and prevents us from looking for the right solutions.

  69. My God, give it a rest. Does Trump have to be attached to every single topic? If Hillary won, would this article's findings be any different?

  70. Yes, Aruna. But Trump is our benchmark for ignorance. And everything else nasty and ugly in today's world.

    What is there better to deserve all the blame?

  71. Grammar technically means that one understands how a language is put together to create meaning. Often, native speakers don't even see grammar at work. For instance, English speakers know, without conscious thinking, to put the subject before the verb. Grammar, at its core, is a cognitive, oral skill.

    Alphabetic writing and punctuation are technologies that make it possible to efficiently transmit information when we are not immediately in someone's presence. They are not really "grammar" although most of us would call them such.

    "Writing" is a truly complex act of developing and organizing ideas, arranging them, then working with grammar and textual conventions (such as punctuation) to make it all "sound" good as well as make the reader's job easy.

    Sixty years of composition studies has shown that writing requires many different skills that need reinforcing outside the English classroom. Research has shown that the most effective methods of helping students write effectively require working on ALL of the skills in combination--providing students with as much one-to-one feedback as possible.

    The College Board found that businesses spend $3 billion annually improving employee writing skills. Instead, let's pay for the best writing instruction from the start: Small classes that allow for individual support helping students develop their ideas then apply grammar rules and the other conventions to their own writing.

  72. As a former teacher and current LEO, I would advise teachers to have students write often.Essays every other week at HS level. Plus, teachers have to grade them. No simple check marks in the margins. Finally, strong readers have a better chance of writing well. A student who reads voraciously and writes often has a better chance of learning to think critically.

  73. This is also true in learning other languages. You don't need much grammar but you need vocabulary and this is best learned by reading and seeing words (and grammar) in context. Kids should write 300 words in each class and eventually they will learn how useful grammar can be to properly express their thoughts. Without thoughts why bother with grammar?

  74. Would someone please, please demand this of teachers of ALL grades and disciplines, not just secondary teachers of English?

  75. Less than half? Don't you mean fewer than half?

  76. It can go either way, depending on whether the noun is countable or uncountable. How's that for grammar?

  77. @expat - It's worse than that. Abstractions are frequently parsed as uncountable. We say less than half of the student body, but fewer than half of the students, even though the two phrases are conceptually identical.

  78. Less refers to quantity, fewer refers to number.

  79. Learning the fundamentals of a language does not stifle personal expression. It provides a solid foundation from which to depart. Picasso was a draftsman before he was an abstractionist. If we deprive students of this foundation, we limit their opportunity in life. Proper language skills are the key to the many doors through which even an unorthodox writer must pass.

  80. I agree. My poor grammar foundations are still an issue many years later, and I write.

  81. Can you describe exactly how they are an issue, Rick?

  82. We know what works, however boring, learning the basics of grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, lots of reading, both silently and aloud (and that means literature, not magazines or social media), practice, etc.

    Many of the points in this piece illustrate why we fail - the reliance on experts and their ever changing "new" theories, centralized government regulation as a cure, and chimeric efforts to let students "find their voice". Why is that so hard to grasp?

  83. Grammar is the structural tool that allows us to express ourselves in writing and speaking. There is a correlation. You need to know how to use the tools before you can build a house. Elementary school is the proper place to learn these tools. And no, it's not always fun. That's why it's sometimes called "work."

    Walk into most any high school these days and I would bet that most of the required writing is from English teachers, not the other disciplines. So there is definitely not enough opportunity for students to hone this necessary skill. The reason is that it is a lot of work for a teacher to read and comment and request revision on all this writing. And most teachers, after their extracurricular sports activities are done for the day do not wish to do much more than grade a few multiple choice tests.

    Feedback is the key to improving writing and getting the student to become enthused about the process. And every paper should be an A, after enough review, editing and rewriting has taken place.

  84. Karen, your response is delicious. Thank-you!

  85. I didn't like grammar much as a student myself. Then, I started learning other languages. Suddenly, grammar was incredibly useful and I enjoyed learning about the components of English as much as I did the structures and expressions in whatever I was studying. Grammar teaches analysis, critical thinking and attention to detail. These are all things that employers say that they want. They are also not an easy sell in the business of education.

  86. Maybe this is part of the reason why we should start teaching students a second (or even third) language in elementary school instead of waiting until they are 15 or 16!

  87. Students who learn English as a Second Language learn a lot quicker if they know the grammar of their first language. These English learners quite often speak and write better English than native speakers.
    However, if the students do not know correct grammar of their first language, they will have trouble learning correct English.

  88. We don't need no education. Nor no man ever taught Shakespeare the difference between a litotes and the intensive double negative. Nor did Milton not perceive the evil plight of English in his day, or the fearful pains not feel.

  89. Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster studied rhetoric. They were well educated for their era.

  90. The collapse of writing is based in the collapse of reading. Students who don't read well-made prose early on -- and then, analyse both what it's saying and how it says it -- are doomed. Informal and expressionistic writing should be neither encouraged nor taught as a model. The social media should be held up as examples of illiteracy, not communication. Teachers who are poor writers themselves can't possibly teach writing. Teachers need to provide the theory and the drill. Grammar theory (best illustrated by those sentence maps) means explaining why a phrase or sentence works and why an incorrect sentence doesn't. Students need to do it over and over again. Grammar is the roadmap to effective communication and to easy later reading. By the way, people who run high-tech offices agree.

  91. The minute I started reading this I thought, "this is like the whole language vs. phonics argument for reading." The answer is the same: you need to teach both with the phonics, or in this case the grammar, NOT taught in isolation.

  92. Ah, the ease with which academic propagandists misuse basic data!

    "study of nearly 500 teachers in grades three through eight...found that less than half had taken a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing, while less than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write."

    So, surprisingly, NEARLY HALF had taken a college course with "significant time" on writing and NEARLY 1/3 had taken a course focused on teaching children how to write! Those remarkable data show more writing preparation than expected. After all, teachers in grades 6-8 specialize in subjects -- e.g., math, science, music, art, and physical education -- where they are not be called upon to teach writing. Plus, MOST elementary school teachers take courses covering the teaching of writing, just not one devoted SOLELY to it.

    Note: taking a college writing course could be a NEGATIVE indicator -- it could be a remedial course and reflect weaknesses in the teachers' preparation! Nor is it clear that a "writing course" covers the same ground as a course in basic English grammar, which is what advocates are calling for.

    Finally, it is unlikely a survey captures what teachers actually took or that a sample of less than 500 was nationally representative.

    We all need to view data with skepticism rather than merely adopting it to support our preferred educational ideology!

  93. I am a High School English Teacher.

    Students cannot write because THEY DON'T READ.

    Oh, they read "feeds" and truncated junk, but fewer and fewer of them actually read books -- novels -- anymore. There is a direct correlation between reading and writing. Nowhere on the web is there writing of the caliber needed to truly begin to develop a creative and well-rounded brain.

    But the educational system in this country continues to bleed from the adoption of "technology."

    The finest technology ever created -- and still available today! -- is pen and paper.

  94. Hmmm....I just went to online-literature.com and pulled up the full texts of Spenser's Faerie Queene and Swift's Tale of a Tub.

    I would rather read a physical book, but whatever you seek is out there.

  95. That is so true. It is also unhelpful when people say things like "The children come from poor homes where there are no books" . Public libraries still exist. As George Lansbury once stated "Poverty is no excuse for being dirty or ignorant".

  96. Amen.

  97. Written language evolved as a way of recording our spoken language. Grammar abstracts the patterns of our spoken language. The best writing captures the spirit of oral communication. Maybe we need to return to these roots and ground writing in oral language.

  98. As Ken Macrorie noted in his extraordinary book "Writing to be Read," good writing must SOUND like natural speech, but it can't BE natural speech.

  99. "There is a notable shortage of high-quality research on the teaching of writing, but studies that do exist point toward a few concrete strategies that help students perform better on writing tests."

    Herein lies one of the big problems. Test prepping students to score better on writing tests does not teach better writing. It teaches brainless, cookie-cutter responses. In the case of Common Core exams, writing has focused almost solely on student's ability to provide "supporting evidence" for a specific conclusion or statement in a passage. Often, the demand for such supporting evidence required ridiculous self-evident written responses. In addition, teaching students that the most important reason for writing is a good standardized test score undermines the goal of good writing. Sixteen years of testing pressure applied through the punitive policies of NCLB, RTTT, and CCSS have damaged a generation of young students. Common Core has been far from a wake up call - more like zombie trance. Over-testing and the fruitless search for meaningful academic data has fundamentally changed school from a place of wonder and excitement and enrichment to test prep centers focusing on a very constrained curricula. This over-tested generation of students is burned out and numb from the experience. Better writers will never emerge from an academic dungeon.

  100. Rab-- I can see the difference in my grade 9-12 students who were taught solely in the era to which you refer. The difference is NOT a positive one.

  101. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have accepted a false dichotomy between learning grammar and feeling empowered. But in fact, the process of coming to understand grammatical structures IS empowering. Every speaker and reader of English--in any variant, in any dialect--has a right to its full powers of expression, and it is simply not the case that learning grammar threatens the writerly voice. In fact, this knowledge opens up a wealth of possible choices for crafting the gorgeous sentences sought by the teachers in this article.

  102. Mother and grandmother both taught English. Mother spent hours correcting student's writing during her "non-working hours", at home. She used a little red marker to correct each error and then her students wrote it again with the corrections...Grandmother adored diagramming sentences..thought it great fun! She also did a lot of work correcting papers on her own time. Mother taught in different towns..and in some schools she was more concerned about the physical health and well being of the children..she still helped them learn to write. Book reports were done weekly...a book a week!

  103. correction: "students'"

  104. Teachers in various other disciplines, not just English, need to be doing this as well. At the high school level, an English class is the only place students can learn valuable life lessons from literature (especially important for kids with challenging lives); thus, the English class cannot be devoted mainly to writing.

  105. "Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing abilities. It can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper." If we want children and adults to be better writers and readers, then we must also focus on the reading and writing disabilities that often go undiagnosed and without remediation in school. These disabilities effect about 10 percent of the school children. Most teachers are not trained to recognize reading and writing disabilities and schools don't want to offer help because helping kids with reading and writing disabilities is expensive and difficult.

  106. Well, this percentage has always been the case, no? So, how does it help account for the decrease in writing skills we see overall?

  107. Understanding the fundamentals of something does not stifle your own voice, if anything it enhances it by giving you the solid foundation from which to build up. If we understand how to use language we can be its masters; if not, it often ends up having mastery over us. Those who read a lot may naturally pick up sentence structure etc. but for those who don't they will quite possibly be left behind. I see this with my English as a foreign language students. Some immerse themselves in English (watching movies in English, reading English books) and will need far fewer grammar classes and more of a chance to practice; those who don't need a helping hand to see, understand and practice the basics.

  108. This is anecdotal but telling. My brother began college at a State University school in Oswego New York. First day in English 101, the professor told the freshmen to write an essay. He collected them that Friday and they met again the following Monday. In Monday's class, the professor cited two essays as superior, and asked those two students where they had gone to grammar school. My brother and a freshman woman had gone to the same Catholic grammar school. Call that kind of education boring or repetitive if you wish, but it works.

  109. I agree. People commend my ability to write well and say it must be due to my Ivy League graduate degree. I say, "No, it's because I had nuns in sixth grade." Nobody would expect kids to learn calculus until they understand basic math, so how can we expect them to become fluent writers if we don't teach basic grammar?

  110. I never went to Catholic school, but I believe your anecdote is valuable. I teach at the high school level, and many times students simply do not turn in the assigned essays! So really there's not even much of a way to make assessments or evaluations concerning writing. Administrators and guidance counselors in many cases feel these students should be given multiple chances to complete coursework, and they pressure and manipulate teachers to accept this sort of performance. I do NOT mean that every administrator or counselor does this, but it's not a rare occurrence either.

    I would guess that in the Catholic school, parents are required to support the school's efforts and requirements. This is not the case in public school, where students take for granted that they can just enroll and then not do the work and/or not show up for days on end and parents are not required to support the school's/teachers' policies.

  111. Nice article, but we've been hearing the same ideas for decades. One reason kids struggle with writing is that schools don't know what to do with teachers who actually do write seriously and even publish, and instead of capitalizing on their skills, drum them out of schools. Creative teachers, in both public and independent schools, are stymied by administrators and parents who consider writing well purely a function of grammar and therefore don't understand its significance for students. In addition to the old canard, "Those who can't do, teach," teachers who do write seriously often encounter another idea: "Just because you write doesn't mean you can teach it." As a writer, I learned to hide publication and grants from my resume, highlighting only my teaching experience. The lockstep culture of the teaching profession stymies teachers, which is one reason we leave it, and why teachers who both do and teach are few and far between.

  112. 'Agreeing that kids don't write because the don't read regularly. That, and that the action of physically keeping your eyes still on a page takes practice. Just read any computer screen and your eye is invited to jump all over the place. Zoning out, where creativity happens, is no longer valued space. That space is taken up with phone checking. No wonder sitting down to 'write' is uncomfortable and foreign.

  113. Why not first put down rough notes and then rewrite them into complete sentences? First impressions may flow better in rough form.

    In school, in the 1940s and 1950s, I felt stifled by correctness and thus I greatly restricted my writing and also my speaking. It is still difficult for me to express myself, without fear of rejection or ridicule.

    But what about the use of word processors with usage checkers to help?

    Thank you. This is a wonderful lesson for us all, at any age...

  114. Sorry, but just "exposing" kids to great writing isn't going to help them "hear whats going on" anymore than walking them through the Louvre is going to help them paint like Leonardo da Vinci. They need to know about verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and sentence structure! You can't create something unless you have the tools!

  115. Sorry, but your analogy doesn't really work. Reading is a far more active endeavor than walking through a museum, especially for children. Basic Child Development studies show a strong correlation between reading ability and writing ability.

  116. A corollary to knowing how to write is that it makes a person a better reader. In addition, learning a foreign language goes a long way to understanding one's own language.

  117. Teaching writing is not that difficult but requires daily writing and reading of well written high level journalism. As an English teacher at one of New York State's Special Act Schools I taught at risk teens to write.

    The first order of business in every class was journal writing from a prompt. The second was reading the New York Times. We received thirty free copies of the Times daily under the now defunct education program. Although students protested vigorously, you cannot learn to write if the last book you read was facebook. Eventually they learned to open the Times and read about the world outside their block.

    Additionally, several simple rules aid students in learning to write. The three P's, proofread, paragraph and punctuate were on my board and discussed during every English Class. The parts of speech were embedded into students with the simple acronym NAACP2!V Noun, adjective, adverb, conjunction. preposition, pronoun, interjection & verb. Lastly, students were implored in each class to look down and read what they had written. We ended every class with Professor Strunk's exhortation: OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS

  118. What? Writing a coherent essay? Isn't there an app for that?

  119. There are arguments that words are needed before an entity can 'think' & we have proof in the White House that that's probably true. The structure of a sentence is important & it gives the verbalizer a feeling of power to be able to express ideas. Teaching the building blocks needn't be restrictive & many teachers allow spelling & grammar mistakes in 'creative essays' while still being rigorous about the rules in classes on grammar. It isn't necessarily an either/or.

  120. We've dumbed down the culture so much that look who we elected President!
    No thanks, Dana, let the kids learn grammer. They might whine about the unfairness of it all, bless their hearts, but they need it.

  121. Read, read,read,read,read, and read some more!!!!!!!!!!!

  122. They need to return to having student diagram sentences. That's a good part of learning to understand what was written.

  123. Without clarity of thought, there is no voice, just a whimper. Without clarity of writing, there is confusion and silliness. Is the proof in the pudding? Is it still daylight savings time? Is it very unique?

  124. One teaching regime, emphasizes reading (No Child,), another emphasizes writing (Common Core), but the truth is the two are not separate. Neither is the manual skill of writing.

    The human brain is a complex playground and there are subjects within this article that are not separable. We learn to write, by reading, we learn to read by writing. The avenues to learn and remember these processes come to us by ear, by eye, and by the doing of physically,,, and it requires all of these avenues. We learn writing skills , as we do all things, baseball or ballet, by making mistakes. We are a fallible species. But we learn from correcting those errors, and we don't learn from a single correction. "I'll never do that again." Yes, you will. Practice produces practically perfect.

    BTW Any First grader that can independently produce the written sentence, "Plants need water it need sun to.",,, is a bloody genius.

    Read, write, proofread, correct,,,, then proofread and correct again,,, then proofread and correct again. That IS how we learn. NOT by devolving immediately into adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns. You learn ballet at a barre, doing it over and over and over again. You fall, you do it over. Always practice to your weak side. We do not devolve into teaching the the flexor, tensor of the right metacarpal must be held just so. Nope. We learn by doing and making mistakes.

    So let us put the quad together, read, write, proofread, correct. That is how you learn

  125. Is confusing right and write spelling or grammar? Also was "cant" left uncorrected on purpose?

  126. Well, as Dr Johnson once said, "Clear your mind of cant!"

  127. One of my colleagues used to say that writing is thinking. Grammar is the study of the underlying logical structure of language, but it is only part of thinking. Computers make processing and access to information and ideas faster and easier, but they do not make thinking faster and easier. Writing is hard work that combines many talents and skills, the most important of which is discovering something meangful t communicate.

  128. People don't learn to build houses by "finding their voices," but by learning and practicing the mechanics and craft of building. Before we make writing an "art" of personal expression (which I find to be self-indulgent, we don't approach math that way), we need to make it the much more useful craft of everyday communication that will serve us in our personal and professional lives. That means grammar, syntax, etc.

  129. It is silly to assume students "pick up" grammar as they grow. It is true that developing your voice and journaling (or the like) is essential to becoming a good writer; however, it is kindest to teach students some grammar, directly.

    Without direct instruction, you sit there and have Writers' Workshop. You talk with students individually, child after child as you go through their writing with them. Sure, you will discuss the content of their pieces and reaffirm them positively, but eventually, if you are worth your salt, before they go to "publish" you will make sure they use correct grammar, won't you? Then, you will find yourself saying the same things over and over to each student in this boutique-style of grammar teaching through conversations (You would do this because you think you don't really want to teach grammar, but you end up doing it anyway this time-consuming, impractical way.). You will be explaining how conjunctions are used with commas before them, why you underline a book title, what makes a complete thought, and how the verb agrees with a subject.

    Meanwhile, you could have had an interactive group mini-lesson. You could have covered three topics with everyone that week.

    Kids need both: time to freely write and some structured lessons. It is completely false that grammar lessons don't work. Students have literally thanked me for helping them to make sense of grammar. Plus, having a command of grammar helps one to learn other languages later too.

  130. The animated GIF at the top of this column poses the question nicely. Certainly the "right" needs to be corrected. But then there is still a missing apostrophe — so do you let it go, or do you try to get that one right, too? Is it nitpicking, or is it just insistence on knowing the rules?

    It's likely that different kids will need different approaches: one will need the light touch and more encouragement than criticism, another may benefit from more strictness. That's where a good teacher will shine. As with most things involving how people actually live and learn, one size does not fit all.

  131. Does the w, the first letter, need to be upper case?

  132. Do we nitpick about the apostrophe in the GIF?
    As a parent and a writer, I taught my son that professional writers who get their writing published in newspapers, books, and magazines go through multiple drafts and have the help of multiple layers of editorial help, right down to copyeditors who pick up on usage errors that software misses. I taught him that the standards for social media posts differ from the standards for published writing, and that when you create an ad, you'd better run it by several pairs of eyes to ensure proper grammar and mechanics. Just knowing this helps him to be more confident in his own writing.

  133. I couldn't agree more! I went into reading this article remembering how much I adored diagramming sentences. I went to Catholic school where it was not allowed to draw/embellish anything on the written page. The fact that in diagramming I was allowed—encouraged even—to "draw" little slated lines and dotted lines was pure freedom to me. Obviously, many did not experience it this way. I do think certain brains love this type of thing. Differentiation is key! Teachers must question their own biases about what is interesting.

  134. Grammar is rarely an issue in writing, unless the writer's native language is not English. Grammar is the last stage of writing, corrected in the final proofreading/editing stage after the composition is largely complete. What is far more important is for a student to be able to create a logical outline supported by facts to a conclusion, and to walk that conclusion back through every assumption or inference that was made in getting there, eliminating logical errors and fallacies along the way, until she is ready to write. By separating the critical and analytical thinking that underscore the ability to write and giving them the prominence they deserve, you create thinkers. Those who think clearly, write clearly. The other essential component is extensive reading and analysis and deconstruction of appropriate model texts of the type the student seeks to produce. This is obviously an oversimplification, but I've been at this thirty-five years, and currently teach scientific writing to NNS graduate students who seek to get their research results into refereed international journals - and who more often than not succeed.

  135. An ELA teacher I know once told me that the fundamental unit of writing is the "idea". Ideas or thoughts supported by knowledge, understanding, curiosity, skepticism, and passion. Maybe he had a point?

  136. Grammar is not "the last stage of writing." Syntax, inflection, etc. are incorporated from the very first stages of writing. Perhaps you mean that proofreading for grammar, spelling, etc. is the last stage of writing. (However, even that may not be true, as other steps, such as formatting and layout, often come later.)

  137. As a college-level instructor, I am BEGGING middle schools to return to diagramming sentences. My students have great difficulty reading complex sentences because they don't know how to isolate subordinate clauses. They struggle with sentence-verb agreement and the correct use of antecedents. I have seen students become visibly frustrated when terms like "object of the preposition" and "indirect object pronouns" are used. If I write a sentence on the board and ask them to identify the object of the verb, the majority will identify the subject instead. These students are being deprived of the college-level instruction they are paying for because they need to learn something they should have been taught in 6th or 7th grade. Public schools are passing the buck, and the students suffer.

  138. Don't count on this happening until diagramming sentences becomes a required standard for testing. And while you are waiting for hell to freeze over, you have my sympathies.

    A Middle School Teacher

  139. Laura Ingalls Wilder learned grammar by diagramming sentences, and so, in the 1950's, did I. I thought it was great fun - making the abstract visual. (I liked geometry too.) I also remember how painful it was, in middle school, to learn to write a proper essay - but once I learned it, it stuck forever after. I have known very intelligent people whose first exposure to English grammar was when they took Latin in college - and who needed more years, as adults, to learn to write a passable paper, thesis, or job application letter. Not learning how to write when you're young can cripple your communication for the rest of your life. If you haven't learned the tools for self-expression, your creativity can never bloom.

  140. Private schools too.

  141. It is ironic that the very morning this piece appears, the Times's lead editorial is "Who to Believe on Russia?" Try "Whom to Believe on Russia."

  142. Since this article ebbs and flows into SAT and standardized testing results, it would be interesting to analyze the test scores of those who became teachers over time. If our English teachers came from the middle of the pack when they were tested, why would we expect mediocrity at best?

    I hated the rules and accordingly hated English class. Teaching the rules can't be much fun, so all of the "alternative" methods of learning strike me as creative attempts to avoid "the work".

  143. Many current teachers are products of a wide variety of unsuccessful "attempts" to teach writing where self-expression and self-esteem were considered more important than the mechanics of grammar, syntax, etc. Now, those teachers (who often don't have a mastery of writing skills) are supposed to be teaching children how to write. Good luck with that one! Let's get back to weekly spelling lessons, diagraming sentences, and mastering written communication skills.

  144. One of the most useful assignments I had was from a tenth-grade English teacher. We had to write a coherent paragraph each week. The topic could be anything; the point was to convey a thought. I had thought I was a good writer and was shocked to get a D the first few weeks. Among the many things the exercise taught me was to focus single-mindedly on conveying the thought. And one misspelled word meant you failed.

  145. That sounds very effective, but imagine how many parents would be complaining to that teacher now if little Joshua or Amilee came home with a D for the first few weeks?

  146. People write to communicate. We have basic rules of grammar that form the logic, the framework for communication. Just as it is impossible to write code for a computer without understanding the logic, it is impossible to communicate complex ideas - and assure that they are correctly interpreted - without grammar.

    A bone the dog the boy threw. That is basic Latin grammar, sans the cases, and it makes no sense in English. We have a different framework and logic. We all learn it, we all understand it, then we all have the common base for communication.

    Along with grammar, people need to learn to use logic and progression in their writing. Assertion, evidence, interpretation, conclusion. Once they have those skills strengthened, they an work on the concepts of voice, expression.

    Writing is not a unilateral, one size fits all exercise. Scientists don't use complicated metaphors to communicate findings, judges don't rule in poetry, subway signs are not written like a passage from Henry James. Writers can find their voices, should find their voices, but they should do it with a clear understanding of what they want to communicate and who they are trying to reach.

    So go crazy, grammarians. Teach the basics first and work on the fancy later.

  147. The zero-sum, black or white thinking of the baby boomers has done us no favors: The neglect of grammar and mechanics undermines everybody--especially many African-American, Caribbean, and Spanish-Speaking students.

    And yet more respect is due to AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), which enriches the broader lexicon and has fueled trillions of dollars in cultural output. It deserves recognition as a real creole or dialect that can serve as a starting point for mastering the global lingua franca that is Standard English.

    For all students, the structure of the language is the foundation of expression, and yes, one's personal voice.

  148. I will never forget my daughter's high school English teacher telling me that my daughter was "doing good." I bit back my snarky response that I didn't care about her charitable work, was she learning to write well? Discretion proved the better part of humor, for once.

    I think that a powerful approach for secondary students would be a scavenger hunt, an assignment to find errors in newspapers, text books, or administration memos. This would combine pedagogy with a wriggling joy in anti-authoritarianism. They could make videos of themselves pointing out to mall store owners how a sign such as "boy's clothing" is either incorrect, or indicative of a very entitled boy.

  149. A grade school teacher wrote "Excellant" on my daughter's 100% spelling test paper.

  150. And then there was that "You could of rewrote this neatly" from an ELA teacher.

  151. If a student cannot communicate effectively in the English language, his or her voice is stifled. The trend towards de-emphasizing grammar, especially towards minority students, is only going to cause more economic and social pain down the road. Busted English connotes ignorance and yields poverty. Encouraging it is shameful. Please go back to teaching English and grammar.

  152. I agree with you to a point. In the mid-seventies, my junior high and high school English classes were almost 100% grammar. We did little, if any writing. Even now, I can do a pretty fair job dissecting a sentence. Writing at the college level was a different story. If it hadn't been for a certain lit teacher at a community college, I might never have learned to write. My point is that to be a skilled writer, you need both good mechanics and voice. My belief is they are co-dependent. Grammar is important and deserving of the time it takes but students must also learn how to put that grammar to use in writing.

  153. "Personal voice" groan. A student has a whole lifetime to develop this personal voice. Picasso learned to paint and draw classically before developing into PICASSO. And went through many stages and transformations.

  154. The only way one can adequately capture one's voice in word is by having the grammatical tools to do so.
    If all you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail.

  155. I was a teaching assistant for courses in the theater department at a highly ranked university, about twenty years ago. It was shocking. Not only were many essays poorly written, but they were usually way too personal, to the point of childishness. Objectivity and analysis did not exist. Almost every essay was about how someone was either a genius or had suffered at the hands of an evil person, as though personal virtue was the only thing that mattered - ever. My sense was that everyone had learned writing only to be able to write a college application essay, and they would be writing some version of that essay for the rest of their lives.

    Favorite bad sentence. "Hitler had a bad effect on the Jewish lifestyle, and should have been irradiated." I think I wrote a comment like "The world did fight something called 'World War II,' primarily to eradicate Hitler."

  156. Twenty years ago I complained (to no avail) that the 800 page text we were required to use in freshman comp failed to include a chapter on the sentence. Until the day I retired, I made sure my students paid close attention to their sentences and developed a number of exercises designed to help them appreciate the myriad ways a sentence can be constructed. One such exercise, that came as a revelation to many of them, focused their attention on those conjunctive adverbs mentioned in this piece. I am glad to see that Dr. Hochman's ideas about writing instruction are getting some press.

  157. You have to ask why kids can't write? Perhaps it's the parents who have weaned their child on a video screen since infancy and don't talk to them because they too are much too busy to pay any attention to them. I see it all the time. baby in carriage, mommy and daddy on their phone baby holding tiny screen no one talks to one another. And you have to ask why?

  158. Many of us parents who brought up dyslexic children spent far more time teaching our children at home than parents of non-dyslexic children. 1 in 5 are dyslexic in the US (1 in 10 here in the UK - no doubt due to lack of diagnosis). I didn't know why my sons were struggling to read and write when they were young and I used to have my poor sons doing spelling test after spelling test, as I was so concerned about their progress in reading and writing. I didn't realise what damage I was doing to their self-esteem at the time by doing this, as it wasn't until they were 16 that they were diagnosed with dyslexia. I concentrated on teaching them Maths and Science, as they loved those subjects, and they excelled in them. Please remember that many people are dyslexic and it has nothing to do with poor intelligence or lack of parental support.

  159. I think you are preaching to the choir. You could reach the unconvinced if you had a beginning, a middle and an end and tightened it up with less redundancy.

  160. Welcome to the world of competition.

    These are the people who come in second to others.

    But, students are only going to learn what the teacher is capable of teaching. Teaching writing and grammar from "inspiration" and literature (that they were never taught to interpret (grammar and writing) properly) is not teaching.

    It's laziness.

  161. You can't break the rules until you have learned them.

  162. One cannot excel in any discipline if one hasn't mastered the basics but inspiration and discipline are not mutually exclusive. And no, you don't have to use a comma before every "but", Ms. Goldstein, as in "Fractions are like decimals but they are written differently."

  163. If teachers can meet kids where they are and work from there, kids can learn to write competently. Why not take text messages and rap lyrics and rewrite them in the semi-formal school essay English? Talk about why context and setting matter so much.

    Poor kids get this; many must navigate several distinct cultures just to survive.

    Once you get across the idea that sentences have basic mechanical components, and show how the parts work to create and bolster meaning, you can begin to critique and develop those skills independent of the ideas expressed. You can build up confidence and a sense of professionalism this way; it works for kids as young as five or six.

    Step-by-step instruction.

    Now if we could only keep the kids in class, and keep the same teachers in front of them, consistently enough to see it through.

  164. Try The Elements of Style

    EB White

  165. And don't forget, turn of the TV... one hour a week, make it count.

  166. The very music of our English language is being squeezed from young people's lives. What they hear, what they read, what they say and are said to in return. Hardly a surprise that what they write is so grammatically impoverished, so dull and narrow and ignorant and yes, unmusical.

    In art school in college students were always expected to be original and unique and highly creative, chock full of an automatic originality while having little if anything new and unique at all to say (who does at eighteen) and knowing little if anything about actual art techniques. Some of these writing proposals strike me as sadly similar. Reading great books, being read to at home AND at school, learning to speak well and with confidence, writing a logical sentence and understanding *why* it's logical, appreciating the beautiful informed voices of others outside your world -- these activities are crucial.

    And yes, cursive matters. Oh, the irony of seeking selfness on a blinking impersonal lit glass manufactured sans serif screen.

  167. You can't have a personal voice unless you have a wide variety of tools, experiences and knowledge at your fingertips. Unless you know the rules you can't break them; true meaning is knowing your options and carefully choosing which combination of words and phrases will reflect your vision. Communication is about nuance and texture and depth. Without basic knowledge of language these things are impossible and we end up with Donald Trump.

  168. I'm distressed that you mention the need for synthesis of the two approaches only four paragraphs from the end. This article is a lightweight rehash of the old debate between an emphasis on content and form. A useful article would show how the two are synthesized. I look forward to reading that article.

  169. In North Carolina, long before Common Core, our students were taught how to write a five-paragraph essay. Writing was tested by the state in fourth, eighth, and tenth grades. Testing standards weren't rigorous but the essays needed to convey a message in a five-paragraph form. They were taught to organize their essays with thought bubbles before committing their essay to paper. It was simplistic, but it taught students to convey an organized thought process. Later they could be taught to write more sophisticated essays that were grammatically correct with specific purposes. That has fallen by the wayside because it was too hard for the state to grade all those papers. I believe teachers still teach that five-paragraph essay but the intensity is no longer there. University professors complimented my children on their writing skills and I do believe it all started with a five-paragraph essay.

  170. My favorite French professor told me that she retired because she could no longer teach a foreign language to students who don't understand the structure of their own language. I'm old enough to remember diagramming many sentences when I was in elementary school. Learning is hard. Kids cannot learn the details of grammar without a little suffering. We've tried to avoid that notion for decades. Now we're paying the price.

  171. This writer could use a lesson on basic coordinating conjunctions: it is not a question of whether it is grammar OR reading excellent literature OR writing expressively [OR analytically?] OR being taught logic and subordination ['helpful adverbs' in this piece]. It is a matter of AND, as none of these skills on its own is some sort of silver bullet that will slay the werewolf of bad writing. Stop focusing unhelpfully on workshops [no workshop will solve this problem, even well-meant workshops for teachers, which will have more effect] and start paying better attention to curricular approaches that successfully unite all these skills. If you look for such models, you will find they have greta payoffs. -- Three things this piece gets right: [1] Common Core has been an improvement in many regards and would be even more of one if both grammar/mechanics and the study of literature had been implemented as the CC suggested [the problem has been in the lack of implementation, not the recommendations]; [2] putting grammar and mechanics back into the mix is essential [and it is not soul-crushing, not unless grammar is ALL a curriculum does]; [3] English/Language Arts teachers need better teacher training than they generally receive, as for many districts those positions fall to educators who have little specific subject training as compared to other subjects, and yet no area demands better expertise if a teacher is to have the impact she or he should.

  172. Isn't it ironic that the graphic doesn't also correct "cant"?

  173. Teachers need time to comment on student writing. This feedback needs to address strengths and concerns in content, organization, mechanics and voice. Consistent positive feedback is vital.

    School districts have teachers running like rats in a lab all day long. Math and science teachers can rely on multiple choice tests and skip out the door, enviably free of papers to grade. If we want teachers to teach writing, we need to give them time during the work day to do this labor-intensive, time-consuming process.

  174. This is true. Writing is supposed to be taught across the curriculum, but there are quite different expectations in reality. English teachers also have to be taught how to deal with the volume of paper (or Google Docs).

  175. I am a special education teacher and found this article to be very on point I do have to send a shout out for diagraming sentences, though. Many years ago, I was fortunate to have a 6th grade teacher drill sentence diagraming. It gave a structure to sentences which helped me with writing and learning a foreign language. I thing teaching concrete approaches to writing may seem tedious, but in the end can free students to express their ideas effectively.

  176. The writer says "Mrs. Sokolowski is right that formal grammar instruction, like identifying parts of speech, doesn’t work well. In fact, research finds that students exposed to a glut of such instruction perform worse on writing assessments." It all depends on what the purpose of teaching people to "write" is. Do you want "gorgeous phrases" or clarity? In areas where clarity is the goal, things such as "formal grammar instruction" (including diagraming) are essential - otherwise directions and meanings can easily be misunderstood. "Creative or artistic" writing is one thing (useful for being a novelist, artist, poet, etc.) - being able to clearly express an idea in concrete actionable terms, wherein the person who is responsible for the action is clearly noted, and the expected actions and results are clear - is something else. The latter is useful -and essential - for many jobs. I can cite so many occurrences of poorly written manuals, emails, texts, and verbal directions that have resulted in poor executions of work, wasting everyone's time and money. So let's move the discussion into a little more granularity so we can make our next steps more actionable instead of just opinionated. Once we have established our desired outcomes, we can select the right ways to get there.

  177. I still diagram sentences in my head when I'm uncertain about word usage.

  178. "The wheel that squeaks the loudest is the one that gets the grease."

    Let me suggest that some mistakes in English can actually help students to get some attention and build interest, in the process of writing and speaking.
    Take Donald Trump, for example. It is quit possible that if he was not so crude in in use of the English language, he might not have been elected!

    What about poetic license?

  179. I write and I am amazed at what I see and hear when I read through my manuscript aloud. When I am reading books and come to a really compelling scene I read through it aloud. I believe it imprints differently on the brain. As much as we need more students reading maybe they need to be read to and to be taught to do some reading aloud to themselves.

  180. Freewriting is like freedom. If there is no discipline, there's nothing to be free from, nor is there freedom to accomplish what the discipline enables. Free does not mean the lack of restraint, nor is it synonymous with individual wants.

    Writing is about communicating and without grammar, the architecture of writing, there ain't no communicatin' goin' on. There are many ways of gettin' there and one shouldn't forget that one of them is music lessons. Music has an architecture of its own, transferable in many ways to our reading habits. If you can hum a good sentence, chances are it's a good sentence. The rhythm's in our language and it needs to be in our heads.

    How did it get there? Over a thousand years ago, as our ordinary world began moving from an oral to a written culture, we started putting spaces between words. Prior to that those who wrote, like little children first write, they did no such thing. In music, that space is called a rest. Even in writing today it's not just the spaces that provide rhythm and sense, we also add a comma--whenever we need to take a breath.

    I think there's too much education theory in today's education, not enough common sense.

  181. Without form, content is gibberish. The further we go from teaching the basic skill sets, the more lost we become as educated individuals.

  182. Developing ones writing voice requires understanding language and how it is used. One needs to construct to deconstruct. Grammar is essential to ensuring ones message is relayed so that it is understood.

  183. Reading is the key to writing. The structural patterns become ingrained in the subconscious. Grammar is important but if you want to set the connection for writing, you have to know how to read. I was called a "dinosaur" by other teachers because of this philosophy.

  184. Both are vital - integrate grammar instruction with reading. Nurture an appreciation of both. It works.

  185. After reading many of the comments here it is clear that the general public is completely unaware of the degree to which standardized testing has driven writing instruction. To fully understand why the teaching of writing has been so ineffective under Common Core, please look at the standards (link below)that have been used to threaten schools and teachers under the Race to the top and the NCLB waiver policies over the past six years. The goal of good writing in school has been reduced to nothing more than improving test scores on exams that have no validity or reliability. Developmentally inappropriate and highly constrained standards spawned from the mind of David Coleman - now president of the College Board.


  186. Half a century ago, studying first French, then Latin and finally German taught me more about English grammar than I ever learned in an English class. Looking back, though not at the time, my biggest regret is that my prep school (up to the age of thirteen) did not offer Ancient or Classical Greek. The classics and mathematics, followed later by the physical sciences, form the solid foundation of western schooling.

  187. Agree! There is nothing like studying French to learn English grammar.

  188. I speak from forty-two years experience teaching high school English and have sent hundreds of students on to institutions of higher learning. There is no substitute for learning the structure of language which should be integrated with all aspects of the curriculum. Mastery of structure teaches how to manipulate writing which combines both clarity and style. Yes, they should be able to recognize a nominative absolute but more important they should be required to use it and recognize it in what they read. They should be able to commend the speech of a President for his effective parallel structure. It works. I know. I hear from former students from all over the world attesting its validity.

  189. Understanding parallel structure is very useful for writers after they have mastered other basics; nominative absolutes not so much unless you're studying for TOEFL.

  190. Learning to write is like learning to cook. You should stick with the recipe until you understand the basic dynamics behind the ingredients' proportions. Then you can experiment.

  191. As a middle school French teacher in a relatively prosperous suburban town, I am often confounded by my students' lack of understanding of basic grammar. About half my students find it difficult to identify the parts of speech, therefore making it difficult to grasp these constructions when they encounter them in their new language. It is not their fault; they tell me they were not taught grammar in the lower grades. They often write without capital letters and omit punctuation at the ends of sentences. Although we use computers extensively, I use cursive writing on the board (it's faster!) and must explain some of the letters to my students because they have not learned what I call "adult writing." By the end of the year I have some students using cursive, and thanking me for using it. Times have changed, but the need for basics remains.

  192. The best way to learn grammar is to study a foreign language. How many French people ever consider if they're speaking in subjunctive or conditional tenses? How would they react if you asked them during a normal conversation? Hmmm?

  193. Not teaching cursive is appalling! Future generations will not be able to read the original documents of our founding fathers. Very sad.

  194. Ah yes, learning a foreign language forces the student to analyze the structure of his native language in order to correlate with contrasting structures of the target language. This can be a daunting task for non-analytical thinkers; for many students, however, it is a breakthrough experience to recognize the underlying English structure in the sit/set, lie/lay, eat/feed pairs., for instance. Foreign countries begin foreign language learning in 5th grade or earlier and continue until graduation, even adding a second foreign language in 7th.

  195. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure are what make effective writing and self-expression possible in the first place. They are like the internal machinery that makes an automobile function. You may want to express yourself with a fire-engine-red Maserati but, if it doesn't run, no one will be impressed. As with anything worthwhile that humans create, the foundation is not an embellishment but a prerequisite and, therefore, has to come first. Take music or any other expressive art-form. You may want to move the sun and the stars with the expressiveness of your violin-playing. But you had better first master the technique of playing the violin before you can abandon yourself to artistic expression. Thus with writing: form and structure aren't constraining - they are liberating.

  196. This article is illustrates one of the biggest problems in education today: the "prioritization" of curriculum and instruction. To sell a product, books, workshops, digital materials, the creators feel it necessary to say what they have to sell is the answer, the correct approach, the panacea. Hence we get such statements as “I don’t mean to be dismissive,” she continued, “but every instructional minute has its purpose.” In fact, Hochman does mean to be dismissive of any approach to teaching writing but her own.
    Rather than make every choice dichotomous, why not recognize each of these approaches to writing has some merit and each meets a different need. A strong writing program will blend free writing with sentence level instruction with some grammar (meta) knowledge with some process writing and some focus on creating arguments based on evidence. Unfortunately, such a program is less likely to be a commercial success because it is not a product.

  197. This is a repeat of old arguments. As an academic, retired in 2002, I think back to a problem that haunted my students. They had great difficulty in reading and hence had no sense of what writing might be in any sense, academic, formal or whatever. English 1a in the late 20th century shifted from critical reading and writing. While I fully support the classical liberal education much of that disappeared as universities moved toward what made students "feel good." Well feeling good is not a discipline!

    For many years (and I taught in a management program) student work was evaluated on how well they wrote with as much as 40% of the grade based on writing. Colleagues including those in the "liberal arts" were critical that I was not allowing students "freedom." During that period it was a challenge to read as many as 100 papers a year and provide relevant comments and relate them to what they were assigned to read. I believe that creativity and freedom come from being disciplined. With students who had problems I went back to see why and it was less the errors of grammar and syntax and more that they did not know how to read critically.

    The world we live in does not seem to demand critically reading; the visual has overcome the verbal and I am afraid that will not be reversed. That is not to suggest that dramatic efforts should not be made, however, writing is only have of the problem.

  198. I think grammar should not be considered on equal footing with content, organizational structure, quality of research and information, argumentative strength. Having sentence variety and properly structured sentences can influence the impression and comprehension of a reader, and those things matter. But a misplaced adjective or a dangling modifier in an otherwise well-researched, well-argued piece is not the end of the world. Plus there is Grammarly, spell-check, grammar-check to support writers. To get students excited about writing there have to be bigger stakes than comma placement, and students need to be invested in the ideas and content of their writing. Students will be motivated to get their grammar correct when they want to reach readers, so the prior step is having students invested in the ideas and content of the writing.

  199. "Plus there is Grammarly, spell-check, grammar-check to support writers." These crutches are a fine tool for skilled writers perhaps but they still are error prone if you don't have the underlying knowledge to know that the suggested correction is inapt.

    I again fail to see why people seem to think that learning proper comma placement is seen by some as a bar to allowing students to write what interests and excites them. They can - and should be taught and encouraged - to do both, as they are not mutually exclusive.

  200. Anyone thinking about the pedagogy of writing would be well-served to find a copy of "The Making of Meaning" by Ann E. Berthoff, published in 1981. It isn't easy going because it challenges conventional (then and now) ways of teaching writing. It's also a journey in the philosophy and origins of why we write down language in the first place: we are meaning-making animals and writing is thinking.

  201. Grammar doesn't need to be boring. I tell my students that when they write it as though they are directing a film. Grammatical structures allow you to foreground, to highlight, to background, to direct the reader's attention and send a clear message. When the function of grammar, rather than just a list of dos and don'ts is emphasized, students can learn it quickly. I also stress that while there is nothing wrong with how they speak, written English is a different dialect. One has to learn to compensate for the lack of certain components in spoken speech--gesture, facial expression, interaction between participants etc.

  202. Periodically we get pieces like this: claiming that a significant segment of our students can't write well and that current teaching approaches contribute to the problem. While I won't diminish the challenges that many of my community college students have as readers and writers, I would take issue with how writing instruction is represented. The writing instruction that I see has students engage with their work at all levels, including the sentence. Conveying meaning must however involve a consideration of the rhetorical situation: what is my message? what is my purpose in writing? what genre will best communicate my message? who is my intended audience? how must I adjust my writing to the requirements of both audience and genre? And how does reading inform my writing?

  203. I think we should be encouraging young people to look at perspectives and processes that differ from their own, especially today when it's so easy for people to cocoon themselves in their own, limited worlds and experiences.

  204. A focus on grammar is counterproductive, especially with Grammerly and spellcheckers. Only practice writing essays, short and long, will help students write better. The 5-paragraph essay us still the gold standard, and always will be. However, teaching writing, and correcting writing, requires more labor. Nobody wants to pay for labor. Anything else is pure fantasy.

  205. It depends on the student. And frankly, beyond standardized tests, why is the 5 paragraph the gold standard?

  206. Perhaps the obsession with math and science? My daughter has begun her teaching career as a high school English teacher. Her loan forgiveness will be a quarter of what she would have received teaching math or science.

  207. Mathematicians and scientists still need to know how to write, especially if they are publishing research or producing reports on technical processes. I regularly see resumes littered with misspellings, grammar, and punctuation errors that were written by people with advanced degrees. When I read clinical documentation, the writing is often so poor that it fails to communicate necessary content regarding patient assessment, intervention, response, and plan for follow up. Staff may be doing their jobs but their writing does not provide evidence of it. I wish your daughter much success in her very necessary career path.

  208. Why do we think that every student has to enjoy every lesson? There are many things in life that we would prefer not to do. Somethings we find downright hard to do. So what!

    Unfortunately, I have experienced professionals with advanced degrees that cannot put together a cogent sentence much less an actual report. What good is it if no one can understand what you mean to say?

  209. I was taught grammar, I think, in every English class all the way into high school, but little of it sunk in, until I took Latin in the ninth grade. There, in order to have a chance in translating a Latin sentence into English, we needed to diagram it. This, in turn, meant we needed to know about subjects, predicates, direct objects, indirect objects, and the other parts of speech. Now I understood grammar !

  210. Here's what I say to teachers: That same student that you hope is absorbing good writing through reading, or whose voice you don't want to stifle, goes after school to sports practice where they drill for hours to be ready for the game. The coaches don't merely show students films of great plays, nor are they afraid that their kids can't be creative. They understand that without control of fundamentals, talent is wasted. It is the same with learning an instrument.

  211. Now, this writing practice needs to be integrated with reading, developing a voice, writing for different audiences, creative and expository writing, and so on. It is incredibly challenging to do well.

  212. Or learning anything else, for that matter.

  213. Of course. But, in my opinion, reading comes first. Students pattern their writing from what they read. This does not mean neglecting grammar, but I have never met a student who reads who does not use good grammar.

  214. Good readers make good writers. For students who prefer the cliff notes, teachers need to provide them with the basics--how to construct sentences which then build paragraphs which then develop essays. As Lamont would say, bird by bird or piece by piece.

    When the educational system decided to go "whole language", free form, urging self-expression, it expected to self-correct as students gained knowledge of the mechanics of language through reading.

    Theory and practice are two different nouns.

  215. You recognize that you have written platitude after platitude; your grasp of the mechanics of writing is fantastic, though.

  216. In addition to reading, students also need to practice writing in much the same way that going to museums is informative, but won't make you good at drawing without actual, physical practice.

  217. Dr. Hochman is wrong about requiring kids to sit in desks to write, especially young children who lack motor skills to stabilize their trunk, and whose bodies are too small to fit the desk. She needs to consult with a pediatric Occupational Therapist trained in sensory motor integration so that she understands how the physical mechanics of writing affect the process of putting thoughts on paper. She might try giving her lecture while standing on one foot to see how it affects her thought process. This could provide a bit of insight into the difficulties kids with poor muscle tone face when required to sit in desks to write.

  218. It's impossible to be a good writer without also being someone who reads often and widely. Only by reading and seeing gorgeous sentences on the page can one ever hope to write one on one's own.

  219. Nothing new here in this comment thread: lots of readers making very confident assertions about "common sense" and "what I know works" because it "worked for me."

    But we know based on decades of actual research (you like evidence and data, don't you?) is that lessons about mechanics are unlikely to work unless they're in the context of students having something they actually want to say. The assumption that we have to know "the basics" before we worry about content is simply, flatly untrue. The evidence is very clear--the motivation to say something to somebody else is what encourages the huge majority of students to consider mechanical, formal, or structural issues.

    So yes, there's a good case for teaching mechanics. But no, there is not a good case for teaching it to the exclusion of (or in preparation for) other considerations. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  220. No it should not be taught to the exclusion of other considerations as you note, but the problem comes from those educators who appear to assume that the reverse either isn't true or that it isn't important enough to worry about. Assuming that children and young adults will simply absorb proper English writing and speaking skills by osmosis just does't work.

  221. I think that's the conclusion of the article...

  222. Teach sentence structure using salacious sentences.

  223. Grammar is essential. Growing up, I went to an award winning school district in the 70s and 80s. My writing instruction, however, was a joke. I did well in college only because I had read voraciously, and because my fellow students were terrible.

    Then I decided to homeschool my children. I was confident I could teach every subject BUT writing, because I had no idea how I did it. The program I used with my girls was a neo-classical program with a heavy emphasis on writing and grammar. Now, both my girls are excellent teenage writers. They own their language. At the IB high school my eldest attends she can't believe how bad many of her fellow students write, and she is often asked to edit their papers.

    Understand that one of my daughters read early and often. She's a natural scholar with a dream of particle physics. But my other daughter almost never cracks a book. A gifted musician, she spends her days listening to and producing music. BOTH girls write fluently, easily, and well.

    American writing instruction must change. Ask any admissions officer at Oxford or Cambridge, they can tell which are the Americans from the first line of their application essay.

  224. Strange how no one here has addressed the third language arts skill: speaking.
    It is no wonder that articulate students write well. When discussing the teaching of writing through direct instruction, we tend to overlook the overall factors that contribute to language acquisition - from birth on. Teachers have a lot to overcome when the foundations of good grammar through proper speech are missing.

  225. Picasso became a superb draftsman before he became a great artist.

  226. Always true. And Jackson Pollack, etc.

  227. Being a parent of two boys one who had a private school education and one with a public school education my experience says the boy who had stricter drilling in proper grammar and usage in private school is the better writer who enjoys writing more than his brother and has less difficulty expressing his creativity.

  228. I teach in a prestigious biomedical graduate program. We typically get 3000+ applications for 65 seats. All of our students did well in their university studies. Today, my task is to grade the papers they are writing for a class on effectively assessing the scientific literature. I am wading through piles of papers with incomplete sentences, improper word usage, and difficulties with "there" "their" and "they're".

    I am begging the elementary school teachers of the world to go back to teaching grammar, sentence structure, and spelling. Even the best students don't "pick it up later".

  229. Hear, hear! Well said. Why structure cannot form the basis for content, I don't know. Or, why is content separated from form? Good writing is a long and difficult subject to learn. Why not just say that up front? How do you get from Dick and Jane to Henry David Thoreau without time and effort? "Progressive" education seems to slide into the easy rather than good, to believe that you can take shortcuts. We went through that on phonics and phonetics some time ago. And looking even further back, my father was a literate man, but he was taught "whole word" reading, and he had to ask me to sound out words for him when I was young. Why short circuit that teaching for the disadvantaged, and mark them as disadvantaged for the rest of their lives, when it shows later on that they can't write well? Hasn't that defeated the purpose?

  230. So it's not just internet discussion boards, it's graduate school. I've noticed blatantly incorrect word choice (less frequently) in professional publications like newspapers, and in books (especially novels). Even, all too frequently, in supposedly well regarded newspapers like the 'Wall Street Journal'.

    To me, if "professional" writers and editors can't be bothered to catch the vast majority of basic English mistakes, we've crossed the Rubicon into the land where writing standards should never go.

  231. As an elementary school teacher, I agree with you entirely. Our reading and writing curriculum is dictated to us from administration. We are no longer given any freedom to decide what is most important for our students to learn. Unsurprisingly, the standardized tests we are forced to give determine the curriculum we are directed to follow. It had gotten so awful that the delivery of this curriculum is scripted. Reading and writing workshop has not been a friend to really teaching kids what they need to succeed at the elementary level.

  232. We are all geniuses when it comes to speaking a language--we're hardwired to do it (see Steven Pinker) and it comes effortlessly to all neurologically normal children. Reading is more difficult--a 1st grader has to learn what the words he speaks so fluently actually look like on the page. But writing well is almost impossible, and also unnecessary for perhaps 99% of the population. Tweets, text messaging, email, power point--mastering these writing tools will allow almost everyone to be successful in their chosen profession. Of course, students who want to master the craft need encouragement, but let everyone else READ great writing and not waste their time trying to produce it. Thought experiment: choose 1,000 randomly selected high school English teachers and ask them to produce something they have written over the past year. My guess is that you'll have no trouble peering over the stack of papers on your desk. That tells you all you need to know.

  233. Do I laugh or do I weep? Writing is a balancing act, not all free-writing, not all structure. But it has to occur in the classroom on a daily basis. My seniors wrote a brief journal response to a prompt during the first five minutes of each class. The one grammar rule: no major sentence errors (run-on, comma splice, s-v arg, fragment). I read the journals each night, no grade, just a check plus (or a check minus if there were a sentence error) but always always I wrote a response of some kind.
    At the university I teach descriptive grammar (linguistics): why and how grammar does what it does; we make sentence trees identifying each constituent according to its form and function. The students love it; at last, they understand why the language works as it does.
    The problem with American grammar pedagogy is that 1) students do not have the foreign language background to understand grammar as a system, one they can master and that 2) prescriptive grammar is not an adequate foundation nor a substitute for a language rich environment, whether oral or written. It is useful for editing (the last step before publishing in writing process) because prescriptive grammar is a function of print culture but it does not address the why of language. Students only want to know rules when they understand why the rules work for them. Let them parse sentences; let them do constituent analysis but give them real, authentic writing to play with, Dr. Seuss not workbooks.